Sep 1

"Cold Case Hammarskjöld" written by Gregory Mann

1 comment

 

(London Film Festival, October 4th, 2019, Curzon Soho, 99 Shaftesbury Ave, Soho, London W1D 5DY, United Kingdom, 10:00 am)

 

https://whatson.bfi.org.uk/lff/Online/default.asp?BOparam::WScontent::loadArticle::permalink=coldcasehammarskjold

 

 

"Cold Case Hammarskjöld"

 

 

The documentary tries to solve the mysterious death of Dag Hammarskjöld. As the investigation closes in, the film discovers a crime far worse than killing 'The Secretary-General Of The United Nations'.

In 1961, United Nations secretary-general Dag Hammarskjöld’s plane mysteriously crashed, killing Hammarskjöld and most of the crew. With the case still unsolved 50-plus years later, the film leads us down an investigative rabbit hole to unearth the truth. Scores of false starts, dead ends, and elusive interviews later, the film begins to sniff out something more monumental than anything we initially imagined. In a signature agitprop style, the documentary challenges the very nature of truth by performing the role of truth seeker. As the film uncovers a critical secret that could send shockwaves around the world, we realize that sometimes absurdity and irony are the emboldening ingredients needed to confront what’s truly sinister.

When the film opens it's around midnight on September 18th, 1961, a small plane flying over a remote part of 'Central Africa'. Suddenly the lights at a nearby airfield go out and we hear the sound of another plane. Then something sounding like gunfire breaks out and Hammarskjöld's plane crashes, killing all 16 people on board, including 'The 'U.N. Secretary-General' who's en route to negotiations for a cease-fire in the ongoing 'Congo Crisis'. The accident is officially blamed on pilot error, however rumors have persisted for decades that it's a well-planned assassination. The wreckage is buried a few days after the crash. Convinces that it's nearby, the jaunty pair outfit themselves with shovels, a metal detector and pith helmets and set off to find it. It's supposedly a remnant of Hammarskjöld's plane, found at the crash site. It's apparently unremarkable, but there's one thing that seemed unusual; a series of perfectly round, irregularly spaced holes. Could they be bullet holes? But just as the search seems promising, local authorities abruptly withdraw permission to dig. But who wants Hammarskjöld dead, and why? What possibly go wrong there? What's the meaning of the mysterious playing card found intact on Hammarskjöld's partially scorched body? Why's an unassuming young marine biologist murdered? What did witnesses see in the sky that night? Could it all be an elaborate hoax perpetrated by an eccentric, highly skilled propagandist?

The story begins to gain momentum with the discovery of a secretive figure named Keith Maxwell, who styled himself 'Commodore Of SAIMR'. Dressing exclusively in crisp naval whites or, for special occasions, the brass-buttoned uniform, cutlass and three-corner hat of an '18th-Century' admiral, Maxwell sometimes claimed to be a doctor and ran medical clinics throughout poor black areas in African offering low-cost health care and vaccinations. Could he be the key to unlocking all of 'SAIMR's Secrets'?  Now deceased, Maxwell left behind a half-finished, somewhat fictionalized memoir called 'The Story Of My Life' that seemed too improbable to be true. 'SAIMR' is the successor to a 184-year-old organization started by British mariners. Maxwell was a stocky middle-aged man with tousled hair, tinted aviator glasses and a blank expression. A retired doctor whom Maxwell tried unsuccessfully to recruit remembers him as a flamboyant but harmless member of a group dedicated to finding sunken treasure. Maxwell was some kind of demonic clown, a kook. He had the resources to use violence and to supply weapons. He was financed and directed by 'MI6, British Intelligence'.

The slow, steady crescendo comes to an abrupt climax when a man named Alexander Jones provides by far the film's most compelling testimony. Jones not only admits to being an 'Ex-SAIMR' operative, he's eager to share what he knows. Jones verifies the names of 'SAIMR' members and allows himself to be taped making incendiary allegations, describing the organization's mission as overthrowing governments and taking over countries. Murder and mayhem are a means to eradicate black Africans and maintain white rule, he claims. The group is so secretive that the 5,000 or more members are unlikely to even know of each other. Jones describes Maxwell as a very dangerous man, someone exquisitely manipulative, charismatic and dedicated to eliminating black Africans through non-militaristic means. In the late 1990s, he claims, Maxwell's clinics are a cover for his most sinister plan, infecting black Africans with 'HIV' using contaminated vaccines. Black people have got no rights, they need medical treatment. There's a white philanthropist coming in and saying, 'you know, I'll open up these clinics and I'll treat you'. The more pieces of the puzzle the film fits together, the more clear it becomes just how many more are missing.

A Swedish aristocrat and lifetime public servant, Hammarskjöld was elected as 'The U.N.'s' second 'Secretary-General' in 1953. A seasoned bureaucrat tasked with overhauling the burgeoning organization's administrative capacities, he was a compromise candidate between 'Cold War' foes. His aggressive anti-colonial stance took the world by surprise as he attempted to help black Africans reclaim their countries from their foreign corporate masters. The quiet technocrat had become a flaming idealist and an inconvenience to those in power. Chief on his to-do list was 'Congo", then beginning to emerge from decades of brutal subjugation begun by 'The Belgian King Leopold II.' In 'The Late 19th Century', 'Leopold' ruthlessly siphoned off untold millions of dollars' worth of ivory, rubber and precious minerals for his own enrichment, while virtually enslaving the native population. 'The 20th Century' brought corporations like 'Union Minière', which continued to loot the country's wealth and exploit black Africans. In 1961, Hammarskjöld was attempting to bring a series of civil wars in 'Congo' to an end. As emerging African nations became another 'Cold War' proxy battleground between 'The U.S'. and it's allies on one side, and 'The Soviet Union' on the other, Hammarskjöld's 'U.N.' was becoming increasingly troublesome to both factions. If he succeeded in his goals, the map of 'Africa' would change and rule would be restored to black Africans, allowing them to define their own futures. Instead, the battle for control would rage on for decades more, and much of the area's wealth would continue to slip away.

On the night of September 18th, 1961, 'UN Secretary-General' Dag Hammarskjöld's plane crashes under suspicious circumstances in 'The Congolese' province of 'Katanga'. Swedish Hammarskjöld was in favor of 'The Independence Of Congo' which had not made him popular with 'The Western' superpowers on 'The African Continent'. The mysterious crash was never fully explained. The tragic death of Dag Hammarskjöld remains one of the greatest mysteries of 'The 20th Century'. Over 50 years later the film tries to discover the truth about this cold case once and for all. The film trecks across 'The African Brousse' in search of answers. To try and solve a case that has baffled people for decades. What begins as the unraveling of murder plot slowly turns into a true thriller that surprises you at every turn. Even today, there are many questions and conspiracy theories. Why did the plane carrying the world's highest ranking diplomat crash in Africa? Was it shot down? And if so, by whom? Was Hammarskjöld a victim of 'The Cold War' between 'The US' and 'The Soviet Union'? Was he a thorn in the side of the former colonial powers due to his support for the newly independent African states? Could Hammarskjöld have been murdered by powerful political opponents? And who left the ace of spades death card on his body? From 'Zambia' and 'South Africa' to 'The U.K'., 'The U.S'., 'Russia', 'Spain' and beyond, the film conducts an estimated 50 interviews with witnesses both central and peripheral to the tale, leading to a constantly widening maze. The film ends up in a web of deception, betrayal and more questions.

A journalist should not wish for his journalism to be flawed, but due to the horror of what he discovers. We've secretly been hoping that it all would turn out to be a misunderstanding. Unfortunately, that's not the case. The search, which long led nowhere, suddenly kuncovers crimes that are much more recent and much more terrifying. With the twists and turns of an elegantly plotted murder mystery and the intrigue of an international espionage thriller, "Cold Case Hammarskjöld"  winds it's way through three continents and almost seven years of investigative reporting. Tracking down Belgian mercenaries, telling tales of evil men who dress in white, the ace of spades found at crime scenes, rumors about secret societies. It's a unique and effective way of visualizing colonialism and racial relations in Africa. The villain only wore white, but also, in a strange way, white is the color of power in this story, so it accentuates the interracial relationship in a powerful cinematic effect. Having difficulties at first and having leads go cold is good for the narrative. If everything is perfectly clear from the beginning, that's not interesting. And that's the way it played out in reality. It's a weird outfit, like a cross between 'Hezbollah' and 'Scientology'. Perhaps there's a successor out there. Some of what we discovered we know is very real. But some of it's very difficult to prove.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Also vital is creating all 'The Nazis' in the film to be ridiculous and mockable, full of all the same flaws and quirks as the rest of us, which makes their participation in the fascist realm that much more of a chilling warning of how easily malevolent ideologies can take root on a large scale. This is especially true of Jojo, who initially reveres what he sees as Hitler’s might, until he sees in Elsa and his mother a principled strength that's so much greater. It's important that Jojo be clearly seen as a 10-year-old-boy who really doesn’t know anything. He just basically loves the idea of dressing in a uniform and being accepted. That's how 'The Nazis' indoctrinated kids, really, by making them feel part of this really cool gang. It's about the idea of seeing the madness of war and hate, something grown-ups very much manifest, through the eyes of a child. 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The character reminds people of just how outrageous cults of personality can become. There's something laughable about the worship of this little man with his little moustache who looks like an angry accountant and that’s one of the things that the film plays with. There’s a sense of how people can be swept up by, for lack of a better word, bullshit. It’s something still resonating right now. We still see people all over the world being up in these things, especially when there’s a uniform and an identity involved, so it seems well worth satirizing.   'The Hitler Youth' was first created in 1922 to indoctrinate kids and teens into 'Nazi Ideology' and train them to ultimately be tools of war. This gives us a sense of just how dark the reality of Jojo’s world is, no matter how much he just wants it to be a glorious adventure, as any 10-year-old would. What 'The Nazis' did to children was really awful. They wanted to have an army of fanatics to help them take over the world. Nazis' were parodied on screen as early as the 1940s when they're still very much a global threat, with the key being that the last laugh was always on them. Both during and after the war, Hitler was routinely mocked because it was a way of people dealing with the horror they're seeing. If you can reduce Hitler to something laughable, you win. The book is more of a drama, though it has comic moments. The film has more fantastical elements and obviously more humor, creating a kind of dance between drama and satire. The film creates something like a jazz riff on Leunens book, whipping up the structure of her story into an antic allegory of how fear mongering can take root in naïve mind, and how love can come out of left field to topple down the walls we put up against other people. If the book is a classical, panel painting, the film is more like Picasso’s 'Guernica'.   Like the story, the design of "Jojo Rabbit" presents the world through a 10-year-old’s confined but vivid lens, full of bright colors and bucolic beauty even amid the oppression and destruction of 'Nazi Germany'. At that age, you remember everything but with a kind of brightness to it all. Everything looks like a Spring morning. The film has all those 'Neorealist' qualities where there are sunny and charming moments but also very dramatic moments, and the mood can go from funny to tragic in a snap. That era between 1930 and 1945 was actually a revolutionary one for style in Europe, despite the war. In a lot of 'WWII'-era films, everyone dresses in brown and gray and it just feels kind of sad and dated. But if you look at the fashions of the time, though, there's really lots of bright color and high style. It's an era that in most people’s minds unspools in black-and-white. To see that world in color, the way Jojo, Rosie and Elsa would have experienced it, gives it a whole new dimension and aliveness. We've seen so many muted period films from 'WWII', whether in black & white or in more somber colors, that we're shocked to see such a vibrant spectrum of color.  But that's the reality and once the film decides to reflect this, it's an idea that circulated through the set design and the costumes and helps to set the tone for the story. At Jojo’s age things are a little more rosy-tinted and the world seems bigger and more amazing. So, the film recreates this feeling, the feeling we all have in childhood, but within 1940s Germany. For most of the film, we’ve been in Jojo’s imagination, with his playful view of war, but when the battle hits the town, we’re suddenly struck with the reality of what war really is. The frightening atmosphere and noise of it feels very real. In some ways it feels very visceral and real, but the film also creates something that becomes a kind of magical and surreal moment in the film. As the events in the film grow darker, so too do the colors. For the happier, more playful moments in the film, we've a diverse palette of oversaturated colors.  Then, the film tapes those off as more drama comes into play. Most of the film takes place in 'The Autumn" so we've lush greens sprinkled with gorgeous reds, oranges and pinks into the street scenes. However, hidden deep within the lightness of the house is Elsa’s dark, cramped space behind the wall, which forges an opposite feeling, mirroring the nearly unbearable tension under which she's forced to live. Rosie’s look has to be so distinctive that the audience recognizes her, in a flash, in the scene that's a devastating emotional turning point of the story. The butterfly seemed to express who she's, and the film uses a very distinctive pair of shoes, which stand out for a lady in that era. It's more powerful when you just see the shoes and make the connection to the butterfly in this moment. The camera always tries to make sure the audience is aware of Rosie’s shoes. For example, you really notice them when she’s dancing by the river in that light moment. The best comedy has always come out of the hardest human situations and 'Nazi Germany' is one of the hardest situations in history. "Jojo Rabbit" offers a sharply funny, yet profoundly stirring, child’s-eye view of a society gone mad with intolerance. The film makes a powerful statement against hate with this pitch-black satire of 'The Nazi Culture' that gripped 'The German Psyche' at the height of 'WWII'. It's a story almost too appalling to approach with sober solemnity, that of a boy who, like many at that time, has been brainwashed into absolutely gung-ho devotion to Hitler. He then mines from it a dark, mesmerizing comedy that ultimately unravels the toxic ideas of 'Anti-Semitism' and persecution of the other. Balancing on a comedic high-wire, the film mixes the fury of satire with an insistent sense of hope that fanaticism and hate can be overcome. The film follows very much in the footsteps of Mel Brooks, Charlie Chaplin, Ernst Lubitsch and Stanley Kubrick to name a few. The script has a charged, satirical edge in the vein of say "Dr. Strangelove" and other black comedies that confront heavy subject matters by making them very funny. "Jojo Rabbit" is a fresh way to re-visit the most unsettling of topics through the paradoxically moral force of out-and-out parody. But much as the film owes to its bold forbearers, The film feels very much of our times, with it's deeply human characters whose blinded foibles might amuse but whose inner predicaments are deadly real and pointedly relevant right now.     The film opens a comfort zone but also any notion that stories about 'The Nazi Era' have been played out, especially when the lessons of those times are so urgent right now. With 'Nationalism', 'Anti-Semitism' and other forms of religious and racial intolerance on the rise, the stakes of grabbing people’s attention felt sky-high. The film brings the audience in with laughter, and once they’ve dropped their guard, then start delivering these little payloads of drama that have serious weight to them. Even if you don’t see them right away, you’ll feel them. It’s after the laugh that the strings start to be felt, drawing one’s consciousness to things that aren’t quite right, aren’t entirely funny, into deeper, more complex emotions, amongst these, the realization of the absurdity of the situation, and the tragedy and pain. In the end, as much as "Jojo Rabbit" showcases the tragically absurd realities of authoritarianism and nationalistic fervor, as well as the personal wages of prejudice and hate, the film equally reminds us of our human connection and the simple responsibility we all have to do what we can, including simply trying to be good to one another. This feels like exactly the right time to tell this story, because this is a case where you don’t want it to be too late to tell it.
  • (London Filn Festival, Thursday October 10th 2019, Odeon Tottenham Court Road, Central Cross, 30 Tottenham Court Rd, London W1T 1BX, UK, 18:15 pm) https://whatson.bfi.org.uk/lff/Online/default.asp?BOparam::WScontent::loadArticle::permalink=cunningham&BOparam::WScontent::loadArticle::context_id= "Cunningham" "Cunningham" traces Merce’s artistic evolution over three decades of risk and discovery (1944–1972), from his early years as a struggling dancer in postwar New York to his emergence as one of the world’s most visionary choreographers. The '3D' technology weaves together Merce's philosophies and stories, creating a visceral journey into his innovative work. A breathtaking explosion of dance, music, and never-before-seen archival material, the film is a timely tribute to one of the world’s greatest modern dance artists. During the years 1942-1972, he made his dances against all odds. He was always ready to place himself in unfamiliar situations and find new solutions. Throughout his career he embraced new technologies, from 16mm, television and video to the use of computers, body sensors and motion-capture technology. Cunningham had arrived in the city in 1939 with an invitation to join Graham’s company. In the 1940s, Merce Cunningham, along with John Cage, began a journey that would change the relationship between contemporary dance, music and art. Cunningham proposed the revolutionary idea that dance could exist independent of music, a concept that would dominate his unparalleled career for more than half a century. He popularized the idea of dance as a visual experience and trained some of the greatest dancers of his time, including Paul Taylor, Viola Farber, Douglas Dunn, Charles Moulton, Deborah Hay, Steve Paxton, Ashley Chen and Jonah Bokaer. 'The United States', and New York in particular, was becoming the global center of artistic innovation. 'Abstract Expressionist' painters like Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock, radical composers including Arnold Schoenberg, and Martha Graham’s revolutionary troupe dominated the cultural scene. In 1944, he presented his first solo concert with composer John Cage, who became his frequent collaborator and lifelong romantic partner. Together they explored groundbreaking artistic philosophies, incorporating experiments with chance into their work as a way to free themselves from preconceived ideas. The pair acquired a third creative partner in 1952 when they met the then- emerging artist Robert Rauschenberg at the experimental, arts-focused 'Black Mountain College' in North Carolina. Like Cunningham and Cage, Rauschenberg resisted labels during his lengthy career, but is widely acknowledged as a forerunner in many art movements that developed after 'Abstract Expressionism'. Without a steady source of income, they collected scrap wood off the street and burned it to keep warm in winter. Cunningham rehearsed in his living space and often alone. In 1953, Cunningham launched 'The Merce Cunningham Dance Company' so he could concentrate full-time on his explorations. "Cunningham" includes a treasure trove of archival materials, a visual record of the dancer’s singular talent, Merce alone and with his company, rehearsing, performing, choreographing, and teaching. Often dressed in rehearsal clothes, he and his dancers bend, leap, spin and fall with abandon, combining what he thought were the best elements of classical ballet with the most interesting innovations in modern dance. One of the most memorable is a Rauschenberg-designed pointillist backdrop used for the original presentation of 'Summerspace', a 1958 collaboration. In the 1960s, Andy Warhol, the major figure of New York avant-garde film world, spent quite a bit of time in Merce’s studio. By the early 1970s, Merce began working with film and video himself primarily with filmmaker Charles Atlas. When Carolyn Brown, the last original member of his first company, left in 1972, that, the end of an era. Dance pioneer Merce Cunningham created some of the most iconic, influential work of his generation, incorporating the groundbreaking artistic ideals of mid-century visual arts and music, and redefining his art form. During a lifetime of artistic engagement with such diverse musicians as John Cage, Robert Rauschenberg, and Andy Warhol, Cunningham created a new dance technique and celebrated movement as manifestation of being human and of being alive. After his death in 2009 at the age of 90, many felt uncertain about the future of his legacy and his fearless innovations. The new documentary "Cunningham" guarantees that his work will live on, in a stunning immersive experience that preserves some of his greatest works. Neither a straightforward biopic nor a traditional concert film, "Cunningham" was conceived as a 93-minute art piece that would tell the master’s story through his work. Combining Cunningham’s fascinating life experiences with his landmark artistic achievements, the film forges a delicate balance between facts and metaphors, exposition and poetry. A tribute to the visionary artist’s creative genius in a journey through the first 30 years of his career in New York City, the film traces the evolution of his thought and channels his spirit. Personal photographs, intimate letters, 16mm and 35mm footage, and home movies of performances, rehearsals, tours and gatherings offer the audience a glimpse of the choreographer’s visionary mind, while excerpts of iconic Cunningham works are performed by the last generation of his dancers and reimagined for '3-D' cinema. A '3D' movie about an avant-garde choreographer? We can make documentaries about choreographers or dancers as people, about life of a dance company and so on. But how to make a film that will allow the audience to experience choreographers work? "Cunningham" is based on an iconic photo of Merce’s dancers posing in the Robert Rauschenberg’s pointillist décor of his piece 'Summerspace', which was taken by Robert Rutledge in 1958. Merce staged this photograph himself by dropping Rauschenberg’s canvas on both the wall and the floor so it surrounded the dancers. It becomes that even back in the 1950s, before Merce developed the idea of an event, he had been longing to create immersive environments for his dances. The film is drawn to the genius of Merce Cunningham, the intricacies of his mind; his approaches that he invented making his dances; and his philosophies that he followed living his life and re-defining ideas about being human. His story is an incredible triumph of the human spirit. During the first 30 years of his career, between 1942-1972, he persevered, with great determination and stamina, to make dances against all odds. He was always ready to get outside himself, to place himself in unknown situations, and find new solutions. All this took place in a unique artistic climate, during the 1950s and 1960s in New York, when Cunningham and his collaborators were united by their poverty and ideas and art and life had virtually no separation. Merce’s dances evoke a sense of timelessness, a space in between rational and irrational, intellectual and emotional, immediate and eternal, that truly renews us. '3D' offers interesting opportunities as it articulates the relationship between the dancers in and to the space, awaking a kinesthetic response among the viewers. It also favors uncut choreographed shots, moving camera, and multiple layers of action in relation to the setting, everything that allows working with Merce’s choreography on screen in new ways. Merce and '3D' represent an idea fit, not only because of his use of space but also because of his interest in every technological advancement of his time, from 16mm film to motion capture, and his willingness to adapt and work in unconventional settings/locations, creating over 700 Cunningham Events, I.e. performances comprised of excerpts from different dances adapted for a specific location with the audience following the dancers. Today, '3D' allows for his dream to come true. The film is a 90-minute artwork in itself, which tells Merce’s story through his dances. It's a hybrid, rooted in both imaginary worlds and moving life experiences. A delicate balance between facts and metaphors, exposition and poetry. A single camera approach is used to choreograph the viewer’s eye, highlighting the dimensional relationships among performers and settings, uniquely enabled by '3D' technology. The aspiration has been to develop a unique language, integrating all the elements of the film in a subtle, distinct and poetic way, in Merce’s spirit. Seeing a dance through the lens of a camera changes everything. While viewing a dance on a stage you are free to look anywhere in the space, whereas the camera has to be carefully and strategically placed as it guides the eye within the limits of its perspective. The lens often skews a shape. For instance, it can make an arm look lifted when it should simply be horizontal or it can distort the spacing dramatically. With the true artistic collaboration that we developed, these small details could be worked out seamlessly and we developed a true understanding for one another’s point of view. Film is forever, so there's an enormous amount of pressure for the performers and an enormous responsibility in making the final choices on the takes. But beyond that trigger of emotion is the fact that he and his early collaborators and dancers tell the story, in their own voices, which gives a weight and power to this film that's undeniable. His willingness to break boundaries has been infectious and engendered courage in all of us. You've to love dancing to stick to it. It gives you nothing back, no manuscripts to store away, no paintings to show on walls and maybe hang in museums, no poems to be printed and sold, nothing but that single fleeting moment when you feel alive.