Docpoint 2013 report_part 1

I have been busy watching movies in the Helsinki Documentary Film Festival (Docpoint) this week. And I can already state here: It was worth the money and time invested : ) I saw some awesome inspiring movies that really made me think and I know I’m not done with the thinking yet. But here are preliminary reports from the first 3 movies I’ve seen from tuesday to thursday (more coming soon):

Tea or Electricity
Belgium, France, Marocco, 2012, 93min
(seen on Tuesday in Kinopalatsi)

the festival catalog says:
“The inhabitants of remote Ifri told that the village will finally be connected to the electrical grid. From that point onwards, dreams of owning a television start to grow in the villager’s minds. However, the electrical grid will not be built without a road, which the state is unwilling to fund. For over three years director Jérôme le Maire follows the colourful journey of electricity into the Maroccan village. Ifri has stayed isolated from the rest of the world and wonders of modern times. At the beginning of the film there is no road leading to the village, and people live at the mercy of weather without access to health care or schooling. Frustrated at the situation, they commence an extensive roadbuilding project in order to establish a connection to the rest of the world.”

This sounds a bit as if it was more about the road and how the people of Ifri build the road to get the electricity to their village. But it’s not. There is no road to Ifri in the end of the movie. They only managed to build the first kilometers. For me the movie was far more about how much we take for granted that everyone lives our Western lifestyle and that this would be good for everyone. This is the main thing the movie made me think about and I really came to the point where I think: not it’s not. The people of Ifri have been happy without electricity, TVs and phones for so long. I understand that they long for more but this is only because that is what we show them as a better world. But does electricity make their life more meaningful???
The other big point was about the kind of main character in the movie: He was a really poor guy within this village community. He worked for the richest guy in Ifri, bringing wood for heating, and other little jobs so he could make a living for himself and his many (I don’t remember exactly how many, but many) kids. He helped bringing the electricity to Ifri, helped building the road and although he didn’t have enough money to get the electricity installed in his house, he got it installed. He sold one of his animals to be able to pay the initial setting up. But essentially he only did that so his wife and kids wouldn’t complain. So what did the electricity bring to Ifri in the first place? Envy. Also as the filmmaker told after the screening nowadays he doesn’t have the money to use electricity any more. But still he has to do the 3 day travel to the next bigger city to pay the monthly subscription. So what is it all about? The people of Marocco bring the Western consumer lifestyle to the last little village in their country. Then the inhabitants need to make the travel to the next bigger city ones a month, for paying their subscriptions and charging their prepaid electricity cards (if they have the money). They are paying additional money for the travel and then once they are in the city they will also try to buy all the products they’ve seen on their own or neighbours TV. So essentially bringing electricity is just about expanding the buying power and spur economy. Let’s not blame Marocco for that. I’m sure their are many countries doing the same shit. The film make me rethink the Western concept of life, why we always need to expand (although the limits of growth have been shown already… you remember the same name book?),… And I’m not done with it. It’s just a beginning!
(just a side note for my own memory: there was a question about the film title in the end. the filmmaker said he wanted to oppose traditional with new, tea with electricity instead of using road and electricity, which would have fit as well but not as good)
So altogether: An awesome movie that made me think a lot. Also really awesome images!!! (If you ever get a chance to see it, go for it)

here is the trailer:


The Human Scale
Denmark, 2012, 83min
(seen on Wednesday in Maxim)

the festival catalog says:
“Of over seven billion people on the earth, half live in cities. In forty years time, both figures will grow significantly. What will future cities be like? Danish architect Jan Gehl has been promoting human-size cities since the 1960s, and inspired urban planners and activists around the world. Andreas Dalsgaard’s film travels from Copenhagen to New York, from Congquing to Melbourne and Dhaka, trailing challenges and solutions. Thought-provokingly the film asks on whose terms we live in cities and what kind of cities we want to inhabit in future. It dares decision-makers and citizens alike to work for a better living environment for us humans.”

