'LongShots': Portrayal of life, truth, strength and warmth

BBC's first online film festival titled 'LongShots' presents documentaries from across the globe which are not available on mainstream platforms. The ongoing festival is showing all films till Sept 22

'LongShots': Portrayal of life, truth, strength and warmth

Rana Siddiqui Zaman

If you ask me what kept people sane during the tough lockdown and corona period around the globe, it is arts, culture, cinema, more on the digital medium.

And one such medium that opened its hearts to the audience is BBC’s first online film festival, titled 'LongShots', which is apt for the films of one hour and 20 minutes of duration. What makes the LongShots important is, that it has to its credit, the first of its kind alliances from 13 international film festivals across the globe, which nominated their films for the fest.

Furthermore, LongShots “celebrating the age of bloom”, received 110 movies, out of which its international jury that also includes India’s very own accomplished actor and social activist Nandita Das, chose 13 films, “for the powerful story telling technique.”

The festival has also announced three winners as chosen by the jury on the basis of 12000 votes that it received from across the globe, in its interesting, and a bit hilarious, virtual red carpet event. The readers can see the winners and watch all the movies in the selection until September 22.

What does the festival do to you?

It stirs, shocks, surprises, stuns and triggers goosebumps with a wide variety of documentary films. One shifts from one topic to the other --- completely different from the previous one. If a film brings bitter truth in one, in the other, it moves you with its warmth and poignancy; if one film revolves around the power of a lone man, the other one will make you believe in the strength of a well-knit family. The films stir your insensitivity, test your intelligence and perk up your taste for subjects and presentation.

The film The School of Housewives, directed by Stefanía Thors is one such example. It is in the Nordic region. It is the story of a school that trains young girls to be perfect house wives. And this is for real!

Notably, the Reykjavik (on the coast of Iceland, is the country's capital and largest city) School of Housewives has been in existence for 80 years. It has taught the skills needed for taking care of a home. Over a semester's time, the students learn from each other and create bonds to last a lifetime, as exemplified by many of their parents and grandparents who attended the school in their youth. The school teaches skills of cooking, knitting, crochets, and stitching, cleaning, table manners, hosting family get together, receiving guests and even selling their creations. It’s not only about teaching those skills but philanthropy and environment-friendly attitude, that one would require them “more than degrees” in life. However, the admissions are dwindling with the youth spending more time on hang outs and gadgets.

Another film The Swing is an immensely poignant tale of a family in which the ailing and aged father isn’t told about the death of his young daughter, to keep him alive. Directed by Cyril Aris, it portrays an aged couple Antonie and Vivi, after sixty years of marriage, who had lost their loving and caring young daughter Theresa. The close-knit family members decide not to tell the bed-ridden Antonie about it till his death, while the mother knows about it. The film revolves around how she grieves in silence and how the family flashes smiles and happiness as if nothing had happened to make the father believe that she was travelling and is fine. The film leaves you hollow and empty and teaches the value of a bonding.

A unique Indian film Moti Bagh directed by Nirmal Chander, is about Himalaya’s top location in Uttarakhand called the ghost village as it has seen nearly 7000 villages being evacuated because of the assumed infertility of the soil, other climatic and man-made reasons. But an 83-year-old Vidyadutt refuses to leave his land. Over the last 50 years, he has built up Moti Bagh, his 5-acre farm in this small Himalayan village. He grows the heaviest radish in India, weighing 23 kilos. He now aims at breaking the world record of growing a 31-kg radish and setting this place on the world map to show that the land here is fertile. He seeks government and international support to see this village prosper after he bids goodbye to the world.

As you scroll more, you see Baroness, another tale of tough survival in Belo Horizonte -- the most dangerous slum marked with dangers of drug trafficking war that leaves the villagers under the regular sounds of the gun shots, men in the prisons, poverty, sexual crimes and more. The film directed by Juliana Antunes, lays open the bitter truth through the characters of Andreia who wants to move out and Leid who is waiting for her husband who is in prison, to escape the tragedy that comes with the rain.

The Kosher Beach Directed by Karin Kainer, unravels the inside story of a gated and secluded beach in Tel-Aviv with dedicated days for women and men to bathe separately. The ‘Brave Bunch’, a secret female Orthodox sisterhood, finds there a safe haven away from social and family problems.

Then there is Transnistria. It is a self-proclaimed republic scarred by conflict. It is officially the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic (PMR) -- an unrecognized breakaway state located in the narrow strip of land between the river Dniester and the Moldovan–Ukrainian border.

The film portrays five teenagers - a girl and four boys who play hide and seek in an abandoned construction site by a river. Away from their studies, they are into meaningless conversations around physical intimacy, guesses over unimportant things, some bit of drugging and bonding. Their seemingly carefree existence bears a sharp contrast to their uncertain future. A rather slow film that captures the dullness in the city, directed by Anna Eborn, has won the audience Choice Award in the festival.

The film The Viewing Room directed by Ra’anan Alexandrowicz, is all about a new insight into the most disputed videos of history. In a lab-like location, a young Jewish-American woman watches videos portraying life in the Palestinian territories. Maia Levy is a supporter of Israel, and the images in the videos, depicting Palestinian life under Israeli military rule, contradict some of her deepest beliefs.

Another film that has won the Jury Awards are, Maricarmern by Sergio Morkin. “It is about a cello player, a school teacher, a marathon player, and man of incredible strength and sense of humour; and he is blind,” as Nandita Das puts it. While The Kiosk by Alexandra Pianelli reveals that an iconic Parisian landmark now under threat. It is a video diary filmed by Alexandra, a young artist who has come to help her mother who runs a newsstand in a chic Paris neighborhood and witnesses unexpected results. “It is deeply personal portrait of a city in bygone era, but is charming for its endless stories and “playful cinematic language” as the juror Bao Nguyen views it.

Though all the films are worth a watch, nominated by prestigious festivals across the globe, my only issue remains the ‘boxed’ ways in which a story is told in documentaries. Most documentaries around the globe, tell the story in almost the same way, stories, cinematography and locations could be different.

Having seen a few amazing documentaries like one on music maestro A R Rahman called “Dil Se Dil Tak”, The Khyal Darpan by Yousuf Saeed, an Indian journalist and filmmaker and Mijwan, on the small ancestral village of famous Indian Urdu poet Kaifi Azmi, that have loads of energy and sense of humour even within a serious subject matter, I have always felt documentaries mostly lack that energy and the viewing largely becomes a dull affair.

The festival being the first, I hope from coming year onwards, we would be able to see some nicer and better stories.

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