I saw two feature-length documentaries at the film festival this weekend, and I’m not sure they could have been more different if they’d tried. One bittersweet and desolate and the other gentle and hopeful.
16 Years Till Summer
One of the difficult things about living in the Highlands, is that the sparseness of the population means that the six degrees of separation idea is really more like three. It gives documentaries made here about people from here, a certain immediacy that I doubt they’d have otherwise. I’ve not lived here particularly long, but not withstanding that, I regularly know someone who knows someone involved – whether on the production or as a contributor. It’s altogether more unnerving when, as with this film, you recognise someone’s face and cannot figure out why.
That aside, 16 Years Till Summer is a compelling, poetic film about the possibility of redemption and forgiveness – both as something you earn and as an act of compassion. In many ways the film is like an impressionist painting or poem, between the way it has been shot, the long takes and silences, and its hyper-real use of sync-sound and the charming score. Even if, as I found myself discussing with a friend I bumped into at the screening, they managed to make one of the most beautiful parts of Scotland look bleak and depressing.
There’s something almost inevitable about the film’s conclusion, that we spend the duration of the film hoping against hope, along with the filmmakers that our protagonist will make good. Will find it in himself to be the man he believes himself to be, rather than the man he is. Perhaps that’s truly what makes him so familiar, because most of us will know someone like that, a charming dreamer who is great at find opportunities to try and turn their dreams into reality, but even better at self-sabotaging themselves and screwing up those opportunities. It’s just that most of those screw-ups don’t end up with other people dead.
Is a film about the cats of Istanbul. Thousands of feral cats – I’ll call them feral rather than wild because they are definitely domesticated they just don’t live with individual humans – rather made the city their home for centuries. The film looks at the lives of these cats and their relationships with the humans around them. The film is mostly shot from either cat level – even for the interviews we are mostly looking up at the interviewees – or in aerial views of the city, it really is a largely cats eye view of the city.
At least on the surface the film is about cats, looking at the city from the perspective of cats and through the lens of cats, reveals a very different Istanbul to anything I’ve ever seen before in films about the city. On a deeper level, this is a film about community and how the city is changing and what that means for all its inhabitants whether they have two legs or four. It touches gently on all sorts of issues, of gentrification and class, culture and language, food and family, all of the gently allided by the presence of the cats. People talk about the things that are important to them, that shape their lives and their fears, sometimes poetically and others bluntly, but always under the umbrella that they’re talking about cats. The cats give them a cover for talking honestly about community and the city, about mental health and poverty, and most of all about human and animal kindness.
It’s a lovely, insightful film and, naturally, despite not speaking a word, the cats are the personalities that stay with you.