FASHIONED REIMAGINED, LYNCH/OZ, and ALL THE BEAUTY AND THE BLOODSHED were official selections of the 42nd Hawai‘i International Film Festival presented by Halekulani
I love documentaries a lot, but I know that puts me in the minority. Most of my friends can’t stand documentaries, they think that they’re boring and are only meant to be played in high schools to teach some concepts that could be learned by a quick Google search. This is a stigma that I know for a fact a lot of people have towards the art form because so few people actually watch them. They would rather watch a narrative, fiction-based film, and I don’t blame them. When documentaries are done poorly, they can be navel-gazing and very difficult to get through. But when executed well, documentaries can be some of the most fascinating things to watch. The three that I watched at the Hawaii International Film Festival this year were all interesting in their own ways, and serve as great examples for why this form of film is important for people to watch.
FASHION REIMAGINED was the first film at the Hawaii International Film Festival that I saw in theaters and I thought it was a great start to all my in-person screenings. The documentary tells the story of Amy Powney, a fashion designer who seeks to create a collection of clothing that is as sustainable and environmentally friendly as possible in an industry that thrives on being the exact opposite. This is a classic documentary formula that most people are probably familiar with: a person tries to make the world a better place by doing what they do best. The film sticks to this formula pretty well, and while one might consider that a bad thing, it allows the documentary to focus on the uniqueness of the premise. The fashion industry was never something I ever really thought about in passing, let alone considered an interesting topic. But the premise that the manufacturing of clothing was detrimental to the environment was what drew me to the film, and seeing why it was on the screen captivated me. The film follows Powney’s travels around the world to find the best ways that she can accomplish her goal, and we are shown some incredibly unique and laborious ways that fashion products can be cultivated in an environmentally sustainable way. Seeing these different global perspectives allows many intriguing windows into the minds of fashion designers that made me care about the industry in ways I never thought possible. In the end, Fashion Reimagined is an investing documentary that made me a little bit more hopeful and happy about the future.
LYNCH/OZ is the documentary that was the least similar to the others that I saw, but that made it no less compelling. The documentary features numerous voiceover work from filmmakers and essayists talking about the work of David Lynch, the mastermind behind such works as Twin Peaks, Mulholland Drive, and Blue Velvet, and how he finds The Wizard of Oz to be a constant source of inspiration. The documentary is divided into six different sections, all about how these interviewees believe Lynch was impacted by the 1939 film. As a result, the documentary feels like a series of video essays compiled into one feature film. And while it does make the documentary a little tiresome, all of the viewpoints are fascinating. Filmmaker John Waters (of Pink Flamingos and Female Trouble fame) in particular has some really intriguing insights into Lynch’s work that made me want to dive into his worlds even more. That’s what I appreciate the most about this documentary; Lynch / Oz implores people to be more critical and observant of the movies that they watch. There are dozens of avenues that the documentary covers in terms of Lynch being inspired by The Wizard of Oz, from Lynch’s use of curtains to the darkness that inhabits all of his works. I never would have thought to associate these aspects of his films with The Wizard of Oz, and it’s inspiring as someone who loves to analyze films to see a filmmaker who I admire be influenced by this one singular film in so many ways. It’s a call to look at all movies through this lens in an attempt to understand the filmmaker and their intentions. Maybe with this mindset, Lynch’s movies can make a bit more sense.
ALL THE BEAUTY AND THE BLOODSHED
I saved the best for last. Not only was ALL THE BEAUTY AND THE BLOODSHED the best documentary that I saw at the festival, it was also my favorite film from the festival line-up that I had the privilege of watching. Laura Poitras’ documentary focuses on Nan Goldin’s fight with the Sackler pharmaceutical family, the family that was in a great part responsible for the opioid epidemic and the massive death toll that followed. Besides that, the documentary also focuses on Goldin’s whole life, from her childhood to the present, revealing the pain and trauma that she faced in a detailed manner. The film becomes uncomfortable to watch at certain moments, but that only heightens Poitras’ point: Goldin is putting all of herself on display to expose the truth. It becomes apparent throughout the documentary that Goldin’s entire life was about introducing people to the harsh reality that she and many others lived in. This was mainly done through her legendary photographs, which are featured prominently in the film via multiple slideshows with Goldin’s voiceover, forcing the audience to see the world through her eyes. It’s an incredibly powerful experience about pain and the hidden truth that had me crying like a baby near the end because of how overwhelmed I was with emotion. Every little aspect of this documentary, from Goldin’s rumination on her deceased sister to her experiences with the AIDS crisis and her present battle with the Sackler family serves to deepen the movie’s message about fighting for truth despite all odds, and it’s one of the best and most captivating films of the entire year.
These three films only scratch the surface of the iceberg in regards to the uniqueness and effectiveness of documentaries. They all tell fascinating stories and convey ideas that most people would not necessarily think about on a day-to-day basis, but all of which are important in their own ways. Whether they’re used to make people think more critically or introduce people to a socially relevant topic, documentaries have the power to be just as incredible as feature films, sometimes even moreso. They can change lives for the better, and that’s a beautiful thing that any form of art can do.
Devin Hung is a creative media major at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa. He writes movie reviews on his Letterboxd account and wrote for his high school newspaper while attending Moanalua High School. When he isn’t doing homework, Devin spends his time watching movies and anime, writing reviews and short stories, and updating his Oscar predictions. He hopes to one day start a YouTube channel and write a series of novels.
The mission of the HIFF ONLINE CREATIVES & CRITICS IMMERSIVE (HOCCI) program is to encourage film criticism in Hawai‘i by using the influencer branding strategies to spark career opportunities in the State and not be hampered by oceans, state borders and distance, because geography is no longer a barrier. Ten mentees participated in this program, giving them press industry access to HIFF42. In addition, the cohort attended mentoring sessions by working critics in the online film journalism community in unique silos: Writing, Podcasting, Video Essays and Vlogging.