Documentary: Three Identical Strangers
Director: Tim Wardle, 2019
Shot: Interviewee comes in to the center of frame against a dark green backdrop. Starts his story. Animated.
Shot: 1970's. Outside of a house in Upstate NY. Young person loads an old car.
The first half of the documentary is composed of direct interview of the subject (e.g. David), re-enacted scenarios (per accounts from the subject), and interview of the participant of the event (e.g. newspaper editor). It's shot and edited in a conventional documentary. For example, other than the protagonists, the other interviews are off-center with a shallow depth of field. As the interviews continue, clippings from yellowed newspaper (enlarged to a degree where the half-tone pattern of the paper is visible) and old footage of television shows (again, enlarged to show the low-res look from the 90's) appear as evidence. It feels very much like a feel-good story of re-union, told via the subjects themselves, friends, relatives, newspaper editor. The overall feeling is cheesy entertainment.
The story changes rather unnoticed when the interviews with the journalist starts. It introduces the supposed evil (the experiment). The film goes on with the tone of uncovering conspiracy. As the conspiracy (and the effects) grow darker, the so-called plot thickens. The visual language remains the same. The characters (old + new ones such as the old assistant of the scientist) start to give different "sides" of the extended story. At some point the two protagonists start to recall the death -- which seems to be the central turning point, the big reveal of the absence of the third brother. The director probably ask him to recall everything in the fashion of plainly explaining.
After that the documentary continues in present tense. E.g. one brother phones the organization about the record.
A few things irk me. The director withholds information from the audience blatantly. You get the "murder mystery," but half way through you know that everyone in the film already knows the story and it's been revealed to you because sorry, you are on the other side of the screen. "I can easily see it on Netflix", a friend said after watching the movie. It is a telling: there is a hook in every step... The story becomes about plot, which makes it somewhat cheaper.
Then when you think back about the cheeriness of the first half you feel betrayed rather than being there with the protagonists. There are still moving moments, but in a way the story is exploited to give shock and ask for sympathy.
Compared to Minding the Gap (the film I write about below), the director treats the audience as entertainment seekers, a bit brainless maybe, rather than equals. This is a good pair to compare how a film withholds and its effect on the viewer.
Documentary: Minding the Gap
Director: Bing Liu, 2019
The films starts as a skater movie, portraying young people in a skate park and friends having a good time. The characters emerge quickly: Zack, Keire and Bing (the filmmaker). Secondary characters: Nina, Keire's family...
The first half of the film feels somewhat conventional: footage from the past with voiceover talking about teen years, interviews with a documentary look. But even in the beginning something is different from a "proper", educational documentary. When Bing interviews the skate shop owner, he asks to talk about his impression of Bing as a teenager. (The filmmaker paints a self-portrait without painting it himself.) As he walks through his old house, his half-brother says "this is my brother's room," to which Bing responds off-frame, "you can refer to me."
This director's ease (or choice to be perceived this way) of being in and out of the frame (from different angles, mostly virtually) is unique. Bing's presence in the film is self-aware, both as a character and a mediating voice. What strikes me the most is his ability to hold his discovery (about Zack and Nina'a argument) and the choice he makes to continue observing. In a car, he directly and respectfully asks Nina (in the driving seat) how he should approach the subject (Zack is out buying food). Nina tells him to not to just as Zack opens the car door. This scene, as I recall it now, is filled with weighted decisions.
Bing develops the weight through further conversations with Keire — who apparently does not know about the incident. Throughout film he never reveals to Zack (or any of the main characters) what he knows. When he asks Keire to speculate, he asks in a non-judgemental way. In doing this, the audience and the director are withholding what they know together and waiting to find out about what the other person has to say.
Bing never confronts Zack directly. When he films Zack in Colorado, Zack jokingly asks him "is it one of those films where I talk to you or one of those where I pretend you are not there?" Bing answers, "it's up to you, how you feel." The trust involved in this film is incredible. Without this trust Zack would not have been able to talk about his desperation towards the end of the film, and we would have never got to know him as a full human being. It feels as if that Bing knows Zack more than what he does, and however disagreeing his acts were, he sees him as a whole person. And in developing the narrative around Zack, he lets the audience go through the same depth of understanding.
The revealing v. not revealing is also quite unique. Other than the knowledge about Zack, Bing tells Keire later on about why he is making this movie. "I am making it because I see myself in you." This surprises Keire, "wow, I never knew." The trust is also apparent when Bing captures Keire's visit to his dad (in which Keire cries).
The deliberate framing the talk between Bing and his mother is interesting, but perhaps not the most affective scene... Somehow all the other emotions ring true, but this one feels — because it is framed, almost in a performative situation, with the mother in front of the light and the filmmaker/son on the second camera from the side — wrapped up on a pedestal. The conversation is heart-wrenching. Bing remains stoic until he says, "I cut."
Lecture: I Am He As You Are He As You Are Me and We Are All Together: Shuffled Subjectivities In and Out of the Frame by Yuki Okumura.
19.30, Apr 14, Nederlandse Filmacademie. 'Japanese artist Yuki Okumura will discuss how he has positioned himself in the process of his film making, and how he has staged lectures and interviews with simple yet particularly interventional instructions and employed them as materials for his projects tackling the notion of individuality that is defined by language and based on our physicality, where film’s very nature of framing time and space plays a key role.'
In his works he uses the process of translation as a mechanism to visualize authorship, (auto)biography and subjectivity. In one video ('Jun Yang: A Short Lecture on Forgetting and Remembering, 2011'), he films a translator (who spoke on behalf of the artist, Jun Yang, giving a lecture). Without context, the interpreter in the video becomes the artist as she speaks with the subjective "I".  In another project ('Hisachika Takahashi by Yuki Okumura, 2016 (curated by Reiko Setsuda)'), he creates an exhibition with the prints made by Hisachika Takahashi (which is reflected in the title of the exhibition). A related video features him being interviewed as Hisachika Takahashi (Okumura had memorized Takahashi's biography for this interview).