Three outstanding documentaries in competition at the 58th Ann Arbor Film Festival focus on striking struggles to create and survive under extreme conditions. In Camp on the Wind’s Road, playing March 26 at 7:30 p.m. at the Michigan Theater, director Nataliya Kharlamova follows a young woman in the remote mountains of southern Russia trying to hold her family together after the death of her father. You can almost feel the bite of the titular wind in Kharlamova’s austerely gorgeous wide shots of the natural expanse in which the family’s small farm is located. The adversity and isolation are at times staggering, as the family squabbles and struggles to move on without its patriarch. And yet Kharlamova also captures many moments of deep warmth and love. Camp on the Wind’s Road is a deeply intimate and affecting portrait of grief with an endearingly fierce protagonist at its center.
In What We Left Unfinished, screening March 29 at 1 p.m. at the Michigan, director Mariam Ghani tells the story of five Afghani films abandoned mid-production when the Taliban took control of Afghanistan. Their directors and stars wryly recall the arduous process of making their films under the only slightly more permissive Communist government, but their love for their work is still obvious. One director’s regret for being unable to complete his work is still strong decades later, but he says he wouldn’t want to finish it now. “We would need a way to link the past to the present, intellectually, in a new script,” he says. In a way, Ghani does just that for the filmmakers, cleverly choosing excerpts from their recovered and restored footage to illustrate their stories. It’s a lovely tribute to a group of truly dedicated artists.
Faire-Part, screening March 28 at 1:30 p.m. at the Michigan, is a different kind of look at the creative process under inhospitable conditions. Congolese-born directors Nizar Saleh and Paul Shemisi and Belgian-born directors Rob Jacobs and Anne Reijniers grapple with the difficulty of capturing on-screen the spirit of the Democratic Republic of Congo and its relationship with its former colonizer Belgium. They focus ample attention on a variety of striking street performances, many of them addressing the country’s politics in arresting fashion, in the capital city of Kinshasa. But the directors frequently turn the camera on themselves, repeatedly returning to their own painstaking attempts to write and record a voiceover that adequately sums up their project and its approach. The lasting wounds inflicted by colonialism are keenly felt in the film, as both the filmmakers and their subjects confront the challenge of asserting and expressing cultural identity in a nation repeatedly pillaged and subjugated by others. Their passionate, angry, lively, and beautiful film is at least a small victory in that pursuit.
The 58th Ann Arbor Film Festival runs March 24-29.