What I liked at IDFA
By Charlie Phillips 28 November, 2008
First mention has to go to Rough Aunties, the new film from Kim Longinotto. It's a tearjerker, and no mistake - tears were jerked throughout the entire film, it's a very sad documentary, but equally inspiring, so the tears are worth it. The Rough Aunties are a group of dedicated women in South Africa attacking child abuse, often confronting offenders themselves, taking abused children into their own homes, and defying their own personal tragedies. It's not simply their work which makes them so admirable, but also their collective spirit, forming a public front of female self-dependence in a country where women are often expected to be silent Mothers and nothing else. These women are revolutionary, particularly their founder Jackie who, in one remarkable scene, takes to spontaneously presenting a feminist take on development to a group of local women, assuring them that men will do nothing about injustice. And as usual, Kim Longinotto's abilities as an ob-doc maker are exemplary, giving us access to some of the cruelest and most harrowing scenes you can imagine for a documentary, but always with kindness and for a reason. A doc of complete wonder, it makes so many other documentaries seem so self-indulgent.
The Hot Blog
November 25, 2008
The Two Big Take Homes Of IDFA
The films here in Amsterdam have been quite good. I am sad to be headed home before seeing more of them… many, many intriguing titles will turn up in the second half.
But the two clear home runs for me were nearly back to back. Both were, not shockingly, by veterans.
The other film is, if they jump through the right hoops and don’t get caught airing on television too early, a surefire Oscar nominee for Doc next year. Kim Longinotto’s Rough Aunties, an IDFA World Premiere, is an emotionally overpowering look at a group of women in South Africa that serve as a support system for abused and molested children called Bobbi Bear. These are not just chattering class aspirants to do-gooding. These are serious, grown-up women who see the world well beyond their yards and are unafraid of getting their hands dirty in order to help others.
There is also one male in the gang… a policeman assigned to the group, it seems, who goes out on calls with them and processes their claims against the abusers. He is a classic big, chunky, white cop guy. And you can see all the pain in his eyes that the women feel. He is a generosity in the film by Longinotto… one of many. She is not trying to sell a narrow point here… she is telling the whole story… and the whole story is like spilled liquid, everything seeping into everything else unavoidably.
One of the most unusual, but fascinating, things in the film are two instances of major stories in the history of the group that are directly connected to two of the “aunties.” And the same passions and caring comes forth in support of the extended family as it does for absolute strangers.
The group is led by a white woman, of some means, but not great wealth. She started the organization on a thin shoestring. Her right arm is another white woman, who serves as the manager of the operation. There are many people working/volunteering for the group, but three women, all black, are the next tier of leadership in the group. Each has their own issues and history. Each exposes the strong, bloody, beating hearts that they bring to the organization.
Longinotto is of the Masyles camp of “as it happens” documentary. There is no clear story structure or time frame for the film. There are no gimmicks… no voice over… no talking heads. But amazingly, it feels like you have experienced, by the film’s end, a pretty complete range of the effort. There are shootings, beatings, rapes, and most importantly, kindnesses.
The movie is also a sure-fire remake as a feature film, guaranteeing at least one Oscar nomination for the white female leads, and as likely, for the supporting actresses. Judi Dench constantly came to mind when looking as the head of Bobbi Bear, Jackie Branfield, though Ms. Dench is probably too old for the role now. Maybe Helen Mirren and Julie Walters can team up again. And the fact that these white women are truly color blind in South Africa… this is a key to this doc and any remake. It can’t ever be maudlin or self-satisfied. These women are rough aunties indeed. The honest, not “dramatic” portrayal of the black women who are hands-on co-leaders of this group… it’s everything. It is their world that these white women have walked into with some great intentions. It’s a really tough line to walk – and every sentence in this graph that delineates races makes me a little itchy – but as I see in so many films that have a heavy element of race in them, good intensions can become too much drama and not enough real. This doc is magic because you know what is in the hearts of these people.
After the screening, the “rough aunties” were there for a Q&A. We were in the second row, just feet away. And they were so happy and proud to be there. But when Jackie made eye contact with me, as I was smiling, I was so uncomfortable, because the only real thing I could do would be to walk up to her and hug her and cry and thank her for doing what so many other people just talk about. And this is true for all of these women.
One thing I can do – and you can too – is to make a donation to the organization at their website. They are trying to raise $400,000 to built a house to serve as longer-term, but still temporary housing for victims, where the will be safe and not have to be shoved back into an uncaring system – as all government systems of size tend to be – while they are still just starting to regain their strength after suffering serious abuse. This should be something that can be funded, even in this economy, quickly. When the movie hits the world, I suspect they will have the funding for a second building or maybe a third.
