Documentary Fortnight 2014: MoMA's Annual Showcase Offers Innovative, Challenging, and Beautiful Films

Featured Critic; New York City, New York
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The 13th edition of Documentary Fortnight, the Museum of Modern Art's annual showcase of documentary features, short films, and installations, screens from February 14-28. The wide-ranging, international selection, as always, is very impressive, featuring films that are innovative, beautifully made, and challenging. These films often make use of dramatic, performance, and narrative techniques that are usually associated more with fictional features, expanding the documentary form and challenging the boundaries between nonfiction and fictional narratives. Contemporary art installation techniques also fascinatingly intersect with documentary practice in some of the films featured in this year's festival.

Click through the gallery below to read capsule reviews of some notable films selected; for more information on these and other films in the festival, visit MoMA's website.

'TIL MADNESS DO US PART (Wang Bing)

Chinese documentarian Wang Bing has proven to be one of our greatest filmmakers, a master of patient and penetrating observation who uses the lengthy duration of his films to absorb the viewer in his unique process which sculpts time into fascinating patterns. In such films as his 2003 nine-hour masterwork West of the Tracks, and more recent work such as Three Sisters (2012), Wang immerses us in the worlds of memorable characters who often live in very harsh and forbidding circumstances.

These qualities come to the fore in his latest work ‘Til Madness Do Us Part, a nearly four-hour depiction of daily life within the walls of a mental institution in Yunnan Province. Shot over a few months and edited down from nearly 300 hours of footage, Wang offers a raw, unadorned, deeply empathetic portrait of men that represent Chinese society’s castoffs, abandoned, and ostracized. His film serves as a quiet, yet powerful indictment of the failure to truly care for the neediest and most vulnerable.

Although the institution depicted here is nominally for the mentally ill, many different people are housed here; murderers and the truly mentally ill are housed side by side with those imprisoned for drug offenses, people with developmental disabilities, as well as those who have caused trouble to their families, or who have angered government officials. This creates a rudimentary sort of democracy, where the harsh, unsanitary conditions – the men regularly urinate in their rooms and in the hallways – and the sheer monotony of existence devolve into trapped despair. Except for a brief sequence where one of the inmates is granted temporary leave, the camera never leaves the men’s quarters, powerfully conveying to the viewer the feel of being confined in these close spaces. However, despite these seemingly hellish circumstances, Wang’s camera also finds beauty, humor, and tenderness: some men huddle in bed with each other for comfort; one man flirts with a woman housed on the women’s floor below. ‘Til Madness Do Us Part demands patience from its viewers, but amply rewards it with an indelibly memorable experience.

(February 19, 6:30pm)

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A Dream of IronAn Episode in the Life of an Iron PickerDanis TanovicDocumentary Fortnight 2014Kelvin Kyung Kun ParkLeslie TaiMothersThe Private Life of FenfenTil Madness Do Us PartWang BingXu Huijing
  • sitenoise

    Damn. I sort of trembled just reading the synopses.

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