CPH:DOX 2012 Overview

CPH:DOX, the better-known name for the Copenhagen International Documentary Film Festival, begins next week and celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. The festival is the largest doc-specific event in Scandinavia, and has developed a reputation for its broad conception of non-fiction, often including more experimental, art cinema, and hybrid (or even genre-free) work in its impressive line-up. To this point, the festival (in)famously awarded Harmony Korine’s TRASH HUMPERS its grand jury prize back in 2009.

By my count, there are approximately 150 feature-length docs being presented this year, beginning with the controversial THE ACT OF KILLING, by Joshua Oppenheimer, Christine Cynn, and Anonymous, which made quite an impression out of both Telluride and Toronto, and opens the festival a couple of days early, on Tuesday, October 30. The closing film, Daniel Dencik’s Greenland adventure voyage, THE EXPEDITION TO THE END OF THE WORLD (pictured), screens on Friday, November 9 (though the festival continues for two more days, til Sunday, November 11). Though I’ve always been curious about the event, I’ve never made it out to the festival; if I were attending, the following titles would be on my list:

CPH:DOX’s main competition of international films, the DOX:AWARD, includes fourteen titles, including the two noted above, and some notable festival favorites like the Ross brothers’ TCHOUPITOULAS and THE LEBANESE ROCKET SOCIETY. For newer titles, I’m most curious about Martin Widerberg’s multi-generational personal portrait of fathers and sons, EVERYONE IS OLDER THAN I AM (pictured); Max Kestner’s look at a bizarre court case/possible performance art piece about stolen identity, I AM FICTION; and ACIDENTE director Cao Guimarães’ poetic ode to his girlfrienf, OTTO.

The Hits section is a “best of the fests” and established filmmaker highlight. Notable here are such offerings as Werner Herzog’s TV series follow up to INTO THE ABYSS, DEATH ROW; David Redmon & Ashley Sabin’s continuous one-take tour of the seafood processing plant featured in DOWNEAST (also screening at CPH:DOX), KINGDOM OF ANIMAL; Carmen Losmann’s up-close and icy cold look at workplaces and management assessment, WORK HARD – PLAY HARD; Andreas M Dalsgaard’s look at architect Jan Gehl’s attempt to reclaim public space from cars, THE HUMAN SCALE; and Timo Novotny’s film essay on subways, TRAINS OF THOUGHTS (pictured), actually screening in Copenhagen’s subway system!

CPH:DOX’s Politics section includes a range of issue films, with a special focus on the concept of empire and on Indian docs, including Paromita Vohras’ look at digital piracy, PARTNERS IN CRIME. Other intriguing titles include Lukas Kokes & Klara Tasovska’s exploration of the contested would-be nation of Transnistria, FORTRESS; Allan Sekula & Noël Burch’s essay on the system of global transport represented by the ship container, THE FORGOTTEN SPACE; Caroline Bâcle’s excavation of buried urban waterways, LOST RIVERS (pictured); Stephen Vittoria’s Mumia Abu-Jamal portrait, LONG DISTANCE REVOLUTIONARY, and Mohamed El Aboudi’s profile of a stigmatized Moroccan woman, DANCE OF OUTLAWS.

The festival’s concert films and musician profiles take center stage in the Music section. While not typically my favorite genres, I’m somewhat intrigued by William Spicer & James Moore’s MISSION TO LARS (pictured), in which siblings try to fulfill their autistic brother’s dream of meeting Metallica’s Lars Ulrich; Andreas Johnsen’s look at the media manipulation of?/by? a Danish YouTube phenomenon, KIDD LIFE; and BALLROOM DANCER director Andreas Koefoed’s THE GHOST OF PIRAMIDA, in which a Danish band explores a Russian ghost town for inspiration.

Perhaps the section most representative of CPH:DOX’s signature genre-defying style, ARTS highlights artists (like Matthew Akers’ Sundance alum, MARINA ABRAMOVIC THE ARTIST IS PRESENT), experimental films (such as Lucien Castaing-Taylor & Véréna Paravel’s remarkable LEVIATHAN), and works on the borderline. Among the latter are James N Kienitz Wilkins’ hybrid PUBLIC HEARING, combining an actual transcript of a town’s response to the expansion of a Wal-Mart with an absurdist fictional re-enactment overlay; Pablo Cayuela & Xan Gómez Viñas’ fragmented case study of a Spanish sanitarium, OUT; and Andrew Kötting’s whimsical roadtrip in a stolen swan-shaped paddle boat, SWANDOWN (pictured).

Finally, character-driven non-fiction is at the core of the festival’s Drama! section, which also includes a special focus on new Danish non-fiction such as Phie Ambo’s exploration of the literal power of positive thinking, FREE THE MIND (pictured), Kaspar Astrup Schröder’s look at a Japanese man who secretly rents himself out to others to pose as their family or friend, RENT A FAMILY; Maja Friis’ dancer portrait, BALLERINA; and Jon Bang Carlsen’s work-in-progress about Utah boot camps for troubled teens, JUST THE RIGHT AMOUNT OF VIOLENCE.

Other titles from this section that caught my eye include Marc Schmidt’s portrait of his autistic childhood friend’s obsession with organizational systems, MATTHEW’S LAWS; Jørgen Friberg’s investigation into a Shakespeare conspiracy theorist, SHAKESPEARE: THE HIDDEN TRUTH; Youlian Tabakov’s portrait of his creative Bulgarian grandmother, TZVETANKA; Ilian Metev’s Cannes entry, SOFIA’S LAST AMBULANCE, a day in the life of Bulgaria’s capital city, which has only thirteen ambulances for two million inhabitants; Sarah Gavron & David Katznelson’s VILLAGE AT THE END OF THE WORLD, a portrait of a Greenland town whose population is perilously close to dropping so low, the government will shut it down; and Fredrik Horn Akselsen’s film about a modern-day demon fighter, THE EXORCIST IN THE 21ST CENTURY (pictured).

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Filed under Documentary, Film, Film Festivals, Overviews

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