Tag Archives: Errol Morris

The B-Side

14 Jul

‘The B-Side’ Brings Pioneer Cambridge Photographer Elsa Dorfman Out From Behind The Camera

A portrait of Elsa Dorfman from July 2007. (Courtesy Neon) 

The latest documentary from revered local filmmaker Errol Morris is essentially a love letter to his longtime friend and fellow Cantabrigian, Elsa Dorfman.

“The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography” profiles the life of the woman who spent more than 30 years profiling others in her studio. She was a pioneer of photography, best known for her 20×24 inch Polaroid portraits. Given that Morris’ lens has been trained on such diverse and idiosyncratic subjects as pet cemeteriesrenown cosmologist Stephen Hawking and an off-kilter Holocaust denier, “The B-Side” may seem something of a whimsy by comparison, but it’s Morris’ most intimate and warmest output to date.

Elsa Dorfman. (Courtesy Neon)
Elsa Dorfman. (Courtesy Neon)

Morris first met Dorfman when she photographed his son — then 5, now 30 years old — and has had the urge to make this film for some time.

“I’ve known Elsa a long, long time,” Morris says in a conversation with Dorfman on her back patio just outside Harvard Square. “I had the idea for this movie for a while, and when I told Elsa she was skeptical.” Continue reading

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The Look of Silence

30 Jul

A scene from Joshua Oppenheimer’s documentary "The Look of Silence." (Courtesy Drafthouse Films and Participant Media)

The Look of Silence,” the new movie from filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer, delves into the same period of bloody unrest that marred Indonesia in the mid-1960s that his highly lauded 2012 documentary, “The Act of Killing” plumbed, but from an entirely different angle.

“Killing,” which was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary, allowed the sadistic perpetrators behind the mass executions to put their own spin on their unconscionable deeds, but not without Oppenheimer’s subtle, yet biting illumination of the heinous nature of their transgressions and the unrighteous impunity they received from a capitulating government looking to bury the past and move on. “Silence,” by stark contrast, is the salving counter flow to “Killing,” a cathartic podium for the survivors and family of the victims who live with daily reminders of the ghastly past and the constant duress of a reoccurrence.

How Oppenheimer arrived at such a place of riveting paradox, ghostly horrors and egregious complacency is almost as compelling a story as the ones told in his films and the tumultuous history of the Islamic archipelago. As a college graduate in his 20s, Oppenheimer signed on with the International Union of Food and Agricultural Workers to make a documentary somewhere in a developing nation to highlight workers’ rights violations on plantations and mass producing farms.

“It could have been anywhere,” the filmmaker recalls, “you’d think  South America or Africa, but I went to Indonesia.” While working on the documentary Oppenheimer found it difficult to get the workers, who were working under what the director calls “slave-like conditions,” to open up. “There were these thugs there that kept silencing them. The workers were really fearful and when someone finally said something they told me about 1965.”

Oppenheimer who studied filmmaking at Harvard and resides in Copenhagen, admittedly (at the time) didn’t know the full extent of the atrocities that lay in Indonesia’s bloody past. Back in the mid-1940s, the Dutch colony won its independence from the Netherlands after the island was released by the Japanese at the end of the Second World War. Its first president, Sukarno, a galvanizing hand in the quest for independence, would lead the country for nearly 20 years until the September 30th Movement, an attempted coup allegedly initiated by the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI) — there has been speculation of a plot from within the military — that would send the island nation into turmoil — something that the gripping historical drama, “The Year of Living Dangerously” (1982), starring Mel Gibson and Sigourney Weaver, captured quite well.  Continue reading