While Juggalos have gotten a bad wrap over the years because of violence and mischief associated with the group (they even made the FBI listing of violent groups in America), Scott Cummings’ experimental flick Buffalo Juggalos attempts to expose the lighter side, along with the destructive side of this subculture.

The film is dark with snapshots of Juggalo culture. It almost embraces the misunderstood and terrifying status this group has with the general public to a truly chilling result.

Composed with some stunning cinematography, framed and juxtaposed behind western New York’s sometime beautiful, sometimes Gothic backdrop, many of the scenes come across as a staged study of Juggalo culture in the wild.

Using an experimental method to tell a story, Cummings presents his audience with a new visceral way to learn a lot about a subculture.  Scenes depict only actions, sometimes havoc, sometimes passive, and tell their own story without any unnecessary dialogue or intentional narratives.

Cummings, who studied experimental film at the State University of New York-Buffalo, made more of an art piece than a movie,  but it works.

With the scenes involving a bunch of kids in clown face steering a chaotic car, it felt like watching a real life version of the Twisted Metal, but then you have to realize, this could be real life. And it’s terrifying!

There is no question that many of scenes in this film are staged, and yet it is effectively allows an audience to engage with a subculture that still remains a mystery to most.

When all is said and done, Cummings’ film expresses a sentiment that people who dress up as Juggalos are much more than fans of Insane Clown Posse, as they are more than just a statement about the loss of the American dream and a self-reflexive commentary on the utter absurdity of modern life. They are just people trying to live life  free and comfortable as they are.

“Who shall make the world more beautiful?”

Iva Radivojevic’s first full-length documentary, Evaporating Borders, closes with this quote by African-American sociologist W. E. B. Du Bois. What may seem like a rhetorical question is actually a plea to viewers, beckoning us to participate and holding us accountable for what may come.

Presented in five parts, the documentary shows mounting tensions and racism in an evolving Cyprus, which is host to an increasing number of refugees and immigrants (mostly Palestinian and Syrian Muslims, and some Turks, who occupy a third of Cyprus’s northern territories), while exploring themes of migration, displacement, tolerance and belonging. Interviews provide insight into an issue that is not unique to the island.

Many Greek Cypriots feel refugees are sucking up their and their country’s resources and that the government is too generous with them, a sentiment which has led some locals to organize fascist and racist opposition. But those who flee to Cyprus from war-torn neighbouring countries do so to find work and peace. They are often undermined by potential employers due to racism, and find themselves cut off from mandatory government benefits for refugees.

Endless appeals and little advocacy force some to eventually leave the island. The film’s final scene shows a clash at a protest between a group of social justice advocates and a group of fascists, between two possibilities: that of an inclusive, welcoming society, and that of a hostile, intolerant Cyprus.

Radivojevic reveals her own observations throughout the documentary, at one point expressing her own distaste and disdain for immigrant men who look “poor, criminal, intimidating.” She consciously dissociates from them. Though Radivojevic was an immigrant to Cyprus herself (from Yugoslavia), it is as though, over time, she made a distinction between the “acceptable” immigrants (the blonde ones) and those who supposedly leech off the government, create trouble and don’t deserve her empathy. She then catches herself and reflects on what may have led her to feel this way. I was impressed that she even admitted to having had racist thoughts, which is downright embarrassing, but even more so by her capacity for introspection and analysis of an issue that is becoming more urgent and widespread daily.

Radivojevic excels in presenting a serious issue without being heavy-handed. Her shots make one envious of Cyprus’s residents who get to bask in its golden sunlight. She has a rare eye for composition, and zeros in on details that are revealing about the island’s military history and racial tensions.

Through intimate shots of neighbours and streets, we’re given the impression that Cyprus is a small village, the type that breeds intolerance, but the documentary very effectively demonstrates, through interviews with intellectuals, activists, and bureaucrats, as well as the director’s own questioning, that there is hope yet for a better Cyprus.

For the complete schedule, please visit the RIDM website

For his latest documentary, Hubert Sauper enlisted some friends to help build a plane, which they then flew into Sudan to shoot We Come As Friends over the course of six years: before, during, and after the referendum that caused the country to separate, and gave way to South Sudan’s independence.

Sauper was at the Quebec premiere to present the film, explaining that it’s a documentary about the pathology of colonialism. For those unfamiliar with the conflict, the documentary provides a brief history of Sudan’s opposing leaders and their allies: Sudan’s Muslim president Omar Al-Bashir keeps close ties to China, whereas South Sudan’s president Salva Kiir Mayardit was rewarded by president Bush with a cowboy hat for his Christian beliefs.

At first the viewer is given the impression that the country is torn due to religious differences, but it is quickly revealed that oil is at the root of the conflict, which has brought its share of foreign involvement. A number of situations and conversations reveal a seriously troubling reality.

Comments from foreigners induced many an eye-roll, from Texan missionaries calling South Sudan “New Texas,” to a British soldier claiming that if locals haven’t been able to gain peace in over 200 years, they must not want it badly enough. Foreign investors boast that their investments will allow the South Sudanese to profit some as well – so there is no shame in making a buck off oil extraction. Meanwhile, an old man explains how he was given a contract to sign without understanding what it was – a contract which paid him 25K USD to hand over his land, of which he never saw a penny.

This new colonialism seems more insidious now – though South Sudan was not recently discovered, it is all too familiar and unsettling to see white missionaries and investors arrogantly insert themselves into South Sudan.

