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3 BIFF Docus Worth Watching


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There’s only one thing worse than finding parking in Boulder, and it’s not having a ticket to the Boulder International film Festival. Named one of the best film festivals in the nation, this festival has something for everyone.

The Missing Picture

Cambodia/France, Feature Documentary

When the film began, people shuffled uncomfortably in their seats. I thought to myself, “is this how the whole movie is going to be?” Then suddenly we began to catch on. The piece was called The Missing Picture for a reason.  When Americans carpet-bombed Cambodia during the Vietnam War, it gave way to the rise of Khmer Rouge and their new leader, Pol Pot. He then forced the entire capital of 2 million into labor camps, including director, Rithy Pan, of The Missing Picture as an 11-year-old boy and the death of his entire family.

The film was the recreation of Pan’s horrendous childhood memories––yet no pictures are left of this place in time. Instead of a traditional recreation, Pan’s story was presented in a multimedia form. Clay figurines replace Pan’s entire family, whom he lost all of during Khmer Rouge. The figures are placed in intricate dioramas while actual video propaganda from the period is used throughout.

But it wasn’t the haunting expressions on the clay figurines. It wasn’t the ghostly videos of workers moving dirt on an eternal loop. It wasn’t the painstakingly accurate recreation of Cambodia landscape and Pan’s childhood home. It was the quiet, strong voice of Rithy Pan narrating in an unforgettable poetic pace.

There were moments where the emotion was almost too much to handle. A few quotes like, “I wish to be rid this picture of hunger and suffering so I show it to you,” come to mind. No longer were people shuffling in their seats, everything was still. The movie ended with a happy song from a lost time, shocking the audience back into reality. There’s no wonder this picture was nominated as best Foreign Film at the 2014 Academy Awards.

Particle Fever

USA, Feature Documentary

The last thing that’s expected from a documentary about perhaps the greatest scientific discovery of the past few centuries was frequent laughter and even a rap about the Higgs boson. The filming of Particle Fever takes place during the creation of the most expensive and largest experiment, the Hadron Collider. Known as one of the greatest engineering feats of mankind, its purpose is to collide particles in order for particle theorists to perform experiments. For someone who’s not savvy in the sciences, the hugeness of this film set in pretty quickly. It was announced that there was a Nobel Prize winner in the audience, seated about 15 rows up along with a plethora of intellectuals from the University of Boulder’s expanse of professors and doctors.

Particle Fever was visually and conceptually astonishing, and it had to be. If you’re telling the story of a science experiment involving 10,000 people, going on since the 1980s, there has to be some air of spectacular to the film. It would have been easy for the documentary to have an arrogant feel about it, but there was nothing but a humbling tone. Whether they selected the particular scientists featured in the film based on humor or rank, a roaring humor pressed on throughout the movie.

The movie’s fast pace created intense suspense, which made the end all the more better. Ending in a roar of applause, the present director, Mark Levinson, should have felt proud.

Mistaken for Strangers

USA, Feature Documentary

If you listen to The National, you’d be familiar with their song which gave the film it’s name, “Mistaken for Strangers.” The documentary is made from the point of view of Matt Berninger’s little brother, Tom Berninger. He was invited along on the band’s biggest tour yet and fortunate for us brought a camera. Self-proclaimed metal-head, Tom becomes distressed by the indie-rock world and turns to the bottle after being fired by his own brother. With over 200 hours of footage, he creates a hilarious and almost self-deprecating depiction of band life, family life and the music culture of indie-rock.

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