Category Archives: documentary

[s] Gonna Keep Dancing / Budu tantsevat (Aleksandr Rastorguev, 2017)

Budu tantsevat is a documentary short about Rich, a Russian rapper, his attitude to life in general, and his affiliations with Zakhar Prilepin, and his part in the Russian-Ukrainian war in Donbass.

The subject of the film would definitely cause a lot of emotional reactions, simply because it touches upon issues that are very sensitive with a great deal of people on both sides of the conflict. But the truth of the matter is that the film in and of itself is pretty good, for it adequately and in unbiased manner reflects the state of minds of its characters, and state of affairs in the region. The fact that the heroes of the movie the victims of Russian propaganda machine and therefore their opinions cannot be deemed to be independent, has nothing to do with the film’s narrative.

It is kind of sad that people with decent amount of talent (musical, poetical or writing) still can be manipulated and fooled, but that has always been so, for talent does not give any protection from that kind of thing. And on the other hand, it’s healthy to realize that people on the other side are also people, and not some empty boiler plates with alcohol addiction.

The execution is pretty good, as is a norm for Rastorguev; he works as a fly on the wall, witnessing the events without influencing them. All in all, this is good film about questionable things. It adds to the ambiguity of life instead of reducing it, which is why it is likely to cause uncomfortable sensations.

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[s] Non-Vanishing Characters / Neukhodyaschie natury (Andrey Tkachenko, 2014)

Neukhodyaschie natury is a documentary short about a bunch of oldsters, most of them women in their 60s, organizing together to create something like a neighbourhood watch. They regularly gather and then patrol the area establishing order where they can – they check the validity of local businesses, whisk away drunkards, still minor conflicts, etc.

Truth be told, I don’t think that the director chose the subject of observation very wisely. His primary message, as I read it, is that there are reasons to be optimistic about life, because there are people out there who try to make it better not just for them, but for the community they live in. But what I see in the movie is that all their efforts are depressingly futile: basically, all they can do is to drive the alcoholics from one spot to another, while nothing essentially changes for anybody. All they do is create illusion of control – which on the one hand may be beneficial in the short run, but ultimately causes more harm than value.

However, this film is still very interesting from a different standpoint: it’s a sort of monument to the life in Russia in 2013, right before the war with Ukraine started. As such it can serve as a document of the epoch, for it portrays the times and people in it rather authentically. I don’t believe it was the author’s intention, though. He definitely had an idea in mind, but that idea was weaker than what he actually got in the result.

All in all, it’s probably not worth watching it, unless you are a historian trying to understand how people lived then and there.

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[s] Scar Tattoo / Tatu na shramakh (Aleksandr Rastorguev, 2017)

Tatu na shramakh is a documentary short about a tatoo master who made it her mission to help the victims of domestic abuse by covering their scars with tatoos of various kinds, for free. The film focuses on her and her newly established shop, her employees, and a few of her clients, telling their stories.

So, this is a little journey into the world of horrible people shown through the eyes of the survivors, exciting and horrifying at the same time. The film was made for TV, as a part of special project; it’s not an observational kind, typical for Rastorguev, but more like a research thing. It is pretty well done and makes one think, as well as evokes an emotional response. Recommended.

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My Winnipeg (Guy Maddin, 2007)

My Winnipeg is a semi-documentary film about Guy Maddin’s native town, where he lived and worked all his life. It consists of archive footage of the city, reenactment of episodes from Maddin’s childhood, stories from the history of the town in the context of Canada’s history in general, and exquisitely written narration that combines commentary on all of the above with original and often unexpected reflection about nearly everything.

Surprisingly, this film turned out very entertaining: while made in the characteristic and recognizable Maddin’s style, it has this interesting amusing quality that imparts a lot of charm onto it. And also makes it interesting and funny; in particular, the reenactment part is a highly curious device that Maddin managed to make subtle and significant at the same time, and that has a lot of humor enclosed.

