- David Parkinson
Parky At the Pictures (3/3/2023)
(Reviews of Subject; I'm Fine (Thanks For Asking); Une Femmina; Primadonna; Electric Malady; and Fashion Reimagined)
In last week's review of Nira Burstein's Charm Circle, the subject of documentary ethics cropped up. As this was a study of the film-maker's parents and sister, it was presumed that the process was pretty much consensual. But is this always the case and do documentarists always have the best interests at heart of those into whose lives they are delving? This is the core question raised by Jennifer Tiexiera and Camilla Hall in Subject, a treatise on documentary cinema's duty of care that examines what happened to four individuals after the cameras stopped rolling and they were left to deal as best they could with their new normality.
For so long cinema's poor relation, the documentary became cool around the turn of the millennium, with Luc Jacquet's March of the Penguins (2004) clearing $70 million at the box office. However, as various critics, academics, and documentarists discuss why this `moment' suddenly occurred and how actualities have a responsibility to tell the truth to the audience and fairly represent those on camera, Margaret Ratliff reveals how devastating Jean-Javier de Lestrade's series, The Staircase (2004-18), had been for her, as it forced her to relive the death of her mother, Kathleen, and the trial of her author father, Michael Peterson.
He tells Tiexiera and Hall that he had wanted the investigation to be filmed, as he didn't trust the system and wanted his innocence to be demonstrated for everyone to see. But he admits he didn't consider the impact it would have upon his young daughters and Ratliff avers that the whole media process messed up her and her sister, Martha.
Thom Powers from the Toronto Film Festival argues that documentaries don't just record someone's story, but also become part of people's lives to the extent they also become part of the story. Producer Caroline Libresco explains that most subjects agree to appear in documentaries because they want their stories to get out. But director Daresha Kyi admits that such a decision comes with risks.
Despite wielding a camera in Cairo during the Arab Spring, Ahmed Hassan did not set out to appear in Jehane Noujaim's The Square (2013). But he became a celebrity after the film was nominated for an Oscar and his fame grew because he had been shot in the head on Tahir Square. However, the new regime sought to demonise the documentary and Hassan suffered as a consequence. Evgeny Afineevsky notes that such people risk their lives for their cause and the film and the ramifications can rumble on long after the event. Yet, he also reveals that The Square has inspired similar uprisings around the world, including the one in Ukraine that he chronicled in Winter on Fire (2015).
While Hassan now feels reluctant to discuss politics and wants asylum from Egypt, Arthur Agee has fonder memories of shooting Hoop Dreams (1994) as a 14 year-old in Chicago with director Steve James and executive producer Gordon Quinn. The latter feels it was an aspirational feel-good project that attracted audiences who didn't usually watch documentaries. However, film-maker Sonya Childress ponders the power dynamic between the white, middle-class male unit and the African American community upon which they descended.
Director Bing Liu approves of the decolonisation of documentary making and critic Valerie Complex concurs that everyone should have the same chance to tell a story rather than just the traditional white male coterie. But, as Davis Guggenheim and Assia Boundaoui point out, the issue is how do we treat people with less power than us when nobody is watching. As it goes, the producers insisted that everyone who had a speaking part received a share of the profits and Agee is grateful for the life-changing sums he has banked.
Black film-maker Sam Pollard jokes that only white guys like Michael Moore and Ken Burns make money from documentaries. He also raises the issue of paying participants and Guggenheim says he feels those on the payroll tend to start performing before the camera and resists on the grounds of authenticity. Others feel subjects should be compensated for their time, especially when the film wouldn't exist without their stories.
Susanne Reisenbichler points out that her sons would have made millions had Crystal Moselle's The Wolfpack (2015) not been a documentary. She and son Mukunda Angula relive father Oscar's tyrannical regime before he went for a walk in Manhattan and encouraged his siblings to do the same. Jesse Friedman similarly recalls the impact of Andrew Jarecki's Capturing the Friedmans (2003) winning the Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival and the impact it had on him after spending over a decade in prison after his father Arnold admitted to sexual crimes against children. Mother Elaine felt exploited by the process (especially as she came off badly in home movie footage submitted by son David), while wife Lisabeth Walsh is grateful for the film because it led to Jesse being released after an unfair trial and to their marriage.
A discussion ensues about consensual participation, which award-winning documentarist Kristen Johnson admits can be complicated, as subject and film-maker can have very different agendas while collaborating on the same project. She is also intrigued that Tiexiera and Hall have opted against interviewing the directors of the four films under review, as they have had little insight into the effect that their work had upon the subjects.
