There are stories that dominate the news for weeks and there are those that stay for years. When images of refugees crossing the Mediterranean from Turkey to Greece, walking over the Balkan and arriving in different states of uncertainty became more prominent in newspapers in the late summer of 2015, you could already sense that not one but thousands of stories were waiting to be told in the upcoming years. People liked eating human stories, as expressed by a reporter in the film.
The topic is still very hot two years later, and films, both feature and documentary, have tackled it in various ways. Everyone from politicians to professional online news commentators have expressed their feeling of being oversaturated with the issue, which poses the question if we need to see more footage of it.
Orban Wallace says we do. The director's first feature documentary Another NewsStory about the refugees arriving to Europe celebrated its world premiere in the documentary competition at Karlovy Vary International Film Festival.
The film turns its camera to something different from what we've seen so far: the coverage itself and the people behind it. Another News Story is exploring who are these reporters, who exchange their comfortable lives for a nomadic lifestyle under conditions extreme at times. How important is the fact that they can leave any time? The film travels from Lesbos (Greece) where boats arrive daily, over the Balkan route to Western Europe - following refugees and reporters, exploring these issues.
Picking protagonists from both groups would theoretically leave space for their stories to intertwine and unhitch. Unfortunately, that's what breaks the film's neck. There is no narrative to connect them and neither of them is done justice in the end. Announced as a film about journalists, Another News Story gives them less than half of the screen time and when the journalists appear, their lives are not explored very deeply; everything remains on a wait-for-two-sentences-to-get-a-catchy-third-one kind of level. It works a couple of times, especially with statements like There is no such thing as slow news, only lazy journalists or I want the rest of the world to feel and smell what is happening here at their dinner parties. We never see beyond that though. Despite meeting some of the protagonists a second or a third time during the route, we never really get to know them. The supposed leads become potentially interesting side characters.
Another News Story does care about the refugees, but it presents another problem. Caring is fine, but the film betrays its subjects by choosing an overly emotional style to tell the story, using slow motion and a seemingly endless score. Some of the most compelling shots occur, when the filmmakers, unlike other reporters, follow a group of refugees through the woods to cross a border at night. We haven't seen such images of hope, fear, caution and determination before because it goes beyond regular reporting. The film seems to propose an alternative to the fast-paces news cycle, right? That's when the music starts playing. Not just any music, but an orchestral score that could just as well be used in a suspenseful preparation scene of a heist in a film like Mission: Impossible (I admit I haven't watched it still, but I assume that's what it sounds like before the main theme is introduced).
The filmmakers are trying to make the human stories more digestible and end up taking advantage of the same principle they try to criticize. Could that be a meta-level comment on the way how easily a story can be sensationalized by the use of dramatic music, close-ups of kids and hectic editing? Maybe. The director has a background in music videos and TV ads that can be very self-aware, but tend to prefer style over story, which seems to be the case here too. Even if not, what would be the point of using half the screen time to reproduce the images you criticize in the other half? Want to go meta? Show yourself, get in front of the camera. Show us how you struggled with these issues and could not solve them eventually.
The last 15 minutes of the film suddenly take place in Paris after the Bataclan attacks. A reporter says she finds it difficult to talk about the current refugee issues because it is a story with so many levels. Another News Story is a film that has certainly realized that, but it tries to solve the problem by putting all the levels together in a pancake pile, with music in between and style on top, to make it more edible. Ultimately, it leaves you stuffed, with a taste of everything and nothing.
Name: Cora Frischling
"Another News Story" by Orban Wallace (UK)
KVIFF - Karlovy Vary International Film Festival 2017 - Documentary Films (Competition)
C. Photo Credit: Another News Story (2017)