City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

EIFF 2012: Documentaries Review

By Euan Andrews - Posted on 28 June 2012

The Search For Emak Bakia

Traditionally, documentaries at Edinburgh International Film Festival were given their own strand but this year, perhaps in acknowledgement of how many more documentaries are directly released into the cinema today, they’ve been scattered throughout the different branches of the programme, popping up everywhere from New Perspectives to the International Competition.

Rightly so, as documentaries have always been an exemplary part of EIFF’s programming and this year has been no exception with some fantastic films on offer. 

One highlight was The Lifeguard, debut feature from Chile’s Maite Alberdi. It follows Mauricio, one of a crew of lifeguards working a busy beach filled with holiday-makers. Despite his dreadlocked and ear-ringed appearance, Mauricio comes across as an uptight jobsworthy type, akin to Inspector Blake from On The Buses in his allegiance to doing everything by the book. 

We follow him doing his rounds of duty on the beach, sternly telling people where they can’t swim and nearly provoking a fight with a group of youths who refuse to move from his designated path. As this short but perfectly formed film goes on, however, we become aware of a simmering feud going on between Mauricio and one other recently awarded lifeguard, and as this observational documentary swerves into full-blown drama in its final stages, it seems that Mauricio is all too aware of his own shortcomings.

One of the hot tips from this year’s festival, and running in the restored Michael Powell Award Competition, was Maja Borg’s Future My Love. This “experimental documentary” is a clumsy mixture of character study, environmental sciences and tone poem.

Beginning as a straight portrait of Jacque Fresco, 93-year old scientist and social engineer who has spent his life attempting to change humanity’s damaging relationship with capital and finance in favour of creating an eco-friendly holistic approach to living in unity with the planet through his now discontinued Venus Project, this swiftly switches into Borg’s own ruminations on a failed relationship and how the possibility of perfection is realised to be an unattainable desire. Ultimately, this would be best re-edited into a feature about the fascinating figure of Fresco and his truly revolutionary thinking, with the film-maker’s indulgences left on the cutting room floor.

Just as indulgent, though perhaps necessarily so, was The Search For Emak Bakia, Oskar Alegria’s investigation into the mysterious title of Man Ray’s surreal short from 1926, “Emak Bakia”, translated from Basque meaning “Leaving me alone”. Alegria’s journey takes on many sidetracks, particularly as his camera rambles through the graveyard where Ray allegedly, and unfoundedly, came across the phrase inscribed on a headstone. This leads onto a wonderful train of thought pursuing a supposedly dead clown, a Romanian princess and a beach-side holiday house which makes for poignant, life-affirming viewing, even if the search itself is of more worth than the outcome.

Finally, for sheer visual spectacle, Russian film-maker Victor Kossakovsky’s Vivan Las Antipodas is hard to beat and must certainly be seen on a big screen for optimum effect. In fact, if they can get the sci-fi blockbusters out of the way long enough, this is the kind of film which would look amazing in Imax. 

Antipodes are areas of the planet diametrically opposed to each other on either side of the planet, all the more rare if these places are on land due to the vast amount of ocean on Earth’s surface. Kossakovsky’s film focuses on four antipodal points, eight different locations, from Spain to New Zealand, Botswana to Hawaii, Chile to Shanghai. Stunning location shooting and sense of place helps move us on this journey around mainly remote planetary points (the glaring exception being the frenzy of Shanghai) and, ultimately, becomes something that Jacque Fresco would approve of, portraying Earth as this brilliant blue sphere in which, as citizens, we all have a stake and a duty.

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 First, the correction; The Venus Project (.com) is NOT "discontinued" Millions of people have learned about the direct consequences of changing from a monetary based economic system to one based on a scientific and systems approach. The Venus Project has had a substantial influence on the thinking of the Occupy movement, the hackers collective known as Anonymous, and numerous worldwide freedom and equality movements, and continues to work toward a more comprehensive and scientific approach to the design of our society. Please watch Zeitgeist: Addendum for an excellent summation of the problems inherent in our system, and the scientifically sound solutions waiting to be implemented.

Second, opinion; To have Borg's film be so ideologically disruptive to the film festival, that they felt the unprecedented need to place it in a Fiction category, which it is not fiction, so that it could not be awarded any prizes in its true category of films, tells of how powerful the message is being conveyed to the audience. For you to espouse its clumsiness, while waxing on ignorantly about easily verified information, smacks of dishonesty. What you refer to as clumsy, many would call avant garde, myself included. For a filmaker to approach such a dry, scientific topic, and find a way to humanize it, to make it a tangible part of our human struggle, is beyond the reach of most filmmakers, and I appreciate her deft touch. 

Apologies if I made a slight error in my knowledge of the Venus Project, but as it's given such short shrift in Future My Love and basically used as a prop for the film-maker's self-indulgent waxings, that wouldn't be difficult.  It's still clumsy film-making.