Wednesday, 8 June 2011


A group of cattle is herded around an enclosure in relative silence, until the familiar rambling of a rodeo announcer intrudes upon the scene. This relationship between man and animal is enforced repeatedly throughout legendary documentarian Frederick Wiseman’s study of packing plants, Meat. Humans hide behind gigantic, intimidating machines, often heard but not as often seen. Cows and sheep are processed rather than raised, clamped between pieces of metal and hung on large hooks. Occasionally the camera takes a break from the killing floors to sit amongst those who deal in meat. Men on phones, some clad in ten-gallon hats as if fulfilling a stereotype, seduce potential buyers with misleading statistics. At one moment in the film, a group of Japanese tourists are taken around the plant, slavishly jotting down even the most frivolous details.

As usual, Wiseman does not offer any singular commentary, and with a subject matter which is a constant hot button in many circles, even rivalling some human rights issues, one gets the feeling that Wiseman deliberately avoided being more pronounced in his critique of the more inhumane practices of these packing plants. However, it is important to remember that Wiseman had previously documented more shocking animal cruelty in a research lab in Primate, an institution with arguably more responsibility towards their subjects. While Wiseman’s film does grant the viewer exclusive access to the domain of its subject, it does not feel like a particularly unique perspective, nor does it compare with Wiseman’s other in-depth documentaries.

Saturday, 4 June 2011


The residents of Belene, a small Bulgarian town, have been waiting for the construction of a nuclear power plant for over twenty years, and watch the cranes and clouds of smoke in anticipation. Aside from the sudden influence of industrialisation, the townspeople only seem to have one problem – a mosquito infestation. Some residents have found innovative ways to deal with them, such as switching on a high-power fan or vacuuming the air at random intervals, but before long it becomes clear that this fixation is a mask for a number of other problems which lie just beneath the surface. The camera takes on the role of casual observer, allowing each resident to tell their story to the audience.

Andrey Paounov’s shrewd documentary asks many questions and leaves the answers, if any, to the viewer, and as a result it is difficult to understand the intended effect. Each interviewee offers a unique perspective on the town’s many issues, and the cumulative effect is somewhat depressing. A sinister commentary is made on the town’s future when it is revealed that the ex-mayor, the man who was responsible for much of Belene’s city planning and industrial development, also played a key role in the local Communist-era labour camp. While the film does concern itself heavily with the impossibility of leaving the past behind, Paounov does not forget to balance his piece with humour and wit, and at times it feels as if Christopher Guest and his team have taken on small-town Eastern Europe.