I can say this in certainty: The Human Scale is one of the best, the most inspiring movies I’ve seen in my life!
My love with the movie already starts with its title: The Human Scale can be understood in two distinct but very connected ways: It is the scale of one little human in the megacities around the world and it is, according to the movie, the scale of measuring happiness in these cities.
The movie uses Jan Gehl as a starting point to rethink cities in a new way (actually Gehl Architects is one of the few architecture offices I’ve ever thought of working for and after this movie I somehow started rethinking to apply): Cities should be made for people. They should invite for interaction, urban interaction, between strangers. Maybe one of the points why I found this movie so great is because it is very much in line with what I’m trying to do with my “New Media in Public Space”-research field: Enabling people to meet strangers to reverse the current trend of isolation in cities.
However, the case studies used in this movie are also well chosen: Starting with Jan Gehl’s project for the New York Broadway and Times Square, where they proposed to shut traffic down to create new areas for people to meet. Also it’s not about making it right from the first moment, but letting people decide what they want to do in a space rather than deciding it beforehand. It is about giving people options! Next the movie shows Congching in China, where the problems are somehow even more vital, growing faster and the awareness is even smaller. Then there is also the case of Churchtown in New Zealand where pretty much the whole inner city is a closed district after an earth quake in 2011. The question there is in the first place how to get people involved in the planning of this new city area. That city life adapts quickly and happens elsewhere already will be an additional challenge for Churchtown.
However, this film is mostly about how to make people feel home in our megacities (and as the movie states gigacities are soon to be)? Definitely there is no ready-made-answer that could be implemented everywhere. But we should start thinking. Most of us actually want to life in cities, but how should these cities look like? Does anyone have an idea of his/her ideal city? What it would be like? How it would look like? I was thinking about it a lot and came to the conclusion that an ideal city will never exist. Also it cannot be build from top down. It needs a bottom-up approach, asking the people living there and constant change. I don’t want to live in a static place. It needs to keep changing but also shouldn’t change too much… Ok, this will maybe evolve into another blog post some time. We’ll see. but for now:
The Human Scale is a super-awesome movie. Another one that everyone should really see. Especially all my architect and urban planner friends. Unfortunately only a teaser online yet. But maybe that will change? If not, I would even go and buy it since it is so inspiring!!

here is the trailer though:


The Trial (Der Prozess)
Austria, 2012, 112min
(seen on Thursday in Bio Rex)

the festival catalog says:
“After this film one has to check whether Austria still is counted as one of the European democracies – the county’s bureaucratic judiciary is haunting the animal rights activists who snap at the mistreatment of livestock animals with such Kafkaesque style. The film follows a years-long trieal in which the demonstartors are charged with participation in a crimminal organisation on the basis of anti-terrorism laws. The investigative measures are in line with the charge: wire-tapping, follow-up, house searches, secret infiltrators and task forces. The Trial was awarded as the best German.Language Documentary Film at the Zürich Film Festival, but the activists who have been found not guilty might still end up at the next instance of the court system. Not even the dark societal humour, typical to Franz Kafka, can be found in these events.”

I think here I can be a bit shorter. It is a pretty good movie. For me it is not so much about animal right activism but more about how a so-called democracy is able to surveil it’s citizens. It is a quite impressive case, but I’m sure it’s not the only one. I liked the statement of the Austrian minister saying that there is no validation that the anti-terror law actually does it’s job but we can see instead it can actually be used against activists. So that’s how a democracy should work? The film made me ask if the anti-terror laws actually do their job, which I’d never thought about. Also it showed the mechanisms behind quite well. + one more point: The influence that such a long trial can actually have on the defendants. In this case none has a job (it’s pretty much impossible to work when you are going to your trial 3 days a week for 1 year…), most don’t get state help any more (crazily because they don’t take up the jobs they are offered, which they cannot [see reason before]).
All together a rather sad movie, that made me question our Western so-called democracy even more…

Here is the trailer (only in German, no subtitles):