The 37th Portland International Film Festival runs this year from February 6th to the 22nd. They’re screening 104 feature films and 24 shorts across those two weeks from countries as diverse as Afghanistan, Iceland, Nepal, and Taiwan. Check out the official site for tickets and/or more details.
My third look at this year’s festival entries include a trio of documentaries from Netherlands and the UK. In addition to their basis in non-fiction though they also share a thematic concern with their focus on people who, for various reasons and with varied results, find themselves far away from civilization.
The Galapagos Affair explores a decades old mystery from an island paradise involving Germans, the Swiss Family Robinson, a baroness, and the wisdom of giant land turtles. Maidentrip features a more recent sea-bound adventure as a teenage girl sets out to sail the world alone. And finally, Village at the End of the World visits with a tiny Inuit community in Greenland as they face pressures to disband and fade away.
Keep reading for capsule reviews of The Galapagos Affair, Maidentrip, and Village at the End of the World, and follow all of our coverage here.
The Galapagos Affair
Friedrich Ritter and Dore Stauch left their German homeland and their respective spouses in 1929 and started a new life on an island in the Galapagos. As fans of Nietzsche the two took pride in their ability to stand on their own apart from the herd, but soon other human animals arrived to make their own home on the island. Jealousy, gossip, doubt, and murder soon follow. Maybe.
Using archive footage and photographs, interviews with present day Galapagos residents, and actual letters and writings from the original players (voiced by Cate Blanchett, Diane Kruger, Josh Radnor, and others), this documentary tells a fascinating tale of history and mystery. As one interviewee states, “There are people in this world that just beg to get killed.” It probably doesn’t need to be two hours long though as much of the first act is repetitive in its information. That’s a minor quibble though, and happily the film doesn’t feel its length.
Just as interesting (for me anyway) is the information about the residents of the Galapagos. This includes the fact that there are residents of the Galapagos. Seriously, I had no clue and instead thought the islands were strictly park reserves. The influx of (mostly European) immigrants to the islands starting in the early 20th century was also a revelation, as is their opinion on the place that others see as an Eden or paradise. The film shows that the islands I always viewed as a microcosm of wild life was and is in fact a microcosm of humanity too. The good, the bad, and all the grey areas in between.
The Galapagos Affair screens 2/8 at 3:30p and 2/13 at 8:30p. Buy tickets here.
Laura Dekker was only fourteen years old when she set off from her home in the Netherlands to sail solo around the globe. She wasn’t interested in setting a time record, but instead she wanted to see the world and experience the people and places it has to offer. This film documents the trip from her government’s efforts to stop her to the destination she finally lands in two years later, but most of it is presented through video that she herself shot throughout her solitary journey.
The trip features more then a few hairy moments, but the power of the film is in its focus on Laura’s personal journey as she deals with loneliness, her family history, and her own desires for adventure that lead to some surprising decisions. I can’t imagine undertaking such an endeavor even now, let alone when I was a teenager, and she proves herself to be just as intriguing a personality as you’d expect. She is still a teenager though, a teenage girl at that, and she reminds viewers of that in some of her behaviors including the way she poses and preens for her own camera.
Laura’s already a “beyond her years” type when she begins the trip at fourteen, but by the time she pulls into St. Martin to complete the official journey at the grizzled old age of sixteen it’s clear that we’ve watched a confident girl grow into an accomplished and wise young woman. “It’s the end of the dream I had as a kid,” she says, “and it’s the beginning of my life as a sailor.” With any luck she’ll invite the rest of us along on another adventure soon. (Check out our full review here.)
Maidentrip screens 2/8 at 6:15p and 2/18 at 8:30p. Buy tickets here.
Village at the End of the World
Niaqornat is a small village on the coast of Northern Greenland at risk of disappearing forever. The community, such as it is with only 59 residents, is suffering from a lack of jobs and income since the local fish factory closed its doors. Their efforts to reopen it are presented alongside the stories of a handful of the locals including the mayor/lead hunter, the sewage man who picks up and disposes of everyone’s waste everyday with his wheelbarrow, and Lars, the village’s only teenager. So you know he’s bored.
There are no great revelations to be found in Sarah Gavron‘s doc, but there are plenty of moments to delight and bewilder. Lars in particular earns smiles as he discusses the lack of female equals in a several hundred mile radius and his complete and utter disinterest in hunting. Less entertaining but equally interesting is his living situation that sees him pretty much across the street from a father who he’s never had a conversation with.
The visuals are as beautiful as you’d expect for a film set in Greenland, and as we move through the seasons, including a winter without sun, the movie teases becoming a personality-filled travelogue. The various dramas feel a bit too slight, important to the village obviously, but never quite relevant as a viewing experience. The smaller moments work far better including learning that the town only went electric in 1988, that the only motorized land vehicle in town is a forklift, and that a cruise ship stops by annually so vacationers can take in the local sights. It’s this last bit that hits hardest as the tourists are shown talking, in their own language of course, about the cute little village and its “inbred” population. If those people are the best that civilization has to offer then Niaqornat is better off staying just the way the are.
Village at the End of the World screens 2/, at p and 2/ at p. Buy tickets here.
PIFF 37 runs 2/6 – 2/22