Doc/Fest Reviews: Time Trial, What Is Democracy? and The Silence of Others

Time Trial

Time Trial opens with some breath-taking footage of cyclist David Millar. He was one of our most successful cyclists when he started riding professionally in 2000, and he even won Tour de France heats in 2003, but it soon became clear he cheated. He did it on drugs.

At the start of the film, two years after his ban, he’s served his suspension and is competing to regain a place in the UK team. He needs to prove himself. He’s wiser and has a new attitude, but he’s also two years older. Can he still compete at this level?

To tell his story this exhilarating and hugely enjoyable film becomes an immersive experience, coming as close as possible to showing us what it is like in the peloton – the body of cyclists that flashes past anyone who goes to see the race. In this film, we are in there with him, hurtling though the countryside, with details blurring like a watercolour painting. David bluntly and honestly narrates what could well be his last session in the saddle if his times are not good enough. We see the intricate relationship between the cyclist, road crew, fellow competitors, manic fans, and the media circus surrounding it all. This is a great documentary, with a brilliant score by US composer Dan Deacon. It skilfully tells one man’s story, showing how the human spirit driven by forces deeper than success and glory.

This is the first documentary by director Finlay Pretsell, and can be seen on Saturday and on Monday at this year’s DocFest. Tickets here

What is Democracy?

We take the word democracy for granted, but this film asks awkward questions about what it means for people to rule over others, and how democracy came to be regarded as the ideal way to run society.

Director Astra Taylor takes us on a very personal and philosophical journey from Ancient Athens’ ground-breaking experiments in self-government to the roots of capitalism in medieval Italy. Along the way she talks to trauma surgeons, activists, factory workers, asylum seekers, former prime ministers and others. This diverse cast confronts vital questions:  Who gets to participate in democracy? What is freedom? Can democracy even exist in an era of concentrated wealth? How can the people reclaim the power that is supposed to be theirs?

She films in Greece as they struggle with a mounting refugee crisis and financial turmoil, and in the US, where the democratic process has resulted the election of Trump, and the country struggles with its racist past and an ever widening gap between rich and poor.

While touching on some of the most urgent issues of our day; inequality, xenophobia, education, globalization, the film reminds us that our challenges are not exactly new. We may think we are on the cutting edge, charting an unprecedented course, but age-old debates resurface and quotes from figures like Plato and Rousseau remain shockingly relevant to our current predicaments.

Instead of providing easy answers, this film reminds us that wrestling with ideas is central to the ongoing struggle to rule ourselves. If we want to live in democracy, we must first ask what the word even means.

What is Democracy? is showing at this year’s Docfest on Saturday 9th and Tuesday 12th June. Tickets here.

The Silence of Others

Most people have no idea what really went on in Spain within their own lifetimes.

When Franco died in 1975, Spain was freed from years of right-wing dictatorship. The left fought for an amnesty for all political prisoners, which came in 1977. But along with it, came an amnesty for the all the crimes committed under the Franco regime, which became known as the Pact Of Forgetting. Today, the horrors of the regime are fading, but there are still those who were victims of torture, execution and other despicable acts. They have spent years trying to find a voice, and this film provides it. At the same time it confronts the question of how a country transitions from dictatorship to democracy, without ignoring crimes committed against humanity.

Francisco Franco was very much seen as fighting against communism when he came to power on 1936. World leaders from the Pope to several US presidents met him and by doing so confirmed his legitimacy. When he died, the ‘Forgetting’ was a very convenient political manoeuvre to allow the same politicians, police chiefs and judges who had carried out the atrocities under his regime, to carry on in power.

In Germany, there are no streets named after Hitler or his associates, yet in the heart of Madrid and elsewhere, the streets bear the names of men who, whilst not war criminals, are accused of crimes against humanity.

And the crimes weren’t just limited to torture and murder. Whe he came to powere, children with ‘unsuitable’ parents were removed from their families given to more worthy people. As Franco’s regime became established, this became the norm for anyone deemed to have too many children, or to be an unmarried mother.

Other countries followed Spain’s example and passed amnesty laws when dictatorships fell, seeing this as a path to a more peaceful way of life. But one by one, these counties could not ignore the voices of the persecuted, and these laws were repealed. The perpetrators of injustice were hunted down brought to trial, qwith the notable exception of Spain. Frustrated by the Spanish courts refusal to act, the campaigners need to look across international borders for help.

This is as important a film as you will see at this entire DocFest. This film does not mark the end to the struggle for justice, but it is a landmark on the road to righting the wrongs done in one of our neighbouring countries.

The Silence of Others is showing at this year’s DocFest on Saturday 9th and Monday 11th June. Tickets here.

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