Aldeburgh documentary festival 2015

2015 10 Aldeburgh Doc FestThe weather changed from unusual November mild, to clear skies and our first taste of cold. I didn’t like it, had become too soft. I was about to camp, albeit in a lux campervan. Putting the winter vest on for the first time this year, I packed the hot water bottle and drove the 30 minutes to another world, by the sea, Aldeburgh. My 3rd festival in as many weeks.


Torben, in charge of sound and light, was having a roll up outside Aldeburgh Cinema as I easily parked up outside. I hadn’t bought any tickets, was winging it, and asked him of my chances.
No problem, you’ll get in. Great transport, he commented.

Bill Jacksons photograph was projected on big screen. I recognised the moving star light caused by slow exposure, a reminder that we are in flux, our earth is moving, behind Maggie Hamblings scallop, a classic Bill night time shot. So it is I feel amongst friends, and recalled the last time I came here, 3 years ago when I knew no one, and although I did not mind or feel lonely or unhappy, saw that these were my tribe, happy thinkers and creators, that I had somehow missed. But the festival I recall enveloped me, and I looked forward to the same unexpected creative stimulation, in this winter seaside town.

India’s Daughter

Directed by Leslee Udwin. The opening image of the bus circling the GB road in Delhi, so gritty and real, made me realise I’d caught this film unexpectedly one night on BBC4. This second viewing allowed me to see different aspects. I was still shocked. The story still raw and brutal.

The Lurki lurka divide came early on. “People said when she was born we celebrated as if she was a boy” the young girl, Johti’s, mother said. We saw three mothers in the story. Johti’s mother, remarkably coherent, direct, painfully sad without an inch of sentimentality; the mother of two of the bus boys, the bus driver and Ashoka; and the juveniles mother.   It was they who told the backbones of the story, avoiding the righteousness beholden of  the men.

Joti and her boyfriend went to see the film, the Life of a Pie. Survival against all odds against a tiger and hyena. The irony is not lost. No such luck on the fake bus. They were both picked up outside a regular bus stop early in the evening, and she was violently raped by 6 young men (one pulling her womb entrails out) as the bus drove round GB road, then cast out with her beaten up boyfriend. She lived for 30 days then her body surrendered and she died.  New Delhi, led by the students of JNU, came out in mass demonstrations, unprecedented, which the government sought to quell violently. They persisted for 30 days. And this is what caught the attention of the film director Leslee Udwin.

Had Johti been a Dalit from a village, this story would not have caught fire. But she was from the capital and represented the new liberal modern life. A girl out with her boyfriend in the night, in the city.

Words such as traditional and modern, came in English amid a Hindi description, as if these were untranslatable in traditional Hindi, of the modern era.  It was the lawyers who articulated so shockingly the prevailing traditional view, the view that would have given the raping boys the confidence to do what they did,
‘They were under the film culture… She is fine to go out but escorted with her uncle or family member… She was put on the street just like food… A woman is a flower, she needs protection, a man is a thorn… ‘
‘We have the best culture in the world and there is no place for woman’, made us laugh in the Aldeburgh Cinema. Although I doubt he meant exactly this, more probably there is no place for unchaperoned women.

The result was the Varma report which changed the language of shame in Indian code (a woman is better dead than raped) and speeding up of rape cases.
There are 200 MPs currently pending investigation for rape, theft or even murder. Oh Laloo Prasad Yadav, how I remember you and your Jungle Raj, kicking when I was there.

The mother of the juvenile, her face half covered in a blue sari stays with me. Dark and crinkled with wrinkles from working too much in the sun in the fields, unremarkable, a peasant face, full and empty of the struggle of her life. Undefended.
‘I thought my son was dead, she said, until this happened. He’d run away long ago. For there is nothing here.’ As she sat on mud earth, her husband lay on the charpoi, eyes, glazed and wide. Mind absent, as if he knows he has failed, and has retreated into silent madness.  The juvenile who was not given capital punishment like the  others, but 3 years, is challenged: How so lightly they asked, when a boy can marry at 13? One,  Ram Singh, committed suicide in Tihar.

Absent form the film is the boyfriend. He who was beaten up, must have heard all, done nothing, thrown out at the same time, and survived. His voice is missing. He wanted money to be interviewed, said Leslee Udwin., and she was adamant no. As she said, she was no shrinking violet.

What is remarkable about the film is the access Leslee got both to Tihar and the bus driver and the families. What she thought would be impossible was possible. Tihar jail said yes, perhaps because she was a foreigner. What she thought would be easy was difficult. A mother threw stones at her when she first arrived. ‘I too have a heart.’ she said.

Johti’s best friend interview was refused by her brother and father, as she was of marriageable age, and such exposure may damage her chances. Tradition. And most unusual, the ban was supported by some Indian women.

A representative of the women’s movement asked the questions why, when we have been campaigning for so long, did this story catch fire? Remember Muthura 1970?