You may know Kim Longinotto from her earlier films Sisters in Law (Oscar short-listed, but not nominated) and Hold Me Tight, Let Me Go, amongst others. She found a great story here to which every person can relate. Even though South Africa has so many specific issues, this movie is universal and somehow, more relevant than ever. Great work.
Keep an eye out for this one. The title is a distraction from the masterful, gut-wrenching, uplifting tale inside. Distributors should buy it and someone will almost certainly make a feature film out of it.
Posted by poland at November 25, 2008 12:35 AM
Rough Aunties by Kim Longinotto had its worldpremiere at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam in 2008. It is a film about a South African organization fighting child abuse and helping abandoned, molested, raped and abused children in souoth Africa. They call themselves Bobbi Bear and do amazing work, fighting each single one of them the private life of an African woman with all its problems as well as helping others. The film made not only me cry. After the screening you would have heared a needle drop, so silent was it before the applause for Kim and the women branded to the stage. So strong the story of the Bobbi Bear ladies, setting their own life second to help those even more in need. Never forget I will the faces of those brave woman, who came for the premiere from Africa. One of them, barely 20 years old, lost her own son and only child. He tried to cross a river at a passage. A mine company had been digging illegally in the river bed and changed the fords. He was one out of six kids who died drowning whilst trying to get to the other side the usual way. The woman turned up the next day to her work at Bobbi Bear. A film close, careful and deep. A wonderful piece.
by Brian Brooks (December 1, 2008)
Among iW's favorite docs at this year's International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA), which ended last week was Kim Longinotto's "Rough Aunties" (disclosure though: we were only there five days so obviously we didn't see everything). The film is a heartwarming account of a Durban, South Africa organization and its loving & courageous workers who fight child abuse and - pretty much all social ills. Their motto is to "never stop crying for the children." Longinotto was previously in IDFA with "Sisters-in-Law" and returned to the continent for her latest doc. ( posted on Dec 2, 2008 at 02:25AM | filed under Documentary, IDFA )
News from the Future of Public Media
Great Women at IDFA, Inspiring NextGen Public Media Makers
Posted by Patricia Aufderheide on Nov 30, 2008
For 21 years, the International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam has been a place to watch an extraordinary range of documentary films, which are an item in most European cultural ministry’s budgets.
The next generations were also present. British cinéma vérité director Kim Longinotto arrived with Rough Aunties, a glimpse into the lives of South African women who volunteer in a program to protect and defend children suffering from abuse. The leader is a charismatic white woman who describes herself as “an activist first,” drawing inspiration from feminist and anti-apartheid struggle; she and other whites work closely with several black South African women. The film reveals the group’s challenges: violence- and crime-ridden daily life; irresponsible social and police services; corporate corruption. It also makes the argument for the difference a few good women can make. The “rough aunties,” as they call themselves, also attended the festival, and were mobbed at screenings.
SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL PREVIEW
International Documentary Feature Films
United Kingdom, 2008, 103 mins., color
Jackie, Mildred, Eureka, Sdudla, and Thuli are the women behind Bobbi Bear, a nonprofit organization based in Durban, South Africa, that counsels sexually abused children and works to bring their abusers to justice. Born out of a recognition of cultural stigmas that discourage reporting abuse and inadequate methods of communicating with young victims, Bobbi Bear developed a method of letting children use teddy bears to explain their abuse. Since 1992, the multiracial staff has become the fearless and powerful voice for those victims who would otherwise continue to live in fear, powerless against their oppressors and ignored by the legal system.Director Kim Longinotto (The Day I Will Never Forget screened at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival) adeptly and intimately follows Bobbi Bear staff in difficult direct sessions with children and consultations with family members, and on raids with authorities to arrest the perpetrators of these heinous acts. Facing tragedy daily as part of their advocacy work and, heartbreakingly for some, in their personal lives, the women draw strength from each other and find hope despite the suffering around them.Equally as compassionate to the young victims as they are steadfast in their pursuit of justice, these five exceptional women have found themselves transformed by their mission into ""rough aunties,"" crossing barriers of race, culture, and socioeconomic status to become formidable agents of change in their community.
SUNDANCE: Friday, January 17th
Posted by Michael Tully
01 / 17 / 09
As expected, I’m already finding it nearly impossible to write full reviews of films I’ve seen. While I figure out how to make that happen, I thought I would post brief, harried, morning-after pieces mentioning the previous day’s film(s) that struck me the most. Full reviews are to come. Here are yesterday’s standouts:
Rough Aunties — Kim Longinotto’s latest doc is another superb immersion into a troubled community. In Durban, South Africa, a group of women who call themselves Bobbi Bear devote their lives to protecting abused children. In this particular community, that just so happens to be a tragically full-time job. Seriously, what is wrong with people? If it’s not a stranger, it’s a neighbor. And if it’s not a neighbor, it’s a family member. While the film begins as an inspiring expose of the work these women do, how their tireless devotion and boundless love helps these poor, helpless victims, the film takes a turn for the crushingly personal around the midway point. This only reaffirms just how special these women are. Their commitment is desperately needed to combat the sickening corruption and abuse that torments these children every single day of their lives.