Execution is just amazing. The editing has always been one of the strongest Maddin’s abilities, and in this film he outdid himself. The narration is just outstanding: the text itself is flawless; the delivery (by the director himself, no less) is mindblowingly good.

I enjoyed it a great deal; this is one of the best Maddin’s works. Highly recommended.

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[s] S.P.A.R.T.A. – The Territory of Happiness / S.P.A.R.T.A. – territoriya schastya (Anna Moiseenko, 2012)

S.P.A.R.T.A. – The Territory of Happiness is a documentary film about an agricultural commune near Kharkiv, Ukraine, and its members, who adherents of poetry as well as of phisical labour. The film focuses on the everyday activities of the group, i.e. handling pigs and cows. selling milk to the inhabitants of nearby villages, etc., and also on the particularities of the commune that differentiate it from other similar formations, specifically – the theory of happiness being studied and developed by the members, a weekly rate of poetry each of them has to deliver, and so on. There is also a semblance of a storyline featuring one of the commune’s members, her relationship with a guy, who had passed not so long ago in the result of an accident, and the impact it had on her priorities.

The film is interesting because it’s about a rather bizarre establishment that was born out and exists solely on the energy and vigor of its creators. It’s the kind of organization that won’t outlive the people who founded it – a bright glimpse on the dull body of reality. The organization is totally eclectic, for it combines adherence to the communism ideas, or, better say, some shatters of the soviet empire’s ideology and formal procedure, with obsessive need to turn ordinary words into abbreviations and stong conviction that creating poetry is a requirement and duty, plus, of course, the agriculture, which is considered the source of life.

It is interesting to observe those people and try to figure them out; in this respect the film is pretty great, for it allows for the formation of a relatively complete picture that includes both nice and ugly qualities of that local environment. The intrusion of the author is minimal; it’s a nice example of the ‘fly on the wall’ approach.

The structure, perhaps, could have been better: it’s only very close to the finale when the actual storyline appears in the narrative, while the most of the film is basically the collection of barely connected scenes. Rich texture, of course, compensates for that abundantly, but still.

All in all, this is a very good movie, which I enjoyed a lot, and can definitely recommend.

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Making a Murderer (m/s 02, 2018)

Making a Murderer, a rather well-famed 2015 documentary miniseries, came back 3 years later with the continuation of the story about mortal clash between the defenders and the accuser of Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey, who were charged and found guilty in the murder of Teresa Hallbach. The new installment of the series sheds light on whatever happened in the post-conviction reality, specifically on the efforts of Steven’s new lawyer Kathleen Zellner to procure new evidence in order to overturn the verdict, and Brendan’s lawyers Laura Nirider and Steven Drizin to devalue Brendan’s confession. In addition, a lot of time is dedicated to the convicted living in prison, and to their relatives living without them.

By my rough estimation, only around 40% of all the screen time is dedicated to things worth telling about, i.e. the attempts of the post-conviction lawyers to overturn the verdict and set their clients free, while the remaining 60% are mostly filled with whining. I mean, I get that this is a terrible ordeal, highly emotional situation and all, but jesus, how many times do I have to listen to the Averies expressing their frustration about the course of events, or the belief that justice would eventually prevail?! It’s just the same thing over and over and over and over again, – at some point you just start to hate them, and I don’t think that’s the result the creators were looking for.

The worthwhile 40% are not a walk in the part either, but at least it’s a meaningful time, from which you can learn a thing or two about how the justice system of USA works (there are indeed some curious peculiarities), or how you would approach overturning specific parts of the prosecutory evidence – by far, this is the most interesting part of the show (which is, sadly, spread evenly across the whole body of the season), where you can learn how do you proceed about testing blood patterns, or shallow casings, or the burning of human remains – actually, criminals could learn a lot here as well, although I’m pretty sure the law enforcement has more cards in their sleeve than were shown in the series.

