Thursday at Silverdocs

For the second day in a row, I watched three documentaries, and once again, all three come highly recommended. I’ll try to write longer reviews later because all three films are deserving of further discussion, but like yesterday, I feel like I’ve been staring at screens big, small, and tiny for a really long time. I started my afternoon with a screening of film composer Gary Tarn’s Black Sun (IMDB), an experimental documentary based on the writings of painter Hugues de Montalembert, who went blind in the late 1970s when a mugger threw paint thinner in his eyes. De Montalembert narrates from his own descriptions of blindness, recalling the attack and conveying how it changes his experience of the world. After going blind, de Montalembert, rather than confining himself to his apartment, chose to travel, exploring countries ranging from Indonesia and India to Iceland, and Tarn’s camera visits all of these locations, capturing images using images that can only be described as kaleidoscopic. Black Sun, with its philosophical explorations of vision and its depictions of travel recalled Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil.

I followed up Black Sun with a late afternoon screening of Leila Khaled, Hijacker, a documentary by Swedish-Palestinian director Lina Makboul about Khaled, a Palestinian woman who hijacked two planes in the 1970s, with the hopes of calling attention to the Palestinian struggle. Makboul is explicit about her own ambivalence towards Khaled. While Makboul certainly regarded Khaled as a hero of sorts, she is also critical of her methods, with the documentary becoming an intriguing reflection on the line between “freedom fighter” and “terrorist.” Unlike films such as One Day in September that look at the Palestinian struggles with distance, Makboul depicts her personal investment and her struggle to ask Makboul whether or not she feels she has harmed the reputation of Palestinians through her actions. Makboul also wisely underplays the emphasis on Kahled’s appearance, noting in passing that Khaled’s fame derived in part from her physical beauty, as members of the press repeatedly asked her questions about her romantic life. While her appearance certainly added to her initial notoreity, Makboul’s film seems more interested in questions of the consequences of this violence for the Palestinian national narrative.

Next I caught the compelling “homemade” documentary, A Certain Kind of Beauty, co-directed by Liz Witham and Nancy Slonim Aronie. Beauty focuses on the struggles of Dan Aronie (Nancy’s son) with multiple sclerosis, which he develops at the age of 22, just as he was beginnig to pursue a career in acting. Handsome and charming, Dan imagines that the whole world opening up before him, but after contracting MS, his motor skills quickly deteriorate despite a number of experimental medical procedures. Soon after Dan is diagnosed, his mother comes across the idea to document the family’s experiences, and Dan readily agrees, in part to help others understand the disease but also–I’d imagine–as a way to help the family make sense of this difficult experience. The film is often brutally honest, depicting Dan struggling to dress himself and even to get out of bed as well as reflecting on how MS has changed him and how he experiences the world. But at the same time, Dan’s story also depicts the importance of freinds and family in providing a sense of community. I’m still working through my response to this compelling film, but the honesty and openness of the Aronie family in telling their story was incredibly powerful.

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