Spotlight on Documentary 2019

Manfred Kirchheimer’s Free Time (2019)

One of the most anticipated films lined up for the Spotlight on Documentary program at this year’s New York Film Festival has been the latest installment in a project over half a century ago. In Seven Up! (1964), director Paul Almond and producers at what was then Granada Television captured the lives of fourteen British seven-year-olds. With 7 Plus Seven (1970), Michael Apted took over and has been revisiting his subjects every seven years. Reviewing 63 Up, the ninth film in the series, for Variety, Chris Willman notes that “moppetry has given way to meditations on mortality, as the participants deal with parental losses and consider the time limit on their own lives, if not the series.”

As Srikanth Srinivasan points out in his excellent piece on the Up series for the Hindu, Apted originally intended “to illustrate the thesis that class position in Britain was predetermined by one’s birth and that social mobility was well-nigh impossible. However, as the series unfolded, reality turned out to be more complex: Tony, the East End taxi driver, rose up to middle-class, while Neil, with his middle-class upbringing, fell way down the ladder . . . These strange turns of reality soften the filmmaker’s convictions and the later Up films open up to the nuances of human existence. The progression of the series, then, coincides with Apted’s own intellectual and sentimental development.” Film at Lincoln Center has posted a recording of the Q&A with Apted moderated by Eugene Hernandez.

Global Upheaval

With State Funeral, Sergei Loznitsa has fashioned from rare archival footage a record of the five days of mourning staged all across Soviet Russia following the death of Joseph Stalin in 1953. The new film will likely be seen as a companion piece to last year’s The Trial, in which Loznitsa reconstructed the courtroom proceedings that saw eight Soviet engineers and professors plead guilty to accusations of sabotage in 1930—one of Stalin’s first show trials. “While Loznitsa’s oeuvre is prolific and diverse, spanning narrative fiction and various documentary forms, it has a common focus on the performance of state violence in the former Soviet Union and, in particular, on the historical leakage that permeates much of the present tense,” writes Sierra Pettengill for frieze. During a recent Q&A in London, Loznitsa “summarized the impetus for the original 1930 production: ‘The idea was very simple: to resolve political problems through theater.’”

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