But anyway, both these parts, the driving-me-crazy-emotional-manipulation-crap one and the meaningful-knowledge one, are incredibly boring. There is, of course, some tension and uncertainty, and a bit of hopefulness, too, but all in all it’s an extremely long drag. I feel like I became a stronger person just because I managed to survive through the whole thing and didn’t fall asleep even once.

Also, there were themes that could’ve been included into the story, but weren’t, such as the role of media in this thing – it was somewhat touched upon in the beginning, when they talked about the aftermath of the 1st season and how different personalities perceived it, but then it just went away and never got a chance to unfold. Which is a shame – I think, it might’ve been an interesting addition to this narrative.

It seems to me that this second season is worse than the first one, mostly because there is not as much stuff of essence, and too much empty, useless emotional reflection. I would not recommend this, unless you are suffering from insomnia or something – in that case it may help. But if you’re interested in the matter, but don’t want to waste 10 hours of your life, just read the Wikipedia.

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[s] Kahn’s Library at Phillips Exeter Academy (Alex Roman, 2014)

Kahn’s Exeter is a video with views of a library of Phillips Exeter Academy. There is no story, no characters, no development – just pictures.

And they are somewhat pretty, I’d give them that. But watching a film just because of the pretty pictures seems entirely pointless to me. This could work as an ad for the said library, but definitely not as a work of cinema.

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[s] I am nobody / Ya nikto (Aleksandr Rastorguev, 2017)

Ya nikto is a chapter in the political life of today’s Russia. Violetta is the head of the command center of Alexey Navalny’s 2018 presidential campaign in Murmansk. She’s a long-time political activist, very energetic and optimistic, notwithstanding her vast experience of abuse, both because of her political agenda, and because she is openly gay in a homophobic country. The film follows the life of the headquarters in general, as well as Violetta’s personal life, during several days when Navalny was in Murmansk in the frame of his travelling activities.

The film leaves an ambivalent impression: on the one hand, it’s about politics, and very contemporary at that, which means it will inevitably become obsolete; on the other, it’s a window into not only politics, but also just life of ordinary people in Russia, and it has a very emotional and deep finale. Plus, it’s pretty well executed – of course, it’s a documentary, meaning it’s not too sophisticated, but the camerawork is pretty good, as well as the director’s ability to become a fly on the wall.

All in all, even though there all the politics, I still like this film a lot. It has more good features that conditionally dubious ones.

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Exit Through the Gift Shop (Banksy, 2010)

Exit Through the Gift Shop is a documentary film by famous street artist Banksy depicting a few episodes from the establishment path of Thierry Guetta, aka Mr. Brainwash, as he first got introduced into the scene of street art as a filmmaker, who wanted to make a documentary about it, and later proceeded to become an artist himself. The film tells about a few artists, including Invader, Zeus, Shepard Fairey, Banksy himself, and others; in particular it sheds some light on the Banksy’s role in Mr. Brainwash becoming a popular artist, although not on Banksy’s personality.

This is pretty good documentary. At first it seems to be about the street art and artists, for some reason beaded on the stem story of wannabe filmmaker Guetta, who loved to film but didn’t know anything about actually making movies. As it evolves, the true story gradually reveals itself, giving the audience some food for though on the subject of modern art in general, and quality and essence of certain artists.

The narrative builds up rather consistently and has a few twists that make it all pretty interesting. The position of the author is also among the things that make it engaging – Banksy seems to perceive himself as a creator of a monster; I think he was shocked by the transformation of Guetta, and didn’t know what to think about it. I think the idea behind this film was not only to relieve himself of the burden of this story, but also to get answers to the questions troubling him, such as, does the appearance of MBW negates the street art in general, since it is virtually impossible to tell a piece of art from a parody on it?

Great quality of this film is that it does not provide definitely answers to questions implied by the story, but lets a viewer think about them and decide for him- or herself. And, of course, the documentation of the history of street art, as fractional as it is, is highly valuable as well.

