Sydney Film Festival is screening more that 50 documentaries this year. From musical icons, to cultural institutions, to human rights, there a huge variety of topics, locations, people and emotions covered. After the jump I preview 6 documentaries for your consideration. At Berkeley, The Great Museum, Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy?, Life Itself, National Gallery and The Possibilities are Endless.
At Berkeley (Frederick Wiseman)
This four-hour film isn’t for those without stamina. Legendary documentarian Frederick Wiseman has turned his observational filmmaking to the University of California, Berkeley, a renowned and highly respected Ivy League colleague. Wiseman’s camera catches all manner of life in the university, from lectures, to budget meetings, protests and maintenance crews. What you walk away with is a rich portrait of a fascinating and constantly growing institution.
The Great Museum (Johannes Holzhausen)
Have you ever wanted to know how they decide where to put the paintings in a gallery? How about what they were aiming for you [a member of the public] to get from visiting their collections? Get an insight into this and much more in The Great Museum, a look into the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna during a time of change and reinvention. One of the most interesting things I learnt watching this film was how paintings are stored and moved. Absolutely fascinating.
Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy? (Michel Gondry)
Linguist, philosopher, political commentator, activist and all-round big-thinker Noam Chomsky in conversational with French filmmaker Michel Gondry – what a combination! This film isn’t your stock standard documentary with interview footage, it’s an animated exploration of the their thoughts, ideas and conversation. I walked away from this film filled with ideas about language and how it is created. How do we know to call a tree, a tree? It turns out it’s a lot more complicated than you think.
Life Itself (Steve James)
A must-see documentary for anyone who has a love of film, Life Itself (based on Ebert’s 2011 memoir of the same name) recounts the life of legendary and much-loved film critic Roger Ebert. From his beginnings as a sports reporter, through to his work with Gene Siskel and his battle with cancer, this film gives a fascinating and often heart-breaking insight into Ebert’s life and work. The influence Ebert has had on film criticism cannot be understated and as someone who writes about film, I found this to be an incredibly emotional watch. Bring your tissues!
National Gallery (Frederick Wiseman)
Fresh from Cannes, Frederick Wiseman’s second film screening at this year’s festival (At Berkely is the other) is an in-depth look at London’s iconic National Gallery. With over 2400 precious paintings, the gallery is an extremely popular visitor attraction, a facilitator of art education, an important art conservationist and a cultural icon. Watch art restorers work their magic on paintings by some of the maters, sit in on a debate about a marathon ending outside the gallery and listen to passionate gallery employees speak poetry about the art they love so much. Pair this with The Great Museum for an extra arty fix.
The Possibilities are Endless (James Hall, Edward Lovelace)
I knew nothing about Scottish musician Edwyn Collins before watching this film, but I have nothing but admiration and respect for him now. Collins suffered a massive stroke in 2005 and afterwards he could only utter three things, one of them being the rather profound “the possibilities are endless”. This film puts you in Collin’s shoes, throwing you into an incredibly sensory experience as you watch him recover from his stroke. Wonderfully layered with sounds, flashbacks, interviews and abstract imagery, this film in truly unique.
By Sam McCosh