In fact, Jarecki and Jesse Friedman had remained close (although Walsh mentions a later degree of tension) and the latter has no regrets about a project that gave him a voice and liberty. However, the genre's integrity has often been challenged over the decades. Over footage of Edward S. Curtis's In the Land of the Headhunters (1914), Robert Flaherty's Nanook of the North (1922), and Ernest B. Schoedsack and Merian C. Cooper's Grass (1925), Kyi and Childress explore the way that films that were made as anthropological studies have colonialist implications that cannot be ignored, as the persons on camera were always being scrutinised from a position of otherness by the directors.
Such films had little concern for the `subject' after the shoot had wrapped. This is a concern for Ratliff, who keeps being forced to relive the trauma. By contrast, Peterson (who had a relationship with The Staircase's editor, Sophie Brunet) has ownership of his story to the extent that he has written his own account). Childress and Boundaoui suggest documentarists hire therapists to help participants while they are confiding their story to the camera, in the same way that intimacy co-ordinators advise on scenes in fictional films.
Bing Liu discloses that he had to make Minding the Gap (2018) to deal with his own childhood memories and reach out to the mother who had turned a back on his being abused by his stepfather. He is saddened by the wedge the film has created, but hopes it helps others and Libresco notes that streaming services like Netflix, Amazon, and Apple have brought new audiences to the documentary and allowed them to explore possibly pertinent issues within their own personal space. Childress, however, feels this boom has added a commercial aspect to actuality and that this is dangerous for the form, as topicality and accessibility could lead to compromises in the treatment of themes and participating persons.
Boundaoui and Childress advocate the introduction of industry guidelines to ensure accountability. However, Agee has been able to launch a foundation to help kids with his cut from the Hoop Dreams profits, while Angula has remained friends with Moselle and has gone into production himself, with the aim of becoming a director. Hassan is now based in Istanbul and is struggling to find backing for a documentary on Syrian refugees. He retains hope of making inspirational work, but Friedman still feels defined by the documentary that changed the direction of his life.
He wants to take back control and become anonymous, but will have to do so without Walsh, as she has departed to focus on her own needs (while wishing him nothing but peace and healing). As for Ratliff, she had to cope with HBO Max making a drama series about her family and turned down a request from Game of Thrones star Sophie Turner to meet to discuss how to play her. She hopes her appearance here will make others think before committing to documentary projects, so that they make an informed choice.
Just about every disconcerting thought you've ever had while watching a documentary surfaces in Subject. Tiexiera and Hall have considered the topic with depth, insight, and gravitas, and have highlighted some distressing issues relating to the psychological state of participants and the accountability of film-makers on the set and beyond. Their conclusions on the need for greater diversity among documentary makers are also thoughtful.
Yet, somewhat bizarrely, they make no reference to two key factors in the changing style of actualities and their growing popularity with audiences. Surely mention has to be made somewhere of the influence of social media and reality television on the way that people now choose to present themselves through the sharing of their opinions, rituals, and intimate details? Nothing is also said about the background of Jean-Javier de Lestrade, Steve James, Andrew Jarecki, Crystal Moselle, and Jehane Noujaim. They don't necessarily need a right of reply, but their films might have been considered by peers or critics in their career context to show whether the films under discussion stand alone or form part of an auteurial pattern.
Such information wouldn't change the reactions of the participants to their specific films. But it would make Subject feel like more of a concerted overview than a series of unconnected case studies. The breadth of knowledge on display here is impressive, however, with clips being included from dozens of recent releases. Editor Lauren Saffa merits mention in this regard and it's to be hoped the film is seen by those who have become addicted to doc streaming. Perhaps, though, the subject might have benefited more from a five-part series than a 96-minute feature.
I'M FINE (THANKS FOR ASKING).
Having been one of the eight co-directors of The Adventures of Thomasina Sawyer (2018), Kelley Kali teams with Angelique Molina to make I'm Fine (Thanks For Asking). Filmed in 2020, this is a potent and pithily witty reminder of how tough things were for people on society's lower rungs during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Recently widowed hairdresser Danny (Kelley Kali) is having such a rough time that she has been forced to live in a tent with eight year-old daughter, Wes (Wesley Moss). Babysitter Cynthia (Dominique Molina) is owed back pay and Danny roller-skates off to an appointment with regular client, Nyla (Jacolyn Holmes ). However, she doesn't have the cash and Danny has to plead with Mr Yu (Xing-Mai Deng) to give her the rest of the day she needs to raise the $200 to put down a deposit on a new place.
