Over the past decade or so, the line between documentary and fiction has become increasingly difficult to pin down, with many contemporary filmmakers gleefully blurring boundaries long established by tradition and creating hybrid works that keep budgets down while constantly questioning the difference between reality and fabrication. It’s telling that The Film Society at Lincoln Center’s annual Art of the Real showcase, opts for the term “non-fiction” over “documentary,” freeing the filmmakers from preconditioned expectations while still only telling about half the story for most of the films featured in this year’s edition.
Yet alongside these provocative, transgressive hybrid works are a whole range of themes and formal approaches that are testament to non-fiction film’s endless possibilities. From personal essay films about love, memory and San Francisco, to an uninterrupted, 75-minute talking head interview with the 90-year old WWII veteran who led Japan’s first squadron of Kamikaze pilots, you’ll probably want to set apart some time to really dig into the selection curated by Dennis Lim and Rachael Rakes. Indeed, with so much diversity, Art of the Real shows us that perhaps documentary is in the eye of the beholder rather than merely a set of fixed conventions.
Either way, Latin America is proudly front and center in this new wave of cinematic experimentation, and nearly a quarter of this year’s Art of the Real program comes from south of the border. Here’s a rundown of the Latin American films to look out for.
Art of the Real runs April 10 – 26 at the Film Society of Lincoln Center. Visit filmlinc.com for tickets and showtimes.
An elderly man living a solitary existence near the coast of Oaxaca is stripped of his land when a court determines that he doesn’t have the deed. After his house is demolished, the man apparently begins to lose his mind as he wanders deep into the mountains of Oaxaca, returning to his origins as he is overcome by memories of his past. Pereda’s trademark slow tempo and pristine compositions are on full display in The Absent along with his use of non-professional actors who seem to reinterpret the contents of their own life experience.
Nova Dubai is the name of an ambitious mega-development of 30 high rise buildings on the outskirts of São Paolo, in a rapidly developing satellite city that also happens to be director Gustavo Vinagre’s hometown. Nova Dubai is a unapologetic, provocative work in which a group of gay friends come to grips with their rapidly disappearing space by living out a series of scandalous sexual fantasies. It is a shocking work that is by turns personal, political and poetic.
Taking docufiction hybrid to a radical extreme, Naomi Campbel follows the fictional character of Yermén, who is in fact a very real individual named Paula Dinamarca. Yermén/Paula is a trangender 30-something who works as an over the phone fortune teller and dreams of undergoing an operation to complete her transformation into a woman. In what appears to be a fictional narrative, Yermén enters a television competition in hopes her dream may be realized, and along the way meets an Afro-Descended immigrant who dreams of operating on her nose to look more like Naomi Campbell. The highly aesthetic, cinematic images following Yerméns journey are punctuated by grainy video taken by Paula that documents her day-to-day existence as a transgender woman in one of the poorest communities of Santiago. A meditation on the fluidity of identities, breaking down boundaries both in form and subject.
Branco sai, preto fica
A tripped out docufiction sci-fi hybrid that follows the daily lives of two black Brazilians who were victims of a violent, racially motivated 1980s police raid that left one paralyzed and the other without a leg. But rather than simply retracing the series of events that unfolded around this horrific act, Quierós mashes up documentary truth with a dystopian sci-fi plot about a time traveler who arrives to warn the two disfigured heroes about some impending future disaster. Ultimately, Quierós takes an otherwise conventional documentary about institutional violence and racism in Brazil and radically explodes the format to reveal some of the deeper rifts still present in Brazilian society.