Period. End of Sentence takes the Oscar for Best Documentary Short

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“I can’t believe a film about menstruation just won an Oscar!”

Last night Rayka Zehtabchi became the first Iranian woman to win an Oscar for her short documentary Period. End of Sentence. Her film, which is set in the rural Indian district of Hapur explores the effects of deep-rooted stigma surrounding menstruation, and the extraordinary impact that the arrival of a sanitary pad-making machine has on the community.

The social stigma attached to menstruation in India Zehtabchi proves to be both intensely powerful and dangerous. For the women of the Hapur District menstruation is a great source of shame. Each month women are deemed unclean and therefore are unable to enter temples to worship and due limited access to sanitary products resort to often unhygienic and ineffective alternatives. Menstruation can even act as a barrier to education, as young girls often remain at home each month, fall behind with their studies, or drop out altogether. Zehtabchi most strikingly illustrates the influence of this insidious social stigma through the word ‘period’s decided absence in speech. The word is banished to the realm of the unspeakable, its presence in conversation is instead signalled by the embarrassed giggles of young girls, feigned ignorance, and eyes that are inexplicably drawn to the floor.

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But a revolution is forming in the Hapur District. The arrival of a pad-making machine funded by the organisation The Pad Project also signals the arrival of profound change for this community of women. Through producing and distributing their own sanitary pads women redefine the meanings that are attached to their bodies. It is truly inspirational to witness these women gain financial independence, respect from the men in their community, and discover that there is power in being female. The beauty of this story is utterly matched by Zehtabchi’s cinematography as she expertly captures the vibrancy and colour of life in the district and the warmth and sensitivity with which she treats her subjects fills each frame.

The critical recognition Period. End of Sentence has received feels like an important step in combating the taboo that surrounds menstruation, but it is important to acknowledge that this issue is by no means exclusive to developing countries. Despite more than 800 million women worldwide having a period each month period stigma remains a persistent part of our vernacular. On receiving her award last night Rayka Zehtabchi reminds us of this fact, when through her tears she said ‘I’m not crying because I’m on my period or anything…’

If you haven’t already head over to Netflix and give Period. End of Sentence just 25 minutes of your time.

 

 

Ten Meter Tower

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In 2017 Swedish filmmakers Maximilien Van Aertryke and Axel Danielson paid 67 people who had never jumped from a 10 meter diving board the equivalent of $30 to climb the tower and walk to the edge of the platform. But would they jump?

A psychological battle is set. One where the diving platform of Ten Meter Tower becomes the stage and two fears collide. Participants must weigh the intensely physical fear of leaping from a great height and plunging into the water below, with the distinctly social fear of humiliation if they descend the long ladder back down to the poolside. Through their mere presence the filmmakers heighten the social pressure acting upon each participant, but this is also consciously increased through the very visible microphones surrounding the platform and the waiting participants below.

On the platform, participants appear incredibly vulnerable, almost naked and often alone. Thoughts and emotions appear equally exposed. We glimpse startlingly honest portraits of psychological conflict, of mind and body in direct opposition. Many participants visibly wrestle with fear-as they prepare to jump and fail, peer over the edge and withdraw. There is however a real sense of triumph when someone does take the leap, we witness a moment of courage however fleeting. In several beautiful moments we too leave the platform as we watch participants falling in slow motion through the air.

Ten Meter Tower is an unexpectedly funny, and intensely compelling, psychological study that ultimately leaves you thinking could I jump?

Watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5QMlIjSnt_E

Lift

 

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Lift (2001) is Mark Issacs’ debut in Documentary film. It appears remarkably simple in its form, as it remains almost exclusively within the confines of a lift in an East London tower block. Issacs filmed the block’s residents in the lift over the course of two months for sometimes 8 hours a day. The resultant film forms a captivating glimpse into the social fabric of Britain in the early 2000s, and through Issacs’ puncturing of a lift’s societal imperative of silence reveals a wealth of human stories.

The film opens with an invitation to laugh, a moment that foregrounds the centrality of comedy in Lift. Lily an eccentric old Jewish woman incorrectly introduces Issac as a ‘reporter’ whilst she rudely bars a fellow resident from joining her in the lift. The film’s humour is partly aided by the social space of a lift’s pre-existing potential for comedy. Issacs’ film captures the all too familiar awkwardness of sharing this intimate space with a stranger through the residents’ awkward glances to camera and in the moments where the silence feels uncomfortably palpable. The ability of lifts to comically enclose discordant characters Lift also memorably exposes when a young headscarf-wearing girl awkwardly joins an incoherently drunk man. Issacs’ timing and directness of speech make his interventions in the lift equally comedic.

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It is not only Lift’s portrayal of a characteristically British observance of social etiquette that allows this film to comment on British society. The residents seem to exemplify Britain’s, but more specifically London’s, multicultural identity. The film beautifully captures the coexistence of various cultures, nationalities, races and religions in one building. In a particularly touching moment Issacs shares a traditional Bengali delicacy with one of the residents. Lift avoids sentimentality on this subject however, as it also records a certain angst amongst the older white community as we overhear Jean (an older Jewish resident) say ‘I counted the white people last night when I couldn’t sleep.’ The lift space also attains a microcosmic status in more subtle terms. Lift hints at a certain absence of community in modern urban life, exposing how even those who literally live side by side and on top of one another remain isolated.

Whether Issacs chooses for his subjects the residents of a block in East London, lorry drivers bedding down for the night, or men of The City, what remains constant is how his projects compelling engage with universal human experience. Issacs seems to possess the rare ability to sensitively but without sentimentality provoke real emotional honesty and insight from his contributors. Issacs is not interested in documentaries that retell a pre-existing story. His filmmaking is instead a mode that focuses on what is universally human, searching for ‘a sense of discovery’ and reaching for “truth.” As in Etre et Avoir questioning facilitates the film’s introspective aspect. Issacs asks the residents questions like; ‘have you ever been in love?’, ‘what have you been thinking about today?’ and ‘what did you dream about last night?’ The answers are unexpected, funny and often moving, like when Issacs asks ‘what is your best memory from your childhood’ to a drunken resident who replies ‘seeing a golden eagle.’ It is through these questions that notions of love, loneliness, death and faith enter the lift, a turn inward that is signalled by shots that take us inside the lift shaft. The interiority that the lift seems to foster comes in part from its character as a transient space. Issacs favours these types of spaces in his films, the kind that exist just outside of the everyday and which people occupy only fleetingly. This consciousness of space permits the lift to become confessional, an element that enhances the thoughtful quality of this film.

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Although Lift is the shortest of the films I have collected so far, its impact by no means reflects this. As a film that documents the effects of ‘a stranger appearing one day in a lift’ its simplicity is deceptive. Issacs powerfully finds human complexity within the familiar in this captivating film that is full of humour.

More like this?

I would really encourage watching more from Marc Issacs, especially When Night Falls or Calais.

Watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FJNAvyLCTik