World cinema editor John Atkinson rounds up two documentaries in this year’s impressive London Film Festival line-up
The 60th iteration of the London Film Festival (LFF) boasts around 240 feature films in its line-up, which provides your correspondent with something of a challenge. Covering even a representative sample of the whole in a post such as this would be nigh on impossible, so I decided to concentrate on just a couple of titles from the festival’s documentary strand, of the sort that make the festival experience valuable.
I was pulled up short to realise that the brilliant and still shocking Blue Velvet is now 30 years old. In what might be considered the very definition of counter-programming, the film is being re-released in the run-up to Christmas, so it was a fitting moment to reflect on David Lynch’s masterpiece by watching Blue Velvet Revisited, a ‘meditation’ on the film by German film-maker and photographer Peter Braatz. Braatz had written to Lynch on spec in 1984 asking that he consider inviting him to the set of whatever film he would be making next; Lynch agreed and the resulting document of the production is about as far from those ‘Making of…’ featurettes that adorn DVDs as you can get. It’s an impressionistic account, made up virtually entirely of lo-fi archive on-set footage, still photographs and contemporary commentary from cast and crew. The film cleverly more or less follows the construction of Blue Velvet, giving the impression that the film was shot in sequence (even if this was not the case, the film’s final shot was completed on the last day of principal photography) and withholding the introduction of actors until their appearance in the narrative.
Blue Velvet Revisited eschews the standard documentary device of voice-over narration, as does An Insignificant Man, the revelatory (to me) account of Indian politics via the story of Arvind Kejriwal, an activist who, appalled by the endemic corruption in public life, established The Common Man’s Party (AAP) earlier this century in an attempt to mobilise the mass of the population against the vested interests of the established parties. The unassuming Kejriwal assumes near messianic properties as he lambasts the political elite before ever-growing crowds of the great many who are victims, not beneficiaries, of the growth of neoliberalism and globalisation. Kejriwal is politically inexperienced but not naive, and the contradictions and compromises that result from a movement that is built on popular support that nonetheless must play by the rules and restrictions of parliamentary democracy are fascinatingly depicted by directors Khushboo Ranka and Vinay Shukla, who appear to have enjoyed total freedom in their access. It goes without saying that, viewing An Insignificant Man in the UK in 2016, a comparison between Kejriwal and the adventures and travails of one Jeremy Corbyn are hard to avoid making.
Neither An Insignificant Man or Blue Velvet Revisited have a UK theatrical release scheduled at the time of writing, but it would be a surprise if neither appeared either in cinemas or on one or other of the proliferating on-demand portals. They are formally quite different but equally captivating and come highly recommended. Now, about the other 238 films…
The 60th London Film Festival runs until 16 October www.bfi.or.uk/lff