Avoiding adopt-a-dog woman Charlotte (Julia Kennedy), Danny is late for an appointment with Christina (Angelique Molina), who drives off in a huff. Desperate for cash, Danny tries to sell a gold chain to Bobby (Ira Scipio), who also owns a barbershop. He flirts while offering her $300 for her husband's wedding ring, but she notes that he is open late in case she changes her mind.
Having charged her phone, Danny picks up some takeaway delivery jobs and shrugs when cat-carrying Rebecca (Roma Kong) gives her one star because part of her order is missing. She next bumps into Jacob (Andrew Galvan), an old pal of her husband's and takes his phone number, even though she feels awkward talking to him.
Hurrying to get another delivery, Danny spills a drink down her top and catches up with Brooklynn (BK Marie) at the laundromat. She has found a rich new boyfriend and is planning to move into a plush neighbourhood. Fibbing that she has an insurance payment coming, Danny agrees to smoke a joint. However, it's strong and the pair get wasted on the slide at the nearby children's playground.
Danny comes clean about being on her uppers and hurries off to collect her top and Wes's teddy bear from the dryer. However, she's unsteady on her skates and slips in a puddle, only for a dramatic cut to send her plunging underwater, where her belongings float past her and she struggles to get her head back above water.
Composing herself, Danny discovers that the wedding band is missing and crawls on her knees to find it. Checking her pouch again, she finds Jacob's number and they are sharing a beer over a game of Two Truths and a Lie when he offers her his mother's old room. She is relieved and grateful, but has to turn him down when Jacob misreads the situation and declares his feelings for her while trying to fondle her leg.
Reaching the end of her tether, Danny calls Brooklynn, who has found the ring in her laundry basket. She urges her to sell it to get the apartment, but Danny can't bear to part with her last link with her late husband. Instead, she returns to the campsite at the side of the road to find things to sell and winds up getting her bag stolen after getting into a fight with the white man robbing her tent (Brian Brooks II).
Salvaging a suitcase, she leaves it with Brooklynn (who has paid someone else to braid her hair for a date) and heads off to collect Wes. As she ties on her skates on the steps of the church, Chad (Deon Cole) drives past in his open-top Porsche. He reverses on seeing Danny and tries to chat her up. She realises he is Brooklynn's accountant beau and humours him, even when he drops some banknotes on to the pavement to entice her.
Pitying her friend, Danny picks up Wes and they have a discussion about angel wishes before selling the ring (which Bobby promises to hold for a week). They go to the playground as night falls and Danny knows she can let the ring go because her husband lives on in Wes. She cries as her daughter snuggles up to her and we see they are inside their new apartment, which even has a fan, as Wes had hoped.
Shot on a shoestring in the Los Angeles district of Pacoima, this is a spirited account of beating the gig economy odds that would make for a splendid double bill with Todd Stephens's Swan Song, which stars Udo Kier as another hairdresser in extremis. In truth, there's an awful lot of plot involving characters who seem to pop up out of nowhere in order to keep the action moving. But Kelley Kali is so propulsive and resourceful in front and behind the camera that it's possible to cut her and the film a whole lot of slack.
Driven by Erick Del Aguila and Jarrett Woo's score, cinematographer Becky Baihui Chen keeps the camera zipping along the sun-kissed streets. But she also picks out details like the brightly coloured murals that reveal the character of a neighbourhood that has been robbed of its bustle by the Coronavirus that sometimes keeps the cast behind their masks. The support playing is variable, but Brooklynn Marie offers some lively comic support and it's a shame she couldn't have shared a scene with comic-cum-producer Deon Cole.
It would also be interesting to see Kali's Student Academy Award-winning short, Lalo's House (2018). But this has long been burrowed away. Consequently, it's difficult to gauge how the directing collaboration worked with Angelique Molina, whose previous credits were largely limited to directing photography. They have succeeded in producing, however, a socio-politically poignant and pugnacious picture that is melodramatic without being mawkish and wittily smart without being glib.
There's something a bit different from CinemaItaliaUK this week, as it pairs two features and a short in its annual Donne di Mafia event at the Garden Cinema in London. See below for our coverage of Marta Savina's Primadonna: The Girl From Tomorrow.
Francesco Costabile's Una Femmina: The Code of Silence is also a debut feature. Although it draws on the Calabrian director's own childhood memories, it takes its principal inspiration from the testimonies in crusading journalist Lirio Abbate's book, Rebel Women. In particular, it reflects on the experience of Denise Cosco, who refused to be cowed while investigating the fate of her mother, Lea Garofalo, who had disappeared in suspicious circumstances.
