Le Moulin (Huang Ya-Li, 2016) out on Blu-ray and DVD

Just a quick post to share my excitement for a new home video release. I found out only a few days ago that from last June Le Moulin, one of the best documentaries I’ve seen in recent years, is available for on DVD and Blu-ray. The movie, directed by Huang Ya-Li, is a complex and fascinating exploration of the first Taiwan’s modern poetry group, Le Moulin Poetry Society, active in the island during the 1930s, when Taiwan was under Japanese colonial rule. You can read my piece on the movie here.

Le Moulin was made available in Taiwan by Fisfisa Media, but it comes with English, Traditional Chinese and Japanese subtitles, for more details on the technical aspects of the DVD and Blu-ray, please check the YesAsia page, where you can also order the movie.

I haven’t had the chance to check the DVD/Blu-ray yet, but it is nice to see that it also comes with a booklet of essays written by relatives of the Le Moulin poets and literary figures.

I will update this post once I get the release.


Best documentaries of 2017

Although I saw fewer documentaries released in 2017 than I wanted, this was for me the year of the box-set (Wiseman, Rouch, etc.), there were a couple that really impacted and resonated with me for long time, and others that, for various reasons, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed discovering.
It might sound tautological, but it is always better to clarify: this is the list of my favourite non-fiction movies, thus it reflects my taste in documentary and it’s very partial.

Outstanding works:

Also Know as Jihadi (Eric Baudelaire)
An homage to and partially a remake of Adachi Masao’s A.K.A. Serial Killer. Baudelaire’s finest work to date.

Letter #69 (Lin Hsin-i)
My fascination with the works of this young Taiwanese artist continues. read more

Machines (Rahul Jain)
You can read my review here

Rubber Costed Steel (Lawrence Abu Hamdan)
Short but powerful, thematically and aesthetically.

Honorable mentions:

Sennan Asbestos Disaster (Hara Kazuo)
Hara is back after more than 10 years with a work about the legal battle between the Citizen Group for Sennan Asbestos Damage and the Japanese government.

Ex-Libris: New York Public Library (Frederick Wiseman)
Not my favourite by the American legendary director, but Wiseman is Wiseman.

Donkeyote (Chico Pereira)

A Yangtze Landscape (Xu Xin)

Dislocation Blues (Sky Hopinka)

Turtle Rock (Xiao Xiao)
A soothing and beautifully shot documentary set in a remote village in China, the black and white photography reminded me of Lav Diaz.

Special (re)discoveries:

The Mad Masters (Jean Rouch, 1955)
Whatever it is, docufiction, ethnofiction, problematic documentary or theatrical exploitation, it’s a powerful and raw punch. Masterpiece.

Homeland: Iraq Year Zero (Abbas Fahdel, 2015)
Probably the best documentary I’ve seen in 2017.

A House in Ninh Hoa (Nguyễn Phương-Đan &. Philip Widmann, 2016)
You can read my review and interview with the director here.

Beirut Never More (Jocelyne Saab, 1976)
Jocelyne Saab was one of my cinematic discoveries of the year.

Remembering Matsumoto Toshio

…good starting point for this (re)discovery could be the recent release (by Cinelicious Pics) of Funeral Parade of Roses on Blu-ray and DVD, Matsumoto Toshio’s masterpiece newly restored in 4K, released in Japan in 1969 and recently screened in selected theaters around the U.S.A. The release is significant not only for the film itself, a unique movie experience indeed, but also because included in the package are eight extra works that Matsumoto made between 1961 and 1975: Nishijin, The Song of Stones, Ecstasis, Metastasis, Expansion, Mona Lisa, Siki Soku Ze Ku and Atman.

More than ten months have passed since the death of Matsumoto, and this release is a good and timely opportunity for me to collect my thoughts, trying to position his oeuvre in the context of post-war Japanese cinema, and to draw connections between Matsumoto and others filmmakers and the cultural milieu he grew up in as a filmmaker and artist.
In a career spanning more than fifty years Matsumoto made short and feature movies and moved freely from documentary to art-house films, and from pure experimental cinema to expanded cinema and video installations, in a very unique process of hybridization and genre overlapping that has few parallels in the world of cinema and image making.
In the seven months since his passing, prompted by the tragic event, I decided to Continue reading “Remembering Matsumoto Toshio”

Yamagata City designated UNESCO Creative City of Film

The city of Yamagata has just been designated as member of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network for the field of Film, the first in Japan, joining other 116 existing member cities around the world.

