In what the director describes as a structuralist film due to its rigid and formal architecture, 1+8 by Angelika Brudniak and Cynthia Madansky enraptures the viewer through a profound and lyrical observational documentary of eight border towns in Turkey. It is not lost on me that this movie could not be recreated today due to the current political climate in the region, which make this project the more relevant and urgent.
The opening short lecture by Madansky helped contextualize the project and quickly established her, at least for me personally, as an eloquent, passionate and courageous artist. Her humble description of her travails to finish this project barely made justice to the enormity of the endeavor. Having spent one month in each border town to capture thousands of hours of footage to eventually edit down into this piece is a daunting (and dangerous) project onto itself. The more surprising, and in her words, is the fact that they were just two women and a camera.
From the beginning the film establishes a quiet, respectful and non-confrontational visual stance recurring to static medium-shots. These moments act as like a transporting gateway into the visual moving tableau, making one feel not only connected but also present. The result are haunting moving images that behaved like snapshots that quickly made their way to the subconscious. They are both relatable and totally disconcerting. There are no quick cuts, dissolves or any other cinematic crutches used to manipulate our attention. It is a raw and direct dialogue with the subjects.
A successful stylistic choice by the filmmakers is to suppress sound throughout the film – it is a violent act of confrontation which prompts an immediate sense of desolation. Quietness can often act as the most aggressive form of communication. We jump and cut between action, establishing shots and interviews while gathering situational clues of each locale. And it is though these interviews, which are honest and direct, that we build a context for the hardship and barrenness of their lives.
There is little to celebrate in these towns. They are desolate, aging, poor and riddled with illiteracy and lack of opportunity. These are stories of individuals that seem to have been forgotten by the hand of modernity and technology. Is it really 2012?? Yet, I did not feel like they were being othered nor preyed upon as mere subjects for a great documentary. It strikes me that it was through the honesty and true interest of the filmmakers that they were able to establish a sincere and leveled exchange with subjects. Subjects that skewed female and a mix of old and young.
The one thread that weaves through all these towns is their celebration of music, culture and traditions. Rather than turning against their roots, they hold firmly onto their cultural identities as though it could serve as a buoy drifting towards redemption.
The content is disturbing, sad and infuriating. Without the presence of a traditional script, the central theme and main character becomes the actual hardship and indigence themselves. This film represents less of a cry for help and more a call to action. It is here that I question how and where this content is going to live going forward. I felt a strong sense of urgency to have this be experienced not just by the art going public, but with a wider audience. It is only here that the hardship of filmmakers and most importantly the courage of the participants can be justified.