Malcolm Phillips, one of two men on the panel, made two astute observations. First that it was society not individual pathology. And second’ while the role of women were seen in the movie, the role of a good man was not seen.

No the answer is not just education, the director concluded.  I thought it was until I meet the lawyers! The Dalits and adivasi’s were actually freer to leave their husbands, than the middle class. The problem was education.

An activists call from Leslee ended the discussion: I am no shrinking violet. She’s left film making and now dedicated to adversarial work, human rights, UN. She no stranger to effective film making – The Birmingham 6.

Set up camp at the sailing club southern end of aldeburgh. Relieved to be in touch once more with wind and weather. Woodland closes in protectively from the elements, here I am on the edge. Beside me the clinking of sailing tackle will be my friend for the night.

Dog fed and watered, I biked up for the afternoon session. Interesting conversation with Mag from Halesworth who came to sit next door to me. A potential trend.

Speed sisters

Directed by Amber Fares. Backdrop Palestine. In contrast to the usual bombing out, downtrodden, funerals, angry protestors, wailing women, of war torn Palestine, comes this edgy, sassy story of 6 bold attractive, Palestinian women who drive fast cars around a track. The backdrop for the training is an Israeli checkpoint. They live in a conservative patriarchal society, only men and boys engaged in this sport and only they come to watch. Maysoon is the team leader, who came into fast cars after the frustration of being stuck in West Banks constant checkpoints and traffic jams, and having to put her foot down the other side as always late. She sits in front of me in the Aldeburgh cinema, with some friends, spruced up, speaking Arabic, adding exotic colour to old fashioned Aldeburgh. I like Noor, from Jerusalem, curled long dark hair, fit, tight small body. Not one bit of politics is discussed yet it is all around  the walls, soldiers, dangers.

They have the same concerns as any girl; what if one of us girls gets hit in the face or disfigured?

Visceral crazy, wonderful film. As Daniella said later, it was difficult not to burn rubber down Aldeburgh high street afterwards.

Mysoor in brave red, was interviewed. She had the front of a Russian: ‘Perhaps because we face many more hazards than normal, we can do this… Ah yes, it is illegal in Israel. Only in Palestine is it possible.’

Drove the camper up into town, fed dog, and had a glass of wine in DJs

We come as friends

Directed by Herbert Sauper. Backdrop South Sudan independence

A beautiful utterly UN English man, Hubert Sauper, comes onto the stage, holds Diana Quicks hand, arm around his fellow camera mans shoulder. Like the wind, I’d forgotten touch, that this man is so comfortably with, easily reaching out with arm, hand and eye, second nature, even to Torban the spark near by. It was his spirit that guided the film, whimsical, definitely catching in a net of love, playful, and serious. Already with a reputation with Darwins Nightmare, 10 years before, he ventured back to Africa, to the Sudan, and by chance witnessed the dividing of Africa’s largest continent into two, and a neo-colonialist race for resources, history repeating itself. No, as Mark Twain said, not repeating but rhyming with history. He was a pleasure to watch.
‘The events of Paris today, in fact taking place exactly where I live, are huge, and have their roots in this film.  Look and see.’

The mantra, the Ottomans, the French, the English, all have been through our land. The white man, he even owns the moon’ An African says at the beginning and end.

The Chinese, laying billiard in a bullet proof cabin.  The map describing the oil belt. The missionaries, believing in what they were doing was good. The ambassador speaking through a cracking African microphone, while a traditional semi clad warier dances in to the gathering with his spear, his black family dressed in suit and tie as players of the band.
The business men who said, By Jove we will make money. Its a win win situation. 600,000 hectars for 25,000 dollars. The African minister who did not know the words to the narration anthem, hums them. The dominant image was of two missionaries clothing a jet black naked childs feet in white socks, with such tender care, while the child cried and revolted. ‘Can you believe it, but inside this land there are totally naked people?’

In the discussion afterwards, a man in the front row, challenged the little boy at the beginning, who was looking nervous frightened, made me feel uncomfortable, he said. That African body, lean, naked, unashamed, a head large to which the boy had let to grow.

They – Hubert Sauper and his cameraman – were the jokers, the jesters, the free radicals, with no script, arriving in a tin can of a plan. Modern Lawrence of Arabia’s. The last bastion of free speech.

We sleep well that night, the dog and I. Other vans are here. Reading Graham Green The Quiet American, I come easily to a parralel. ‘He didn’t hear my ridicule, he was absorbed in the dilemma of democracy and the responsibilities of the est. He was determined to do good, and not just to an individual person, but a country, continent, world.’ “… innocence is like a dumb leper who has lost his bell, wandering the world, meaning no harm.” The chimes of the boat ropes and tackle sing out all night long.


Thomas Gerstenmeyer is in his lauderhausen. I queue with other hopefuls, to add an edge, and we all get in. The cinema is full.

