Coming to This Year’s 58th SF Intl Film Festival: J.P. Sniadecki’s “The Iron Ministry”

The Iron Ministry
(Director J.P. Sniadecki)

Iron_Ministry_01three-stars15In 2011 the SFIFF screened J.P. Sniadecki‘s Foreign Parts. It was the first film I’ve seen by Sniadecki, and it made quite an impression (still in my top 5 of the decade). The film easily eclipsed other notable releases that year from such documentarian titans as Werner Herzog (Cave of Forgotten Dreams)Patricio Guzman (Position Among the Stars), and Errol Morris (Tabloid). Since then Sniadecki has made three other films, two of which I have not seen, and the third being this one, The Iron Ministry. Needless to say given my immense love for Foreign Parts I couldn’t help but make the all-too-human rookie mistake of not leaving my expectations at the door. Disappointment was inevitable. So the question I ask myself now is, other than my setting of the bar so unreachably high, what else was it about this train ride (the entire doc takes place on a train) that I didn’t enjoy?

The answer to that question isn’t an easy one. The simple truth is that as of right now I just can’t pinpoint any of the exact reasons as to why this film didn’t do anything for me. Maybe it had to do with the amount of moments I had during the doc where my mind drifted to other non related things – whether that was the film’s intention or not. Maybe it had to do with my inability to judge this as a standalone entity and not compare it to either Snidecki’s Foreign Parts, or other films that are akin to this movie’s fly-on-the-wall natural and observational tone, like Leviathan, Manakamana, Sweetgrass, (all of which played at previous SFIFFs), or almost anything by Frederick Wiseman. Whatever the reason turns out to be, the fact that I couldn’t embrace this one as I would have liked to is really bugging me. Perhaps it’s best to just focus on the positives though.

I like the fact that it all took place on a train. I like the contrast of seeing one class of passengers to another. I enjoyed eavesdropping in on conversations regarding nationalism, religion, politics. I appreciated the filmmaker’s choice to leave in a slew of moments of when those being filmed would acknowledge the camera’s presence. Yet even with all these good takeaways I still couldn’t help but feel disappointed. Go figure.

Showtimes for The Iron Ministry:

Friday, April 24th – 7:00pm (Sundance Kabuki Cinemas)
Saturday, April 25th – 4:00pm (Pacific Film Archive – Berkeley)
Monday, May 4th – 4:00pm (Sundance Kabuki Cinemas)

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Categories: Reviews

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