Sundance 2009: ROUGH AUNTIES Review
January 27, 2009
Last week in Park City, I was privileged to attend a screening of ROUGH AUNTIES, the latest FILM from documentary veteran Kim Longinotto (HOLD ME TIGHT, LET ME GO; SISTERS IN LAW, etc.). this observational piece follows the women OF Operation Bobbi Bear in Durban, South Africa over a 10-week period: Jackie, Mildred, Studia, Thull, and Eureka, hard-nosed and courageous women who have dedicated their lives to helping the abused and neglected children of the region.
First off, lemme just say, wow, only 10 weeks? The ladies deal with so much tragedy over this period that I'm left with a hopeless feeling for the world. Multiple rapes, a murder, a drowning and the abandonment of a child are just a few of the scenarios that the tough-skinned women must face during this two month period. We witness both the worst and the best of people, all in a very short window.
The opening scene throws us directly into the world of Bobbi Bear as Mildred, a thirty-something South African native, kindly, but systematically, gathers information from a child victim of rape. Mildred shares a teddy bear with the child and asks her to describe the incident by placing band-aids on the parts of the bear where she was violated. We, the audience, sit on the floor right in the midst of the discussion. The film pulls no punches. It is an extremely delicate situation that is a testament to not only Mildred's professionalism and courage, but also to that of the filmmaker.
It is completely amazing and inspiring to watch the women work and the extreme lengths to which they go to protect the children - from going on police raids, to cleaning up crime scenes, to offering up their own money and homes. This is true dedication; a job that most folks just wouldn't be able to do. Longinotto's complete access allows us to see and deal with the entire picture of their lives, even when the picture is not one that we want to see.
This film can be very hard to watch due to it's unwavering and unbiased look into such tough subject matter, but it definitely should be seen. While I wasn't able to watch all of the World Cinema Competition titles during my short time in Park City, I can say that it doesn't surprise me that ROUGH AUNTIES won the World Cinema Documentary Grand Jury Prize.
Editor's Note - Nathan Truesdell is my filmmaking compatriot on both of my current feature projects. This is his first contribution to the blog. Full disclosure: Paul Taylor, one of the producers of ROUGH AUNTIES, is one of the filmmakers who worked with Nathan and I on our CONVENTION project.
Posted by Nathan Truesdell on January 27, 2009 in Sundance Film Festival | Permalink
Sundance 2009: ROUGH AUNTIES Review | Main
January 28, 2009
Sundance 2009: Jury Winners ROUGH AUNTIES & WE LIVE IN PUBLIC Reflect the Festival's Split Personality
When, on Saturday night, the last award was handed out and the applause died down, two very different, very good films had won grand jury prizes at the 25th Sundance Film Festival - one a wrenching tale of South African child advocates from an acclaimed director (and bearing the stamp of approval from Home Box Office), the other a quick-cut, deeply-thought, '90s-era pop culture nugget from a previous Sundance winner (and bearing the producorial stamp of John Battsek).
That Sundance should fete both of these films might come as no surprise. This is, after all, the festival that has, in previous years, brought us AMERICAN TEEN and F.L.O.W., CRAZY LOVE and BANISHED in nearly equal measure.
This then is the split personality of the Sundance Film Festival, where high profile docutainment and Very Important Subjects share top billing. And often, it is the stories of Indiana high schoolers, child prodigy painters, moon astronauts and crossword enthusiasts score first weekend bidding wars and big distribution deals, while the films that seek to shine a light on Darfur or pollution or race relations head home to cobble together a TV deal, a festival strategy and maybe a limited theatrical run.
Save for this year, when no one goes home with that big distribution deal and many of the films in competition already had some kind of release in place. At least six competition films - including World Cinema Grand Jury prize winner ROUGH AUNTIES - are booked to screen on HBO. P.O.V. already has acquired EL GENERAL, winner of the Directing Award, and WILLIAM KUNTSLER: DISTURBING THE UNIVERSE. A&E IndieFilms, which is usually responsible for the big get of the fest, was here once again with Sundance's most poppy concoction, the well-regarded, Vogue documentary THE SEPTEMBER ISSUE from RJ Cutler.
It's probably no surprise that at this year's veteran-heavy Sundance, two Sundance alums should helm the Grand Jury prize winners - Kim Longinotto, the highly-lauded UK filmmaker with two decades of work to her credit, and Ondi Timoner, the outspoken LA director who often seems to have worked two decades on each one of her films. Timoner, in particular, made history with her Grand Jury win, becoming the first filmmaker in Sundance history to win the Grand Jury prize for Documentary twice.
