The Australian industrial town of Port Kembla isn't one that was likely to make a name outside its homeland, but with Lynette Wallworth's documentary 'Tender', it may well do that - thanks largely to its well-meaning community. Their primary focus becomes the desire to take hold of responsibility for local funeral services, which is sharpened when a member of their active group is diagnosed with a serious illness.
Notably, Nick Cave and Warren Ellis contribute the film's score, a subtle yet moving effort. Wallworth slowly but assuredly builds up a portrait of small-town strength, albeit with some jarring moments such as a potshot at Muslim burial rituals, which is scarcely explored. Nonetheless, 'Tender' offers an empathetic and revealing insight into the human spirit, at times of great difficulty.
'Stray Dog' (2014)
Writer-director Debra Granik garnered critical acclaim for 2010's 'Winter's Bone', which picked up four Oscar nods including a particularly well-deserved Best Actress nomination for Jennifer Lawrence. Granik has been rather quiet since then but with this documentary, she harks back to her breakthrough - Ronnie "Stray Dog" Hall, an American biker and Vietnam veteran whom Granik met during the filming of 'Winter's Bone'.
'Stray Dog' avoids much of the traditional documentary approach, with no narration or direct interviews, instead rewardingly choosing to drip feed Hall's wider life onto the screen. It's a choice that becomes increasingly immersive, as the details slowly emerge - from the spirituality of Hall's Mexican wife to the nightmares regarding his involvement in wartime brutality and an inability to overcome his intense remorse.
There's certainly a tinge of sadness to the film, particularly as further characters central to Hall's life appear, and I can only hope that good things await them in the future - ideally outside of the downtrodden existence, by which they seem potentially bogged down. Indeed, Granik's stand-offish approach allows you to naturally root for these people, making 'Stray Dog' an affecting portrait of a community that may be poor in monetary terms, but one that is rich in heart.
'Tender' and 'Stray Dog' had their UK premieres at the 58th BFI London Film Festival. Find more info about the festival at bfi.org.uk/lff.