Now in her early twenties, Rosa (Lina Siciliano) keeps having nightmares about the last time she saw her mother, Cetta (Francesca Ritrovato). She recalls her returning home after a prolonged absence and vanishing after supposedly falling sick in the night. According to Rosa's grandmother, Berta (Anna Maria De Luca), Cetta killed herself. But Rosa has her doubts, as she remembers waking in the night and seeing her uncle, Salvatore (Fabrizio Ferracane), behaving oddly.
He remains a forbidding presence and keeps wife Rita (Simona Malato) and son Natale (Luca Massaro) firmly in their place on the farm they run outside a small hillside town. Rosa is aware that her uncle and cousin are hiding something in the barn, but she is told to keep away. She also knows that Natale is a loose cannon, who is jealous of her friendship with Gianni (Mario Russo), who works at the local cemetery and who serenades her during a wedding reception.
Refusing to be intimidated by a visit from the menacing Ciccio (Vincenzo Di Rosa), Rosa falls ill after coming to the aid of the Black woman who had been attacked by a frantic Natale. She overhears the doctor telling her uncle that she suffers from the same spells as her mother and annoys Berta by asking questions about Cetta and her supposed suicide.
Aware that Gianni knows everything about burials in the town, Rosa demands to see her mother's last resting place. She is furious to discover that Cetta has been hidden away under a false name and returns for supper in a confrontational mood. When Salvatore sends her to fetch bread, she refuses and is beaten. Looking up at the moon, she plots her revenge.
Feigning illness, Rosa waits until the rest of the family has gone to work before torching the barn full of cocaine. She also smears blood on her bedsheets and informs Salvatore that four men had visited the farm and he vows to punish them. He accuses the Pacchiuni clan, although Ciccio insists that he would not risk the 20-year peace that has existed since Cetta was silenced after going to the police.
Salvatore accepts his word and asks Rosa if she has her mother's reckless spirit. She reassures him, only to finish him off after Gianni had shot him in the knee. After the funeral, Natale summons Gianni and some other pals to desecrate the grave of Ciccio's father. Rather than lash out, however, he asks Berta to bring Rosa to his home, so that he can propose a marital truce. He also warns her that Gianni will pay unless he remembers his place.
Frightened, Gianni seeks out Rosa and suggests they flee together. But she refuses to buckle, even after a pig's head is left on the family table. Berta consents to the union in order to avoid a bloodbath and Ciccio tells Rosa that she should be grateful to him for rescuing her from a family that forced her mother to drink acid to purge her of her sins.
But Rosa has no intention of succumbing, even after Gianni is shot after they are caught in bed together. Donning a black dress and veil, she pays a visit to Berta and forces her to relive the part she played in her own daughter's demise. Rosa tells her she's expecting a daughter, but has no intention of letting her grow up in this cesspool. As we see Rosa leading a procession of veiled women defiantly singing out against the crime and violence that has blighted their lives, she emerges from a narrow alleyway to find a police car waiting to take her away to a new life.
Exploring how domestic violence is linked to organised crime, as footsoldiers used to taking orders lash out at the nearest defenceless target, this is an unsettling film that distills the undercurrents percolating through Calabrian society. However, this isn't simply a denunciation of toxic masculinity, as Costabile also points the finger at those women who buy into concepts of clan honour and perpetuate the codes of silence that leave them vulnerable to violence.
Although mention is made of drug dealing, Costabile is less interested in the crimes committed and the impact they have on their victims than the moral dilemmas facing the dependents who benefit from the misdeeds of their loved ones. Thus, Rosa reserves her special ire for Berta, who opted to sacrifice her daughter in order to protect her son and the lifestyle he provided.
The storytelling is a little imprecise in places, but Costabile generates an oppressive atmosphere that is reinforced by the slow movements of Giuseppe Maio's camera and the scowling swirls of Valerio Camporini Faggioni's score. In addition to making evocative use of the tight streets and rugged scenery, Costabile also draws an intense performance out of Lina Siciliano, whom he discovered while searching for extras. Her stillness draws attention to the smouldering fire in her eyes, as the gravity of her situation dawns and she focusses on her pitiless revenge. The support playing is equally authentic, although the protest procession (for all its potency) feels a tad strained.
Having contributed shorts to Ward 3 (2012) and Mississippi Requiem (2019), UCLA graduate Marta Savina makes her feature bow with Primadonna: The Girl From Tomorrow. This builds on the action of the 2016 short, Viola, Franca, which was nominated for a David Di Donatello Award.
