Above the Head of the Sleeping Buddha

An American multimillionaire rises to the sky from the Baikonur cosmodrome; a thousand-year-old Buddha turns to dust in a valley in Afghanistan; for a hundredth time, a war photographer makes a bleak portrait of human poverty. The worlds depicted by Swiss documentarist Christian Frei are varied and dramatic. Three of his most renowned films; The Giant Buddhas, War Photographer and Space Tourists; are available from September 12 at www.docalliancefilms.com...

Swiss filmmaker Christian Frei is a versatile filmmaker and personality whose films rank among the best of contemporary European documentary film, having received a whole range of prestigious awards. Telling powerful stories of epic scale, Frei’s films thus represent a perfect opportunity for Doc Alliance Filmsto say goodbye to the summer “re-runs“ of older film titles while drawing the visitors’ attention to one of the most progressive projects of online film distribution.

Dealing with diverse subjects, the three films are interconnected by Frei’s compact creative style. The classic documentary form combines a perfect sense for the film theme, the art of narrating a story and a powerful poetic atmosphere. Balanced perfectly well in each of the films, none of these components stick out of the organic film form, ideally corresponding with the film content. That is what makes Frei’s films classic but nor boring, narrative but not descriptive, meditaative but not self-absorbed.

Christian Frei spends several busy years making each of his films. It is not that his artistic style is so refined and sophisticated so as to have to “mature” for several years. It is rather because it takes him a lot of time to arrange everything with all of his protagonists and to acquire the necessary stamps and permits to be able to shoot his films where he really wants to. It is this purposefulness and persistence that guarantee the viewers to see unknown places that reach beyond their experience and even beyond their imagination. With Christian Frei, one can appear in the middle of a turbulent street fight in Ramallah as easily as in the arms of the all-embracing harmony of the cosmos on Earth’s orbit.
There is one more aspect that his multi-layered film stories share. Frei never fails to emphasize the social dimension of the events he follows. However poetic, abstract or unreal the main plotline may be (be it the thousand-year-old history of stone Buddha statues or the cool beauty of the universe), it is always balanced by a supporting plotline that is sure to make us come back to earth. While we are gazing at the stars and the rising American multimillionaire, whose dream of flying the legendary Soyuz spacecraft has come true, our feet walk the Kazakh steppe along with poor collectors of metal waste from burnt-out rockets. That is how things should be according to Christian Frei. Above the head of the hidden sleeping Buddha, there are always people who earn their bread by the sweat of their brow.


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Doc Alliance is a creative partnership of 7 key European documentary film festivals. Our aim is to advance the documentary genre, support its diversity and promote quality creative documentary films.