Documentaries focus on stories, backgrounds, and context that are often barely covered in the daily news. So it is with the film VERMINT, which tells the story of the people in eastern Ukraine, where war has been raging since 2014. How is the population coping after years of being affected by repeated battles between the Ukrainian army and pro-Russian separatists? This film looks for answers and lets people have their say. Since the war started, many have lost legs, hands, or their eyesight to land mines and unexploded ordnance. Hundreds have already lost their lives. Daily life is severely restricted. Children are no longer allowed to play in the great outdoors; farmers can no longer cultivate their fields. A vast number of deminers are engaged in meticulous and hazardous work of clearing fields and meadows of countless unexploded bombs and booby traps.
The film WHY DIDN’T YOU STAY FOR ME? deals with a completely different topic. Director Milou Gevers approaches the subject of suicide in a very intimate and poignant way. She talks to four children who have each lost a parent to suicide. The children talk about their everyday lives, their fears, and their own way of dealing with their loss. In animated scenes, Gevers also tells her own story: her mother committed suicide when she was a teenager. She asks the children questions that no one dared to ask her at the time. This film received the gold medal in the Documentary/International Film Schools category at the 2021 Student Academy Awards.
Often the documentary format, as in WHY DIDN’T YOU STAY FOR ME?, employs fictional elements in order to flesh out certain aspects of a story. WHITE ROOM does this as well. Here, a former prisoner talks about “white torture”, which means locking somebody in a cell that is completely white: the walls, the floor, and the ceiling, but also the prisoner’s clothes and food. When they are deprived of colors, people gradually lose their visual memory. This film uses a voice-over by the prisoner as evocative images recreate the torture he experienced.
The documentary $75,000 works in a similar way. People with albinism are often victims of discrimination and violence in some countries in Africa. They are hunted down and mutilated. Their hands and feet are chopped off or they are killed. Faith healers attribute magical powers to body parts, which serve as lucky charms, and sell them on the black market for thousands of dollars each. People will pay as much as $75,000 for the whole body of a person with albinism. Without showing them, this experimental documentary gives a voice to those affected and allows them to talk about the cruelty they’ve experienced. Their stories are set to animated images that vary from calm to illustrative to evocative.
TOPLESS takes things in a completely different direction, although it, too, employs the technique of omission. We don’t see the people, only their shoes. What do they say about the people who wear them? Or to put it another way: What do people say about their shoes when you ask them? Driven by a passionate interest in both shoes and people, this film goes for a walk through the streets of Munich. From white sneakers to fashionable boots to fine high heels, what would people be without their shoes?