My Nazi Legacy

Directed by David Evans With Philippe Sands

The two sons of leading Nazi’s, how 70 years old, agree to tell their story to Philippe, a human rights lawyer of Jewish decent, whose family where killed in the Nazi time. After some uncomfortably haranguing in the middle of the film, I was so glad when Robert Preston asked the first question why harangue? And hear the answer, from the director, David Evans: actually the film was about the three men. And the response of the haranger, Phillippe Sands, who felt uncomfortable watching it, surprised about loosing his lawyer cool, and getting out of his pram.

Niklas Frank and Horst van Wachter had two distinct and in some ways opposite views of their fathers. Frank told of the only time his father played with him, with shaving foam on his nose, of his mother going into the ghetto and shopping for fur coats. Frank, who disliked his father, was revolted by his fathers actions (his only love was for his nurse). When his father sought a divorce from his mother, his mother wrote to Hilter, and Hilter forbade it. ‘He loved Hilter more than his family’.

Horst on the other hand, had a loving relation with his father, and sought to defend his actions as what else could he do? What would any of us have done? Philippe pushed to get an admittance of responsibility, in the derelict ruins of the synagogue, where Philips family would have worshipped, in the court house of Liv, Philippe confronted with documentary evidence, proof that Hirsts father signed the paper ordering the killing of 3000 Jews. He pressed – not of his sons capability, but of his fathers. Shame Hirst felt, he said the word more than once. But his response was : I want to know the names of the policemen, the dates he replied. He rebutted with the same logical ‘proof’ based argument. Philippe had missed the point.
He hammered away.
They went to where the mass grave were. Today a field of wild flowers, a place I knew so well from outside Krakow, stunning in the sunshine, warm.
‘I want to talk about 300 years ago, not 70. A blip in time. I don’t want to get stuck somewhere in a dead end.’ Semi mythological view of history. The crusaders.
He wanted to find the goodness in his father. A journey to the Ukraine, where they remembered him, as a good man.

A triangle. Memory, justice, love

In the discussion, Philippe revealed that the two secretly sent each other the emails from Philippe. How did they react to the film?  Hirsts family were antagonistic, his past was unknown until the film. He is graceful. He thanks the London audience, for this would not be possible in Austria. When he grew up, he wanted to be some kind of servant. He worked as one with an artist on a boat, a Jewish artist. All men were very likeable, even the hectoring Philippe, but above all both the sons of Nazi’s, had grace and integrity.

Great walk with Sara and the dog on the beach. So good to chew the matter we’ve both been immersed in, and get to know Sara a little more. She’s good on mythology.

Darwins Nightmare Nile Perch

Hubert Sauper 2004

The film made 10 years ago took 5 years in the making and 3 terrifying years after.  (Danielle’s bangles jangle beside me.) The film opens with a plane flying over lake Victoria, a plane that will land at Mwanaa and take the Nile Perch to Europe.

A citizen of the world, a night watchman, describes the state of the land: aids, disease, drink, and poverty.  A Nile perch industrial man says where would this area be without the business of Nile perch.  500 tones of Nile Perch a day, is a hell of a business.
How may people would that feed? Asks Hubert.
‘How many people?’ The businessman repeats as if needing to understand the question.
‘It makes 2 flights a day.’ Great response, and encapsulating the dilemma. While the perch are exported, a famine embraces Tanzania. The answer from the World Health Organisation is millions of pounds of relief. (you can just imagine the back handers – little gets to the fisherfolk on the shores)

It appears that the filleted carcasses are boiled or smoked and eaten by the locals.  The ammonia gets in their eyes, grubs eat their feet.  Young boys sniff the glue from the plastic packaging factory near by/ Women loose their husbands and come to the lake to find work as prostitutes. Aides spreads.

Addicted to Sheep

Directed by Magali Pettier

After Gerard expertly cut up half a yew (in far too little time), Jason introduced this film.

Oh what a beautifully grounding earthed film, of our land and landscape, to watch after all the often harrowing documentaries of war, violence, or struggle in other lands. A beautifully modest normal hard working family, who have opted to be tenants on a sheep farm in Shropshire. The film opened in winter, the hardest month, coldest, washing frozen on the washing line, rain or snow outside, waterproofs the uniform of husband and wife. To young girls in pink and an older boy, who describes so eloquently why you have to control which ram gets to go with the yews.

A great classroom of farming children, discussing if they want to grow up and be farmers.

‘Ask any farmer, all a sheep wants to do is lie down and die,’

‘She’s succeeded in her ambition and died here on me farm.’

The farmer supplements his modest income by sheep sheering around getting £1 a sheep.

But at the local show, he is awarded cup after cup for his sheep, with perfect head shape, amount and colour of hair.

A lamb born dead, it was too much for her. Maggots in a sheep’s horns.

Warm last night at Aldeburgh yacht club. Dog walk, glass of red, roll up. In bed with the Quiet American and dog at feet. Bliss.

Lost all the photographs. Except two.

2015 10 Aldeburgh Doc Fest Break

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