More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2016 (20 to 27 October)
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Those outside documentary circles may puzzle that film-makers choose to call their works ‘features’ (e.g. Alison Rose, regarding Star Men (2015)). However, amongst the variety that is documentary, The Confession (2016) is probably best described thus – a quality that may have helped make it ‘a hot ticket’ at Sheffield Doc / Fest (@sheffdocfest).
On first impression, though, one is more reminded of John Akomfrah with The Stuart Hall Project (2013). A very different style, but both Ashish Ghadiali and he observe subjects with powerful intensity : here, Moazzam Begg, and what he says about his life between first going to Bosnia, to see for himself what was happening to Muslims there (as he broadly put it), and his other exploratory travels. Chronologically (but, as far as Begg is concerned, not otherwise), they led to his being detained, in Bagram and then Guantánamo, for almost three years without trial. (In 2014, until charges were dropped, he was also a maximum-security prisoner, under UK counter-terrorism provisions.)
Sensationally promoting technical aspects of Boyhood (2014), or Russian Ark (2002), might make untutored viewers appreciative of apparent real-time verismo, but how will they register the achievements that make The Confession distinctive ? (Not its title, already being this year’s sixth entry on IMDb (@IMDb).) An experienced director of photography, as well as with credits for two shorts (whose themes are complementary), Ghadiali draws them in – almost unperceived – with a highly prepared interview set-up, so they may not realize how he uses it to curate the sense of integrity that they feel. (Subtle sound-design (Luke Shrewsbury) and original scoring (Nitin Sawhney) also create, or accentuate, tensions in the narrative-line.)
Edited from nine hours’ shooting, the interview is occasionally remitted, usually cut together with other material : often, stock footage to indicate countries (or locations) that Begg visited, but also his father’s television avowals of his son’s innocence (or concern for his whereabouts) – and, eventually, Begg interviewed elsewhere.
For, after a few youthful snaps, we keep seeing him in front of us as he is now, but this lets Ghadiali surprise us with Begg on camera, on the Turkish–Syrian border (a trip instrumental in Begg’s remand, pending trial, in HM Prison Belmarsh). Thereafter, the lens prompts us directly :
* What do we think of him ?
* What would we have thought of him then ?
* What is his confession ?
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Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)