Around the world through Shorts at the Frontline Club
By Jonathan Couturier
On November 28th, an evening of Shorts at the Frontline Club tackled two questions: how much time do you need to tell a story? and how can you tell non-fictional stories?
That night, Frontline screened seven short but poignant documentaries, portraying past and present struggles from around the world. Radically different and experimental forms of storytelling were explored, demonstrating how diverse and adaptable the documentary genre can be, and how stories can be brought to life in unexpected ways.
In Unravel by Meghna Gupta, the audience follows discarded Western clothing, sent to India to be recycled. Workers sorting, shredding and unraveling the threads express curiosity and disbelief at the lurid clothes Westerners wear, and try to imagine what they must look like. Rather than imposing a narrative, the story simply lets the workers speak, as their bewilderment and amusement expose the disparities between developed and developing countries.
In contrast, Returns by Krzystof Kadlubowski let actions speak louder than words. This 7 minute film shows the aftermath of the 2010 plane crash which killed 96 Polish politicians, including the President; high-ranking officials; and religious leaders. In surreal scenes, confused, sometimes self-conscious looks are exchanged between the soldiers who are preparing their return, no words are necessary.
Similarly, in Kamara has no walls by Sara Ishaq, few words are needed to tell the shocking story of the Friday of Dignity in Yemen, when peaceful protesters came under fire from government-backed militias. The raw, alarming scenes of chaos, anger and death set to the tone of revolutionary slogans, filmed by young Yemeni cameramen in the midst of street-battles, make the tragic events all-too real.
Many documentaries recount the past with archived footage. However in Leonids Story by Tetyana Chernyavska and Rainer Ludwigs as well as in Prayers for Peace by Dustin Grella, the past comes to life through animation. In the former, survivors from Chernobyl reconstruct the confusion surrounding the disaster by re-enacting the scenes through drawings. This paradoxically makes the past seem more real.
In Prayers for Peace, the story of a US soldier’s death in Iraq is reconstructed by his brother through murky-coloured animations. Set to the sounds of battle recorded on the soldier’s laptop, he part remembers, part imagines his brother’s movements.
Lastly, The Barrel and Lullaby, rely on short, shocking contrasts. Both films are part of Why Poverty?, a cross media event, online and on TV, using films to get people talking about poverty. The Barrel by Isabel Rodrigues Rios depicts the life of a Venezuelan community scraping a living on a lake polluted by a nearby oil-rig. No narrative is needed – the implied wealth of the oil industry clashes with the stark poverty of the children using empty oil-barrels as toys.
Lullaby, a three minute film by the renowned Victor Kossakovsky, homeless men can be seen sleeping inside a bank – while customers ignore them, or hesitate to come in. Their story of deep social inequality expressed in such a short sequence perhaps answers the question ‘how much time do you need to tell a story?”
Prayers for Peace and Unravel were both suggested by DocHeads. An organisation which brings together filmmakers and original documentaries twice a month, to share and discuss ideas, and also runs a film fund.