The first time, of course, was 5 years ago, when DIG!, her intimate look at the Brian Jonestown Massacre amidst the indie rock explosion of the late '90s and early '00s, shook up everyone's pre-conceived notions of what music documentaries are supposed to be. In her latest film, WE LIVE IN PUBLIC, Timoner again takes us back a decade, but this time the subject is the internet, specifically Josh Harris, an online entrepeneur whose ideas always seem to be a few years ahead of their time (which makes him both a visionary and poorer than he might be).
Like BJM frontman Anton Newcombe, Harris is not a particularly appealing character, but via Timoner's camera, he simultaneously appalls and fascinates. Here is a man who can be cold - as emotionless telling off his dying mother as he is voyeuristically observing sexual semi-violence in a public shower area. Yet his vision of the future - our present Facebook/video chat/blogging/no-holds-barred reality - is dead on, both in what has occurred and why we, as a culture, have opened ourselves up for public display and deconstruction.
The centerpiece of WE LIVE IN PUBLIC is exceptional video footage from 1999's Quiet, an art experiment-cum-television/web pilot that introduced dozens of mostly 20something individuals (many of them artists and bohemians) into an underground bunker, where everything was provided and cameras recorded every movement. Like her years-long following of BMJ for DIG!, Timoner is inside the bunker, camera in hand, watching as alcohol and lack of boundries lead to a bacchanalian inhibition, with Harris as the puppet-master. Not content just to create some pre-"Big Brother" reality show, Harris also forces his inhabitants into brutal interrogations dreamt up by ex-CIA, and these scenes, recorded on the omnipresent video cameras, Harris is quick to note, belong to him and him alone.
In essence, Harris owns the rights to everything that happens inside Quiet - the sex, the boredom, the confessions, the breakdowns - and that very exaggeration of identity ownership says volumes - not just about how we gleefully sign up for social networks, uploading our photos and our status updates, but also about the nature of documentary filmmaking. Sooner or later, everybody has to sign a release.
On the surface then, Longinotto's ROUGH AUNTIES couldn't be more different. Straight away you are presented with the horrors of child molestation, while the dangers faced by children are outlined in a succession of heart-breaking and harrowing episodes (see Nathan Truesdell's review from yesterday). And like many of today's socially relevant films, ROUGH AUNTIES' website is accepting your donations now ("Make a Donation and Become a Rough Auntie!") and, in a bit of a twist, even adopts some AMERICAN TEEN-style character promotion, with each of the five main Aunties getting their own page featuring their own, self-penned bios. At the screening I saw, one of the Aunties implored for someone in the crowd to give them a large donation.
All of this is usually going to raise the hairs on the back of my neck, my issues with filmanthropy and cause-whoring (sign our petition! join our campaign!) are well-known to regular readers of this blog. And yet, and yet, I acknowledge that there will be those, particularly when the film airs on television, who will want to find that website and give the Aunties their credit card and why shouldn't they be able to find that information without difficulty.
Why am I, in the end, willing to overlook the pleas for money? Is it because the work that the Aunties, through their grassroots organization Operation Bobbi Bear, do is so vital and important? Is it because I have such respect for Longinotto? Or because of my friendship with producers Teddy Liefer and Paul Taylor (who is, full disclosure, one of the filmmakers involved in our upcoming CONVENTION film)?
Frankly it's because until that final credit roll (or that website glance or Q&A pass-the-hat), there's not a hint of any of this in the film. Longinotto's camera is instead an almost invisible, never-sermonizing witness to the daily horrors of life in Durban, South Africa. The filmmaker's style is often described as observational, but here there feels as if there is no barrier between you and the scene that you are witnessing.
Case in point, after a particularly jarring and awful development, two of the Aunties, Jackie and Eureka, stand at the edge of a river, sorrow all around them. Together, in a kind of awful unison, they chainsmoke, lamenting what has just transpired. It is a moment fraught with deep tension, the women, puffing hard, like soldiers just off a battlefield. Yet there is something about the scene, the way in which the women move in concert, in how they dispatch their cigarettes before they are half-smoked, that has a hint of gallows humor to it, that lends to the whole scene a kind of truthful, complicated reality that few filmmakers can ever hope to capture.
And as the film builds and builds on the dread of numerous examples of child endangerment, somehow it can, against all odds, come to an ending that is, miraculously, joyous.
In the midst of a festival that many found disappointing for all sorts of reasons, the quality of the two Grand Jury prize winners, representing the two faces of Sundance, were reason enough for celebration.
Posted by AJ Schnack on January 28, 2009 in Sundance Film Festival | Permalink