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Claus Mueller


Claus Mueller is filmfestivals.com  Senior New York Correspondent

New York City based Claus Mueller reviews film festivals and related issues and serves as a  senior editor for Society and Diplomatic Review.

As a professor emeritus he covered at Hunter College / CUNY social and media research and is an accredited member of the US State Department's Foreign Press Center.

 


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New York: Doc Fortnight 2023

Considered a mandatory festival event for innovative and provocative documentaries, the annual Doc Fortnight was presented again from February 22 to March 7 this year by the Museum of Modern Art.  The program included 15 feature and 8 short films. As in past editions, the festival included U.S. and international films reflecting current socio-political changes and ruptures, embracing new production approaches, and the visual analysis of themes not covered before. Many selections premiered in the USA and were new to the MoMA audience. CHANEL has been the lead sponsor of film at MoMA since 2020 and provided principal support for DOC Fortnight 2023.

Among the striking films in the 2023 program was RED AFRICA (Krasnaya Africa), an innovative 2022 Russia Portugal co-production scripted and directed by Alexander Markov. Markov presents African and some USSR work of Soviet filmmakers from 1957 – 1990 in a rare and comprehensive assembly that exposes audiences to their visual perspectives. Western colonial powers were leaving Africa and opened gates to the influence, ideology, and official positive self-image of the Soviet Union. Behind the perspective of Soviet filmmakers was the shared conviction of officials in communist countries that visual media has a powerful impact on the audience, guided by the agitation and propaganda (agitprop) policy. The segments from documentaries and newsreels which Markov chose were shown to the Russian audiences and transmitted in African countries. The agitprop carried only messages supporting the Soviet Union and its achievements. The range of themes covered Soviet agricultural, industrial, and consumer products, as well as Soviet fashion and culture.  Much of the footage was devoted to encounters between high ranking African and Soviet officials and the demonstration of how knowledge and technical expertise acquired by students from African and other third world countries could be applied by them at home. There is virtually no footage about the turmoil experienced in the USSR over 30 + years, except for brief sequences from 1990 about demonstrations for autonomy from former Soviet republics.

While the agitprop films hide Soviet colonial aspirations under the claim of a humanistic development services, the documentary LA BONGA provides a persuasive account of lasting attachment to the homes people were forced to leave 20 years earlier in Columbia. Directors Sebastián Pinzón Silva and Canela Reyes documentary excels in its quiet and unhurried approach. Reyes’ training in anthropology and literature is on display. LA BONGA focuses on the forced dispossession of an indigenous Afro-Colombian farming community located in the jungle. This dislocation mirrored the destruction of many similar communities in other central and Latin American countries which was often carried out with the backing of governmental agencies. LA BONGA does not elaborate at length on the process of neo-colonialism but instead focuses on the long arduous march of the survivors and descendants of the La Bonga settlements to their old home; and on the stories they shared of their past experience.  Over 20 years the jungle had recuperated the land they once cultivated and few relics remained. After arrival, they restored a small area to have space for celebrating their Bonga culture with guests. What is striking is the persistence of memory and the power of oral traditions outlasting speculators and prospective settlers.

 

Claus Mueller filmexchange@gmail.com

 

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