aedophilia. terrorism and the LS government's hawkish foreign policy: the three dominant concerns of the modern age. The press and broadcast news devote huge amounts of column inches and airtime to these subjects. often cheaply and sensationally fuelling public debate and outcry and generating confusion and dread in equal measure. This is the age of anxiety.
This month three new documentary films being released in
cinemas across the UK engage with the three evils of our
modern age. Capturing the Him/Mums deals with child abuse within a Long Island. New York community: Bus I74 documents the hijacking in Rio de Janeiro of a bus (by an armed robber — terrorism with a small '1'. if you like): The [by of War damns the American government‘s warmongering ways. All three films have been heaped with praise by critics and the public alike; all three films have picked up awards at film festivals across the world: and all three films were in the running for an Oscar at this year‘s Academy Awards. with The [by (g/‘lliu‘ picking up the golden statuette.
The widespread appeal of these films forms part of a bigger picture. one which sees documentary films no longer relegated
to non-prime time television slots. but playing to far broader
audiences in cinema. lirom Michael Moore‘s satiric look at [S gun culture. Bowling/in: ('olumbuu'. through the portrait of a trailblazing l.'S national spelling competition for kids. .S'pcI/Inuuul. to Scotsman Kevin Macdonald‘s mountain climbing disaster recreation. Your/ring the Void. documentary films have thrilled. tickled and made audiences think.
They say fact is stranger than fiction. ln documentary lilrn that‘s true. but the facts can also be funnier. more dramatic. fuller of heart and soul. stunning and unbelievable (even though you know what you're watching is based on real events) and. perhaps most importantly. of great contemporary social relevance. As Andrew Jarecki. director of the Sundance film festival (irand Jury l’ri/e-winning ('upIu/‘iug l/H' I’ru'dnums. says: 'l’eople are hungry for a more complex picture of reality. They know it exists. they‘d like to experience it. but they aren‘t getting it. So they may be turning to documentaries to experience it.’
()n 12 June 2()()() a man hijacked a bus in downtown Rio de Janeiro. The police. press and the public laid siege to the vehicle and for five hours the whole of Brazil downed tools to watch the television coverage. 'l‘hroughout the hijack and in its aftermath. the perpetrator was characterised simply as the “drugged hijacker".
Bus I74 provides an alternative. more complex view of the siege. revealing the hijacker. a young man named Sandro. to be one of Rio's many street kids. a homeless orphan who had spent more of his life than not begging and stealing in order to survive. And Sandro. as Bus 174‘s director Jose l’adilha discovered. was also a survivor of the notorious ('andelaria street kids massacre. during which the police murdered seven children who were sleeping outside a church in Rio.
‘The hijacking of Bus I74 became. together with the (‘andelaria massacre. an event that symbolises Rio de Janeiro‘s violence.~ says Padilha. ‘The narrative structure of the film cuts between the bus story and Sandro‘s story in a way that builds up a dialogue. that is about something that transcends them both: urban violence in developing countries.‘
If Bus I74 presents an alternative view of an event previously documented by the media. The l-bg oIlliu- goes for the big one: nothing less than the revision of history. It‘s the story of Robert S McNamara. the LS secretary for defense during the presidencies of both John I" Kennedy and Lyndon B Johnson. A hawk in the White House. McNamara was involved in the major decision-making processes during the (‘uban Missile (‘risis and the Bay of l’igs invasion that kicked off the Vietnam War. But .\/lc.\'amara famously turned from hawk to dove. Speaking to The [be of ll’ur's director lirrol Morris about the bombing of Tokyo during World War II. McNamara. then a Lieutenant (‘olonel in the [S Air I-‘orcc. asks: ‘In order to win a war. is a nation justified in killing l()().()()() civilians in one night'.”
Morris says: ‘Although strictly speaking neither a work of
biography nor a work of history. The [by of lliu‘ has produced
important new biographical and history material. McNamara raises deep moral questions about his role and. by implication. the entire Allied role in winning the war against Japan by any means necessary.’ .Vlorris describes The Fog of War as a 2()th century fable. a tragic Horatio Alger story. he says. of an American dreamer who rose from humble origins to the heights of political power. ‘He was an idealist who saw his dreams horribly challenged by the role he has played in history.‘
With a barrage of documentation — photographs. texts. original film footage — plus McNamara‘s testimony at his disposal. Morris revises history and gives us the facts. ('upturiug tIu' Fried/nuns does exactly the opposite. For his first documentary film. Andrew Jarecki set out to tell the story of David l‘riedman. New York’s most successful children's clown. But after speaking with various members of the l’riedman family. Jarecki uncovered a secret history — back in the 1980s father Arnold and youngest son Jesse were arrested. prosecuted and imprisoned for child abuse. As Jarecki‘s subsequent investigations revealed. the father and son (the former died in prison. the latter‘s recently re—entered society. branded a ‘level three violent sexual predator’). may have been. one or both. fully or partially. innocent of the crimes. To his confusion. Jarecki found that no two people he interviewed for the film family members. the police. lawyers. friends. victims
had the same recollection of the events. And he‘s made a
‘PEOPLE ARE HUNGRY FOR A MORE COMPLEX PICTURE OF REALITY SO THEY MAY BE TURNING T0 DOCUMENTARIES TO EXPERIENCE IT'
l~15 Apr 2004 THE LIST 15