Small Screen Berkeley: ‘Buoyancy’, ‘This is Not a Movie’, and ‘White Riot’

To watch: One of the best — and most shocking — films of the year; the story of one of our greatest living journalists; and documenting the history of Rock Against Racism.

Buoyancy. Photo: Courtesy Kino Lorber

It’s the time of year when cinemas would normally be full of movies intended to give us the willies, but this October is different — especially in the Bay Area. Living through a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic, through wildfires, withering heat and orange skies, and through a seemingly endless electoral season (once again, “the most important election of our lifetime”) has taken all the fun out of ghosts, ghouls and things that go bump in the night.

In short, real life is scary enough these days — but should you need further proof of my thesis, allow me to recommend Buoyancy, currently streaming via Pacific Film Archives’ Watch From Home series. It’s not a horror film — far from it — but the story it tells will disturb all but the most jaded of viewers.

Written and directed by Rodd Rathjen, Buoyancy tells the story of Chakra (Sarm Heng), a teenager living hand to mouth in the Cambodian lowlands. Loaned by his father to neighboring farmers to help them fertilize their rice paddies, Chakra lives a harsh and loveless existence that leaves him desperate to strike out on his own.

Compelling rumors of lucrative construction work in neighboring Thailand convince the boy he can make his fortune abroad, but he’s unprepared for what happens once he leaves home. Unable to pay smugglers the going rate to get him across the border, he’s diverted to a fishing boat, where he and a handful of other unlucky souls are held hostage by the vessel’s deeply unpleasant captain, Rom Ran (Thanawut Katsaro).

For weeks on end, every day is the same: the seas are trawled, the catch — destined to become pet food — hauled aboard and swept into the cargo hold, and the largest fish delivered to the bridge for the captain’s dinner. There are unpaid debts of unspecified amounts to be paid off by Chakra and his colleagues; as time passes, they realize they probably won’t leave the boat alive.

A brief afterword explains that the southeast Asian fishing industry ‘employs’ more than 200,000 enslaved people. Stunningly lensed by cinematographer Michael Latham and featuring a suitably unsettling score by Lawrence English, Buoyancy is one of the best — and most shocking — films of the year, an existential horror movie par excellence that will make you reconsider your pet food brand.

The story of one of our greatest living journalists

Robert Fisk is one of our greatest living journalists, and, as a consequence, he’s made countless powerful enemies over the years who’ve attempted (so far unsuccessfully) to silence him. Fisk’s life is recounted in This is Not a Movie, now streaming via the Virtual Roxie.

Long resident in Beirut, Fisk has been the Middle East correspondent for London-based papers The Times (until Rupert Murdoch purchased the paper) and The Independent’(even after it ended its print edition). Unlike most western reporters, Fisk has gone behind the front lines of countless conflicts to get his stories — and he doesn’t pretend those stories are the objective truth, only the truth as seen with his own eyes and experienced by the people he interviews.

As Fisk emphasizes, “if you don’t go to the scene, you cannot get near to what the truth is.” Now in his 70s, Fisk continues to do just that — most recently visiting Douma in Syria — putting to shame those who report from the comfort of a hotel room, a cozy office or mom’s basement.

Documenting the history of Rock Against Racism

White Riot. Photo: Courtesy Roxie Theater

Finally, White Riot (streaming via both the Roxie and PFA) documents the history of Rock Against Racism, the anti-racist organization that helped unite Black and white Britons during the fraught late 1970s. Featuring terrific performance footage of The Clash, Matumbi and the Tom Robinson Band, the film provides a reminder that some of our most prominent rockers — including David Bowie, Eric Clapton and Rod Stewart — have at times displayed some pretty dodgy political beliefs (and that’s putting it very mildly, especially in Clapton’s case).