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Documentaries tackle real issues October 14, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Movies Life, Movies Life Greek.
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‘Earth’ and ‘Sicko,’ which opened on Thursday, tell us about what we’ve got and what we’re losing > ‘Earth’ is not an overtly political documentary. It has chosen the way of images, and breathtaking ones at that, to show us some of the most beautiful spots on Earth and to tell us why they are so important.

From a haven for dreamers and a space for iconic reality to unfold, movie theaters are increasingly becoming places for an awakening of political and social awareness, venues where one goes to get informed. Two much-anticipated documentaries opened in Athens on Thursday.

Michael Moore’s «Sicko» takes issue with the grave shortcomings of the American healthcare system and compares it to that of other countries, even ones with substantially weaker economies. The other documentary is «Earth,» by Mark Linfield and Alastair Fothergill, which is based on the successful BBC documentary of the same title and looks at the beautiful landscapes, ecosystems and animals of our planet that are at risk of extinction. It is narrated by David Attenborough and Patrick Stewart.

Though different from one another, both documentaries are about loss, the loss of social rights on the one hand, and the environment on the other. Life on Earth is no longer a simple matter and each day is a battle. Both «Sicko» and «Earth» each in its respective field, make a record of the things we have and those we are losing.

The environment and its preservation is becoming all the more frequent as the subject of movies and documentaries. From «The March of the Penguins,» which looks at the trials and tribulations of the emperor penguin, to Al Gore’s «An Inconvenient Truth,» and from «Earth» to «The 11th Hour» a documentary written and narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio and directed by Nadia Conners and Leila Conners Peterson, due in Greece in December, the voices championing the environment are growing increasingly stronger.

Does this mean real awareness and understanding, or a passing trend? It doesn’t take much to express concern over the course of the environment. But what will come of it? When another issue with more hype comes along and draws the attention of Hollywood’s stars, will the public and, especially, governments, have changed attitudes?

«Earth» is not an overtly political documentary. It has chosen the way of images, and breathtaking ones at that, to show us some of the most beautiful spots on Earth and tell us why they are so important. As far away as the forests of Siberia may seem, our very breath depends on them. Three animals are the stars of the documentary: the polar bear, the humpback whale and the African elephant. The first impression one gets is that they are in no imminent danger. Yet, the creators of «Earth» have selected these species specifically because they are not, yet, species at risk of extinction, but will be very soon. As their natural habitats shrink rapidly and their access to food and water becomes limited, the battle for survival gets harder each day.

Michael Moore, for his part, takes a more in-your-face approach to his subject in «Sicko». The effect of a Michael Moore documentary on its audience is much like the effect the director had on his audience at the University of Buffalo in New York recently during a lecture. The reactions varied from outright enthusiasm to downright indignation. But who said that Moore likes to play it safe? Some members of the audience accused him of being a propaganda artist. He replied that he is an anti-propaganda artist.

Moore addresses a slew of different issues, gun control, the war in Iraq, education and unemployment in America are just some of them, and his target is always the same: US President George W. Bush. «Of all the crimes committed by Bush, I think the greatest is that way he and his administration have succeeded in killing hope,» he says.

The above example reflects that way most groups view Moore and his work. In many parts of the world, Greece included, critics say he is too simplistic and something of a rabble-rouser. But Moore is not trying to display the results of scientific research. His documentaries, whose objective is essentially to be entertaining and therefore attractive to a broad audience, are based on the conclusions of his research and meant to raise social awareness on certain issues. Is this ethical? Maybe not. Is it desirable? If it brings results, yes, it is.

The genre is experiencing growing pains in Greece. The Thessaloniki International Documentary Festival in March 2006 featured in its program the successful television series “Exandas” By Giorgos Avgeropoulos, “Reportage Without Frontiers” by Stelios Kouloglou and “War Zone” by Sotiris Danezis. Critics defending art-house documentaries reacted and said that journalists had no business at a documentary festival, because their work is shown on television.

“It reminds me of the arguments we used to have as kids in the 80s, about whether a song was rock music or not,” says Danezis. For Avgeropoulos, “it is a childhood disease we all suffer from in Greece, as we are still newbies.” “Abroad,” says the creator of “Exandas,” “people got over it because they realized they have nothing to fear from others. You can make a poetic, lyrical documentary and I can show raw reality.” But he also does not believe that television is the only customer for documentaries. “A few years ago, we experienced a historic moment when Philippos Koutsaftis’s ‘Mourning Rock’ sold tens of thousands of tickets in theaters,” says Avgeropoulos.

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