I did catch myself being pleased at South Sudan’s independence, if only because I’ve romanticized the idea – until Sauper revealed that the independence was orchestrated by Texas oil companies, who were simply looking for another profitable venture (which most certainly explains the presence of Texan ministers and missionaries shaming children for being naked, forcing them out of any traditional garb they might don and into school uniforms). It’s typical “divide and rule.”

The film is striking in its contrasts, and Sauper has an exceptional eye for jarring details. The UN’s New Year’s Eve festivities see a drunken Scottish lout suggestively shake a bottle of champagne and pop it while a local South Sudanese woman is outdoors, carrying buckets and cleaning. Local villagers explain how their village is becoming a mass grave due to murders, and that water contamination has killed their livestock and plants, as a UN truck drives by, its passengers likely unaffected by these realities.

These situations might seem cliché, but the documentary does a great job of steering clear of sentimental commentary, merely showing a reality that us privileged folk like to pretend is over. Sauper admitted this was the longest he had ever worked on a film. One can only imagine how alert he must have been to capture such fantastic, telling, and eye-opening coincidences on film.

An absolute must see, especially for those who argue the benefits of oil extraction and colonialism.

For the full RIDM schedule, please visit ridm.qc.ca

Regular readers (hypothetically, they could exist) of my weekly ramblings will know I’m a fan of documentaries, so much so that an entire festival devoted to them happening right in my home town is a pretty big deal. In under a month, the Montreal International Documentary Festival (RIDM), will kick off, and so on this week’s FFR, I thought I’d take a look at some of the screenings that I’ll hope to attend. But the lineup this year boasts and impressive number of films and shorts, more than I could hope to discuss in 1000 words or less, so when you’re done reading, head over to RIDM’s website for more.

Actress posterActress (dir. Robert Greene)

You probably haven’t heard of Brandy Burr, an actress who once had a small but important role on HBO’s The Wire. Burr has spent most of the time since her HBO turn as a housewife, but acting never left her, and her attempts to balance her attempts at kick-starting her career and maintaining her family life are the subject of a new documentary by the director of wrestling doc Fake it so Real.

But rather than simply following Burr in her day to day life, Green seems to have woven an intensely personal, penetrating movie, full of style that will probably leave you emotionally devastated.

Le Nez (dir. Kim Nguyen)

Making a documentary about the sense of smell is probably one of the more difficult projects a filmmaker can undertake. Try and film Tristram Shandy, while you’re at it. But Le Nez seems to be trying, and all power to it. Le Nez purports to explore both the science of scent and its role in culture, covering topics ranging from the whale-excrement driven perfume industry, to the link between smell and emotion, and even seeking answers to such lofty questions as “What does space smell like?” You can’t fault the film for not being ambitious, and hopefully the Rebelle director can make good on the film’s promise.

The Look of Silence (dir. Joshua Oppenheimer)

The Act of Killing is a film I still haven’t gotten the courage up to watch yet, but the debut of its companion piece, The Look of Silence, may wind up being the push I need. While Act of Killing focused on supposedly politically motivated killing in Indonesia in the mid ’60s, its companion focuses more on the victims of these atrocities than the perpetrators, telling the story of the family of a man killed during the incident, and his brother’s journey to confront the men responsible. Act of Killing is renowned for being one of the most difficult and unsettling films of the past decade. That’s a hard act to follow, and hopefully Oppenheimer delivers again.

Altman (dir. Ron Mann)Altman poster

He made MASH, The Long Goodbye, Gosford Park and, er, Popeye. Often overlooked, but undoubtedly influential, Robert Altman continues to influence films and filmmakers, even years after his death. By all accounts, Ron Mann (Comic Book Confidential) has crafted as loving, and impassioned a look at Altman’s life and works as fans of Altman could hope for, including extensive interviews with his friends, family and the countless actors he’s worked with over the years. This is one for the film nerds, and you can bet I’ll be there.

Citizenfour (dir. Laura Poiras)

Mentioning Edward Snowden’s name in a room full of politically minded people is like setting off a hand grenade. Ever since coming forward to blow the whistle on NSA misconduct, Snowden has remained a controversial figure to say the least, and Citizenfour, the doc directed by Laura Poiras (the first person with whom Snowden made contact) is sure to be equally polarizing. Citizenfour promises to take audiences through those first fateful meetings between Poiras and Snowden, giving us a ground floor look at the events that became made headlines around the globe. Hopefully the NSA doesn’t shut down the screening.

The Kingdom of Madness and Dreams (dir. Mami Sunada)

For years, Studio Ghibli, the Japanese animation studio, has basically been Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory for how many impossibly sweet cinematic treats it’s unleashed to the children (and adults) of the world and for how bloody mysterious its inner workings have been. But now, possibly in the cusp of the studio’s twilight years, the curtain’s been lifted for an unprecedented look inside the studio that brought us My Neighbor Totoro, Nausicaa, Princess Mononoke and The Wind Rises. Guaranteed to get anime fans emotional.

The 50-Year Argument (dir. Martin Scorsese and David Tedeschi)

The New York Review of books is one of those monolithic, unchanging cultural institutions, like the Louvre but for booky New Yorkers. Martin Scorsese’s new doc sheds light on the staid organization, charting the magazine’s history and cultural impact, as well as its continued policy of high standards, and looks at some of its most important contributors, like Susan Sontag and Norman Mailer. And since it’s Scorsese, you can bet we’ll be met with something pretty interesting.

RIDM will start on November 12, and will continue until November 26. Keep on following FTB for more updates on the festival!