As the readers of this blog have heard and read ad nauseam, the city is the place of the oldest, and arguably the most important, documentary film festival in the Asian continent, a place I had the pleasure of visiting several times in the last decade.

It goes without saying that this is great news for the festival and the city itself, and, as many commentators have pointed out, the congratulations should go first and foremost to the people of Yamagata, the volunteers and all the people involved, to one degree or another, in the organization of the festival.

Knowing how much Japanese people
Continue reading “Yamagata City designated UNESCO Creative City of Film”

Documentaries at the London Korean Film Festival 2017

The London Korean Film Festival has opened its 12th edition last Thursday and will run in the capital for two weeks, from November 10th through the 19th the festival will then go on tour around the UK, touching Sheffield, Manchester, Nottingham, Glasgow and Belfast.
In addition to showcasing a wide-range of titles produced in the Asian country, there will also be masterclasses, talks and collateral events, a special occasion for the British audience to get a glimpse of South Korean cinema and film culture in general. This year line-up includes not only UK and European premieres, animations, classics, shorts and indies, but also a fascinating focus on Korean Noir, “Illuminating the Dark Side of Society”, and, of particular interest for this blog, a program dedicated to documentary.

The first movie presented will be Two Doors (2012) directed by Kim Il-rhan and Hong Ji-you, a documentary investigating the the Yongsan Disaster, when in January of 2009 a sit-in rally in central Seoul resulted in the deaths of five protesters and one police officer. While Two Doors focuses more on the legal aspects of the tragedy, amassing documents against the violence used to prohibit the demonstration and the sit-in, The Remnants  (2017) is about the personal tribulations and the legal problems that some the people who took part in the demonstration had to go through in the seven years after the tragedy. The movie was directed by Lee Hyuk-sang, who was also creative director behind Two Doors, and the festival has organised a special conversation with the director on November 2.
Goodbye my Hero (2017) by Han Younghee, a movie addressing labour relations and workers’ rights in contemporary South Korea, and Park Kyung-hyun’s Dream of Iron (2017), a film essay about the development of the steel industry in the country during the 1960s, will complete the section.
The ‘Women’s Voices’ s section includes also a documentary, Candle Wave Feminists (2017) by Kangyu Garam, a movie that delves into the revolution that led to former prime minister Park’s impeachment and her spiritual mentor Choi Soon-Sil’s arrest.

All the documentaries will be screened this week starting from tomorrow, October 31st.


Retrospective of Taiwanese documentary cinema at the Jihlava International Doc Film Fest

Since the discovery of Le Moulin two or so years ago, non-fiction cinema in contemporary Taiwan has been one of my main cinematic obsessions and a research interest that drove me to explore the flourishing documentary scene of the island. This year edition of the  Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival (October 24-29) is currently holding a retrospective on Taiwanese documentary from 1937 to 2014 titled Transparent Landscape: Taiwan, a program that presents 25 Taiwanese documentaries from the period, according to the festival “the historically most comprehensive showcase of Taiwanese documentary cinema ever”.  I won’t be able to attend it, but, it goes without saying, it’s an event I’m highly interested in and I hope a catalogue will be published, here the press release:

The section will include some of the most important works of Taiwanese independent filmmakers. Allowing a glimpse into Taiwan’s complicated historical-political development, these films offer significant insights into different periods of recent Taiwanese history.
The earliest Taiwanese documentaries are the 8mm ”home videos“, shot by photographer DENG Nan-guang in the 1930s. They realistically portray scenes of daily life under Japanese occupation, such as life and work along the Tamsui river and family outings. The recently restored short The Mountain by Richard Yao-chi CHEN (1967) will be presented outside of Taiwan for the first time. Other representative works from the1960s, are the films by renowned director BAI Jing-rui and photographer ZHUANG Ling. In this decade, only government-commissioned propaganda films could be produced, but with their creative ingenuity, those filmmakers still managed to convey the lives and thoughts of ordinary people.
The Green Team, the most important non-mainstream media in the period prior to and after the lifting of martial law in Taiwan (1987), will also be represented by two important productions. The Green Team documented many social movements and protests that took place on Taiwan’s road to democracy in the 80s, and their images eventually became weapons against the authoritarian state. There are obvious connections with the situation in Czech society in the late 80s before the collapse of the Soviet regime.
Apart from its focus on history, Transparent Landscape: Taiwan also pays tribute to the experimental spirit of Ji.hlava IDFF. By showcasing aesthetically experimental, creative films, traditional expectations on documentaries are challenged. The selection includes several masterpieces, such as works by internationally renowned artist CHEN Chieh-jen, photographer CHANG Chien-chi, the first Taiwanese to become a member of Magnum Photos, and YUAN Goang-ming, the pioneer of video art in Taiwan.
This comprehensive retrospective also includes early documentaries by the leading figures of Taiwanese cinema, such as CHUNG Mong-hong, WU Mi-sen, HUANG Ting-fu and others. Beginning from the 90s, they used experimental vocabulary to explore the boundaries of documentary filmmaking. Even today, their films are regarded as avant-garde filmmaking, no matter if they deal with aesthetic conceptions or with human problems.

You can find the complete program here, and more information about documentary in Taiwan on the TaiwanDoc page.

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Kobe Discovery Film Festival 神戸発掘映画祭 2017

A new beginning for the Kobe Documentary Film Festival. From this year the annual event held at the Kobe Planet Film Archive since 2009 will change its name and concept into Kobe Discovery Film Festival (神戸発掘映画祭). The renaming reflects a shift of the festival’s focus from documentary to film and moving image preservation and restoration, and the (re)discovery of less known movies from the past, something on the lines of what, with great success, Il Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna has been able to become in recent years. I really like the idea, because I think that in an era like the one we live in, when digital images are produced, consumed and binged frenetically every day, going back to the dawn of cinema and exploring the fringes of film culture is a refreshing and re-balancing practice, especially in Japan.

The festival, although it is more a cinematic event organized in four days than an actual film festival, is also an opportunity to reflect on the importance of cinema archives in the contemporary mediascape, it may sounds tautological, but Kobe Planet Film Archive before being a theater is first of all, well, an important film archive.

The first edition of the Discovery Film Festival will take place from November 23 to 26 and is divided in six sections.
Amateur cinema discovered: home movie day, with screening of 13 Japanese short movies made in prewar Japan during the 1930s (there’s even a colour film, 兵隊と花), is an interesting occasion to get a glimpse of the everyday life in Japan in a period when the country was rapidly changing (mainly for the worst).
100 years of animation in Japan is dedicated to celebrate the early animations made in the country, divided in three sub-sections the program will present early examples of amateur experimental animation and silhouette animation, and some early works from the 1920s, including  An Old Fool (のろまな爺, 1924) by Ōfuji Noburō, rediscovered by the Planet Film Archive itself few years back. In the program also a couple of works recently discovered (sorry I don’t have the English titles): HOT CHINA 聖林(ハリウッド)見物, マンガ 空中凸凹拳闘 (1941),  カテイ石鹸 (an advertisement made in 1921) and 小人の電話 (1953).
The latest digitized films is a program that will showcase an interesting selection of movies recently digitized from 35mm prints, otherwise impossible to screen, by the Kobe Design University, while Selected by Planet will present a bunch of movies from its archives, including The Peerless Patriot (国士無双, 1932) directed by Itami Mansaku (father of Itami Jūzō), and the 1950’s 海魔陸をいく (no English title) by Igayama Masamitsu, a film between documentary and narrative cinema similar, as far as I know, to the works of Jean Painlevé.
A special screening of the color (Konikolor) version of A Jazz Girl is Born (ジャズ娘誕生, 1957) by Sunohara Masahisa, shown last year at Il Cinema Ritrovato, and a series of 8mm experiments by musician and filmmaker Mori Ari will conclude the festival. You can find the entire program (in Japanese) here.

The idea and the concept behind the Kobe Discovery Film Festival are really promising, also considering the important position of Planet Archive in preservation and restoration in Japan, and I whish the organizers the best of luck.