Film is a medium that can speak about the world in ways other forms of art cannot. Combining visual, auditory and narrative elements, movies bring critical stories to life and make powerful statements about the world itself. Despite a sluggish narrative and inconsistent characters, Swedish film “Amateurs” tries to tap into the heart of what makes filmmaking so special, as well as the struggles of the craft itself.
Set in the fictional Lafors, a bleak town defined by its failing textile industry, the film follows a town committee that tries to make a film about its town in an effort to attract the attention of a popular corporation. Committee members hire a professional documentarian but face competition from two high school students, Dana (Yara Aliadotter) and Aida (Zahraa Aldoujaili), who try to make a film of their own to promote the town.
Despite its celebration of film, “Amateurs” itself only gets meagerly interesting once the actual craft comes into play — but even then, Dana and Aida’s movie-making trials rarely come across as authentic. The energy of this film is flat, and the process of filmmaking is sometimes as boring as the very town their film is based on. But if “Amateurs” holds audience members’ interests, then they will see that the purpose behind the teenagers’ movie is unique to the identity of the town.
While the committee members look for a glorified commercial, Dana and Aida’s movie goes behind-the-scenes to document all the ordinary people that make their town so beloved to them. In the process, they also expose the town’s racial and socioeconomic status and how people of different classes interact — or do not interact — with each other; this conflict comes into Dana and Aida’s own lives as filmmaking is not a preferred career path for both of their families.
With the professionals and amateurs making separate documentaries, “Amateurs” portrays the divide between commercial and independent filmmaking. While the former has a larger budget and is trying to make a glossy product that is constrained by conservative mass appeal tactics, the latter lacks resources and is attempting to reach into the heart of Lafors, not just show it on its surface. Dana and Aida are budding filmmakers, and their place in the town is special because there are apparently no other youths that care as much about movies as they do; especially with new technology, they are representative of the generation that grew up with the ability to make movies on a whim.
This filmmaking divide is a microcosm of the socioeconomic barrier “Amateurs” attempts to breach, but there are some humanistic lines that get blurred along the way, specifically with the ethics of documentary filmmaking and giving consent to being shown on camera.
“Amateurs” has all the elements it needs to make a compelling social dramedy, but its lackluster execution makes the overall film feel disjointed and ineffective in conveying the power of film.
Tribeca Film Festival 2018 began on Wednesday, April 18 and will run through April 29. Screening information is available via its website.
Email Guru Ramanathan at [email protected]