Piers Marchant at True/False, Day Three

March 4, 2018

True/False 2018: Day 3


Number of Films: 2
Best Movie of the Day: Makala

Makala: The premise of Emmanuel Gras’s doc is deceptively simple: His camera follows Kabwita Kasongo, a man from a tiny village in the DRC as he plies his trade – making charcoal in a massive, self-packed dirt oven in a clearing outside his village, and then traveling the 50km from his small concrete hut, where he lives with his wife and young children, into a seething city in order to sell it by the bag. In order to do this, he has to pack the coal into large sacks, carefully securing each one individually and then binding them together to load them onto his modified bike, which he then pushes by hand down dirt pathways, up imposing hills, and eventually down dusty roads with cars and trucks blazing past him, kicking dirt and exhaust into his face. Along the way, he encounters several tradesmen doing exactly what he is, some helpful countrymen who help him when his bike gets tipped over by a truck, bandits who force him to give up a sack of his precious coal, some relatives whom he stays and sees only for a few minutes, and a slog of people crammed into the public market spaces where he finally gets to unburden his load. Where Kabwita’s journey would normally be seen in the background, adding local color, from inside one of those speeding trucks, en route to some adventure or other, here, his story is paramount, and a rich experience it is. A procedural in the best possible manner, we follow his journey from inkling to implementation in a way that’s both satisfying and strangely intimate. Kabwita never looks at the camera, gives no sense that he’s even aware of its presence, but what it captures is remarkable and we’ve been privileged to spend the journey with him.

Shirkers: Back in 1992, Sandi Tan was a precocious, subversive teenager, growing up in Singapore, and absolutely besotted with movies and filmmaking. With the support of her mentor, a mysterious older man named Georges Cardona, and a pair of best friends her own age, she wrote a screenplay for a feature film involving a 16-year-old girl named ‘S,’ who runs around the country killing adults and leading children to some kind of idyllic afterlife. Audaciously shot over a single summer, Tan and her collaborators all had high hopes for the film, the likes of which they felt had never before been made in their country. Instead, Georges vanished, absconding with the reels of their unedited film, and was never heard from by the girls again. That is, until his ex-widow contacted Tan some 20 years later, telling her about Georges’ death, and restoring the reels to their rightful owner (sans audio tracks). From this material, Tan, now a novelist living in L.A., crafts a canny ode to cinema, her radicalized youth, and a Singapore that is nearly unrecognizable to her now. Along the way, she also re-connects with her old friends, scattered all over the globe, and reconstructs that painful part of their lives in order to make some sort of sense from it. Left to her own devices, you can see the way where Tan might have leaned a bit more towards sentimentality, but fortunately Tan’s friends, both of whom articulate intelligent women very much still involved with cinema, have a way of calling her out for her more fanciful interpretations of herself, which serves to modulate the more vanity project aspects of the production.

Tomorrow: I go out with a bang, checking out Three Identical Strangers. Taming the Horse, and the controversial Of Fathers and Sons.

Photo from Makala

Escaping the miserable ice and slain of Philadelphia this March weekend, I am down in Columbia, MO, home of the 15-year-old True/False Film Festival, a collection of (mostly) documentary films, entertaining buskers, and outrageously dressed Q queens.

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