YOLO ★★★★


My capsule review from my TIFF Wavelengths coverage for MUBI:

Much like Bruce Baillie’s films back in the 1960s and 70s, there’s greatness in what Ben Russell’s work accomplishes that is all too easy to miss. That’s because he makes it look easy, and because his films provide a valuable human commodity that is not only in short supply, but whose value is too often misunderstood. Russell is a cosmopolitan filmmaker who moves freely throughout the world without a hint or pretension, without an iota of vanity or privilege. He just has a boundless, honest curiosity about other people and they way they live, and his films consistently exhibit this since of openness and collaboration. Russell has certain technical means and shares them, and as a result gets to partner up with folks all over the world who are eager to have fun and introduce their own unique visions to all interested viewers, anywhere. Russell’s cinema has nothing to do with “anthropology.” These films are documents of people learning, playing, screwing around, and the fun is infectious.

We sometimes don’t understand how important fun can be in art, and how people are more likely to show us who they really are when they are relaxed and happy, than when they are struggling to prove some point. And, interestingly enough, points are often made in the interstices of the pleasures of the foreground. YOLO is a silly title. It’s taken right off the silly hat of one of the participants (members of the Eat My Dust youth collective in Soweto, South Africa), who are performing for and with the camera. Together with Russell, they stand atop the former location of the Sans Souci Cinema, which was destroyed by fire in 1995. (The cinema, in Soweto’s Kliptown district, is a historic site for the Apartheid resistance movement.) Using mirror fragments and hand tools, Russell and friends produce a sort of Michael Snow homage, inverting land and sky, making revolutions with whatever they grab from the rubble. Staking out their claim on history, these young people declare this to be the Central Region, smash it up, and start again. No time for rules: you only live once.