The execution is nice enough – most of the footage used is of not very good quality, so that leaves an imprint, but the interviews add great pieces to the mix, and the editing is superb.

All in all, this film is definitely worth watching – at the very least it would give some understanding of the state of the modern art, as of the end of 2000s.

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[s] Research on Conjoined Twins / Issledovaniya na nerazdelivshihsya bliznetsah (N. Ilzina,1957)

Full title of this documentary short is Neural and Humoral Factors in the Regulation of Bodily Functions  (Нервные и гуморальные факторы в регуляции функций организма), it tells about the scientific research conducted in the 1950s by P.K. Anokhin (scientific supervisor), T. T. Alekseeva (chief scientist) and others on two pairs of conjoined twins – Galya and Ira, who lived only to 1.5 years old, and Masha and Dasha, who turned 7 years old in 1957. The initial goal of the research was to study the roles of neural and humoral factors in the development of an organism, however, besides fulfilling this primary purpose, other sides of conjoined twins’ life were also touched upon.

This two-reel film, Neural and Humoral Factors in the Regulation of Bodily Functions (Research on Conjoined Twins) was produced by the USSR Academy of Medical Sciences. The making of it stretched across two decades, from the time of Joseph Stalin’s “Great Terror” to Nikita Khrushchev’s de-Stalinization campaign, known as the “Thaw.” Its first frames, shot in 1937, show the infant conjoined twins Ira and Galia. Its last frames, shot in 1957, document the seventh birthday celebration of a second pair of twins, Masha and Dasha. The film is the only substantial record of the research conducted on these two pairs. It also stands as a unique record of the early life of Masha and Dasha, who are shown reacting to different types of stimuli, as well as feeding, sleeping, playing, dressing themselves, and walking with crutches. X-rays, EEGs, and illustrations are used in the film, which offers a rare glimpse into the history of Soviet physiology and Soviet “scientific cinema.”

This is truly a unique document, and not only because of its scientific value. It shows, however inconsistently, the lives of actual people, who were condemned to spending a major part of it in a laboratory, surrounded by scientific worker rather than by relatives. To me it’s first and foremost a perfect drama, which tells about ill fate and suffering of people who don’t really deserve anything like that. It’s a powerful situation with insanely deep context and potentially amazing characters (potentially – because it’s hard to figure out the actual people behind all the research; all we have is a bunch of glimpses). It is certainly a sad story, but not without moments of true joy.

I would definitely recommend watching this film to everybody – it’s enlightening on several different levels and might bring new value to you existence.

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[s] The Yesterday / Vcherashniy den (Mihail Bushkov, 2015)

Vcherashniy den is a documentary short about a guy, who is working as a taxi driver, dreams of making documentary films, and is passionate about the past of his family, which his parents do not see any purpose in.

I wouldn’t call this film bad, but it isn’t very good either. Ultimately, the idea becomes more or less clear at some point, but to be perfectly honest, it’s not the most substantial idea, and there seems to be too much flesh covering it that it is able to justify. The character’s family is nothing interesting at all – his wife and children produce an impression of utterly ordinary people, and his parents are a drag.

The execution is nothing special, too. All in all, the film is pretty boring; it doesn’t seem to worth the time.

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[s] Optina Pustyn. Warriors of the Lord / Voiny Gospoda (Aleksandr Rastorguev, 2010)

Optina Pustyn. Warriors of the Lord is a documentary short directed by Aleksandr Rastorguev and narrated by Eduard Sagalaev. It’s about a famous orthodox monastery in Russia called Optina Pustyn and those monks and ascetics living there. As the title suggests, the inhabitants of the monastery are presented as the warriors of the lord in his never-ending struggle with evil.

This is a film about a religious institution written and narrated by a deeply religious person. As such it just can’t help being one-sided; as it usually goes with the religious folk, many things are simply asserted as obvious facts even though to an outsider they would seem ridiculous. The subject was barely interesting to me, but it might be more relevant for others; but even objectively there’s very little valid information about the place and people who live there, – mostly it’s just pseudo-philosophical talks about how wonderful and cool they are.