In 1965, 21 year-old Rosalia Crimi (Claudia Gusmano) lives in Sicily with her father, Pietro (Fabrizio Ferracane), her mother (Manuela Ventura), and younger brother, Mario (Francesco Giulio Cerilli). Life revolves around their smallholding and the local church, where Rosalia (who is known as Lia) had hoped to play the Virgin Mary in the Christmas festival. However, she is equally obsessed with Lorenzo Musicò (Dario Aita), the son of the town boss and sneaks away from a procession through the streets to flirt with him in the hills.
Aware her father wants nothing to do with the family, Lia only allows Lorenzo to kiss her on the cheek. But she is cross when he throws away a hair band she had bought herself and informs her that he doesn't like seeing her all dolled up. Storming off, she fails to keep a rendezvous the following day and glares at Lorenzo when he drives past in his car.
Pietro is worried that something will happen and orders Lia to stay home. But Lorenzo bursts in and kidnaps her and Pietro is distraught when the parish priest (Paolo Pierobon) advises against getting the police, as the couple has merely eloped. Having forced himself upon Lia, Lorenzo brings her to his father's house, where the priest and the local police captain witness the joining of the Musicò and Crimi families. However, Lia refuses to sign a document stating that the union is consensual and Lorenzo is arrested.
Musicò has a goat herd trample Pietro's crops in the night and the police urge him to keep Lia indoors. Orlando (Francesco Colella) declines the opportunity to represent Lia in court, but suggests she finds an outsider who is less intimidated by the Musicòs. The local prostitute, Ines (Thony), also offers to help Lia, as Lorenzo was a regular client and she is tired of being treated like dirt. After the priest bars them from attending the Good Friday service, Lia knows how she feels and turns down the big-city lawyer and asks Orlando to speak for her in court.
Lia is nervous on seeing so many people in the courtroom and recognises that the Musicò lawyer (Gaetano Aronica) is brash and sly. But she takes heart when her father stand up to him in the witness box, even when the judge allows speculative questions. She even manages to take the newspaper stories in good part. However, she feels humiliated when Lorenzo testifies that she had gone along with the `abduction' to mollify her father, as she wanted to marry against his wishes.
Reluctant to take the stand to avoid being judged by her neighbours, Lia becomes even more afraid when Musicò burns down Pietro's allotment shed. Ines comes forward, however, and agrees to testify that she overheard Lorenzo planning the raid during one of his visits. But she has a death threat delivered by the priest and Lia causes a scene in court when she tried to punch him.
Orlando arranges for Ines to go to Palermo, but admits the fracas in court damages their case. When someone throws a stone through Lia's window, they move in with Orlando. He pleads with Lia to give evidence, but she refuses because she doesn't see why she has to justify her decision not to marry a man she had come to detest. He suggests that she owes it to her family to speak her truth and she does so, in spite of the antics of the defence counsel.
The verdict goes their way and Lorenzo is sentenced to 11 years. But Pietro feels there is nothing to celebrate, as they have only won a pyrrhic victory because the Musicòs will make their life hell. He wants to move to Milan, but Lia insists on staying and the film ends with the family playing on the beach, as a caption reveals that the case led to a change in the law about matrimonio riparatore.
The ordeal of 17 year-old Franca Viola at the hands of Filippo Melodia in the Sicilian town of Alcamo was filmed by Damiano Damiani as La Moglie più bella/The Most Beautiful Wife. Fourteen year-old Ornella Muti made her screen debut as the wronged Francesca Cimarosa and looked far more vulnerable than thirtysomething Claudia Gusmano does in Marta Savina's otherwise worthy feature. Having already taken the title role in Franca, Viola, Gusmano ably conveys Lia's determination to bring her rapist to justice. But she seems too composed to convey her dread of public humiliation and, consequently, her courageous courtroom testimony seems to lose much of its dramatic impact.
Savina's screenplay also rather springs Orlando and Ines on the narrative, while saying little about the standing (or lack thereof) of the Crimis within the community or any friends Lia that might have seen while Lorenzo was away in Germany. More time might also have been spent establishing the grip that Gaetano Medicó has on the townsfolk, as well as the police and the Catholic Church. The role the priest plays in proceedings is shocking, but Savina avoids melodramatising scenes like the Good Friday debarring and the post-cockfight threat to Ines. Indeed, she largely adopts a Taviani-like strain of neo-realism that is reinforced by Francesco Amitrano's gritty views of the harsh landscape. Most significantly, she expertly exposes the plight of women in an insular patriarchal enclave and relates it to modern issues like the #MeToo and Time's Up movements.
