DIRECTING documentary films, it seems, requires a subtle mix of diplomacy and hard-nosed investigation.
I’m talking to filmmaker Juliet Lamont by phone from Sydney. She’ll be in Canberra to do the Q&A on the opening night of the groundbreaking documentary film festival, “Stronger than Fiction,” running at Palace Electric Cinemas from September 26-29, curated by Deborah Kingsland and Simon Weaving.
Lamont’s film, “Miss Nikki and the Tiger Girls”, traces the rise and rise of Myanmar’s (Burma) first girl-band, set against the background of a puritanical military regime. Stranger and stronger than fiction, indeed.
When her friend Nikki told her on Facebook that she’d just started a girl-band, Lamont and her photographer partner set off for romantic Burma, armed with very small hand-held camera equipment secreted into their cabin baggage.
A bigger problem was that the singers felt threatened by the military government. At that time no cleavage was allowed in the costumes and no political content in the songs.
The girls weren’t standard revolutionaries, she says, they just wanted to sing pop and R&B and “shake their stuff”. But they were revolutionary in one respect – they wrote original music and that had been entirely banned under the military regime.
“It was a quantum leap forward to use their own life stories in their songs,” Lamont says.
“There was a lot of love stuff, but what was transgressive was when the girls talked about the realities of being poor.”
Lamont’s film is strong and strange enough to bring film audiences in, but the documentary film festival gets even more alluring.
Showcasing a dozen films shot in eight countries, it will feature a documentary “pitching” contest for aspiring filmmakers, where local filmmakers have one minute to pitch ideas for documentary films to panel of guest producers. It concludes with “Glow: The Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling” on Sunday, September 29.
Kingsland, a documentary-maker herself, says it takes courage to make cutting-edge feature documentaries. “For ‘The Boy Mir’, Phil Grabsky went to Afghanistan once a year for 10 years, while the crew of ‘Call Me Kuchu’ shared the life-threatening world of gay rights activism in Uganda.”
And there’s a local film. “Gandhi’s Children”, by Canberra director David MacDougall, tells a story of homeless boys living in a shelter in New Delhi. He’ll also hold a Q&A after the screening of his film.
“Stronger Than Fiction” Documentary Film Festival 2013, September 26-29, Palace Electric Cinemas, bookings and program at palacecinemas.com.au/cinemas/electric