4 Diaspora Films To See At MoMA's Documentary Fortnight 2014 - Feb 14-28 In NYC

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by Tambay A. Obenson
February 17, 2014 3:01 PM
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Gabriel Mascaro's "Doméstica" (or "Housemaids")

For those in NYC (including myself) here's your opportunity to see at least 4 feature docs of the Diaspora (2 we've previously highlighted) that will screen as part of MoMA's Documentary Fortnight 2014 - MoMA’s International Festival of Nonfiction Film and Media, which runs, starting today, Friday, February 14 to February 28, 2014.

2 Weeks of some great non-fiction cinema that you may not get to see otherwise.

More about the program:

Since 2001, February has marked the return of Documentary Fortnight, MoMA’s annual showcase of innovative recent nonfiction film and media. This year’s festival includes 20 feature films, 10 shorts, two classics, and one installation, from more than 20 countries, in an examination of the relationship between contemporary art and nonfiction filmmaking, and of new approaches to nonfiction practice. Several video works will be screened in theatrical versions, and one video installation from the Museum’s collection will be on display in the galleries. The features, shorts, and installations in this year’s festival show filmmakers and artists responding to contemporary concerns by capturing and analyzing events on a global stage, or by pulling from their own countries, communities, and backgrounds to tell documentary stories with intimacy, depth, and formal innovation. As a whole, the works in this year’s program seek to move beyond the search for "empirical truth," and delve into the inner realities of their subjects, focusing on states of being, memories, dreams, ideas, desires, and utopias lost and found.

First, it's not quite The Help (I only use that because it seems to have become the standard by which all films about maids are now compared).

Here, the filmmaker's approach intrigues me, and I'd like to see what the end result looks, sounds and feels like.

It's titled Doméstica (or Housemaids), a seemingly provocative feature-length documentary by Brazilian director Gabriel Mascaro.

It's a project we've been tracking since first writing about it almost 2 years ago.

Mascaro's approach involved giving video cameras to 7 adolescents from six Brazilian locales, and asked them to film their family's maids for a week, all day, everyday, for 7 straight days.

So it's kind of what you'd call an observational documentary, capturing the diversity of employee attitudes towards their maids, the relationship between each maid and the house they are hired to work in, how each reacts to the fact that there's a camera following them around, and more.

Given how intimate it seems, it could be compelling viewing. I haven't seen it, so I can't say. But I'm intrigued by the method chosen, and will check it out at MoMA when it screens this month.

Of course, one could argue that, while there might be some genuinely poignant moments, how much of what we see is indeed sincere, and not just the maids acting or saying what they think their bosses will want to hear. In essence, how truthful can they be, when their employers' kids are the filmmakers behind the cameras recording their every move?

Regardless, I'm still curious.

Watch the full trailer below for Housemaids below.

Second, Thomas Allen Harris' Through a Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People, coming from its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival last month, as a New Frontiers pick. 

The documentary explores how African Americans have used photography as a tool for social change, illuminating the hidden, little known and under-appreciated stories of African Americans transforming themselves and the nation through the power of the camera lens. The film also explores how contemporary photographers and artists like Deborah Willis, Carrie Mae Weems, Lorna Simpson, Anthony Barboza, Lyle Ashton Harris, Hank Willis Thomas, Glenn Ligon, Coco Fusco and Clarissa Sligh, have built upon the legacy of early Black photographers while trying to reconcile a past that those who came before us would rather forget.

Earlier this week, John Singleton signed up to act as Executive Producer on Through A Lens Darkly.

The film is part of a larger transmedia project roadshow that includes the website/traveling roadshow Digital Diaspora Family Reunion, which invites audiences to share and upload their own family photographs and participate in the creation of a global family archive that can form communities. The photos are uploaded via Instagram or Twitter through the #1World1Family hashtag and put into the One World – One Family global family album, where all are connected.

Third, Irish filmmaker Duncan Campbell's It For Others, which offers commentary on the 1953 film made by Chris Marker and Alan Resnais titled Les Statues meurent aussi, or Statues Also Die - an award-winning 30-minute film essay on African art from years past, and the effects colonialism has had on how that art is perceived.

And because the original film was considered by some to be a critique of colonialism, the second half of it (in which the film argues that "colonial presence has compelled African art to lose much of its idiosyncratic expression, in order to appeal to Western consumers," with a mention of how African currencies had been replaced by European currencies) was censored in France until the 1960s.

For their part, according to Resnais, their original intent was not to make an anti-colonial film, but rather just a film about African art. However, their research opened them up to realities that they weren't previously aware of, with respect to European (white) colonial perceptions of African art, which then affected the rest of their research, and thus the overall direction of the film, which also won the Prix Jean Vigo in 1954.

Campbell's It For Others is a meditation and an expanded historical response to Chris Marker and Alain Resnais’ 1953 film.

And finally, Peter Snowdon's The Uprising - a chronicle of an imaginary pan-Arab uprising created from actual footage of the Arab Spring revolutions the filmmaker found on youTube, shot by residents in Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Tunisia, and Yemen between the demonstrations against Tunisia’s Zinedine Ben Ali in 2010 and the Egyptian Maspero massacre in 2011.

It's one of several feature documentaries on the Arab Spring produced in the last 3 years, that we've followed on this blog, including 1/2 Revolution and, most recently, the Oscar nominated The Square, to start.

MoMA's Documentary Fortnight, runs, starting today, February 14, through the 28. For more information, including how to purchase tickets, click HERE.

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