Shadows Film FestShadows off the beaten path
Indies, foreign, docs, revivals and shorts...


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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 22.Sep.19

Beauty & Decay   Schönheit & Vergänglichkeit
Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5  
Beauty & Decay
dir-scr Annekatrin Hendel
prd Lisa Elstermann, Annekatrin Hendel, Heike Hetmanczik, Holly Tischman
with Sven Marquardt, Dominique "Dome" Hollenstein, Robert Paris, Volker Spengler, Meiko Suzuki, Nicholas Mockridge, Jasna Fritzi Bauer, Jan Behrendt, Saskia Brause, Hardy Paetke
release Ger Feb.19 bff
19/Germany 1h19


There's a loose artistic ease to this nostalgic documentary, which explores art through the memories of those who made it. Filmmaker Annekatrin Hendel focusses on three people from the art-punk scene in 1980s East Berlin, catching up with them in various fascinating locations. The imagery and ideas are superbly captured by her cameras.
The film explores an exhibition of striking black and white photographs from the 1980s, with present-day scenes of photographer Sven and cohorts Dome and Robert discussing their lives then and now. Sven remembers first taking photos of Dome in 1983, and now sees the historical value of his work. As they travel around Berlin, revisiting the sites of clubs where they put on performances, they create new images that ripple with meaning. And the camera follows Sven as he puts on an exhibition from his entire career, including these new shots of Dome.

Their observations are involving. Robert says that they were a family who simply loved to create something together at a moment's notice. Sven recalls that no one would sit next to him on public transport, and he still looks somewhat foreboding. Both Sven and Dome confess that they were in love with Robert, but he seemed more interested in a colleague. All three talk about seeking independence in a restrictive society, including persecution from the establishment. But as Dome puts it, "I thought all people had wild, incandescent lives in which they could live out their fantasies."

In addition to the stills, there's footage from art films that include some rather outrageous club performances. And filmmaker Hendel's cameras follow them today into their homes, which are also bursting with stories. Robert changed his life dramatically, moving to India, marrying a local and becoming a metalworker. He also kept taking photos. All three talk about the impact of growing old, discovering that health is more important than beauty.

There's quite a bit of talk about the olden days, showing pictures of the city back then and commenting that it's no longer recognisable. They're not bemoaning the changes, merely observing them. And they are genuinely as interested in present-day Berlin as they were back in the day. In other words, this is a film about the artistic mindset, the relentless curiosity, the ability to see beauty in unusual places, the will to escape a dull daily life by becoming fabulous.

cert 15 themes, nudity 7.Apr.19

Sea of Shadows
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5
Sea of Shadows
dir Richard Ladkani
prd Wolfgang Knopfler, Walter Kohler
with Andrea Crosta, Carlos Loret de Mola, Ana Lucia Hernandez, Jack Hutton, Cynthia Smith, Alan Valverde, Javier Valverde, Romel Eduardo Ledezma Abaroa, Marc Davis, Lorenzo Rojas-Bracho, Hector Capetillo, Jacqueline Le Duc
release US 12.Jul.19,
UK 27.Sep.19
19/Austria 1h44


Skilfully shot and assembled, this documentary plays like a nailbiting thriller as it explores a specific situation that has global ramifications. It's a story of two species under threat as the result of a drug cartel-like smuggling ring involving bribes, violence and human trafficking. Director-cinematographer Richard Ladkani brings each angle of this situation to vivid life.
In the Sea of Cortez in northern Mexico, illicit fisherman are spreading nets to catch the totoaba fish, whose bladder is considered a miracle cure in China. A fisherman can make a small fortune, around $4,000 per bladder. But these then go for up to $100,000 on the black market. With so much cash in play, cops, politicians and customs officials are paid off as the crime network stretches from Tijuana to Shanghai. Adding to the problem, these illegal nets also catch the vaquita, a dolphin-sized whale that is very close to extinction.
The film's central strand follows Crosta, an investigative journalist tenaciously going undercover to follow the smuggling route. He works with military leaders, and also connects with ecological activists like the British Hutton, who uses drones to track criminal fishermen and remove their nets. Smith is an American veterinarian with an elaborate plan to save the vaquita. And the Valverdes are local fishermen who are trying to do things the right way, fishing legally while bravely undermining the cartel's work.

Ladkani's imagery is spectacular, capturing the raw beauty of locations including the gorgeous sea itself, the expansive Sonora Desert, bustling fishing villages and urban centres like Tijuana, Mexicali and Mexico City. This sharp, colourful footage is skilfully intercut with grainy scenes from drones and surveillance cameras that witness criminal activity, including murder. The contrast is striking, as tenacious journalists track down the villains, a job the cops are afraid to do.

There are several heart-stopping moments along the way, from the opening chase sequence to a frightening stand-off at a marina as villagers take on the military. These bracing sequences add a powerful sense of urgency to the bigger story, while also making it clear that the true problem lies in the Chinese money driving a criminal operation that is decimating one of the most diverse bodies of water on Earth. And without mentioning similar situations all over the world, the film paints a harrowing portrait of just what capitalism has done to the planet.

cert 12 themes, language, violence 6.Sep.19

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© 2019 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall