Vesoul International Film Festival of Asian Cinemas selection of documentary shorts was quite interesting in 2018, dealing with a number of significant issues all over Asia. Here are three great samples.

Waves of Transition (2017) by Jonas Scheu (30 minutes, Switzerland-Myanmar)

In Ma Yan Chan, a district of Mandalay (Myanmar), the dockers always lived and worked in the whitish mist from the dusty banks of the river Irrawaddy. From morning to evening, the embankments for loading, the near-by shops, and the strangely shaped huts used as restaurants for workers are constantly busy and crowded. Jonas Scheu highlights this chaotic setting with artistry, particularly through cinematographer’s Catherine Georges long shots that seem to have captured the atmosphere of the area to perfection.

At the same time, he does not fail to stress the sociopolitical issues of the area and its inhabitants, whom the government considers illegal and wants to move them to some cramped apartments in a number of blocks that have been built a bit further from the river. In a kind of amusing tactic, the narrator of this situation is a woman who works in the area, who is first presented in a scene where she curses a man (“May your relatives be bitten by snakes).

The actual circumstances of this change the government was to implement is not lost on Scheu, with the documentary showing the contractors that have already stationed their crews there, while a magnificent shot that includes the blocks and the dock settlement highlights the difference of what the government and what the inhabitants want.

“Waves of Tradition” is a beautifully shot documentary short that manages to shed light upon an unknown area and an unknown issue, in extremely condensed fashion that includes much information in the 30 minutes of its duration. Probably the only fault, which is to be laid on the duration, is that the opposite opinion is missing.

Nazareth Cinema Lady (2016) by Nuri Yacobs-Yinon (52 minutes, Israel)

The documentary revolves around Safaa Dabout, the woman who founded the first and only Arab independent cinema hall in Israel. Saafa’s father and husband died when she was a young mother with two young sons. Several years later, Saffa operates a successful business with the cinema hall in Nazareth, even having her own film festival. However, as time passes her problems accumulate. She is considered a Muslim in Nazareth, the Arabs consider her as an Israeli, and she is an Arab in Israel, her son decides to leave the family business to study to Eilat, particularly because he does not earn anything from his “job”, Safaa has some troubles with the local “boss” and her financial situation deteriorates significantly.

Nuri Yacobs-Yinon presents a very interesting story, that uses Safaa and her unique entrepreneurship to highlight a number of sociopolitical issues in the area, starting with the concept of marriage, and continuing to religion and prejudice against women and the problems of single parenthood. In front of these problems, the issues Safaa has to deal with, regarding the film copies she has to travel to Jordan and other places to receive, seem minor. Her courage, though, is what remains, despite the fact that she seems a broken woman, who is always on the brink of crying, with her situation being a direct result of continuously ignoring any chance of having a real (social) life, in order to pursue her passion.

The documentary follows her very closely, including the circumstances both in her house and regarding her business, in a story that becomes more and more dramatic as the film unfolds, with Mark Eliyahu and Didi Erez’s music accompanying the visual aspect quite fittingly.

In its 52 minutes,”Nazareth Cinema Lady” manages to focus solely on its subject, without any attempts at beautification, in a tactic that definitely benefits the medium, in a very interesting story that will pick the interest of every movie buff.

The Wait (2016) by Emil Langballe and Andrea Storm Henriksen (58 minutes, Denmark)

With the issue of the war refugees weighing heavily on European countries, who are still not sure how to deal with it, some films about the subject were bound to be shot, and I feel that many more will follow. Emil Langballe and Andrea Storm Henriksen deal with a case occurring in Denmark, where Rokshar and her family of refugees from Afghanistan await for a decision about their application for asylum in the country.

The film starts in kind of a weird fashion, since 15-year-old Rokshar is presented as a girl that has adapted completely to the Danish society, being fluent in the language, attending a local school, having many friends and being a player in a football team, and a really good one for that matter. Furthermore, she is very beautiful and the directors do not shy away from highlighting her appearance, including the way she dresses and her nails, constantly using camera angles and lighting that stress the fact even more.

However, as time passes, the dramatic aspect of her story comes to the fore. As she is the only one in her family who speaks Danish fluently, her parents have “appointed” her the liaison with the Danish Immigration Service, the Danish Refugee Council and attorney Aage Kramp, who handles their case, as much as their interpreter. As the news they receive, which are quite hard to come by since the authorities are not allowed to disclose them to a minor, are not in their favor, Rokshar takes it upon herself to reveal as little as possible, not to upset them. The fact that the authorities do not believe that they are fleeing from the Taliban takes a significant toll on the members of the family, who in quite shocking fashion, seem to blame Rokshar for not doing enough. The combination of her parents’ attitude along with the continuous and quite lengthy (six years now) wait for a permanent decision, has a huge impact on the girl, who eventually breaks down.

Emil Langballe and Andrea Storm Henriksen include some footage of the war on Afghanistan and refer to the story of the family, but their focus is obviously on Roksha, who, under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child has a chance to stay in Denmark and “carry” her family with her, particularly due to her quick adaptation to her new environment. At times though, this focus strips the film of some important elements, like the opinion of the authorities and the thoughts of the rest of the family members. If one, however, was to make a case in favor of the family’s case, this is the correct way to go, with Rokshar’s being charismatic enough to draw the necessary attention.

“The Wait” is a very interesting documentary that highlights a topic that applies to the whole of Europe (to say the least), and I think that there is enough material here for a full-length documentary that will include the aforementioned missing elements. Personally, I would really like to see Rokshar and her family receiving asylum from Denmark, and that means that the documentary succeeded, at least regarding getting attention and raising sympathy. 

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