The execution is more or less interesting – clearly Rastorguev’s role was diminished to editing and camerawork, and those pieces of implementation are the most curious of all. Which is still not too curious.

So, this would be most interesting to orthodox people looking to learn more about that particular monastery; as a work of cinema it’s just okay.

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[s] Norilsk. The Future / Norilsk. Buduschee (Aleksandr Rastorguev, 2015)

Norilsk. The Future (also sometimes known as Norilsk in First Person) is a documentary film by Aleksandr Rastorguev showing the Russian city of Norilsk through the prism of its younger generation. The film is composed of several unconnected episodes, all featuring children of various ages living and growing up in the severe environment of high north.

Well, what can I say – I loved it. The shot is clear and precise; the stories are internally consistent, emotional and engaging. As usual, Rastorguev plays a fly on the wall, inserting himself into the lives of his characters in a way that he doesn’t seem to influence the situations he films at all. It is really incredibly well done, and very interesting to watch. Truly, Rastorguev is one of the most brilliant documentary directors I’ve encountered, and this film is just another proof of that.

Go the link below – on the website you can watch the whole thing. It’s definitely worth it.

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[s] Rabbits in the Headlights / Kroliki v svete far (Alisa Erokhina, 2016)

Kroliki v svete far is a documentary with elements of staged mockumentary. It’s a story about two girl – Lena and Eva – living in a small provincial town, in which a huge transport juncture with an overhead road is being built. They keep each other’s company, and have unclear, mixed feelings towards each other; which gets even more complicated because of their desire to fit in with the other kids, who are often rude and abusive.

The film is built as a pure documentary; however, from certain moments the existence of a script becomes more or less obvious – specifically, from the preciseness of the relation between shots of a same scene from different perspectives; from clarity of some of the shots in the finale; and from the finale itself, which is not as powerful as I thought it would be.

Honestly, the film is extremely impressive. Some of the scenes are absolutely brilliant, and it doesn’t even matter whether they were staged or not – either way, it’s an outstanding work, albeit for different reasons. The story in general is very consistent internally and has a great narration quality; at the same time it is rendered in a very original way – even with the tremendous amount of mockumentary experiments carried out already when it was only conceived.

This film, among other things, is an amazing portrayal of modern environment of a Russian provincial town – the atmosphere of greyness and hopelessness is reproduced perfectly, and without concentrating on anything besides the story itself.

The only thing that struck me as ambiguous and, maybe, not the best version of itself, was the finale, and, specifically, the suicide scene. I find the way it was implemented slightly disenchanting. Maybe it’s just me, though.

In general, this is a totally fascinating movie; a work that shows high hopes for its director (Alisa Erokhina), and for the people otherwise involved in this production. I hope to see more from this author.

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Wild Wild Country (m/s, 2018)

Wild Wild Country is a documentary miniseries about Bhgawan Sri Rajneesh, who later became known as Osho, and the organization he created together with his disciples. The series gives an overview of the complete movement’s history – that is, only until Osho’s death – but specifically concentrates on the american episode of that history. In 1981 Ma Anand Sheela, Bhagwan’s secretary and his right hand, bought a ranch in Oregon near a small town called Antelope. The idea was to build a commune where all the followers of Bhagwan’s teaching would live and work together in harmony. Sheela and the Bhagwan’s organization invested a lot of money, time and other resources into this project, and pretty soon the previously barren land turned into a blossoming park, and the population of Antelope, which was 40 people before that, trippled and kept on growing. Following the laws of the state of Oregon, the commune established a town on what was a ranch before, and called it Rajneeshpuram. Shortly after the original inhabitants of Antelope started showing by every means possible that the members of the commune are not welcomed there. The passions kept on heating up, and soon enough weapons became a normal part of the landscape. The locals considered the rajneeshees an alien form of life, feared them and dreamt of getting rid of them. The rajneeshees reacted correspondingly – they did not believe in offering the second cheek, and wanted to protect themselves. However, Sheela, who has been running the community for quite a while by that moment, got way too radical and way too paranoid, and made a number of missteps, some of which were pretty gruesome. In the four years the commune existed the opposition between the organization and the state and society of the United States (all the levels and all the branchs kind of came together to resist what they considered a threat to their mere existence) have risen to outstanding levels of magnitude, even though the organization was not at all as devious as the government suggested.

