The documentary genre is an ever expanding phenomenon that now incorporates elements of so many other genres and practices that one would be hard pressed to offer a concise definition of the form. There’s the live documentary, the hybrid doc/fiction, the animated doc, the experimental doc, and on and on. It’s a horn of plenty, a widely creative range of so-called non-fiction work that we are always thrilled to tap into for our schedule.
This Spring’s selection of work begins with a program of short films by French New Wave master Alain Resnais, known primarily for his feature films, including Hiroshima, Mon Amour and Last Year at Marienbad. In these early short documentaries, all recently restored, he pays homage to the National Library of France, and explores the work of three artists: Picasso, Gauguin, and Van Gogh.
Contemporary filmmaker Bill Morrison, who last thrilled us with Dawson City: Frozen Time, has been called a film archaeologist, as he typically works with decaying archival footage to reveal fascinating histories. For The Village Detective, he uses four reels of 35mm film of Soviet provenance found by a fishing boat off the coast of Iceland as a jumping off point for his latest meditation on cinema’s past, offering a journey into Soviet history and film, accompanied by a gorgeous score by composer David Lang.
Other highlights of the series include Ethiopian-Mexican filmmaker Jessica Beshir’s Faya Dayi, a visually ravishing film about the growth and harvesting of the khat plant in Ethiopia. Faya Dayi is one of the most acclaimed and nominated non-fiction films of 2021, and we’ll be offering a pre-recorded Q & A with Beshir with the screening. It’s one of fifteen films shortlisted for Best Documentary Feature Oscar.
Also on the Oscar shortlist is Flee, a stunning animated doc that recounts the story of a teenage Afghan refugee. Film critic Peter Travers writes that the film is “out to stretch the boundaries of filmmaking by combining graphic artistry with documentary realism to create a cinema experience like no other.” Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance in 2021, the film is also shortlisted for Best International Feature Oscar.
For other docs pushing boundaries, check out the documentaries screening as part of our Experimental Landscapes series!