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Doc/Fest 2014

by Now Then Sheffield

Dir. Marshall Curry

For me, the most surprising film of the festival was Marshall Curry’s fascinating insight into the mind of Matt Van Dyke, a man who set out to have an adult adventure and ended up fighting alongside Libyan revolutionaries as they battled for their country.

Point and Shoot is a compilation of first-hand footage from Van Dyke’s adventures and interviews from the present day as he reflects on the decisions he made and the consequences that followed. Raised on action movies and computer games, Van Dyke lived in an imaginary world as a child. He was the centre of his family’s universe and struggled to make friends. A fan of Laurence of Arabia, Van Dyke always had a fascination with the Middle East and as an adult he decided it was time to have what he called “a crash course in manhood”. Inspired by Australian filmmaker Alby Mangels, Van Dyke decided to record his adventures, using a camera to write his own life story.

As he travels 35,000 miles on his motorbike, the risks get bigger. Whilst travelling through Iraq, he forms an alliance with a group of soldiers and becomes an unofficial war correspondent. He meets a group of young Libyans and instantly feels at home as he experiences having true friends for the first time. He returns home a changed man, but when the revolution breaks out in the Arab world in February 2011, he knows he must return.

The film then becomes a reconstruction of events that unfolded, as Matt and his friends find themselves ambushed by Gaddafi loyalists and incarcerated. After enduring hallucinatory solitary confinement, a stroke of fate leaves him free to rejoin his comrades.

This is not your typical documentary. It’s one man’s personal account of the extremes he had to go to to feel at home. In the end it becomes what Van Dyke always wanted – an exciting, thrilling and at times darkly disturbing action adventure.


Happiness

Dir. Thomas Balmés

Amoungst the rolling hills of Bhutan, nature is at its most beautiful and pure. The colours are stunning and it’s clear to see why director Thomas Balmés chose this picturesque setting for his exploration of innocence versus urbanisation, as a remote village prepares for its movement into modernity. TV and internet are on the horizon and the general consensus is that this will make the village a happier place to be. Balmés asks to what extent this is true. Is it a necessary evil or is life better without complications?

Atop the beautifully ornate houses, a young boy practices his cartwheels on the tin roofs. Penyangki is 8 years old, but has the wit and charm of someone much older. He lights up the screen with his bright eyed smile and enthusiasm for life. His widowed mother cannot afford to enroll him in school and so sends him to the local monastery. He obeys, but his lively nature does not suit the restrictive regime. When given the chance to travel to the ‘big city’ with his uncle he jumps at it. He experiences car sickness for the first time and falls for a city that reflects his limitless energy.

Images of ugly metal pylons and electricity cables begin to encroach on the stunning landscape the village sits within and as Penyangki uses them as his play things, there is a disconcerting clash between the rural and the urban.

The documentary is shot like a movie. Stylish, insightful and clever, Balmés takes the ultimate symbol of innocence and sets it against a corrupting force. Do we see these people for who they are, or are they holding in their hands the final fragments of true culture and history?

As the final scenes progress, we see face after face, lost like many others before them to the ‘wonders’ of technology. Enraptured by the light, we are left with a confusing image. Is it happiness we see on their faces or fear?

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by Now Then Sheffield

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