|| Print ||
|Written by Taryn Cheal|
|Thursday, 10 May 2012 22:57|
This week I am attending a few showings of films at Vancouver's DOXA Documentary Film Festival, running from May 4-13. DOXA is showing over 100 different films covering a huge range of topics including large personal vinyl collections, the Palestine-Israeli conflict, west coast architecture, and death. I will be reviewing six of the films being exhibited, and encourage anyone in the Vancouver area with an interest in documentary film to head out and support this great festival.
The first film that I attended was Nuclear Savage by Adam Jonas Horowitz. It is the story of the inhabitants of the Marshall Islands that have been affected by the fallout and subsequent radioactivity of the islands following the U.S. Government's tests of nuclear weapons during the opening of the Cold War. Before heading into the film, I did not know a lot about the testing, although I had heard the headlines throughout my education. In all that time, I certainly never heard about the people who lived there. Come to think of it, I don't think I was ever aware there were people living on the Marshall Islands during and after the testing. That being said, the most famous island, the Bikini Atoll, is still one of the most radioactive places on earth. It is completely uninhabited, as everything (right down to the coconuts) is still dangerously radioactive. This film focuses on those caught in the fallout of the largest atomic bomb to be detonated by the United States, a blast known as Bravo. The detonation was planned, but the wind shifted and set a course for the fallout that would lead it to the Rongelap Island. Despite the knowledge that the fallout was now destined for the inhabited island, the detonation took place as scheduled, and the people were hit by a wall of white powder that burned their skin (and that was only the beginning of their woes). In 1985, while touring the area with Greenpeace, filmmaker Adam Jonas Horowitz helped these people evacuate onto a nearby and lessradioactive island. In the film, he delves into the files of the time to discover that the U.S. Government used them as human guinea pigs, studying the effects of radiation on human subjects, merely because the opportunity arose. Nuclear Savage is a heartbreaking documentary, showing what little hope these people have because the U.S. Government will cut off their medical funding if they do not return to the highly radioactive Rongelap Island this year. One of the most upsetting and unsettling moments of the film was listening to the elderly women talk about the babies they gave birth to following their exposure, who suffered all sorts of genetic and skeletal mutations. The women describe them as looking like a bunch of grapes, or a jellyfish with no bones and transparent skin. It was a pleasure to be able to see this film, even though it was hard to watch at times. It brought forward a largely unheard story that should not go ignored as it has for many years.
Although the content was very interesting and moving, I couldn't help but be distracted by the amateur film style of the movie, which I found took me out of the film fairly often. The style of footage detracted from the important message. Nuclear Savage fell slightly short on the cinematic front, but still was very interesting. Seeing a film like this reminds me what an important event DOXA is, as it allows people an easy way to get out and learn about something they do not know about and begin a conversation about it elsewhere, furthering the discussion about the topic as they continue on. Not all of the films are heart wrenching and depressing, but those ones are often the most important for those who want to be more aware of the world they live in. Nuclear Savage is a shining example of how documentaries are one of the most compelling means of telling stories that, while not pretty, are important to talk about.
The Substance: Albert Hofmann's LSD
The next film I caught was The Substance: Albert Hofmann's LSD, which chronicles the history of LSD and the various attempts to legitimize the use of it undertaken by different parties. The Substance presents a very interesting history of the drug, but also goes further into the cultural perception and reception of LSD and presents it in an interesting and fairly funny manner. After its discovery, Albert Hofmann, that father of LSD, had an amazing experience taking it and had high hopes for its implementation in psychology as a tool for psychotherapy. While attempts to find a useful application for it continue in that field (to this day), in the 1950s and 60s, the U.S. military found out about the drug and ran its own tests to see if there was a way in which they could potentially spray down opposing troops, effectively halting war without killing. This portion of the film was accompanied by hilarious military footage of troops who had been dosed with LSD completely breaking down during drills (as a test to see how soldiers would react to LSD) and basically just wandering around and laughing hysterically.
Because the reaction was unpredictable, the military dropped its experimentation and Harvard professor of psychology Timothy Leary became the poster child for LSD, because he so truly believed in the good that LSD could do for the individual, given that they take it in the correct environment. However, his fanaticism was not taken well by Albert Hofmann who denounced Leary's project to "Tune In, Turn On, Drop Out" because he felt that Leary was misusing the drug and he was especially appalled by Leary's administration of the drug to children and other people he felt were not ready to have such an experience. The Substance catalogues how from there the use of LSD became more and more recreational, much to the dismay of Hofmann, and how the drug came to be known mainly as a street drug and started getting a harsh reaction from government and the media which lead to the criminalization of LSD. The film ends on a somewhat sad note, with Hofmann lamenting the fact that no one had found a legitimate use for the drug and that public opinion had turned against it so drastically, when he had the purest and most positive hopes for the possibilities of what LSD could do if properly administered and used.
While his ultimate dream may not have come true, a small research team at John's Hopkins has been cleared for administration of psychedelic drugs with therapy for terminal cancer patients who have anxiety concerning their imminent death. The Substance shows a few people who have been treated and subsequently alleviated of their depression and anxiety because the LSD trip has allowed them to see beyond their own body so they no longer fear losing it. It was a touching story given that Hofmann's dream was something along these lines.
These first two films have been both interesting and enjoyable in very different ways, and DOXA seems to have procured a number of excellent documentaries that have been worth seeing. Each film has been met by a near-full theater with people excited to talk about the movies afterword. DOXA even has a few free chat sessions following chosen movies to enable anyone who wants to engage in a discussion about the movie topic. This festival offers amazing opportunities to learn about the world and open up important topics for discussion, and the two films I have seen have done just that.
Taryn Cheal is a writer and cat person based in Vancouver. She contributes a pun-filled monthly style column to (Cult)ure Magazine called Clothes Minded, and likes documentaries, even (or perhaps especially) the depressing ones. Stay tuned to (Cult)ure Magazine's film section for 4 more DOXA film reviews this week!
Tags: albert hofmann, bikini atoll, bravo but not the good kind, documentary, doxa, drugs, film festival, nuclear savage, the substance albert hofmanns lsd, vancouver, walter bishop