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A palpable stillness fills a lonely country road sitting outside of Wolfsburg, Germany.

As though the dead-silent streets weren’t eerie enough, the total darkness, illuminated only by the deceptively inviting lurid glow of a roadside caravan, does little to ease the mood.

It is women who occupy these caravans (known as Liebesmobiles); many of whom travel from afar to earn a living performing sex work.

The stories of these women and their systemic oppression are explored with a sympathetic gaze in hard-hitting documentary Lovemobil.

We spend most of Lovemobil inside a caravan belonging to Uschi; a former sex-worker who when not enforcing strict housekeeping demands upon her employees – Rita (from Nigeria) and Milena (from Bulgaria) – can be seen overwhelming her dogs with affection. It is a duality that expresses both desensitiaation and benevolence; the latter being a courtesy denied to the women she exploits to make a living.

For many of the women employed by Uschi, assault, neglect and death prove more than just concerns, but realities of their employment. Their dreams of freedom from a life of sex work, initially met with glowing optimism, become short lived when jolted back into the present. Forced isolation and financial captivity amplify their mounting trepidation; a byproduct calcified by the looming threat of danger which presents itself with each client.

Director Elke Margarete Lehrenkrauss does an exemplary job connecting the experiences of women with the institutionalisation (and commoditisation) of their abuse. The astute filmmaker directs with an incisiveness that not only respects and grants dignity to interviewees but presents the implications of their inequality in contrast to broader society.

It is considered documentary filmmaking at its most potent.

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Trailer: Brazen Hussies

Five years in the making, Catherine Dwyer's documentary - produced by Philippa Campey and Andrea Foxworthy, and executive produced by Sue Maslin - explores the revolutionary Women's Liberation Movement (1965 -1975) in Australia.
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Ruth Weiss: The Beat Goddess

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If Ruth Weiss had only lived till 10, she would have had an incredible story to tell. If she’d only lived till 30, she would have been cemented as one of the seminal artists of the 20th century. The fact that she lived till 92 (dying just a few weeks ago, August 3, 2020), a performer till the end, she was a living testament to the time that changed America forever.

Fortunately for us, Melody C. Miller has made a tremendous documentary, chronicling the extraordinary life of Ruth Weiss, and as such, has given us all a great gift.

Ruth Weiss always knew she was going to be a poet, even as a little girl. Her harrowing story of fleeing Nazis in 1938 is one hell of a yarn in itself. Finally, the immediate family made their way to Chicago. (All their family, brothers, cousins, parents…everyone was exterminated by the Nazis.)

Weiss was educated in Europe after the war and eventually found her way back to the States. She was drawn to San Francisco as the non-conformist Beat Generation was taking shape. As things happen (we won’t spoil the story for you), her poetry was set to jazz music. She became a performer, reading her poetry live on stage, as the musicians improvised to the lilt of her poem.

Everything we take for granted these days; gay rights, environmental activism, women’s liberation, all have roots in the Beat era of the 1950s. Women were supposed to be homemakers; have the martini ready when hubby came home after a tough day at the office. Weiss broke the mould. She was a performance artist, never a good little seen-but-not-heard wife.

She boldly had green hair in the ‘50s, something beyond unique. In her 90s, she sports green hair again, without a doubletake from anyone. Something she wouldn’t have been able to get in the ‘50s was matching nail polish.

None of us today can imagine how hard it must have been as a woman, how strong she must have been to be heard, how powerful her message was. At a time when women weren’t even published, this goddess cut through the noise.

Weiss regales us with stories of Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac; she was an integral part of that revolutionary time. One can only imagine how exciting it must have been to be a part of that, but Weiss does a splendid job of taking us back there.

If filmmaker Melody C. Miller had not had the foresight to tell this story, all of that wonderful oral history would have been lost. It was the Beat Generation that progressed to the ‘60s Hippy revolution. Tune in, drop out, make love, not war. None of these ‘60s messages would have existed without the Beat Generation.

Thanks to Weiss’ longevity and Miller’s foresight, we have a first-hand look at the movement that changed the world.

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One Man and His Shoes

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Netflix’s Michael Jordan/ Chicago Bulls documentary The Last Dance covered similar terrain as this documentary by filmmaker Yemi Bamiro. One Man and His Shoes explores the relationship between Michael Jordan and Nike and how together they created a third entity: Michael Jordan the brand.

Nike reaped the benefits of a shrewd decision to forge product sponsorship deals with young college basketball players (including a young Michael Jordan) that would foster a brand loyalty that would (ideally) extend into the player’s NBA career. That led to Michael Jordan as a rookie player, making a deal with Nike that comprised of various royalties and profit participations that were largely uncapped when the deal was made. The insane sales that followed took Nike by surprise and remade Jordan as a sporting icon, not to mention a billionaire. When first released, the original Air Jordan Nikes were quickly banned by the NBA because they weren’t white, so wearing them courtside meant Michael Jordan incurred a fine. The fine was happily covered by Nike, who benefitted massively from the publicity and subsequently sold a million pairs of Air Jordan shoes that year.

On the face of it, the documentary threatens to be a corporate hand job on the virtues of capitalism and the glory of Nike, but it’s undeniably fascinating to learn how a corporation found a way to occupy a significant amount of real estate in popular culture.