In 2007, the BBC criticised one of its own programmes when it reprimanded Panorama for the way it had tackled the potential dangers of new technology in Wi-fi: A Warning Signal. It's likely that Marie Lidén's documentary, Electric Malady, will be greeted with similar scepticism. But, while the medical profession is divided over whether electrosensitivity is a bona fide condition, there is no doubt that those affected by it are in genuine distress.
Now in his late thirties, William Hendeberg thinks back to a night in Oslo when he climbed a tree to watch the rain and felt a thrill at the life that lay in front of him. However, he now lives in isolation in a wooden hut in a Swedish forest, where he is visited twice a week by his parents, Jan and Karstin, who had tried to build him a Faraday cage near their home. They feel helpless, as their son is so debilitated by the electromagnetic fields emanating from electricity pylons and communication devices that he is forced to remain in seclusion.
William allows the camera inside his cabin, where he is entirely draped in a blanket with copper threads woven into the fabric to block microwave radiation. Even so, he feels woozy with the camera running and experiences blurred vision. He doesn't wallow, however, and dances for exercise to Lindisfarne's `Alright on the Night', which he plays on a Walkman covered with a cake tin to muffle the radiation.
He reveals that he had played in a number of bands, but still gets to party on Friday nights when he puts on some green-tinted LED lights that don't have too grave an effect. William also gets visits from a pastor friend, Mikael Schmidt, who enjoys their chats, despite the fact it's sometimes hard to pick up what William is saying beneath his blanket.
When the condition first manifested itself in 2007, William kept venturing into town to live as normally as possible. He also made a video diary. But each trip took a heavier toll and he retreated into a forest that he felt had trolls, but no radiation. His sense of humour also emerges when he cooks in his cramped kitchen and explains that his shroud has occasionally caught fire from the gas stove. Lidén inquires if she can ask some questions, but he wants to eat. But he has misplaced his spoon. Eventually, he asks her to turn off the camera, which she does.
Doctor Axel Gustaffson comes to interview William and explains that a hearing-loop at the library where he had once worked probably triggered his electrosensitivity. William recalls that his girlfriend, Maria, had experienced symptoms and he had taken over part-time, while working on his thesis. While he is now debilitated, she has a husband and children.
Axel finds it remarkable that William copes so well with his isolation, but knows that several other electrosensitives take their own lives. He plays Sandy Denny and Fairport Convention's version of `Ballad of Easy Rider', as he changes the laces in his boots. We see footage of him with Maria and enjoying a swim. He regrets not being able to socialise, as he is a people person. But he needed to put foil sheets over his head in the car to travel and eventually found himself alone when Maria could no longer stand the solitude.
Christmas comes and his parents bring food and presents. The cabin is decorated and lit by LED fairy lights and candles. Father Jan jokingly calls William `the Ghost' when he appears in his blanket. Everyone tries to make the best of things, but Jan admits there have been tears at times, as well as the odd accusation that he's not trying hard enough - because they all want to get back to normal.
Footage from a family part is followed by clips filmed during a visit to his sister, when William goes to a McDonald's Drive Thru and laments that people think he's exaggerating the symptoms. But further footage shows a meter registering the amount of radiation in a shop car park and he says that it feels as though that piercing sound is going through his nervous system.
The pastor prays with him so that he can fight off dark thoughts. But William admits to Lidén that he is finding it harder to go on, although he would never say that to his parents. They visit with younger children, Alexandra and David, for Easter. He's not feeling well and stays under cover, while the others crowd round the small table and try to make conversation through a doorway.
That night, they look at slides of William's early years and we hear his voice recalling a happy childhood. However, one psychologist suggested that his condition derived from a suppressed trauma, which he believes is nonsense. This hurt the family, especially as it led to the police taking William to a psychiatric hospital. He was sectioned for a week before the chief doctor released him, but the stigma remained on them all.
One day, William pulls up the blanket to reveal his lower face. He tells Lidén that he had never considered suicide, as he had too much joy left from his life. But he no longer feels that solace and dare not tell his parents, who keep hoping that he will improve. Thankfully, he's in better spirits when the pastor joins his parents for his 40th birthday and they enjoy some cake. Lidén tells him about a sun shower and he reminisces about swimming in the rain. For all his woes, he remains positive about the beauty of the world and is sure the future will be bright.
Things improve after herbalist Ulf Skoogh helps William detox and he starts typing a memoir. He also starts to spend a few minutes outside each day, even if it make him feel worse. Moreover, he gets a fibre optic speaker phone and enjoys chatting. Ideally, he would like to be a kind of canary in a mine warning of dangers that have been blithely pushed aside. But he also hopes for a miracle so he can regain his freedom.
A closing caption reveals that over 300,000 Swedes suffer in some way from microwave radiation, while the World Health Organisation reckons it affects between 1.5 and 3% of the global population. Their claims are not widely taken seriously, but one can only help that this poignant profile will rectify the situation by providing a greater understanding. What the Glasgow-based Lidén never mentions in her BAFTA-nominated debut, however, is that she grew up in a household with restricted technology because her mother suffered from electrosensory hypersensitivity.
While maintaining varying degrees of intimacy and delicacy, Lidén takes something of a risk in using folk horror tropes to examine William's plight. But Michael Sherrington's prowling woodland camerawork, William Aikman skittish sound design, and John Lemke's lowering score all manage to remain the right side of astute, if not necessarily tasteful.
Naturally, an air of melancholia pervades proceedings. But William - whom Lidén described affectionately in an interview as `a floating octopus moving through this tiny little basin of a world' - exhibits great courage in dealing with both his electrosensitivity and the impact that it has on his loved ones. His parents couldn't be more doting, as they hide their own sadness during visits to remain optimistic and supportive. One can only hope that the medical community takes microwave radiation more seriously and that steps can be taken towards its alleviation. As William notes, warning signs for ailments relating to tobacco and pesticides have too often been ignored. Now, there is no excuse.
The vast majority of documentaries about haut couture focus on glamour and the genius of the big name designers. Becky Hutner's Fashion Reimagined is something of an exception, as, while it charts the meteoric rise of Mother of Pearl's creative director, Amy Powney, it also chronicles her interest in the environment and her unprecedented bid to produce an entirely sustainable collection.
In 2017, Amy Powney won the British Fashion Council's £100,000 prize for the best emerging designer. Conscious of the fashion industry's global footprint and inspired by Naomi Klein's No Logo, she decides to create a No Frills brand that is sustainable from farm to wardrobe. As she works in her Walthamstow home, a caption pops up to reveal that only 2% of people who make clothes earn a living wage. Another notes that if fashion was a country, it would come third behind China and the United States for its carbon emissions.
Over footage of London Fashion Week, captions inform us that we buy three times as many clothes as we did in 1980 and wear them for half as long. Approximately 150 billion garments are produced each year, with three out of five items going into landfill within a year of purchase.
Powney is married to Mother of Pearl art director Nick Prendiville and they agree that the pressures to create new collections is ridiculous. As eco activist parents Shirley and John had raised her in a rural Lancastrian caravan without the mod cons, she has an ingrained appreciation of the fragility of the planet and humanity's responsibility to protect it. Therefore, she decides to throw herself into the No Frills project and investigate every aspect of the clothing process to ensure her September 2018 collection promotes the message of sustainability in fashion.
Moving into new premises in Mile End, Powney halves Mother of Pearl's output to two annual collections and product developer Chloe Marks readily concurs with the changes. Powney explains the seven stages that a simple cotton shirt goes through and the toll its passage through five countries takes on the environment. She also reveals that 35% of ocean microplastics comes from synthetic clothing shedding in washing machines, while their non-biodegradability means they wind up in landfill sites.
Another caption declares that 62% of all clothing is made from synthetic fibres. So, Powney decides to use cotton and wool for the collection, only for their proposed Turkish cotton suppliers to prove reluctant about giving full disclosure about their sources. They also vowed not to use wool from sheep that had undergone the mulesing process to remove folds of tail skin to prevent the flystrike parasite.
British wool is too scratchy for clothing and is mainly used for carpets. Lesley Prior in Cornwall breeds Merino sheep, but she only produces enough for one brand. Thus, with the major suppliers admitting that they can't guarantee the fully organic nature of their fabrics, Powney and Marks were forced to hit the road to conduct their own inquiries.
They visit the eco-friendly Seidra mill in Draschitz in Austria, which takes much of its wool from Uruguay. Flying to Montevideo, they meet sheep farmer Pedro Otegui and his wife, Sara Ferres. Delighting in the open spaces of the farm at La Magdalena, Powney and Marks are taken around the wool processing plant. This only uses rainwater for scouring and has 22 lagoons to purify the byproducts. The water is used to irrigate woodland that provides the fuel for the mill burners.
