FARIDA EL KAFRAWY reviews Philippa Ndisi-Herrmann’s 2018 documentary, New Moon, chronicling her conversion to Islam. What begins as an audiovisual journey, charting the changing landscape and cultural fabric of life on Kenyan island town Lamu amid construction of a local coal plant, gradually and delicately transforms.  Philippa Ndisi-Herrmann’s New Moon (2018) develops into an exploration of the director’s own shifting sense of identity throughout a period of spiritual conversion to Islam. Returning to the country in which she was raised as a child, Ndisi-Herrmann seeks to witness change occurring around her.  Instead, as she explains in the intimate ERC-funded ‘Screen Worlds’ screening and Q&A session at SOAS, University of London, the project progresses very slowly, failing to capture the levels of change she had anticipated. Curiously, while life in Lamu remains relatively untouched, it is Ndisi-Herrmann who is gradually starting to develop. She slowly unearths a completely different sense of personal identity…Continue Reading

NEW MOON

JAGO LYNCH reviews Russian filmmaker’s latest documentary, Aquarela, screened at the Bertha Dochouse and featuring a Q&A with producer Aimara Reques. Aquarela is a film of balance, almost everything within it exists in a tense liminality, and, whenever this equilibrium breaks, intense elemental chaos ensues. This is best summed up by a shot about a third of the way into the film, where the camera focuses on the end of a glacier; there is no movement, the only sound that can be heard is the deep cracking of ice from within. And then a huge chunk of the glacier breaks off, the peace of the original shot is broken, with the iceberg hitting the surface of the water below and creating a wave of otherworldly size. This is a pattern repeated throughout the film, with Victor Kossakovsky, the director of Aquarela, allowing the audience to wonder at the natural beauty of…Continue Reading

Aquarela

JARVIS CARR reviews Ben Berman’s debut feature, The Amazing Johnathan Documentary. As its title states, the focus of Ben Berman’s documentary began as ‘The Amazing Johnathan’, the stage name of John Szeles, an American magician who gained fame in the 1990s for the bravado, blood and banter in his act. Whether appearing to snort an entire jar of cocaine or by pushing the same plastic straw through (almost) all of his orifices on stage, The Amazing Johnathan inspired the likes of Penn Gillette and Carrot Top – the next generation of Las Vegas magicians-turned-celebrities. In 2014, Johnathan was diagnosed with a terminal heart condition and given one year to live. He decides to embark on a farewell tour: cue documentary crew. It starts as one has grown to expect this kind of documentary to. We are introduced to Szeles via an external narrator – in this case, an Amazon Alexa –…Continue Reading

THE AMAZING JOHNATHAN DOCUMENTARY

JARVIS CARR reviews Hogir Hirori and Shinwar Kamal’s wartime documentary, The Deminer. There is no music to accompany Colonel Fakhir in the introductory scene of The Deminer (2017) as we sit and watch him deactivate one of the six hundred IEDs (improvised explosive devices) which span his decade-long military career. Instead he stands alone in a wide shot which envelops a vast and empty field lined with dozens of mines; one man driven by a perseverance derived from his own family, a hope that he may make a difference despite the futility of the task he faces. The documentary is comprised of three sources: interviews from Fakhir’s son and wife (Abdullah and Sheyma Fakhir), footage from his personal camcorder depicting both his footage from the Iraq war, and of his ongoing battle against the Islamic State who planted an indefinite number of mines in Mosul. One such tape shows Fakhir and his…Continue Reading

THE DEMINER

THEO MERTEN-MANCER reviews The Accountant of Auschwitz, a documentary about the recent trial of Oskar Gröning, a surviving member of the SS. A study released on Holocaust Remembrance Day this year found that two thirds of American millennials are unaware of what the Auschwitz extermination camp was. Survivors in their late 70s or older may remember experiencing the Second World War as children, however it seems that details of the conflict and surrounding events are fading from living memory. Matthew Shoychet’s new documentary serves as a contemporary reminder of the dreadful atrocities committed in the concentration camps of World War Two. Beyond this, The Accountant of Auschwitz explores crucial questions of justice and accountability. The documentary revolves around the 2015 trial of Oskar Gröning, a 94-year-old former SS officer who was charged as an accessory to the murder of over 300,000 victims in Auschwitz. His defence is one of moral disengagement:…Continue Reading

The Accountant of Auschwitz