Argentinian director-screenwriter Alessia Chiesa’s debut feature, The Endless Day, enters the world of children’s play without grown-ups in sight. At first glance it’s life through play, reading stories and walking in the woods with Claa, Tino, Fan and Coco the dog. Careless and throwback days are followed by close-ups and superb cinematography until food supplies soon come to an end and the youngest Claa (a brilliant Mila Marchisio) starts her resistance by asking questions. The house in which they live in is in the middle of a forest and once night draws in, loud sounds come from the woods. Chiesa’s story is as mysterious as our childhood memories, forever engraved in our memory like ghost stories.
At the centre of Christy Garland’s new documentary What Walaa Wants, is young girl Walaa who followed from the age of 15 to 21, is full of energy and goes through her transition from teenager to adult life. Raised in a refugee camp in West Bank after her mother went to prison, Walaa’s rush into early adulthood also feeds her dream of joining the Palestinian Security Forces to become a policewoman. After reuniting with her mother upon the former’s release from prison, family re-bonding challenges discussions about Walaa’s future and education. Her intelligence is phenomenal but she has to face a number of challenges. Garland’s film is a first look into the Palestinian police academy and a girl’s ambition for a world of no predictions.
Shot with outstanding and experimental quality, Jumana Manna’s Wild Relatives is an essay film on delicate and fragile nature. Carefully crafted with a curious eye to detail with the use of portrait interviews and exceptional photography, Manna’s film opens up the discussion about seeds and biodiversity. Climate change is reflected on environmental disasters created by humans alongside the debate on global justice. It’s a superb work that places the marvellous and disastrous close together and our commitment at the core of our responsibility towards safeguarding nature’s goods.
The explosive visual universe of Obscuro Barroco is another of my highlights by a female director, and winner of the Teddy Award at this year’s Berlinale. Two years after her acclaimed debut Exotica, Erotica, Etc., Greek director Evangelia Kranioti’s comeback is striking. Obscuro Barroco is a realist but dreamy essay film with Rio de Janeiro as its protagonist. The film’s transgender narrator, late Luana Muniz, walks us through the city of dreams, past carnival queens and anti-government protests to reach to the ecstatic dance of the underground world. Dedicated to Muniz, Kranioti’s film is an euphoric transfiguration of Rio de Janeiro’s contradictory worlds. Sensational fireworks at night from the sea and bare transvestites are just a few of the film’s details. Its style resonates a poetic imagery, that of dreaming and sleepwalking in the dark.
Pop icon Mathangi “Maya” Arulpragasam known with her stage name M.I.A. is the subject of Steve Loveridge’s documentary MATANGI / MAYA / M.I.A. Reportedly being delayed due to funding backlash and media controversy, it is an electrifying portrait of the artist’s life from refugee to her rise as pop culture icon and activist. Born to Sri Lankan parents in London, MIA was soon moved back to Jaffna in Northern Sri Lanka where her father took part in the Tamil Resistance Movement seeking a separate homeland on the island state. As the war raged, she then returned to London with her mother at the age of 11. Loveridge’s film is a brilliant portrait of the British rapper, singer-songwriter and record producer put together with MIA’s personal videotapes, which she recorded herself since she was a student. These include her friendships, family, her controversial music videos and a forgotten documentary she made about Sri Lanka’s civil rights crisis. It’s a revolutionary work brought with a passion for global justice and for spreading the truth about crimes against humanity.
Other personal highlights from the festival include a brilliantly restored print of Nigeria director Adamu Halilu’s 1976 rediscovered film Shaihu Umar. It’s the story of a boy’s journey changing hands after his father dies and is based on the eponymous 1955 novella by Nigerian prime minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa (from 1957 to 1966), which has been reprinted several times. Guy Maddin’s collaboration with Evan and Galen Johnson for The Green Fog is an excellent satire on archive footage curation and a symphony on celluloid paying homage to Hitchcock’s Vertigo and it was screened together with their short film Accidence, an arresting portrait of social housing during a day in the life of a council flats tower building.