For the 2016 edition of our Neither/Nor sidebar, we are collaborating with film critic Nick Pinkerton on a series exploring Mondo (or so-called “shockumentary”) cinema and its offshoots. This is the fourth edition of Neither/Nor, an archival program of films that muddles the borders between fiction and nonfiction. For the third year in a row, Neither/Nor is presented with the generous support of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Mondo cinema began in 1962, when the Italian directors Gualtiero Jacopetti, Paolo Cavara and Franco Prosperi released their groundbreaking Mondo Cane, which captures shocking cultural traditions from both the ‘civilized’ and ‘uncivilized’ world. In its opening minutes, Mondo Cane claims that “all the scenes in this film are true and are taken only from life,” adding that “the duty of the chronicler is not to sweeten the truth but to report it objectively.” But it’s clear that most, if not all, of the footage in Mondo Cane has been choreographed by its directors. This in-between work played in competition at the Cannes Film Festival, received an Oscar nomination and was an international box office hit.
The success of Mondo Cane inspired dozens of startling globetrotting documentaries, which were often referred to as ‘Mondo films.’ At their worst, Mondo films could be thoughtless parades of misery and debauchery (see the Faces of Death series). But within this system, several conscientious directors created urgent, transgressive cinema. High on that list are Jacopetti and Prosperi, whose next collaboration, Africa Addio (1966), was a scathing indictment of the European nations who spent centuries plundering the African continent only to recklessly abandon it during decolonization.
In his 20,000-word monograph, Pinkerton persuasively defends the frequently maligned Mondo tradition and analyzes several of its greatest works, including The Killing of America (1982), a chilling film that uses disturbing footage to call attention to America’s increased gun violence, and Des Morts (1979), a sensitive meditation on how people worldwide process grief.
“When Nick first proposed this series, our instant response was to recoil,” True/False programmer Chris Boeckmann said. “Why would we ask our audiences to sit through such appalling material? But we were stunned by the movies he recommended and quickly realized that the ‘Mondo’ label (or even worse, the ‘shockumentary’ label) is often reductive and misapplied. The films in this series tackle important topics with an intensity and bluntness that’s sorely missing in so many of today’s ‘issue documentaries.'”
All Neither/Nor screenings will be free and accompanied by post-screening conversations, which will be moderated by Pinkerton. Special guests include Belgian director Thierry Zéno (director, Des Morts) and the U.S.-based Sheldon Renan (director, The Killing of America).
Nick Pinkerton is a freelance journalist and film programmer. His writing has appeared in Sight & Sound, ArtForum, Film Comment, Moving Image Source and Reverse Shot, among other publications. He was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, lives in Queens, NY, and has programmed at a variety of venues throughout the NYC area.
For more information about past edition of Neither/Nor and links to their monographs, visit the Neither/Nor page HERE.