The fascinating ‘happy accident’ of Nike marketing executives seeing Spike Lee’s film She’s Gotta Have It was instrumental. In that film, Spike Lee portrays Mars Blackmon, a man devoted to his Air Jordan shoes, he even wears them during sex. Nike executives saw an opportunity to stand out from the crowd and asked Lee to direct a number of distinctive Air Jordan commercials, (with Lee starring alongside Jordan as the character of Mars) leading to a style and artistry in creating the ads that would go on to further cement Nike (and Air Jordans) as more of a cultural icon than a brand.

Nike’s ad campaigns and deliberate under-supply creates a demand that has succeeded in making the shoes a sought-after commodity, a status symbol. Collectors across the globe are interviewed, some with million-dollar collections.

The most compelling part of the documentary is when it calls into question the negative effects of the ‘Cult of Nike’ and in particular the criticisms that have been levelled at Michael Jordan: his disinterest in taking a stand on social and racial issues affecting young black Americans (while he and Nike are happy to take their money) and, in particular, the awful phenomenon of young people being killed solely for their ‘Jordans’.

Overall, it’s an examination of how popular culture can be hijacked and hacked, how humans can be manipulated into associating athletic ability, competitive success, self-worth, desire and esteem – with a shoe.

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Paradise without People

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Documentary Paradise Without People follows the painstakingly difficult process of asylum for two Syrian families.

The families, both residing and raising families in Greek refugee camps, await the details of their immigration into Europe with considerable unease. Determined for better, both families look upon the grace of a host country to grant them refuge – the ideal outcome for many Syrian immigrants being in the relocation to Germany.

Director Francesca Trianni isn’t interested in depicting life-after-war, but the deep-seated isolation that comes with war-torn diaspora. No better is this expressed than in the actions of Mohannad; a husband and father of two children whose desire to move to Germany – brought on by concerns over the acceptance of the hijab elsewhere – risks the livelihood of his family.

The escape from war-torn Syria acts as a constant reminder for both families of the lives left behind. The haunting details of this realised in phone-calls that function to provide updates on air-strikes and other acts of war.

This constant state of fear is somewhat mitigated through Trianni’s lavish presentation of food; a theme which denotes the importance of remaining connected to one’s heritage.

Trianni presents the passage of time in terms of seasons. The result acknowledges the lengthy and arduous reality for people seeking asylum. We watch with bated optimism the steady improvement of both families’ livelihoods; transposed from refugee camps (the compact state of which being hardly liveable) to government housing.

It is through Trianni’s conscientious gaze where Paradise Without People presents freedom not just in terms of safety from war, but in a quality of living built on community and cultural identity.


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Echo in the Canyon

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This doco is a music nerd’s heaven, especially if you like Californian rock music from the sixties and seventies. This will appeal to those types who can tell you who played guest percussion on the original recording of this or that track (better still if they were uncredited).

Documentary maker Andrew Slater has not tried to trick it up too much, relying instead on words from the horse’s mouths. The front man/interviewer is Jakob Dylan (yes, the son of Bob and Sara) who is a gentle soul and who knows better than to get in the way of the old farts’ reminiscing. He is also a muso himself, of course, and clearly loves this music as is shown in intercut contemporary concert footage when he and his band recreate (quite faithfully) various songs from the era.

The hook, as it were, is the location Laurel Canyon, a leafy Californian suburb that was home to ‘everyone’ from The Mamas and the Papas to Frank Zappa. This quickly grew into a fertile scene in which anyone could rock up to anyone’s house with a guitar and a few joints and be sure of jamming and writing songs all night. The thread is more or less chronological, beginning with Roger McGuinn of the Byrds who is credited with starting a new sound by fusing old folk songs with rock guitar amplification.

Actually, (Bob) Dylan had also thought of this and he is the absent centre of this universe as he doesn’t appear at all here or get directly cited much. The gender dimension is also uncommented upon. The bands are all hippyish men with the occasional female singer up front. Michelle Phillips, who beguiled (and bedded), so many rockers back then, gets to say her piece here but Joni Mitchell, perhaps the greatest female songwriter/performer of this generation, isn’t mentioned once.

What we do get though, is lots of studio reminiscences and some stories about who liked whose music and some inhouse gossip, some of it spicy, much of it mutually reverential.

There are also lots of shots of the various famous studios and their mixing desks, though there is precious little studio jamming footage.

It is quite a cast list, though. There are about a dozen ‘big names’ from this era here and you get the sense that it was timely to make the film now before people are no longer around or able to contribute. For example, the film features interview footage of Tom Petty (recently deceased) to whom the film is dedicated.

Much is made of the cross fertilisation of styles, and the relationship between British bands and this emerging scene. Interestingly, the one they all revere, and who contributes nice interview sound bites here, is Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys. He professes to have ‘loved’ the Beatles and he kept a close eye on what Lennon and McCartney were doing with their harmonies and their innovative recording techniques. It gets almost Biblical here with a lineage of cascading influences. So, Rubber Soul begat Pet Sounds and Pet Sounds begat Sergeant Pepper’s and hallowed be their names.

Because there isn’t quite enough of the original music, either informally played or in classic concert footage, this can’t quite go down as one of the truly great rockumentaries, but for anyone who formed their musical tastes around these big talents, this is a delightful wallow.