There’s a horrible timeliness to the two most striking works at this year’s ‘docfest’: The Valley, which unblinkingly chronicles a gory Albanian-Serb face-off in Kosovo’s Drenica Valley, and Hitman Hart: Wrestling With Shadows, an improbably enthralling portrait of Bret “Hitman” Hart, the most famous member of the all-wrestling Canadian Hart clan, the youngest of whom, Owen Hart, was killed in a freak accident on live TV less than two weeks ago.
British documentarian Dan Reed and his crew spent last summer in war-torn central Kosovo with both Albanian and Serb factions, crossing front lines at great personal risk. Told almost exclusively in the words of the parties involved (often accompanied by sickening images of burned-out villages and charred bodies), The Valley is an admirably even-handed document, tunneling straight to the heart of the intractable beliefs that have since festered into murderous righteousness. Without ever attempting to make the conflict any less complicated than it is, the film is more incisive and meticulous than any written commentary or TV news report could hope to be.
Wrestling With Shadows, arguably the most deftly constructed work here, follows one painful year in the life of Hitman Hart— a year in which the superstar wrestler grapples with the waning popularity of his good-guy persona, butts heads with creepy World Wrestling Federation honcho Vince McMahon, and ultimately, in his final WWF match, is thwarted by a dramatic double-cross. It’s a morality tale that would be too pat were it scripted (indeed, the Hart family itself— gruff, seemingly sadistic patriarch, resigned mother, eight pro-wrestling sons, and four daughters married to wrestlers— is a phenomenon beyond fiction). Director Paul Jay alternately underplays the Hitman’s borderline-surreal dilemmas and exploits them for maximum drama. The result is fascinating, affording access to an existence so fake it’s real.
Opening and closing night offerings are somewhat lighter. The festival kicks off tonight at the BAM Rose Cinemas with Roko and Adrian Belic’s Genghis Blues, which follows blind San Franciscobased blues musicianself-taught throat-singer Paul Pena on a trip to the central Asian nation of Tuva, where he takes part in an interna-
tional throat-singing competition. Overnarrated and amateurish in spots, the film gets by on the sheer charisma of its subject. (As with Hitman, there’s a sad footnote— Pena was recently diagnosed with cancer.)
Sunday’s closing night film, Jesper Jergil’s The Humiliated— a behind-the-scenes look at The Idiots, Lars von Trier’s film (supposedly the first shot under Dogma rules) about a group of young people who engage in “spassing” (pretending to be retarded)— does little to suggest that the manifesto is much more than an elaborate prank. In any case, the documentary’s most valuable insights are less concerned with the experimental filmmaking process than with the director’s enormously self-absorbed insecurity (which may be affected or real, but is revealing either way). Von Trier seems even more pathological than his press suggests— neurotic, egomaniacal, temperamental, hypochondriacal (his chronic fear is “cancer of the balls”), and tormented by his problematic relationship with his actresses, defined mainly by sexual tension and head games.
Among other highlights, Nick Kurzon’s Super Chief is a bracing account of an Indian-reservation election in which the incumbent is corrupt and apparently invincible. Jessica Yu’s The Living Museum, about the artist community at a Queens psychiatric center, is conventionally put together but often affecting. There are also two skillful rock docs. Jem Cohen’s Instrument splices 10 years worth of Fugazi footage into a vivid (if noticeably overlong) collage. Grant Gee’s Meeting People Is Easy sets out to depict Radiohead as Alienated Rock Stars, and succeeds well enough despite relying predictably on the designer ennui and paranoia that clogged the band’s much-loved OK Computer.