Shorts at the Frontline Club
By Olivia Acland
On Friday 16 January, the Frontline Club was at full capacity for an evening that showcased the diverse faces of documentary filmmaking, both journalistic and poetic. The documentaries screened offered snapshots into five very different worlds, allowing the audience to glimpse the lives of remarkable individuals in addition to illuminating pressing issues, such as female genital mutilation and the rise of ISIS in Syria.
“I don’t really know what came to kickstart it, it just kind of … seemed to happen,” says 17-year-old schoolboy Liam McLaughlan as he attaches a sign advocating Scottish independence to a lamppost.
“You look around an area you come from – things like that – that’s where the desire for change really starts, and then it kind of spots out.”
A resident of Glasgow’s infamous Easterhouse Estate, Liam is determined that Scottish independence is what his area desperately needs in order to tackle the ongoing political neglect of the poor and underprivileged.
Director Igor Slepov tenderly captures the pride and determination of a young man whose political campaign is passionate and deeply personal.
Central Station Sofia
The biggest railway station in the Balkans today resembles an empty shell. Built during the years of socialism, it was once a hub of activity with twenty staff members employed to provide for its commuters. Today only three remain, and its sense of abandonment echoes the current economic instability in Sofia.
“The restaurant and café were always full,” says a station worker as the camera pans across an empty cafeteria.
Fragments of the workers’ lives are shown, interspersed with shots of a near-deserted station hall. A lady selling lottery tickets says, “Everyone is hoping to win a million so they can go to a warm country and never come back here.”
Despite the bleak subject matter, Central Station Sofia, directed by Alberto Iordanov, is not free from humour. The film includes a shot of a solemn-faced man standing behind a counter who announces, “My name is Georgi Zarev and I run the station gun shop (…) I love cars and guns like every boy”.
Syria’s Second Front
In this short documentary, reporter Muhammed Ali crosses into Syria in order to document a violent new phase of the civil war. Ali travels with fighters from the Free Syrian Army, whom he films at their base as they prepare to battle jihadist militant group ISIS.
“It’s very important for me to tell you what’s happening on the ground; no Western media can get in,” he says, conscious of the significant risk he is undertaking by entering the country as a journalist.
Ali persuades rebels to sneak him into the northwestern town of al-Atareb, which is under the control of the so-called Islamic State. He returns with footage of an ISIS rally in the town square, at which fighters are pledging their allegiance to global Jihad. The film shows ISIS members joining hands and repeating, “I pay homage to ISIS, to listen and obey, God is a witness to what we are saying. Praise God, God is the greatest, praise God.”
Godka Cirka (A Hole in the Sky)
“My mother was a shepherdess too. She died when I was born. My auntie Sahra took care of me.” These are the words of young narrator Alifa describing life in the village of Beerato, Somaliland. She exposes her own vulnerability as she discusses her pending genital mutilation, “I will lie until the rainy season with my legs tied until I can walk again.”
Alex Lora’s powerful film looks at three generations of shepherdesses – Alifa, her aunt Sahra and grandmother Faadumo – as they deal with the daily struggles of poverty and water shortage.
The Orchard Keepers
As Cairo rocks with revolution, two Bedoiun tender their orchards in the brown Sinnai desert. The first, Amariya, has created a magnificent patch of green amidst the rugged bareness of the landscape. “Look how beautiful my garden is today”, she says, her eyes beaming above a black niqab. “Everybody thinks I’m crazy living in the mountains, but I am not crazy. I said to myself that I want to make a garden and to be free.”
The film, directed by Bryony Dunne, highlights the fact that during a time of political volatility in Egypt, and despite the difficulty in maintaining them, the gardens offer freedom and timeless stability.