Between happy hours and random conversations with staff/filmmakers, I saw two wildly different documentaries. This is the point in Silverdocs where exhaustion sets in (the heat isn’t helping), so I hope to power through until the weekend.
Presumed Guilty is a legal thriller with scenes that recall the most harrowing parts of Midnight Express. Director Roberto Hernández’s scathing indictment of Mexico’s justice system is infuriating and cruel. Though crime statistics offer a broader glimpse of what’s wrong, the movie follows the developments of a single case. Until his legal nightmare began, Toño was a mild-mannered worker with a love of break-dancing. Then he’s nabbed by the police, and convicted of first degree murder before he has a chance to face his accuser or get told what charges are brought against him. Two dogged academics and a selfless lawyer eventually get Toño a retrial, with one a crucial difference: cameras can film the whole thing.
The courtroom scenes must be seen to be believed. Toño stands behind bars while the lawyers bicker and the judge halfheartedly officiates. Lawyers can ask whatever they want, but witnesses only respond to questions the judge allows on record. These absurd constraints pale in comparison to the burden of proof; like thousands of similarly incarcerated Mexicans, Toño is thought guilty until he proves his innocence. When cops and witnesses testify they cannot remember Toño’s arrest, their ignorance does not work in the defendant’s favor, for the working assumption is that he is a murderer. The oddest part of the trial is the facedown – through psychological mind games and intimidating body language, Toño must manipulate his accuser into admitting he’s lying. Of all the documentaries I’ve seen at the festival, Presumed Guilty stirred the most emotion. It’s harrowing stuff, and if anything else, serves as a reminder why I must never be arrested in Mexico.
We Don’t Care About Music Anyway combines Tokyo’s urban decay with bizarre performance footage to create a curiously affecting documentary. The performances are the best part – while the noise rock can be too much, the musicians are always innovative and sometimes touching. Highlights include the cellist who plays his instrument with a belt sander, or the long-haired man who uses his head as a drum after he attaches a contact mic to his nose. The musicians deconstruct traditional notions of songwriting and instrumentation, with a penchant for the biological. One woman uses amps and a stethoscope to turn her heartbeat into percussive light show. Does any of this sound interesting to you? Great, you’ll probably enjoy yourself. Otherwise you’ll see little point to the performance footage, and will probably walk out of the theater. The musicians discuss their craft in black and white sequences, clarifying their purpose. Their analysis is sometimes interesting but ultimately moot, as the juxtaposition of clattering music and clattering construction hints at the director’s deeper purpose. Come to think of it, I wonder how the documentary could have worked as an auditory experiment, with no interviews whatsoever.
We Don’t Care About Music Anyway screens again at 11:15pm this Friday.
So did you see any docs you’d like to discuss? Mention them in the comments!