Joost Vandebrug’s debut feature Bruce Lee and the Outlaw has its roots in his career as a photographer as well as in the very first representation of Romania as a “free country” in the international media back in the 1990s. The orphanages of horror, as the Romanian press called the shelters, in which thousands of children were kept in miserable conditions due to the chaotic state in which Romania found itself during the political transition, were much discussed in media and remain a stain on Romanian history. Nicu, also known as Haiducul/The Outlaw, takes Vanderbrug’s camera into the forgotten underground world of Bucharest.
This underworld is a home for homeless people. An extremely poor community is guided by the so-called ‘Bruce Lee’, a problematic paternal figure who shares everything with his ‘sons’, from love to drug abuse. The Jean Rouchian footage of the underground paint a shaky, unfocused and handheld picture of the out-of-this-world (or perhaps under) band of misfits and their day-by-day life.
Nicu is one of the many orphan children who found a home in the underground more than a decade ago. Vandebrug follows him around, a young boy în transition who ultimately turns out to be a success story thanks to a NGO activist (Raluca Pahomi) who tries to reintegrate him into society, with few of his companions sharing hopes of being so lucky. The material is tough, with Pahomi discussing AIDS and TB issues with the underground community, and Nicu visiting the grave of an 18-years-old girl, followed by footage of a scandalous TV reportage (“from underground to the ground”).
In terms of visuals, the film display a remarkable eclecticism, with the director mixing his own material with episodes shot by Nicu and his friends, Bruce Lee interviews, conversations between the children and Vandebrug, and striking moments of immediacy, like when the director has to stop observing from behind the camera to help Nicu who has fallen ill. The documentary author welcomes the pain of others, harking back to the cinéma-vérité experiments of the 1960s. The voice-over often comes by an older Nicu, chronicling his life in diary-like fashion. TV news footage alternates with documentary chapters to fully investigate the dynamic between the world and the underworld.
Nicu’s commentary on his past is helpful to also make questions regarding his consent essentially vanish. In the ongoing debate regarding the role of the director in observational documentaries, Vandebrug clearly takes a stand, letting his personal and social integrity overthrow his professional mission. It’s safe to say that his solution to the dilemma of whether you should ‘save a man who’s drowning, or film him’ (as Japanese director Kazuo Hara puts it in an interview with Film Menu) falls firmly in the camp of putting down the camera and diving in.
FIPRESCI Young Critics Warsaw Project
Călin Boto is a Romanian emergent film critic and the editor-in-chief of Film Menu, a film magazine edited by students of the Film University in National University of Film and Drama in Bucharest (UNATC). He has written articles for several cultural publications such as Dilema Veche,Dissolved Magazine, SUB25 and he coordinates Film Menu’s weekly cineclub. At the moment he’s working on a bachelor's degree on the films and film criticism of Jonas Mekas.
Barbara Majsa was born and raised in Hungary, but currently resides in Sweden and attends Stockholm University for Cinema Studies. She has worked as a journalist since 2009, and has covered several film festivals. Barbara is the managing editor at Cinema Scandinavia, where she interviews film-makers and focuses her work on artistic and cultural products that reflect upon society - films concerning social, societal, economic and political issues.
Yulia Kuzischina is a film journalist, based in Moscow. She studied visual culture at Higher School of Economics and later started to write for two film-related websites, RussoRosso and Kinomania.ru. Currently she also works at a film sales company Ant!pode Sales & Distribution. Her main field of interest is Eastern European cinema.
Tomáš Hudák is a programmer and a film critic based in Bratislava, Slovakia. Programming at independent cultural centre A4 – Space for contemporary culture, which focus on challenging and experimental art, is his main occupation throughout a year. He is also associated with IFF Cinematik in Pieštany, Bratislava IFF, and Film Festival 4 Elements in Banská Štiavnica. Regularly writing for film magazine Kinečko, his texts also appeared in other publications such as Senses of Cinema, Tess Magazine etc. In past, he worked as a film archivist at Slovak Film Institute and his archival research resulted in two papers on local film history.
Daria Badior is a film critic and a Culture Editor of LB.ua, one of Ukraine’s biggest online newspapers. Focuses on writing about contemporary Ukrainian cinema. Also she co-curates a project on LB.ua named Short-list about young Ukrainian filmmakers. Since 2017 takes part in selecting films for Kyiv Film Critics Week, a new film festival held at the end of October. A member of FIPRESCI.
Łukasz Mańkowski Half of the Asian Cinema focused blog ‘Referat Filmowy’, Japanese Studies and Film Theory graduate from Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń, specializing in Asian Film. Occasionally photographer, translator and theatre-film journalist who simply loves ramen. Previously member of 5 Flavours Film Festival People’s Jury, FEFF Udine Student Campus and EIFF Student Critics Competition.
TUTORS of FIPRESCI Young Critics Warsaw Project
Yoana Pavlova is a Bulgarian writer, researcher, and programmer currently based in Paris.Her field of work includes cinema, VR, digital culture, and the New East. She is the foundingeditor of Festivalists.com (a playform for experimental media criticism), with bylines fornumerous print and online publications in Bulgarian, English, and French. Contributor to thefollowing books: Cinemas of Paris (2016, St Andrews Film Studies), Eastern Promises (2014,Festival Internacional de Cine de Donostia – San Sebastián), The Bulgarian Nouvelle Vague(2012, Edno).
Tommaso Tocci is based in Italy, where he works as a film critic and translator covering filmfestivals across Europe for international publications. He has also worked for BerlinaleTalents and for the Edinburgh International Film Festival, and he currently serves as Co-Programmer for the Saas-Fee Film Festival in Switzerland.