It’s Oscar season, meaning there’s a bevy of quality films being released in cinemas or on streaming this month! Naturally, a lot of them have been making the rounds at beloved Singaporean arthouse theater, The Projector. From West Side Story and Licorice Pizza, to The Worst Person in the World and Spencer, to Parallel Mothers and The Tragedy of Macbeth – there’s an embarrassment of cinematic riches at our local indie movie haven. But besides the fictional features on offer, The Projector will also be exclusively screening a pair of outstanding non-fiction films – both of which are competing in the Best Documentary Feature category at the 94th Academy Awards.
First let’s take a look at Flee, a poetic and engrossing animated documentary coming out of Denmark. Directed by Jonas Poher Rasmussen, this moving film is the true story of Amin Nawabi, a refugee from Afghanistan who fled the country as a child, along with his family, following the Taliban’s takeover.
As recounted by Amin to his friend (Rasmussen), we follow his harrowing journey from war-torn Kabul, to living in poverty as an illegal immigrant in Russia, to a frightening boat trip across the Baltic, to a border crossing through dark and freezing woods, to being held in an Estonian detention center, before finally being smuggled in Denmark where he found asylum.
Now on the eve of his marriage to his soon-to-be husband, Amin valiantly tries to unpack the painful secrets of his past, his survivor’s guilt, his fears about his family’s reaction to his homosexuality, and the lingering psychic damage of his ordeal. This intimate first-person confessional almost serves as a therapy session – a way for Amin to shed the burdens of his suppressed emotions and memories.
Blurring the traditional boundaries of documentary by combining archival news footage with beautiful animation, Rasmussen has crafted a wrenching memoir that probes the traumas of war and displacement in some very intimate and powerful ways. Told with ample empathy and without sensationalization, Flee is a humanist refugee story that is much in the same vein as Persepolis.
Flee opens at The Projector on March 10th.
Writing With Fire
Next up is Writing With Fire, the feature debut of directors Rintu Thomas and Sushmit Ghosh. This is an inspiring journalism documentary following the brave editors and reporters of India’s only women-run newspaper, the Khabar Lahariya.
In some ways, the concerns of Khabar Lahariya are the same as any journalist – covering the news and concerns of their communities, exposing corruption and injustice, and navigating the difficult transition from print to digital. But in many other ways, these particular journalists are extraordinary. What makes them unusual is that they are all Dalit women, operating in Uttar Pradesh, one of the most patriarchal regions of India. Dalits are among the lowest in India’s caste system, and Dalit women are frequently targets of sexual assault and violence.
As viewers sit in on editorial meetings, training sessions and go out in the field with these women, Writing With Fire becomes a compelling look at the personal and professional sides of their work, offering up a wide-ranging survey of a vital outlet with many urgent stories to tell. From veteran editor-in-chief Meera who is investigating the disturbing story of a repeated rape victim who has been ignored by the police – to 20-year-old Suneeta, a former a child laborer who now crusades against the illegal mining industry – we’re thrown into the thick of the process of these scrappy reporters.
Facing caste discrimination, resistance from men, and becoming the targets of powerful officials are just everyday dangers for these women, yet they courageously continue to strive for their ideals of truth and justice. Writing With Fire’s chronicle of the struggles and triumphs of Khabar Lahariya is an illuminating look at what can happen when the most marginalized members of a society empower themselves.
Writing With Fire opens at The Projector on March 17th.