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SHEFFIELD DOC FEST 2021

Review: From the 84 Days

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- Philipp Hartmann's film follows a group of experimental Bolivian musicians stranded in Germany in 2020

Review: From the 84 Days

In the last year, empty streets have become the norm. So it doesn’t seem too unusual when From the 84 Days [+see also:
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, screening in Sheffield Doc/Fest’s International Competition, starts with a taxi driving through empty streets at night, taking director Philipp Hartmann from the airport to La Paz. What is unusual is that these scenes were shot in December 2019, before the words “coronavirus” and “lockdown” became ubiquitous, and before curfews and staying at home became the norm.

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The eerie, ghostly feel of the city is mirrored by the political discussion taking place in the car over the new interim government in Bolivia, which has apparently shipped all the gold out of the country and made deals on lithium. But Hartmann isn't here to make a movie on politics in South America, no matter how fascinating these snippets may be. He's come to film the Experimental Orchestra for Indigenous Instruments (OEIN). In the car with him is Carlos Gutierrez, director of the OEIN, and Timo Kreuser, director of the ensemble PHØNIX16 from Berlin. They're preparing for two joint concerts which are due to take place three months later in Berlin and Dresden.

The OEIN is one of those orchestras which mix traditional instruments with modern music made from everyday objects reconstructed to produce sounds. They create the type of music that make some think of sci-fi movies, whilst others feel it's hell for their ears. What's revealed about the Bolivians through the director's voiceover is that they help underprivileged kids learn about music – they’re the good guys of this documentary, which really gets going once 25 musicians travel to Germany for the concerts, which are then cancelled three days later because of the pandemic. They can't get out of the country because their flights have been cancelled, given the Bolivian government’s decision to close their borders. The musicians are put up in a music academy without knowing how long they’ll be stuck in Germany. It will be 84 days, and Hartmann keeps on filming them during this period as the Bolivians, alongside Kreuser, make music together.

"Improvising is a conversation in real-time," says one of the Bolivians about why they love performing based on feelings rather than reading sheet music.  Music is the way that most of the performers communicate best with each other. When they exchange sounds, they feel comfortable. What they perform is also conceptual, so it feels fitting that one of the first songs we see them perform is Stockhausen's From the Seven Days. It's an intuitive piece of music with a theoretical influence that lends this movie its title.

There’s also a bit of an intuitive element to this documentary in the way that it intermixes stories about Bolivia cutting the budget for culture and the OEIN, with tales of life during coronavirus and music theory. Hartmann manages to do all this while giving the OEIN as big a platform as Wim Wenders gave the Bueno Vista Social Club. Whilst this film won’t have such a mainstream impact, it's sure to find plenty of admirers.

From the 84 Days is a German-Bolivian production by Philipp Hartmann for Germany’s flumenfilm, with Bolivia’s OEIN and PHØNIX16.

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