Re: Doc x 2: Frank Gehry & Darfur
Posted: Fri Jun 01, 2007 6:26 am
SKETCHES OF FRANK GEHRY (U.S.-Ger / 2005)
*A 2006 U.S. Release*
"It's not just that I didn't know anything about making documentaries; I didn't even know anything about architecture." This self-effacing remark early on from veteran filmmaker Sydney Pollack not only grounds the relatively highbrow concept of Sketches of Frank Gehry, Pollacks intimate and absorbing documentary debut which portraits his good friend and Pritzker Prize winning architect, but it also serves as an invitation of sorts, especially to those viewers who might be in the same boat as him when it comes to architecture. The "sketches" Pollack has come up with after nearly a 5-year process with the 78-year-old Toronto-born, Los Angeles-based master are mostly satisfactory. While he blends in the insightful interview snippets from the curators, the collectors, and the fellow architects who admire Gehry (Mildred Friedman, Michael Ovitz, Charles Jencks, etc.) with those hes worked for and with (Michael Eisner, Edwin Chan, etc.), the focus remains on the art and, to a lesser extent, on the method to its madness. Gehrys most fascinating and ambitious work often sticks out, no matter where the "post-modern" structures are located (the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, has moved up rapidly on my list of places to visit; Im happy to say however that, among others, Ive seen the "Dancing House" in Prague). Like most great artists, he has his detractors, and Pollack didnt shy away from approaching them, even though only one agreed to appear on-camera (Professor Hal Foster asserts that Gehry's spectacles have a tendency to detract from the purpose theyre meant to serve). Sketches of Frank Gehry wouldve been "symmetrical" if Pollack had delved into the history and the politics of this underappreciated art form (which is perhaps what a more intuitive filmmaker couldve accomplished), but it serves its purpose by allowing us a glimpse of the world to which we often dont pay enough attention.
*The film premiered at the 2005 Toronto Film Festival. Now available on U.S. DVD (Sony). An Alexander Payne-moderated interview session with Pollack is provided as an extra.
Re: Doc x 2: Frank Gehry & Darfur
Posted: Sat Nov 10, 2007 12:14 am
THE DEVIL CAME ON HORSEBACK (U.S. / 2007)
According to UN estimates, since 2003, the ongoing genocide in the Darfur region of western Sudan and in the neighboring Chad has already claimed the lives of more than 400 thousand and displaced an additional 3 million. This primarily race-based conflict between the Sudanese Arab-controlled government and its non-Arab/black African citizens would not have reached the scale it has if the rest of the world had responded in a timely and appropriate manner. The fact that this was allowed to occur less than a decade after the Rwandan Genocide makes the matter especially disheartening. In Anne Sundberg and Ricki Sterns searing and thought-provoking documentary The Devil Came on Horseback, this tragedy is explored through the eyes of a young American witness named Brian Steidle, a former Marine Captain who served as an unarmed military observer with the African Union from 2004 through 2005. Early on, perhaps to gain the attention of the kind who found Blood Diamond (2006) exciting and politically viable, the filmmakers employ aggressive aesthetic choices -- gaudy visuals, rat-tat-tat editing, an aphoristically impractical relay of info -- but as Brians journey becomes more arduous and despairing, the film mellows along with its subject, allowing the viewers to acquire a better grasp of him and the issues at hand. Once Brian returns home with exclusive footage and images of the carnage (mostly conducted by government-sponsored militia groups referred to as the Janjaweed [devil on horseback]), and the situation becomes better known thanks to Nicholas Kristofs op-ed pieces, he travels across the country in an attempt to raise awareness. The response is relatively healthy, but not enough to keep Brian from putting on his activist hat and going back to Africa, where he continues to make a difference. And in our own ways, so can we, which is part of the reason why The Devil Came on Horseback demands to be seen as soon as possible and by as many viewers as possible (Manohla Dargis, The New York Times).
*Now available on DVD in the U.S. The director duo's other recent documentary, The Trails of Darryl Hunt (2006), has also just been issued on DVD.
*Related: Darfur Now (2007), an up-to-date work by Ted Braun; currently in limited release.