The Big Short tackles a sad reality

Review by Brenda Daniels

Already on circuit in South Africa, this 2008 financial crisis film was seen by myself only this week. Many viewers will of course be familiar with the story of the housing bubble that caused markets to crash eight years ago causing a fallout that spread around the world. This film continues that theme, though from a slightly different angle.

Continue reading

The truth about documentaries

By Brenda Daniels

I enjoy watching film documentaries. There’s something about “true”/factual stories that make me feel my viewing time is worthwhile. But of course even documentaries are framed in ways that influence their message, and hence their viewers. In other words, they’re not objective. In some, the construction of the story is more obvious than in others.

Two documentaries I watched at the 2015 Durban International Film Festival provide an example of different levels of “interference” in their making and presentation.

(Dis)honesty – The Truth about Lies (By Yael Melamede)

This film was particularly interesting and showed the reasons people lie. A group of scientists, headed by Dan Ariely, do a number of tests on people to discover when they lie and why. Ariely explains the tests and their results to viewers and this narration is interspersed with interviews with people who have all been imprisoned for the consequences of their lies.

Ariely is an engaging, humorous and non-judgmental speaker. He describes how people lie or “fudge” for reasons such as personal gain or distance from the indiscretion, and how they (read we) actually lie, for example; by justifying their actions or identifying with a peer group who are doing the same. After watching this documentary I was left knowing for sure that lying is an all-pervasive human trait, and that we are all capable of lying to the extent of committing a crime.

The “framing” of this documentary certainly achieved its aim with me!

Atlantic (by Jan-Willem)

Photo Source: http://www.film1.nl/films/42830-Atlantic.html

Atlantic is a different documentary altogether. Styled as a “reality” show, it follows the story of a Moroccan fisherman, Fettah, who takes up windsurfing. Friendships with visiting Europeans, and a longing for his mother who died at sea when he was just a child, compel Fettah to embark on an unusual journey. He packs a backpack and sets off on a trip of hundreds of miles – using only his windsurfer as transport.

The filming and sparse Arabic narration is lyrical in quality. I admired the simplicity with which Fettah managed to live his life at sea and when he came ashore – just a bottle of water, a bag of nuts and a tiny tent seemed to sustain him. But towards the end he encounters difficulties and is left in a desperate situation. Will he survive? Well of course we know he must have – he was being filmed after all and was never as alone as the documentary would have us believe!

Whilst I enjoyed the actual story, the obvious “interference” in the filming process of Atlantic left me with some doubts about the truth of this documentary.

The life of Pompeii is preserved in Pompeii Live from the British Museum

A review by Brenda Daniels

Pompeii Live from the British Museum is the filmed version of an exhibition set in the British Museum. The exhibition is titled Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum and displays fascinating archaeological pieces unearthed from these two ancient Italian towns. The exhibition is “live” in the sense that a number of experts are interviewed at the museum where they explain the various exhibits.

Pompeii Live from the British Museum is not to be confused with the recently released Pompeii – a film currently on circuit in South African Ster Kinekor classic theatres.

So, just how thrilling could a film based on an exhibition be, you ask. Well, I think the subject of the exhibition is the draw card here. Pompeii is famous. In AD79 Mount Vesuvius erupted in spectacular fashion, engulfing this Roman-Italian town in 300 degree Celcius larva. The town was completely buried and partly uncovered only in modern times. Much of what was uncovered was recognisable and has therefore given twenty-first century citizens a glimpse into what life was like in that part of the Roman empire some 2000 years ago.

What the filmed exhibition does is breathe life into the archaeological items on display. So, real life – and people – in Roman times begin to emerge with the explanation of pieces of jewellery, cooking equipment, an intact loaf of bread, wall murals, street  signs and rooms in houses and public houses.

Herculaneum, a nearby but less well-known town, was also devastated by the volcano. Items shown from this town include wooden furniture turned to charcoal by the unimaginable heat.

My own interest in Pompeii began years ago when I read a historical fiction account of the event. I was amazed at how advanced a culture the Roman’s was. And then, in 2012 I visited Pompeii itself and saw firsthand a Roman road, complete with wagon wheel ruts, a brothel, a Roman baths and of course human bodies “frozen” at the moment of death.

Pompeii Live from the British Museum makes a very important point. The archaeological sites at Pompeii and Herculaneum are in danger of not being preserved. The experts in the documentary all agree on one thing: preserve what we have before digging for more.

I hope this film creates an awareness that will go some way to helping preserve this amazing piece of history. Of life.

The documentary releases in HD at the four digital Cinema Nouveau theatres in South Africa – Rosebank Mall in Johannesburg, Brooklyn Mall in Pretoria, Gateway in Durban and V&A Waterfront in Cape Town. The exhibition will be screened for four shows only: 22, 26 and 27 March at 7.30pm and 23 March at 2.30pm. The film runs for one and a half hours.

 

Brenda Daniels outside what was then the ancient Roman fast food take away, just outside the theatre. (Photo: Roxanne Daniels)

Brenda Daniels outside what was then the ancient Roman fast food take away, just outside the theatre. (Photo: Roxanne Daniels)

One of the main streets of Pompeii,wagon wheel tracks are visible. The stepping stones were for pedestrians to use in order to avoid stepping into the sewage which ran down the road.  (Photo: Roxanne Daniels)
One of the main streets of Pompeii,wagon wheel tracks are visible. The stepping stones were for pedestrians to use in order to avoid stepping into the sewage which ran down the road. (Photo: Roxanne Daniels)