Official Selection Mexican Documentary
Dir. Rodrigo Hernández and Elpida Nikou
The Richter Scale says: In English, the verb “to shoot” can refer to recording or taking pictures, or it could mean to fire a gun at someone. This gives the title of this documentary, “Shots”, an ingenious double meaning, since it deals with a photographer in Iztapalapa who became renowned for capturing violent images of the neighborhood in which he lives in (Iztapalapa, located in the northeast of the Mexico City). Jair Cabrera was a photographer for La Jornada and took a photograph of a corpse that hangs from a bridge that was showcased in Time Magazine as one of the best photographs of 2015, as well as in other important international publications. This documentary, the feature debut for journalists Rodrigo Hernández and Elpida Nikou (who have traveled the world recording and denouncing political and social conflicts), offers us an intimate look into Jair’s life: his process of choosing his photographs, his relationship with his family, the historical events that have marked the country in recent years (including the disappearance of the 43 students from Ayotzinapa) and what it means to be a photographer.
The filmmakers use Jesús Villaseca’s photojournalism workshop as a framing device. The filmmakers took this workshop and it apparently inspired them to make this documentary, first wanting to focus on different students and their struggles, eventually deciding to focus on the story of Jair for four years in which the events portrayed in this documentary took place. Their experience as journalists is present in every image we see on the screen, since Hernández and Nikou maintain a casual, almost homelike aesthetic, using long takes and more focused on capturing images than creating them, which gives more weight to this film’s thesis, which is the power to capture images that do not wait for the photographer to be ready to tell the stories that need to be told. The fact that the filmmakers followed Jair for four years allowed them to capture very emotional moments, in particular a time when Jair returns home after being held by “La Familia Michoacana” (supposedly) in the northern area of Guerrero, We see the reactions of each member of his family when they see Jair and the conversations that arise from that moment, capturing something that many filmmakers seek to create in their narratives, here giving it that completely genuine touch.
Jair’s reflections are what stands out in this film. It begins with Jair talking about how gunshots wake him up and torment him in a place where for all his neighbors, violence is something they are used to and see it as everyday life. The scenes in his house with his family in which they discuss the political context of what happens gives a homely feeling to this story, and having scenes like that is one of the advantages of a documentary that was developed throughout the filming , since their filmmakers managed to find moments as compelling as those that are created in a narrative film, only these are moments we see exactly as they happened.
Soft Rains Will Come
Official Selection International Feature Film
Dir. Iván Fund
The Richter Scale says: Stories in which a group of children without adults embark on an adventure and try to survive using their skills, their wit and the companionship tend to be very exciting. We see this mostly in fantasy films in which children face some supernatural phenomenon that parents would not understand or know what to do with. In the case of Soft Rains Will Come, the most recent film by Argentine filmmaker Iván Fund, inspired very loosely on a short story by famous American science fiction author Ray Bradbury, we see a group of children who have to fend for themselves when a nuclear event results in all the adults in the neighborhood unable to wake up (the film never makes it clear why this happens, or if they’re just asleep). When the film begins, Alma, an introverted girl who is apparently very dependent on her parents dependent on her parents, is taken to a friend’s house to spend the night, for the first time without her parents and with the promise that they will pick her up the next morning. This does not happen, so Alma and her friends (Massimo, Florencia and Emilia) work together to survive and feed themselves without their parents. Alma, however, has her little brother alone at her house, so she and her friends journey the streets of their neighborhood (which are huge and overwhelming for them) to join her little brother. On the way they find an abandoned dog in a car that they decide to adopt, and they meet Simona, an older girl who lives with her grandmother and who is committed to taking care of the gang.
Unlike other films with a premise like this, Iván Fund handles the material very naturally, captured by director of photography Gustave Schiaffino’s lens (using primarily natural light and wide shots on the outside that make this world look bigger, through the eyes of a child). There is very little dialogue and each child reacts to their surroundings without describing it or talking much about it, except for a few reflections in which some of the children express their fears that their parents will never wake up. The characters have been named after the child actors who play them, which indicates that this story was developed throughout the filming process and the children created these characters after themselves, which shows in the games they play and the reactions that resemble those of children who were trained to look at a camera. Even with the naturalistic aesthetic, Fund makes the story feel like a fable by introducing different parts of the story through illustrations and brief narrations that look like pages of a children’s book, making it clear that we are seeing something removed from reality, even though it feels like its feet are planted firmly within said reality.
The decision to tell the story with children is interesting, since Ray Bradbury’s short story is about a world in which all the machines that were designed to serve man continue their work after a nuclear event eliminates all humans. Why is it that Fund wanted to adapt that same hopeless story with children instead of machines? Fortunately, while the story remains ambiguous, it is also hopeful, showing how a group of children learn to fend for themselves in a world without adults and giving them something that could be considered a future.