Hotdocs Festival: A Brief Observation
Updated: May 23
By: Ali Moosavi
Leap Of Faith: William Friedkin On The Exorcist
The Exorcist (William Friedkin) caused a sensation when it opened in 1973. There were queues round the block and ambulances parked outside cinemas to tend to people who had fainted from shock. It conquered the global box office and bagged ten Oscar nominations. The Exorcist continues to be debated and studied today.
In general, directors do not like to discuss their own films. In the feature film DVDs the analysis is left to the critics and film scholars. William Friedkin is however an exception. In Leap of Faith: William Friedkin on The Exorcist (Alexandre O. Philippe), Friedkin discusses almost every scene of The Exorcist, as well as providing fascinating behind the scenes stories. Here are a few examples: William Peter Blatty, author of both the source novel and the screenplay, offered his share of profits from the film to Friedkin if he would cast him as Father Karras. Stacy Keach was cast as Father Karras but, after seeing Jason Miller’s audition tape, Friedkin paid Keach in full and cast Miller as Karras. The Exorcist was offered and turned done by Stanley Kubrick, Arthur Penn and Mike Nichols. There are a lot more of hese fascinating titbits of information. Not only we see scenes with Lalo Schifrin’s original score for The Exorcist (which Friedkin rejected) but even scenes from Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey with Alex North’s original score (ditched by Kubrick). Friedkin is a wonderful raconteur and Leap of Faith: William Friedkin on The Exorcist makes compulsive viewing for all film buffs. Pure Gold. Every one of its 105 minutes.
Eyes and Arms
In Eyes and Arms (Panahbarkhoda Rezaee), we follow a middle-aged couple, Mohammad and Maryam, in a village in Iran. Mohammad has been blind since childhood when measles took away his sight while Maryam lost both her arms in an accident. Against all odds, this couple find joy in life and appreciate the little things that they are able to do. In more ways than one, they complete each other. Rezaee’s camera lingers on Maryam while she painstakingly sews a cushion cover or Mohammad as he teaches himself English by listening to a tape and writing in braille. They cook together and clearly enjoy each other’s company. Mohammad has been married before and his previous wives have all died. He confesses that his only wish in life is to die before Maryam. They make ends meet by producing and selling things like grape extract, for which Mohammad sometimes has to stand for hours on the road, sunshine or snow, to catch the attention of the passing traffic. He is the eternal optimist saying that you should not feel let down by life and comforts Maryam by telling her that had she not lost her arms, something worse, like cancer, may have happened. Eyes and Arms makes the viewers appreciate life, despite any difficulties they may have. Rezaee has achieved that difficult documentary trick of entering his subjects’ lives unobtrusively. He has made a touching, humane, life affirming movie, beautifully photographed by Mohammad Rassouli.
For the Love of Rutland
Rutland is a small town in Vermont with a population of just over 15,000 people. For the Love of Rutland (Jennifer Maytorena Taylor) opens at a critical time in the recent history of United States, September 2016 just before the presidential elections. Rutland is a dying town. There is no sustainable industry there, unemployment is high and the town also has a drug problem. The issue which sets fire to this quiet town is the announcement that one hundred Syrian refugees are to be placed in Rutland. The mayor, himself a son of a refugee from Greece, is facing an election and is battling an uphill struggle to convince the town of the benefits of welcoming the refugees. All around town we see Trump-Pence placards as well as placards displaying slogans such as “Veterans Before Refugees” and signs warning that “Any Refugee Caught Molesting Women and Children Will Be Deported Immediately”. The Welcome pamphlets that the mayor’s supporters have prepared for the refugees do not have many takers. The townsfolk shout at him “have the refugees live with you” or ask in townhall meetings “why take care of refugees and not those people who have been living here all their life?”
For the Love of Rutland is a microcosm of Trump’s America. In the course of the movie, Trump’s Muslim Travel Ban comes to effect, which echoes the sentiments of most of Rutland’s resident. A ray of hope comes from a touching declaration by a young mother, who has just been handed an eviction order, “If the refugees can make it in a place that they don’t know anything about, I sure the hell can too.” Vermont is a solid Democratic state which make the film a real presentation of the divided nation that USA has become under Trump.
Women of the Sun: A Chronology of Seeing
The plight of women in patriarchal societies, many of the Muslim, has been the subject of many documentaries and fiction films. Women of the Sun: A Chronology of Seeing (Hamed Zolfaghari) shows the progress that can be made when women unite and stand up for their rights.
A series of workshops are arranged for women and girls in a rural village in Southern Iran. One of the workshops is video filming. The women are encouraged to take the camera to their village and nearby towns and record anything that they find interesting. Since so many of them show such passion for this hobby, majority of their parents and husbands do not stand in their way. There are a few exceptions who are worried by people’s hearsay and prevent their daughter/wife in taking part but overall the workshop is a great success. Some of the girls have formed a cooperative where they make handicrafts and sell them in markets and exhibitions. We see that once these women have a purpose in their life, aside from housewife chores, they really come to life. Their passion and enthusiasm is manifest. One of the girls, addressing a large meeting of women, says “women have to respect themselves and say what they think.” Such daring behaviour by women in Iranian villages would have been unheard of not so long ago but we live in the age on internet where even in the remotest parts people are seeing how the others live and learning new things and connecting with other people all the time. In the film the women also have a more practical aim, to earn sufficient money from the sale of their handicrafts and the membership fees of the cooperative to buy an electric winch for the villages main water well. Women of the Sun: A Chronology of Seeing is a hopeful, touching portrait of womanhood.