This is an absolutely remarkable story told in a way that is even more remarkable. The name of Osho is well-known, to me as well, but I had no idea that his story is so bizarre and so interesting. The chapter of it, that the authors of this series are focusing on, is definitely one of the most curious sequences of events I have ever encountered. In part, because there is no definitive good and bad here – the borders are all blurred, and none of the people involved look very good here.

Osho is shown as a man of outstanding qualities, a thinker and a philosopher, who still was not devoid of human weaknesses, which eventually led his astray: he not only liked his wealth too much, but also made a mistake of delegating too much of his power to other people. Those other people, Sheela the first among them, went too far with the initially positive qualities of their character and their beliefs, such as their love for the master and desire to protect him. Sheela loved her power too much, and have been gotten too angry at the slightest sight of danger for Osho, and for the organizations, both of whom she cherished more than anything. The locals valued their way of life too much, and were willing to go quite far to protect it, rejecting everything different, no matter good or bad. The authorities also fought what they perceived as a threat, and went so far as to bend the laws and the rules in the favor of their side; but the bigger problem was that their evaluation of degree of danger was based solely on the difference between the commune and the american society, and did not take into account possible (and definite) positive qualities of the former.

The series is constructed in such a way that allows the viewer to absorb this situation as a downright ambiguous one, i.e. elegantly avoids putting labels of any of the characters involved. It shows the story in all its tremendous complexity, with behavioural tendencies arising from each other, and being reinforced by each other. This is truly an astonishing work – the only one of this kind (and magnitude) that I could remember.

On the technical level the narrative consists of several huge interviews slashed into many chunks of various length, and of tons and tons of archive footage and other kinds of media relevant to the story. Everything is mixed up and organized masterfully in the storyline that unfolds gradually, without giving away multiple surprising twists and turns it contains.

Needless to say, the technical execution of the series is just mind-boggling. On all levels it’s a powerful work, an absolute must-watch. For me it was just as entertaining as it was eye-opening. And, surely enough, it left me deeply submerged in my thoughts.

Probably the best documentary miniseries (and one of the best documentaries in general) I have ever watched. Highly recommended.

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[s] Sit (Yoko Okumura, 2016)

Sit is a documentary short about the family of Buddhists, formerly from Japan, now living in the US.

The film is curious in a way, as it sheds some light on a page that has been previously unfamiliar to the world; the only problem with it is that after, same as before, this page remains not very interesting. While I was watching this, I gradually became slightly interested in the subject, but not very much, and as soon as the film was over, everything told in it sort of wore off from my memory pretty quickly. Maybe it’s too short. Maybe it lacks perspective, or a way to connect that story to the larger environment it takes place in. Be that as it may, the movie definitely lacks something, which makes it insignificant.

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[s] Gora (Aleksandr Rastorguev, 2001)

Gora is a documentary film by Aleksandr Rastorguev about a woman by the last name Gora (‘mountain’ in Russian) and the environment she’s living in and considers native. The film is paired with another Rastorguev’s work issued the same year, Mamochki, on the grounds that both these movies tackle the subject of giving birth, as well as the relationships between parents and children, and that both are telling about the most wretched social strata of the Russian society.

