Documentaries watched, 2021 Jan - May Edition

May 11, 2021 · posted in Personal · 4 min read

Documentaries watched, 2021 Jan - May Edition

Reviews of The Minimalists: Less is Now, Keep Rolling, My Octopus Teacher, The Kingmaker and Stray

The Minimalists: Less Is Now

Following Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus (AGAIN), filmmaker / youtuber Matt D'Avella (re)directed the EXACT SAME STORE with similar personal testimonials on practicing minimalism.

I was wondering if Netflix has played the old film the whole time. As another review said, "Would be more minimalist to just have the one previous documentary".

This is the lowest rating I have given to any film.

Keep Rolling

The traditional Hong Kong Cinema has always been masculine with gangsters, police, kung fu, or a mix of all. That's why Ann Hui's work is unique and I think she is the most respectable auteur in Hong Kong cinema. Fullstop.

At the age of 73, she is still making films and have publicity tour around China, as the documentary captured. Her passion for films, working tirelessly clearly matched with the film title "Keep Rolling". Even though her work was not well-received by the mass market every time, her style in social criticsm, being a women filmmaker, and at the same time still down-to-earth as a local housewife (師奶) has encourage me to follow her filmography after watching Keep Rolling.

My Octopus Teacher

Even though "My Octopus Teacher" has won Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, I'm troubled by the film's narration and how the documentary framed the octopus as the savior of Mr. Foster's life. It shouldn't.

The film is rather plain, not a single soul other than Mr. Foster were interviewed in the film, which made me wonder about his credibility (as he is a filmmaker not a marine biologist). Even from layman or hobbiest perspective, I would really appreciate the voices of the others feeling about the octopus. Maybe that's why it's "My" Octopus Teacher, not anyone else, not even his son as he was not audible in the film. As The Guardian's review also mentioned there might be a projection of his enthusiasim on the octopus.

Also, may I also point out he acknowledged in the beginning of the film that he was not a good father and then he spent more time with an octopus instead of his son? And magically at the end of the film, his son conveniently appears and dives with him and have a happy ending.

The Kingmaker

I'm amazed by the filmmakers being able to gain access & trust straight to the corridor of power of The Philippines. Starting with the interview of Imelda Marcos at her palace-like residence, the film introduced her as an exiled royalty, who hope to restore the status of her dead husband president. But as the film goes, it peels back layers and uncover more truth about political history of The Philippines and she was staging a comeback.


The cinematography of Stray beautifully captures the cityscape of Istanbul from the point of view of stray dogs. Working with a minimal set of crew, the director explained in Q&A, that she used handheld stabilized camera shootingfrom a low angle point of view while her local producer recorded the sound of the environment.

The approach of direct cinema, with more than 500 hours of footage captured (aacc to the director) paid off in presenting the political & social turmoil in Turkey, not to mention most of the subjects are refugees from Syria or Turkmenistan. Dispite their hardship living on the street, these stray dogs are still being taken care of, fed by strangers and slept on carpet.

However, using Greek philosophers' quote to cut scenes is a confusing creative decision for me. I felt only the last Orhan Pamuk's quote or the history of banishing stray dogs in 1911 (as director mentioned in Q&A) is more relevant to the narration.