Powney is thrilled with the tour, but is surprised that Uruguay doesn't have a major spinning sector to create yarn. She is further dismayed to learn that Carlos Chadicov's knitting factory gets its wool from Peru or Italy rather than being locally sourced. Otegui explains that competition from Asia put the Uruguayan firms out of business and Powney confesses that she can't take the quantities of wool he would have to sell her to make the transaction worthwhile.
Needing to find a reasonably local knitting plant, Powney and Marks head to Peru. In addition to meeting some adorable llamas, they also go to Hernan Leyva's Venator mill and Andrés Chaves's Inca Tops yarn supplier. As a result, they are able to conclude deals that satisfy Poweny's criteria and they move on to finding a sustainable cotton source.
Hitting upon denim as a suitable material (as 50% of people are wearing it at any given time), Powney has to find a greener preparation process, as one pair of jeans requires 1500 litres of water during the washing stage. As this is the amount a person would drink in two years, Powney needs to find cotton that hasn't been treated with pesticides that are harmful to bees and fatal to humans if inhaled. She is also aware that five of the world's top cotton countries use child labour (with 2.5 million picking crops each year) and that consumers are complicit in this exploitation in order to buy cheap t-shirts.
Unable to visit the cottonfields, Powney and Marks make for the Isko denim mill that has a certificate from the Global Organic Textile Standard, which guarantees workers get a fair wage and are over 16. This is also striving to cut down the amount of water used in the process. Equally right on is Uraz Batur's Sarp jeans company, which uses laser whiskers to produce the stonewashed look without using harmful chemicals and ozone bleaching to reduce the amounts of water needed.
However, with time running out before the collection is revealed, Mother of Pearl learn that the Peruvian mill can't meet their deadline. This means they are unable to use the Uruguayan wool, as they have to get clothes into the stores by the agreed dates. Powney and Marks are gutted after putting in so much effort. But Seidra save the day by offering to only use Magdalena wool in making their fabrics.
Only now, with just three months left, can Powney create clothes to suit the fabrics at her disposal. She relishes the challenge of working with a jacquard fabric and heads to exhibit to the buyers in Paris with great optimism. However, they aren't particularly interested in the eco backstory, especially as they want the cheapest prices.
Disillusioned, Powney calls on idol Katharine Hamnett at her Hackney studio. She urges her to keep up the fight, as fashion needs to reinvent itself to reduce its carbon footprint. Buoyed, Powney throws herself into the London launch and the various industry and press sessions. The idea behind the collection catches the imagination and the media coverage includes a thumbs up from Prince Charles.
At London Fashion Week 2020, Mother of Pearl announce nine pledges to change shopping habits through the `Fashion Our Future' initiative. Old Age Purchasers pledge to only buy secondhand for a year to keep clothes out of landfill, while Fixers repair stuff and Rent Girls opt to hire not purchase. The other categories include Feminist, Cotton-ed On, BPA Free, Fur Real, Tree Hugger, and Over-Sharer, and we see celebrity Instagram clips backing the campaign.
Pedro Otegui and Sara Ferres come to Mile End to see where their wool has ended up. They are proud to be associated with such a groundbreaking concept. Closing captions details further Mother of Pearl innovations, but warns that the fashion trade is set to grow by 63% by 2030 and that the clock is ticking.
Full of eye-opening facts, this is a well-meaning paean to Amy Powney and her bid to alert her fellow fashionistas to the error of their ways. Prepared to rack up the air miles to confirm the traceable integrity of sources on opposite sides of the world, she commits fully to an enterprise that could not be more laudable. For all its sincerity, however, Becky Hutner's documentary is a bit po-faced and too often comes across as a fawning PR exercise.
Powney has a loyal lieutenant in Chloe Marks, who brings a bit of humour to the story, as her boss always seems on message whether playing with her dog or visiting her folks. One is left wondering what role her workmate-husband plays in the company, as he is never seen at the office and always looks a bit awkward on camera. This isn't his fault, of course, as the debuting Hutner keeps misjudging the film's content and tone.
Perhaps blinded by Powney's zeal, she offers no insights into Mother of Pearl's position in the marketplace and poses no discomfiting questions about the seismic nature of the No Frills concept. Moreover, Hutner is all too quick to namecheck the celebrities who wear the label. Considering Powney is supposed to be conducting a fashion revolution, she doesn't seem to ruffle many feathers, while breezing through glitzy events in Paris and London. Most damingly, Hutner scuttles on after Powney compromises her crusade by dismissing the fact that the Uruguayan wool doesn't end up being quite as greenly acquired as she had hoped. Consequently, her `not too bad' remark hangs heavily in the self-congratulatory air.