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In this absurdist era of presidential lies and accusations of “fake news,” the Double Exposure Investigative Film Festival feels more vital than ever. The festival, now in its third year, is the project of news organization 100Reporters and celebrates the integration of investigative reporting with documentary filmmaking. Its program unsurprisingly takes viewers all over the world and across time, from 1940s Alabama to 2015 Syria, with each film focusing on voices stifled and injustices fought. But it’s not only the broad strokes that make these stories compelling: Fittingly, one even involves Twitter. End of TruthDirected by Eric Matthies and Tricia Todd
In a war-torn area, there’s not only no such thing as freedom of the press, the very concept is tossed aside and made literal. End of Truth starts out in 2012 Aleppo, when journalists John Cantlie and James Foley are kidnapped while traveling from Syria to Turkey. Their colleague, photojournalist Nicole Tung, immediately believes that the unimaginable responsibility of their rescue is on her shoulders. Naturally, she feels ill-suited to be that heroine: “If I got the call [about the abduction], what would I do? What would I do.” For years afterward, there’s nothing she can do, not for Foley and Cantlie nor for the dozens of other reporters who eventually met the same fate. The film details the politics of, and fascinating psychology behind, these abductions and carefully curated publicity footage for which ISIS soon took over. It shows the consequences of countries who wouldn’t negotiate with the terrorists—including the U.S.—and how a used car salesman unwittingly became a hostage negotiator because of his comments on Twitter. End of Truth is a sharp and sobering doc, one that mingles the age-old tactic of POWs with the influence of the digital age.
Screens Sunday, Oct. 22 at 7 p.m. at the Naval Heritage Center.
Cocaine PrisonDirected by Violeta Ayala
Worker ants carry the leaves. Little kids play in them, as if they were fall foliage. They’re coca leaves, and when Cocaine Prison frames them in this light, the coke industry doesn’t seem so bad. That’s not exactly the point of the documentary, but it’s close: Director Violeta Ayala attempts to convey how ingrained the cocaine culture is in Bolivia, with one subject remarking, “Lots of people, how would they live?” if coca were destroyed. (Yet she admits, “Because of this little plant, there is lots of fighting.”) Cocaine Prison more or less focuses on Deisy and Hernan, teenage siblings whose eventual involvement with coke seems inevitable. But then Hernan is busted on his first drug run and sent to San Sebastian Prison, which isn’t so much a prison as a crumbling enclave whose authorities make inmates pay if they want an actual cell. It’s at this point that the film goes downhill, switching viewpoints and offering shallow insights such as Deisy’s “I’m really sad he’s in there” and even a fortune teller’s “There’s no future for [Hernan].” Ayala includes random footage of a prison riot and devotes a disproportionate amount of time to Mario, an older prisoner. Talk of misplaced optimism—Hernan and Mario believe their drug lords will help them when they’re released—is more relevant but still fails to make the doc feel anything but loosely edited, unfocused, and a bit boring, with unidentified voiceovers to further confuse things. The ending, though, does circle back to a comment made earlier in the film: In Bolivia, if the coke business stops, “there won’t be life.”
Screens Friday, Oct. 20 at 6 p.m. at the Naval Heritage Center.
The Rape of Recy TaylorDirected by Nancy Buirski
In 1944 Alabama, a young black woman named Recy Taylor was raped by six white teenagers. Afraid of nothing, she reported the crime, though it would take years of fighting for justice—as well as help from Rosa Parks—to get merely an apology from the state. The Rape of Recy Taylor combines archival footage, home movies, and “race films”—films with an all-black cast produced for black audiences—along with current interviews to tell Taylor’s story, which director Nancy Buirski broadens into a larger discussion about gender and race. For a while, too, it’s also more about Parks: her lifetime of investigations, protests, and her own battle of sexual assault. Though Taylor’s and Park’s stories are worthy of being told, they don’t come without some confusion. Why do we hear Taylor’s ordeal recounted by her brother, sister, and audio of her speaking when she’s still alive? Are the taped confessions of a few of the rapists real or recreated? Why did Buirski choose to include a current Alabama attorney inanely saying, “I don’t think the facts were the problem in the Recy Taylor case. I think color had everything to do with it?” (Seriously: duh.) And why the hell is a photo of Michelle Obama flashed near the end? Of course, these are quibbles, mere bumps along the road to portraying the bigger issues Taylor’s case came to represent. Among the biggest is a professor’s attestation that back then, “Black people [understood] that the press is a weapon.”
Screens Saturday, Oct. 21 at 5:30 p.m. at the Naval Heritage Center.
The Other Side of EverythingDirected by Mila Turajlic
In The Other Side of Everything, director Mila Turajlic uses her family’s government-divided apartment in Belgrade as metaphor to represent the decades of turmoil between Yugoslavia and Serbia. It doesn’t quite work: The inner doors of the apartment, which remained locked for over 30 years, are a too-simple symbol of a too-complex political upheaval. Turajlic’s main source of information is her mother, Srbijanka Turajlic, a one-time engineering professor who became better known for protesting Slobodan Milosevic and the further unrest he brought to an area already divided. She combines this with archival footage of various crucial points in his reign, such as when Yugoslavia was dissolved, an event that was devastating to Srbijanka, whose nationality was Yugoslavian. But this is hardly sufficient to delineate decades of this knotty political entanglement enough for a casual viewer to understand it. The best that the history-ignorant can take away from the doc is Milosevic=bad, Srbijanka=good, Mila=needs improvement.
Screens Sunday, Oct. 22 at 4 p.m. at the Naval Heritage Center.