There are also similarities in style and general approach to the people in the shot, which is empathetic and cordial one. Clearly, Rastorguev believes that such qualities as mental development or ability to make money have nothing to do with ability to love and be loved – genuinely and with passion. He is certainly right about that. His heroes attract sympathy notwithstanding the fact that their life decisions are often questionable, and their intellect allows them only to co-exist with similarly gifted. Film such as this one is a good way of reminding that people are all different, and no matter how much alcohol they consume and what they do under its influence, they are still people who deserve to be treated as such.

The execution is very decent. Just like in Mamochki, the director kind of plays a fly on the wall part, and manages to render the essence of the environment pretty much undiluted. The editing is an important part of the creative solution, and, though not yet fully developed, shows all the qualities of an independent (and quite powerful) point of view.

All in all, this is a very good movie, which I highly recommend.

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[s] Blood Cells / Kletki krovi (R. Mash ~ Nauchfilm)

Kletki krovi is an old soviet educational video about the types of blood cells – actually, it’s a sort of supplement for the medical students’ test designed to help them distinguish between blood cells types.

It’s really nothing all that special – not in the light of tons of documentary and educational resources available to everybody today – but it is sort of curious as to how such videos have been made back in the days, and in the USSR. Also, it shows macrosequences of the blood flow, and of the blood curdling in the wounds, which was kind of interesting to me.

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[s] Long Live the Kings (Clement Beauvais, 2012)

Long Live the Kings is a short film that can be a documentary, or not, about three bikers friends taking up a journey from somewhere to somewhere else. As they drive through places, taking rest, having fun, etc, the offscreen narrator tells about how cool it is to ride a bike (or whatever).

The film seems to be of very little value, be that of documentary, or artistic. It’s not very entertaining, as there is no story; it’s not exactly enlightening, as it doesn’t tell anything everybody else does not know already; and its execution is simply alright – there are no particular blunders, but nothing special about it also. Not recommended.

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[s] Mikhail Ugarov. Theater.Doc (Galina Sinkina, 2002)

Mikhail Ugarov. Theater.Doc is a documentary short about Mikhail Ugarov, a playwright and the creator and manager of Theater.Doc, a prominent phenomenon in Russia’s theater life. Mikhail himself, as well as members of his family, talks about themselves and, curiously, about their respective future deaths, which was a sort of project of his.

It’s not very good. Even if Ugarov was an outstanding personality, you won’t get this kind of impression from this film. He does seem like an interesting person, sure, but that is hardly enough, not in this case. The thing with future afterlife experience, an imaginary experiment, is curious and a little bit weird.

As per execution, the film also fails to correspond with the expectations: basically, it’s a collection of talking heads, which is the worst kind of documentary. All in all, it seems like Ugarov deserves better than this.

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[s] Why Am I Here / Pochemu ya tut (Director, 2013)

Pochemu ya tut is a documentary short about an autistic boy named Rasul and his family. It’s purely an observational picture: the author inserted herself into the subject’s environment and became an integral part of it. The film became possible only because Rasul trusted Dasha completely and considered her a part of his family.

It’s a pretty nice documentary because there are no admixtures of moralizing or we-gotta-save-the-world attitude – it’s the observation of life as it comes, with difficulties and joyous things mixed into it in roughly equal proportions.

Perhaps, the most interesting thing about this particular example of a family touched by autism is that they don’t handle things perfectly. Even on camera they do and say things they probably shouldn’t , and because of this they become a good example of the acute edges one probably should try to avoid. That is not to diminish their burden, – surely it’s hard to behave correctly 100% of the time.

The execution is very nice: the author basically serves as an eye, a means for the audience to see it too. The camerawork, the editing, the selection of scenes – all these things are really well done. Certainly, Darya Sidorova has a good talent for documentary filmmaking. Recommended.

