The documentary feature strand at the 2014 Revelation Perth International Film Festival makes for a daunting viewing schedule. Each of the 20 films represents a unique vision of life from every corner of the globe. With thanks to the festival organisers, SCREEN-SPACE has seen several of the works programmed and offer our thoughts, however brief, on the RevFest docos that explore the world we live in today…
HAPPINESS (Dir: Thomas Balmes; Finland/France/Bhutan; 80 mins; Trailer)
Having captivated global audiences with his 2010 hit, Babies, French filmmaker Thomas Balmes delves deeper into the harsh existence and insurmountable spirit of children in Happiness. His focus is the charismatic Peyangki (pictured, above), an eight year-old boy sent to a monastery by a tough mother at precisely the moment his homeland, the mountainous monarchy of Bhutan, gets television and the internet. Breathtaking photography counterbalances the intense intimacy of Balmes’ subject; the story is about the boy, but the boy’s story encompasses his village life and the changing face of an ancient culture.
TINY: A STORY ABOUT LIVING SMALL (Dirs: Christopher Smith, Merete Mueller; USA; 66 mins; Trailer)
The ‘tiny house movement’ is leading the charge to downsive mankind’s centuries-old footprint. Chris Smith and Merete Mueller (pictured, right) chronicle their own efforts to construct a mobile home of barely 120 square-feet, yet which affords them the comforts of ‘MacMansion’-style living. The everyday characters driving the momentum to smaller, smarter dwellings populate this sweet, down-home slice of the new Americana; the ‘message moments’ are tempered by the personal story of Smith and Mueller, whose construction frustrations and romantic maturation give the film a compelling warmth.
HARLEM STREET SINGER (Dirs: Trevor Laurence, Simeon Hunter; USA; 76 mins; Trailer)
Directors Trevor Laurence and Simeon Hunter recount the remarkable story of The Reverend Gary Davis, a blind southern black man who rose from tobacco warehouse busker to become one of the influential American guitarists of the 1960s. His unmistakable, incomparable blues/folk pickin’ made him hero to the likes of Peter, Paul and Mary, The Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane, not too mention the young boys who heard him play and sat at his feet to learn his craft. Though the film never skimps over Davis’ boozing and womanizing, Harlem Street Singer emerges a grand celebration of a man who redefined an artform.
LED ZEPPELIN PLAYED HERE (Dir: Jeff Krulik; USA; 80 mins; Trailer)
Underground legend Jeff Krulik (pictured, right), that great gonzo archivist of America eccentricity (Heavy Metal Parking Lot; Ernest Borgnine on the Bus; I Created Lancelot Link), tackles the mystery surrounding the alleged appearance of supergroup Led Zeppelin at the nondescript Wheaton Youth Hall, Maryland, in the chilly winter of 1969. Krulik’s fluid, playful and engaging work is a terrific piece of detective storytelling, as well as a great Modern Music History 101 lesson; a vivid collection of aging promoters, record company execs, small-town fans and grey-haired musos, Led Zeppelin Played Here captures the early days of the rock music industry with a giddy glee.
THE MAN WHOSE MIND EXPLODED (Dir: Toby Amies; UK; 77 mins; Trailer, below)
Drako Oho Zarhazar modelled for Salvador Dali, appeared in the films of Derek Jarman and led a wildly hedonistic lifestyle that made him the toast of the progressive thinking community. But by 2012, Zarhazar lives the hoarder’s life in a cramped flat in Brighton, England, his slowly disintegrating mind stimulated by hardcore pornography, a scattershot memory and self-abuse. Director Toby Amies befriended the eccentric and captured their interactions in a series of increasingly harrowing, intimate moments. The heartbreaking story of an unique friendship; bring tissues.
FREELOAD (Dir: Daniel T Skaggs; USA; 65 mins; Trailer)
Ten minutes into Daniel T Skaggs raggedy, ‘hobo-hemian’ odyssey, it is tough to find much love for the coarse, self-focussed social dropouts who bum rides on America’s unsuspecting freight rail network. But their brattish arrogance and ‘f**k you’ posturing is peeled back by a filmmaker determined to uncover the truth behind the tattoos and chains; these kids are smart, determined, independent and legitimately at odds with society expectations. A love letter to the rebellious spirit, Freeload is also a bittersweet account of alienation and finding a sense of family while living a boxcar lifestyle.
FAITH CONNECTIONS (Dir: Pan Nalin; India/France; 115 mins; Trailer)
The Kumbh Mela is the largest socio-religious gathering on the planet, an event that sees 100 million Hindu pilgrims travel to the junction of three spiritual waterways in Allahabad, India. Pan Nalin (Samsara, 2001) presents an epic yet intimate account of lives that both define and are influenced by the sea of humanity around them. Though unwieldy and overlong, Faith Connections is nevertheless a remarkably insightful film, full of stunning images and imbued with a strong sense of family and personal growth.
WEB JUNKIE (Dirs: Hilla Medalia, Shosh Shlam; Israel/USA; 75 mins; Trailer)
The foreboding tagline ‘How do you de-programme a teenager?’ is explored with stark intensity in Web Junkie, a glimpse inside the medical/military machine that is weening Chinese teenagers off their addiction to online gaming. Sharing directing duties with respected documentarian Hilla Medalia is Shosh Shlam, who explored institutionalized mental health care for Holocaust survivors in her award-winning Last Journey to Silence in 2003. Their free form, peak-around-corners style deprives the film of structure but ensures moments of often brutal honesty.