Talking Movies: Meeting Gorbachev, Cold Case Hammarskjold and The State Against Mandela and Others

Spling reviews Meeting Gorbachev, Cold Case Hammarskjold and The State Against Mandela and Others as broadcast on Talking Movies, Fine Music Radio. Listen to podcast.

TRANSCRIPT

“Good morning – welcome to Talking Movies, I’m Spling…

This week, we’re talking about three documentaries that form part of the upcoming Encounters Documentary Film Festival.

Starting off with…

MEETING GORBACHEV

The life of Mikhail Gorbachev, the eighth and final President of the Soviet Union.

Directors: Werner Herzog, André Singer

Features: Mikhail Gorbachev and Werner Herzog

– Herzog is a renowned filmmaker, respected by his peers and constantly pushing the limits of filmmaking
– co-directing his latest film in which he features as an interviewer, he meets Mikhail Gorbachev, former Soviet Union president in an effort to relive his political career in this important and timely retrospective
– following in the wake of several presidents, who died in relative quick succession, this documentary unpacks why Gorbachev should be viewed as one of the most influential and reverred politicians of the 20th century
– regarded as a traitor by some of his countrymen and a saviour to many Germans after their reunification, his career revolved around cooperation and disarmament
– weathering the Chernobyl crisis, nuclear disarmament deals with United States, brokering the end of the Cold War and navigating a great many challenges during his presidency, the documentary gives an up close and personal account of the man, his considerable legacy and contrasts his cool-headed diplomacy with today’s leaders
– archive footage, rare photographs and newsreels are spliced between excerpts from an open-handed interview between Hertzog and Gorbachev
– while somewhat rose-tinted and far from groundbreaking, it remains a fascinating overview of one man’s political influence and doubles as a touching memoir of a man whose dignity and nobility deserve more reflection and acknowledgement

A solid 7 on the splingometer!
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Moving on to…

COLD CASE HAMMARSKJOLD

An attempt to solve the mysterious plane crash involving the United Nations Secretary-General leads down the rabbit hole.

Writer-Director: Mads Brügger

Features: Mads Brügger and Göran Björkdahl

– Starting in a hotel room, dressed in white like the primary villain and dictating many of his thoughts to either one of his secretaries, it’s a quizzical opening to an equally eccentric documentary.
– Interviewing locals who witnessed the incident in 1961, attempting to recover remnants of the aircraft and unearthing investigative documentation pertaining to the crash, Brügger gathers a semblance of varying accounts and theories as to what really happened.
– Some using it as a cathartic experience, others trying to obscure the truth further… it’s a fascinating discovery of clues, contacts and whodunnits.
– From news and magazine articles of the time, the documentarian builds a list of names from secret files that were first uncovered during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
– Disturbing interviews, dark conspiracies and a whimsical yet deadly serious tone, Brügger picks up on scraps as a historical assassination investigation diverts into a much darker and more contemporary thriller.
– Experimental in nature, shifting between Brügger’s narration, hotel room and in-field reporting, it’s an entertaining film, which becomes more and more intriguing and complex.
– While monumental in its own stranger than fiction way, Brügger does preface the film by saying that it could be uncovering one of the biggest and darkest conspiracies of all-time or churning mistruth into an elaborate yarn.
– Either way, this experimental and edgy documentary is gripping, thought-provoking, provocative and unsettling… creating enough smoke to prompt fresh investigation into the horrific claims and cover ups at its core.

An excellent 8 on the splingometer!
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And finally…

THE STATE AGAINST MANDELA AND OTHERS

2018 marks the centenary of Nelson Mandela’s birth. He seized center stage during a historic trial in 1963 and 1964. But there were eight others who, like him, faced the death sentence. …

Directors: Nicolas Champeaux, Gilles Porte

Stars: Denis Goldberg, Ahmed Kathrada and Winnie Mandela

– The 1963 Rivonia trial is a turning point in South African history, where Nelson Mandela and several other ANC stalwarts were arrested, detained and brought before a court of law
– the court proceedings took place over nine months, yet weren’t able to be filmed leaving over 250 hours of voice recordings instead
– taking crucial excerpts from the trial, including some of Mandela’s most memorable speeches and key cross-examinations, the documentarians have assembled the voice recordings and used charcoal animation to bring the trial to life
– playing the recordings back to the interviewees, most of whom were either present or directly related to the accused, we witness their reactions over 50 years later
– moving between interviews, reaction shots and courtroom animation, the documentary remains dynamic and visually complex
– while an excellent idea, capturing interview and commentary with several political figures who are no longer with us, one can’t help but feel that it didn’t reach its full potential
– the low budget charcoal style animation has texture, allows the artistry to break from typical courtroom sketching using creative licence to further dramatise the recordings
– while reasonably effective, the cartoon-ish imagery takes on a fantasy element with the counselor parading like a vampire and the judge looming oppressive and gigantic
– the animation medium is tonally-jarring and naive, yet this interactive recreation serves its purpose and remains important in spite of its off-key treatment

A satisfactory 6 on the splingometer
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So just to wrap up…

MEETING GORBACHEV… a compelling, thoughtful and even touching overview of a dignified, influential and noble political icon… A solid 7!

COLD CASE HAMMARSKJOLD… a quirky and experimental investigative documentary stumbles onto a much darker, disturbing and unbelievable conspiracy… An excellent 8!

THE STATE AGAINST NELSON MANDELA AND OTHERS… while ambitious, this part animation/part interview documentary remains important by virtue of its historical significance and key interviews… A satisfactory 6!

For more movie reviews, interviews and previous Talking Movies podcasts visit splingmovies.com.

And remember, Don’t WING it, SPL!NG it!”

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