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[s] The Stock of Yours / Tvoy rod (Aleksandr Rastorguev, 2000)

Tvoy rod is a short film about a student named Grant, who comes to his native remote mountain village from Erevan for a vacation. Most of the screen time Grant sits on the train station waiting for one of his neighbours to send him a horse, because his cargo is too heavy to transport it like that. While he waits we can observe beautiful scenery of an Armenian countryside, and also Grant’s dreams, which are also about his homeland. The film may be an adaptation of the Grant Matevosyan short stories, and is probably semi-documentary.

This early Rastorguev film is, frankly, pretty boring. Its primary purpose is probably the preservation of receding views and people, which, I suppose, is nice and everything, but hardly a very engaging thing to watch. The views are surely beautiful (although less so considering the quality of the video), but they alone are not enough to make the film interesting, and the story doesn’t help with that either.

All in all, this film can be recommended to the Rastorguev fans and nobody else; the director’s later, and purely documentary works, seem to be much better.

Names and figures

The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst (m/s, 2015)

The Jinx is a documentary film in the subgenre investigation. Andrew Jarecki (the director of a great movie All Good Things) and his crew start looking into the circumstances surrounding the figure of Robert Durst, member of one of the wealthiest New York families, after he himself contacts Jarecki with an offer to film an interview. The interview, of course, becomes only a part of the story; most of the narrative is composed of documentary evidence telling the story of Durst, his wife Katie, who disappeared in 1982, Robert’s close friend Susan, who was murdered in her house in 2000, after the investigation of Katie’s disappearance got re-opened by an eager DA, and Robert’s neighbour Moris Black, whose dismembered body was found in a lake in a small Texas town in 2001. Robert Durst was suspected to have something to do with all of these events, but nothing has ever been proven – at least not until a documentary trail was uncovered in the process of Black’s murder investigation. The show also heavily uses a technique of re-enactment of the events, with characters’ faces concealed.

The most fascinating thing about this quite wonderful miniseries is waiting for you in the final episode – I will not disclose what it is in order not to spoil the pleasure of discovery; however, you can read about it in Wikipedia if you really want to (but I would advise against it).

The subject of the story is extremely curious – it’s sort of like OJ’s deal, only in this case the element of ambiguity was stronger; and the whole thing was much messier, too. The plot of the series is very well composed – Jarecki obviously has a great sense of narrative, which is indicated by a lot of things, including the order in which the pieces of the story is presented. The approach with combining the actual evidence with re-enactments is also pretty great; the re-enactments are done very tastefully and are embedded into the plot quite neatly.

(By the way, if anything, this is an example of a criminal who managed to get away with his crimes for a really long time thanks first and foremost to pure luck – because he obviously was terrible at concealing the traces.)

The execution is professional; everything is implemented with great talent and skill. The actors are good, but not too good; the documentary component is honest and precise.

All in all, this was a rather amazing cinematic experience for me. Documentary investigations can be pretty boring, but this is an example of the opposite – it was engaging and interesting, and captivating. Highly recommended.

Names and figures

[s] Home (Thomas Gleeson, 2012)

Home is a documentary short about moving a house from one place to another.

The film is rather well-made, but that’s nearly all the good I can say about it. Basically, it’s about life that goes away and then returns to a place of dwelling; it’s very meditative, if put it nicely, and very boring, if not. The idea and the message become clear in the first minute or so, and then it’s just more and more details of the same. There are no people, only the house that is being moved; therefore, there is no actual conflict apart from metaphysical one, which is not really a conflict. Obviously, there isn’t much development. All in all, recommended if you want to fall asleep or need something to meditate at.

Names and figures

[s] Two Cycles / Dos ciclos (Rodrigo de la Mora & Darío López Ortega, 2011)

Dos ciclos is a short semi-documentary about how cool it is to ride a bike. By telling about their experience the authors encourage everybody to find their passion and enjoy life blah-blah-blah.

There is no story here, obviously, and as for the message, it’s far from being original, and probably won’t have any significant effect on people. But the film is very nicely done: there is a multitude of angles , great editing, and decent everything else, including the narration. I kind of liked it.

Names and figures

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