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Long Films
by Becky Tan

I have always said that no film should be longer than 100 minutes. If you can’t say it in that time, forget it. So how did I end up sitting through two of the three longest films at the festival?

In GENUS PAN (LAHI, HYOP) (2020) by Lav Diaz from the Philippines, Baldo, Paulo and Andres decide to leave their island, where they are practically slaves, working as gold miners, but handing over all proceeds to others. A boatman drops them off at the back of their own home island of Hugaw. They believe that by avoiding the regular path, they can enter without having to pay a fee. So, now throughout most of a 157-minute film we watch them push branches out of the way, climb over irregular grounds, pray (not play) in the water, argue about money, and discuss being humble and patient. All of this in black and white with little background music. They see a black horse and learn that they are cursed and one or all will die. Great – that should end the film. At the beginning there is a radio program in which we learn that “Pan” means chimpanzee. In the end we are supposed to realize the similarity between humans and monkeys. I left the film confused and wondering how it could have shown not only here in Hamburg, but also at the Venice Film Festival, and then a few days later at the London Film Festival. I heard from a colleague, that 157 minutes is short for a Diaz film. He is famous for EVOLUTION OF FILLIPINO FAMILY (2004) (11 hours), HELE SA HIWAGANG HAPIS (2016)(8 hours), ANG BABAENG HUMAYO (2017) (4 hours) or MULA SA KUNG ANO ANG NOON (2014) (5.5 hours). So, I can’t complain, and I have definitely widened my horizon.

Even longer (272 minutes) was CITY HALL (2020), a documentary by director Frederick Wiseman. Here, in the city hall of Boston, we follow the mayor of the city, Marty Walsh, a member of the Democratic Party. Day to day he either stands in front of an audience or sits around a table with others. This is called Democracy in Action. Some of the endless topics are: security (police and fire department), property tax, garbage trucks, water, education, culture, traffic, equal pay, cannabis, libraries, parks, pharmaceutical costs, free food, evictions, senior citizens’ homes, churches, young homeless, Boston harbor, the disabled and access to public buildings, the Trump administration, the NRA and guns, and the NAACP. He performs the marriage of a gay couple; he follows the Boston Red Sox football team, which had just won the World Series. Walsh says, “People don’t understand what we are doing” and “this is not always easy” (working with a constrained budget). While watching the film, I began to lose concentration as each scene seemed to be a repeat of what I had just seen. It wasn’t until later, when I couldn’t get the film out of my mind, that I realized how useful, even powerful, CITY HALL is. Boston is definitely successful in its endeavors, similar to Hamburg. Other cities in the USA, operating under similar laws, could learn much from the work in Boston, a truly intercultural metropolis. Perhaps, being an American myself, I can be proud, although I’ve only visited Boston once. Director Wiseman was born in Boston 90 years ago; this is his 45th film.

The third long film was DOCH DAS BÖSE GIBT ES NICHT (2020), shown in a relatively short 140 minutes. Directed by Mohammad Rasoulof, it won best film at the 2020 Berlinale. Perhaps I can add it to my long films seen when it comes into the cinema. The original opening in Hamburg was scheduled for November 5, but Corona lockdown has influenced that plan so far.