February 17, 2010  |  Film
Documentary Fortnight: MoMA’s International Festival of Nonfiction Film

Appalshop's Appalachian Media Institute youth intern

Starting tonight and running through March 3, this year’s Documentary Fortnight continues in its mission to reveal a wide range of approaches in nonfiction filmmaking while highlighting the art of documentary storytelling. The series reflects on the creative act of documentary filmmaking and celebrates the ingenuity, dedication, and persistence of documentary filmmakers. It is our hope that you can attend any one or more of the screenings and come away entertained, enlightened, and enthralled with the new directions in nonfiction film. Most of the documentaries are U.S. or New York premieres and are presented by the directors and/or participants, offering filmgoers an intimate look at the risks filmmakers take in getting these stories told. Perhaps you’ll even be inspired to make your own documentary film!

To help you make your choices, this year’s Documentary Fortnight festival includes several thematic programs as well as an international selection of films. The first week of the festival (February 17–24) kicks off with a daylong symposium on Saturday, February 20, exploring cutting-edge community, collective, and collaborative filmmaking. The symposium features the participation of three nonprofit film groups—Appalshop, Deep Dish TV, and UnionDocs Collaborative—who’ll each show examples of the dynamic projects on which they work.

Appalshop’s fortieth anniversary is celebrated with a day of films on Friday, February 19, spanning from the late 1960s to the present—from Whitesburg Epic (1971, Bill Richardson), featuring “man on the street” interviews of Appalachian people in Appalshop’s home base of Whitesburg, Kentucky; to a global media training exchange project Appalshop undertook with Indonesian youth; to The Electricity Fairy (2010, Tom Hansell), the collective’s most recent film on the cozy relationship between U.S. electricity usage and coal consumption.

Hippie Movie. 2008. Poland/USA. Directed by Christoph Draeger

Who says that documentaries can’t involve a bit of acting? Christoph Draeger’s The End of the Remake Trilogy includes two shorts and a feature, Hippie Movie (2008), about a movement he founded in Warsaw to emulate San Francisco’s 1967 Summer of Love. The colorfully dressed hippies spontaneously travel all over Warsaw, raising our awareness of freedom’s potential.

In his film within a film, The Miscreants of Taliwood (2009), impetuous Australian filmmaker George Gittoes gets so involved in following the action in Pakistan’s North-West Frontier that he transitions from caught-in-the-crossfire documentary filmmaker to enthusiastic actor in—and, eventually, filmmaker of—low-budget Pashto action dramas.

Strange Things. 2010. USA. Directed by Alexandria Ham

For those interested in current affairs and history, or those passionate about environmental issues, a number of the films presented take a look inside topical matters. Meet destitute, resilient Haitian orphans in Alexandria Hammond’s Strange Things (2008); discover the story behind the disappearance of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Russia’s wealthiest man and owner of the YUKOS oil company, in Power (2010, Cathryn Collins); or hear from Texas oil magnates about America’s addiction to oil (Houston, We Have a Problem, 2009, Nicole Torre).

Nora. 2008. USA. Directed by Alla Kovgan, David Hinton

What about documentaries that are danced or performed? Multiple award–winning film Nora by Alla Kovgan and David Hinton uses song and dance to tell the story of Nora Chipaumire, a dancer born in Zimbabwe in 1965. And Curtis Levy’s The Matilda Candidate follows the filmmaker’s pitfall-laden candidacy as he runs for Australian Senate. Running on a single-issue platform—that the song “Waltzing Matilda” should be the national anthem—Levy raises bigger issues about Australia’s nationhood in the process.

Can small-town life compete with the big city? Rural issues are examined in David Christiansen’s The Mirror, which recounts the tale of how a dark valley town in northwest Italy lights up, and in brothers Bill and Turner Ross’s underground hit 45365, named after the ZIP code in which it’s set, which is about socializing in a small, western Ohio town.

Are all the films you see documentaries? It’s quite possible that you’ll find a film or two that challenge your notion of the documentary form. Let us know which ones!