Ed Film Fest at Home reviews: Rebuilding Paradise | Capital in the Twenty-First Century | White Riot

Corporate greed, capitalism and the fight against racism all feature in Ed Film Fest at Home, writes Alistair Harkness
Rebuilding ParadiseRebuilding Paradise
Rebuilding Paradise

Zooming into Ed Film Fest at Home earlier this week for a Q&A session in support of his latest documentary Rebuilding Paradise (***), Ron Howard may have reminisced briefly about his time in Edinburgh shooting The DaVinci Code, but it was another of his blockbusters, the firefighter drama Backdraft, that had a more direct connection to the movie under discussion. Zeroing in on the devastation wrought by a forest fire on the Californian town of Paradise, the new film kicks off with a ten-minute sequence more dramatic and harrowing than anything Howard managed to conjure up for that fictionalised ode to the fire service.

Then again, the sequence is more dramatic and harrowing than most movies period. Making incredible use of mobile phone footage shot by some of Paradise’s residents as they frantically fled for their lives, it’s heart-in-mouth stuff, immersing us in the tragedy as it unfolds and making it impossible not to empathise with the residents as they subsequently battle bureaucracy and personal hardship in their efforts to rebuild their town and their lives.

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This also makes it a more emotive film and Howard, perhaps understandably, chooses to make it a celebration of the endurance of the human spirit. But it goes to some darker places too. When the investigation into the cause of the fire examines the negligence of power company Pacific Gas and Electric, it literally veers into Erin Brokovich territory with the real Brokovich showing up to help the residents take on her old profits-before-people nemesis.

Corporate greed is the subject of another doc receiving its UK premiere at the festival. Adapted from French economist Thomas Picketty’s best-selling book of the same name, Capital in the Twenty-First Century (***) offers a useful primer on the growth of capitalism over the last 300 years and looks at where we’re going. The prognosis is not good: with wealth inequality and fascism on the rise and the tech companies shirking their tax obligations, the film imagines a return to the extreme divisions of the 18th and 19th centuries.

Though the documentary’s mix of pop culture reference points and expert analysis can be a little hokey, it remains a compelling history of how we’re in the state we’re in. It also provides economic context for White Riot (****), a blistering, highly entertaining doc tracing the origins and progress of Rock Against Racism (RAR), the punk-and-reggae fuelled cultural fightback against the rising tide of the National Front in 1970s Britain. Reacting to Eric Clapton’s racist endorsement of Enoch Powell and David Bowie’s flirtation with fascism, the movement’s clear-eyed organisers helped mobilise the youth of the day with dedicated gigs and publications that sent an unambiguous message about racism’s unacceptability in a modern society – a message that is, sadly, as relevant today as it was then.

Director Rubika Shah appropriates the brash cut-and-past style of RAR’s Temporary Hoarding fanzine to good effect to bolster some incredible archival footage, such as The Clash performing the titular song at the movement’s triumphant Victoria Park rally in 1978.

Ed Film Fest at Home streams until until 5 July. See www.edfilmfest.org for details

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