A legendary life wants no asides. When thinking about what makes it so you will find that it is the love or hate for which life can be sacrificed. Art is the power of introspection and those who have become “masters” would make great stories out of their dearest pursuit d and dismissive refusals. They are larger-than-life figures who we, the ordinary people, can not only look up to, but also get inspired by.
This year’s Shanghai International Film Festival Documentary Screening Unit selects for the audience a number of touching documentaries demonstrating several masters’ life stories. On the list there are two heavyweight works highly recommended, namely Cameraperson that is shortlisted for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature and won 22 awards and 34 nominations in total at major international film festivals and professional film festivals last year and Versus: The Life and Films of Ken Loach that tells the life story of the legendary British film master Ken Loach.
Abbas Kiarostami, a film master and the great art critic John Berger passed away last July and this January respectively, making 76 Minutes and 15 Seconds with Abbas Kiarostami and The Seasons in Quincy: Four Portraits of John Berger, the two documentaries about them the echoes of the two inimitable artists. Blue Velvet Revisited is a behind-the-scene documentary of David Lynch’s masterpiece Blue Velvet, revealing the whole process of how the director made the film.
Even if you have never seen any of the works of these great masters, you will find the documentaries enjoyable. And after watching them you will be able to talk about John Berger and David Lynch like a truly seasoned fan with your pals. Isn’t that just great?
Versus: The Life and Films of Ken Loach
The Seasons in Quincy: Four Portraits of John Berger
76 Minutes and 15 Seconds with Abbas Kiarostami
Blue Velvet Revisited
Highlights: A masterpiece documentary winning at various 2017 film festivals
Director: Kirsten Johnson
Runtime: 102 min
The film was a winner at the 88th National Board of Review Awards and made its way to the shortlist for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, the Film Independent Spirits Awards, the Gotham Independent Film Awards, etc., endorsing the great critical acclaim it received. A renowned cinematographer, Kristen Johnson has worked on many famous projects such as Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, and Laura Poitras’s Citizenfour. In this film, you will see the struggles of a Brooklyn boxer, the daily routine of a Nigerian midwife under severe conditions, an Arabian farmer returning home in Bosnia, etc. The film also revisits the sites of massacres and catastrophes, which proposes an inquiry for one’s self.
2. Versus: The Life and Films of Ken Loach
Highlights: A condensed account of the great British director Ken Loach’s lifetime pursuit of art.
Director: Louise Osmond
Runtime: 76 min
A biographical film about the premier British film master Ken Loach, the winner of Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and Lifetime Achievement Award at the Venice Film Festival, who is reputed “the most important Neorealism director”. He won the Jury Prize with Hidden Agenda (1990) and Raining Stones (1993) at the Cannes Film Festival and the Palme d’Or with The Wind That Shakes the Barley in 2006. In 2016, the 80-year-old Ken Loach was once again awarded the Palme d’Or for I, Daniel Blake.
Ken Loach has devoted all his life to fighting for the interests of the working class and disadvantaged groups, leading to heated political discussions in the British film and television industry and making great contributions to art. His films mostly deal with serious subjects and are infused with a strong sense of responsibility for the country and society. This documentary is well-made and definitely worth watching, since it combines Ken Loach’s own account in interviews and those of actors and co-workers as well as footages from his movies, reviewing his filmmaking and legendary life of 50 years.
3. The Seasons in Quincy: Four Portraits of John Berger
Highlights: the master's "different way of description"
Director: Bartek Dziadosz, Colin MacCabe, Christopher Roth, Tilda Swinton
Runtime: 89 min
LEUNG Man-tao said: “John Berger is a true successor of the Western left-wing romantic spirit, devoting to sharp critique in the public sector on the one hand and the creation of deeply introspective fictions.” John Berger passed away this January, making this documentary a precious record of his later years.
The film is made up of four different short ones chronicling the four seasons of the year. Set in the little town of Quincy where John Berger lived during the last years of his life, it depicts John Berger as an ordinary old man honestly and simply with plain stories and picturesque images without the halo of an artist or celebrity. Residents of the small village also have their own stories. The directors integrate historical images with John Berger’s later life to give the audience a poetic sense of travelling in time and space for imagination. A truly beautifully made documentary.
4. 76 Minutes and 15 Seconds With Abbas Kiarostami
Highlights: “The Wind Will Carry Us”, a lively and multifaceted Iranian film master
Director: Seyfolah Samadian
Runtime: 77 min
The 76 minutes and 15 seconds represents the lifetime of the film master Abbas Kiarostami who passed away last year, 76 years and 15 days. The director Seyfolah Samadian, a photographer and longtime friend of Kiarostami, has put together some footages of his moments with Kiarostami after his death last year to make this documentary. The film shows us how Kiarostami captured details in everyday life that we so often overlook and his pursuit of perfection. Therefore, it is surely to inspire the viewers who love movies, photography and aesthetics.
5. Blue Velvet Revisited
Highights: How did David Lynch make his masterpiece Blue Velvet? This documentary will give you the answer
Director: Peter Braatz
Runtime: 85 min
Any fan of cult films will find Blue Velvet familiar. This artistic and weird film was released in the US in 1986, for which its director David Lynch was nominated for Best Director at the 59th Academy Awards. This documentary titled Blue Velvet Revisited puts together a large number of valuable documents on-screen-and-off, and interviews with cast and crew members on the set during the shooting of Blue Velvet. Through this documentary, fans can take a closer look at David Lynch’s style and get to know his mindset during this creative process. This work is delicately structured with powerful artistic expression, and of high documentary value.