SFFilm Tuesday: A broken family & a man on a mission

I saw two very different documentaries Tuesday at the (virtual) SFFilm Festival. One is exceptional. The other was, well, not bad. Remember that you can stream any of these films up until Sunday.

A Radiograph of a Family

It takes a while to get emotionally involved in Firouzeh Khosrovani’s story of her parents’ marriage, but it’s worth it. Her father was secular, while her mother was a very religious Muslim. Going back and forth from Iran and Switzerland through the ’60s and ’70s, they managed to live together. But arguments about raising their daughter, along with the Iranian revolution, the marriage couldn’t last. Khosrovani tells the story mostly through old photos and archival film clips, occasionally turning to the seemingly empty Tehran home where she grew up. Off-screen actors play her parents as they talk and argue.

B- Unseen Skies

This must be at least the third recent documentary I’ve seen about modern surveillance in the world of Facebook. What makes Unseen Skies is that it has a hero: artist, writer, photographer, and activist Trevor Paglen. Director Yaara Bou Melhem and her crew follow Paglen as he goes deep into deserts to photograph satellites in the sky. But way too much time is spent on his Orbital Reflector, a satellite as a piece of art.

SFFilm’s Lili Rodiques moderated a recorded discussion with writer/director/producer Yaara Bou Melhem and Ivan O’Mahoney (but not Paglen). Here are some highlights, edited for brevity and clarity:

  • I got in touch with Trevor about ten years ago while he was looking for black sites. I wanted to make a short about him. But over the years he became so much more prolific that I didn’t want to jam his work into a short.
  • I wanted to bring in the surveillance issue from the start.
  • We tried to show Trevor in almost alien landscapes. We wanted the drone shots to be more than showing off. They needed to mean something.
  • Paglen’s very busy and you never know what’s going to happen next. He needs a lot of flexibility.
  • He’s incredibly prolific. There was so much we couldn’t include without giving it justice.
  • There’s a better understanding about how surveillance promotes the powerful. A lot of policy makers don’t understand how big tech operates. And big tech views us simply as information to be mined.