dok.fest 2012

The 27th documentary film festival in Munich came to and end last week, and being a fan of alternative film formats I could not miss out on this event. From this year's incredibly broad program I (half inadvertently) picked two thematically similar pieces that I dutifully (and late) am going to report about here.

In Film Nist (This Is Not A Film)                                               2011
by Jafar Panahi and Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, Iran

According to the info that I found online this film was smuggled from Iran to Cannes in a flash-drive hidden inside a birthday cake! Jafar Panahi, the main subject of this documentary, is an internationally awarded Iranian director who is facing a six-year jail sentence and a 20-year ban on making or directing movies, writing screenplays, giving interviews as well as leaving the country. All due to alleged propaganda against the regime. We know that Iran isn't exactly the nicest place in the world to speak out your mind (in 2007, for example, five women were charged with endangering national security and sentenced to prison for collecting over a million signatures supporting the abolishment of laws discriminating against women). Panahi might be also confronting a more severe charge right now for letting this film slip through the repressing claws of the authorities. It's not even a properly filmed documentary since Panahi is not allowed to have access to any decent film equipment (some scenes were filmed using an iPhone). It's just a casual recording and last register of an artists frustration and desperation who's forced to slowly accept his artistic death.

Ai Wei Wei: Never Sorry                                                           2012
by Alison Klayman, China & USA

Basically the same as above. Except here we're dealing with an internationally renown artist, consequently spreading awareness of this kind of oppressive situation to more people worldwide. But unlike our previous documentary this is a fully and finished production by young director Alison Klayman who had the lucky chance of meeting Ai Weiwei personally and working directly with him (until his recent mysterious arrest by the Chinese authorities). Weiwei has been heavily targeted by the Chinese government for his political activism and criticism towards the strict censorship, the lack of democratic freedom and the unresponsive legal system in China. He expresses himself with irreverent attitudes through his art and strong overcritical statements via social media (like Twitter). In this film we have unprecedented access to all sides of Weiwei's live, professional as well as private (just like the Chinese government, ha) but naturally focusing on his political actions which along with his art make him the prominent and respected public figure that he is. Viewing recommended.

As naïve as I might sound, I enjoyed and endorse these documentaries for throwing stones and provocatively telling the truth about what is happening to artists and other intellectuals in oppressive regimes like Iran and China: freedom of expression through art is being castrated for the sake of political control.

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