There have always been “hybrid” documentaries, but at this year’s Berlinale they are especially prominent. Of course, it is difficult to clearly define the concept: not only do the films deal mainly with diversity, but they also differ tremendously from one another.
Let’s begin with In the Intense Now by João Moreira Salles. The Brazilian director blends archive images from the upheavals of May 1968 with holiday movies shot by his mother in 1966 during the Cultural Revolution in China. This highly personal approach is complemented by a marvellous commentary in the style of the great essayistic filmmaker Chris Marker (Sans Soleil, 1983). Salles does not treat the pictures as documents, but puts them into the context of his own memories: Why were they taken? What do they now tell us about Paris, Prague and Brazil in 1986?
The American writer James Baldwin was another great essayist. In I’m Not Your Negro, Raoul Peck links text fragments from the intellectual who died in 1987 with a subjective collage of American black culture in the 1960s. The sharp-tongued humanist becomes a mouthpiece for the oppressed black voice of the time. The film not only shows TV debates with the civil rights leaders Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, but also examples of Hollywood’s ignorance about the life of African Americans (Nobody looked like my father). It is the story of a trauma that was still felt in the Ferguson riots of 2016.
How can it be that a film like this bolsters the spirit whereas the story of a putative hero is so depressing? In Erase and Forget, Londoner Andrea Luka Zimmerman portrays the highly decorated US veteran James “Bo” Gritz. Now 78, Gritz was the prototype for Rambo, among others. As an idol of the patriotic right, the role model of the gun freak has long outlived its purpose, and yet the film seems so shockingly up to date as a psychological study of white America. The only resort left is reductio ad absurdum: In Casting JonBenet, Kitty Green stages a series of fake auditions for the supposed dramatisation of a real-life murder case dating back to 1996. What really happened to the six-year-old beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey? Dozens of candidates tell their version. An impressive blend of documentary and drama, making this a real hybrid film.