(Audience watches ‘Başlangıç’. Photography by Ted Mendez)
Wednesday saw the second instalment of DOC-CON, a bimonthly event showcasing documentary films by established directors, held this time at the Hackney Attic, East London. The night promised five short films from four directors, with the makers present to introduce them and answer questions afterwards. Arjun Mahadevan reports.
Başlangıç (The Beginning) by Dominic Brown
A short film by an independent film maker based in the UK, Başlangıç takes its name from a protest chant translated as “This is just the beginning. The resistance continues”. It explores the uprising following the Turkish government’s announcement of plans to build a shopping centre and military barracks in Gezi Park in 2013, and the state’s violent response. The film features a large amount of on-the-ground footage and still images, including harrowing scenes of protesters facing tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons where five people were killed and over 8,000 injured. In less than seven minutes, the film does well to introduce the subject – especially the brutal police response – but lacks the depth and context provided by the next documentary.
Ayaklanma (Rebellion) by Ceren Yilmaz
The second film about Gezi Park is told through in-depth interviews with protesters from all walks of life. Split into sections, the documentary begins by focusing on the transformation of young Turkish people from (mainly) ‘apathetic’ and ‘depoliticised’ to active and ‘awakened’ protesters. Ayaklanma covers a lot of ground in just over fifteen minutes. It taps into the historical context and symbolism of the proposed military barracks, the involvement of the Çarsi (Besiktas FC supporters), police brutality, and how social media has been used as an organisational tool, as well as a means to give people the confidence to resist the dictatorial regime of Tayyip Erdogan’s AKP. One protester exemplifies this with the comment, “At the end of this resistance, the people have learnt that they are not alone”.
Yilmaz’s well-crafted and eye-opening documentary tells a bigger story of resistance in Istanbul through the words of the people at its heart. It doesn’t shy away from the brutality and oppression that took place in Taksim Square, but has an overall positive and hopeful tone, summed up by a young protestor’s proclamation, “Whenever our rights are violated, we will resist.”
(Matt Lindén. Photography by Ted Mendez)
Tesrolinga by Matt Lindén
A British photographer sets out to make an image book about gay rights and culture in Kathmandu, with the help of Nepalese LGBT rights organisation Blue Diamond Society. A desire to make something ‘more accessible’ and stumbling onto a large trans community, he ends up making a series of short films each featuring different transgender people and their stories. Two of this series, titled Tesrolinga (literally meaning ‘third gender’) were shown at DOC-CON. The first features Nilam, who describes how she came out, her Nepali pride and explains the difference between transgender people in Nepal and the Hijras in India. The second film follows Sophie, who describes her struggle to become a successful make-up artist. Both describe how they have received abuse, but share a pride in their identity as Tesrolinga.
The director explained how he was keen to depict their stories in a positive light, as this is how they were in reality. He also explained Nepal’s progressive LGBT laws, being the first country in the world to bring the third gender into law. Lindén’s experiences in Kathmandu and the relationships he built with Nilam and Sophie make Tesrolinga a fascinating insight into the trans community in Nepal, a society not often featured in the British press, and a positive story of two proud people.
Two Chimneys by Aephie Huimi
The final documentary of the evening, by Taiwanese film student Aephie Huimi, looks at the closure of the Lots Road Power Station and its legacy. With the help of former workers and a local photographer who has taken numerous pictures of it, the film explores the power station’s impact on the community, it’s visual beauty and the loss experienced after its closure. Huimi spoke after the screening about the difficulties in getting people to talk to her about their memories and experiences of the power station, as well as her creative vision. Focusing mainly on its visual qualities, the film could benefit greater from exploring the social consequences, but nevertheless it is a beautifully shot and compelling film – a good way to end the evening.
(Dominic Brown and Ceren Yilmaz. Photography by Ted Mendez)
It was a really fascinating evening with some great documentaries on varied subjects and illuminating speeches. Encouraged to ask questions of the film makers, the audience can participate in the conversation, though some are left speechless after a few powerful films. On the basis of Wednesday, the third DOC-CON should be a belter. Gutted I missed the first one now…
“DOC-CON is an informal meetup for anyone interested in, or working in, documentary production. By having grass-roots and established directors talk to audiences we aim to demythicise the film making process and demoractise the form. Above all we want to cultivate a community of people interested in documentary and journalism and the wider topics and issues associated with those projects.
So far, our events have covered a range of themes; the rise of the EDL (English Defence League) and Tommy Robinson, the struggles of the LGBT communities in Nepal and in the Middle East, the uprisings in Turkey’s Taksim Square, and the daily lives of the economically dispossessed in Manila’s favelas.
Each event features a series of film makers/speakers who will introduce and show their work, and sit for audience QnA’s on the subjects raised, and how the made their films.
At DOC-CON we are keen to further the idea of documentary as a means for social justice and change. As a film form, its roots began in the in the struggle against Nazi Germany when John Grierson, who coined the phrase ‘documentary’, was hired by the wartime British government to document how the country’s citizens lived.
By highlighting the form’s power to effect change we want to inspire the next generation of documentarians, the means of production and distribution of which, in the digital-age, have never been more widely available or more important to democratic struggles the world over.”
Host at DOC-CON London