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
Lemana Filandra is a writer and editor at "Klifhenger" (www.klifhenger.com), a site dedicated to movie analyses in Bosnian and English. She has been working as a freelance writer, a researcher, and a translator for the last three years. Currently, She is working on a PhD thesis in philosophy, focused on intersectional feminism and political implications of the concept of body. In the past she had different professional engagements at Sarajevo Film Festival, one of the most prominent European festivals. She also worked as a producer of a music video, a script supervisor and an assistant to a movie director.
Levan Tskhovrebadze is a student of film studies in Ilia State University, Georgia. He has written and made other kind of journalistic content for Georgian outlets like Indigo, Cinemania.ge or Demo.ge. Recently he started working for Ilia State University online publication Cinexpress.iliauni.edu.ge where he writes reviews, articles and also translates some of the important articles or interviews about cinema into Georgian. He has covered few festivals as a film critic. He was doing video blogs for Berlin International Film Festival 2019th edition and has made some content at CinéDOC-Tbilisi and Batumi International Art-House Film Festival. Cinexpress is also the Ilia State University’s Film Club where he made public reports before screenings.
Oleksandra Povoroznyk is a film critic and journalist based in Kyiv, Ukraine. She is currently working for Vertigo.com.ua, one of the largest Ukrainian websites devoted to the film industry and entertainment in general. She is also the host of two podcasts about movies and TV.
Denisa Jašová is a PhD student of Audiovisual Studies at Academy of Performing Arts in Bratislava. As a Film Studies and Archival Science graduate, she specializes on archival research in film and TV history, especially on Czechoslovak amateur film and TV non-fiction programmes from 70s and 80s. She also works as a researcher for TV documentaries, as a librarian in the Central European House of Photography and as a talk show host in student radio talk show called Cinefil. She frequently writes for magazine Film.sk, IFF Cinematik Piešťany and her first paper about the history of Slovak amateur film will be released in October 2019 in Kino-Ikon magazine. She simply loves film archives.
Bogdan Balla is a Romanian experimental film director and freelance film critic based in Bucharest. He studies film directing at the National University of Theatre and Film and writes for FILM MENU. Besides directing and producing his own films, he also works as an independent freelance film critic. He reads bell hooks and is passionate about queer cinema. He has a preference for working with archival footage for his films.
Svetlana Semenchuk is an author of such publications on cinema as “Seanse”, “The Art of Cinema”, “Cinema TV” and other. The author-composer of the books “S. M. Eisenstein: pro et contra: Sergey Eisenstein in national reflection: anthology” and “E. F. Bauer: pro et contra. Eugene Frantsevich Bauer in assessments of contemporaries, colleagues, researchers, film critics. Anthology”. Teacher of the St. Petersburg New Cinema School, and at the St. Petersburg State University of Cinema and Television.
TUTORS of FIPRESCI Young Critics Warsaw Project
Amber Wilkinson is a journalist with more than 20 years experience. She is the co-founder and editorial director of UK-based website Eye For Film. Her byline has appeared in The Times, Daily Telegraph, Sydney Morning Herald and Filmmaker Magazine among others. She also contributes as a freelance film critic on BBC Radio Scotland. She has run several FIPRESCI young critics' workshops and mentored student critics at the Edinburgh International Film Festival in 2018 and 2019.
Tommaso Tocci is based in Italy, where he works as a film critic and translator covering film festivals across Europe for international publications. He has also worked for Berlinale Talents and for the Edinburgh International Film Festival, and he currently serves as Co-Programmer for the Saas-Fee Film Festival in Switzerland.