Dutch photographer and filmmaker Joost Vandebrug has won the award for best feature-length documentary at the inaugural IceDocs film festival, for his documentary ‘Bruce Lee and the Outlaw.’
The festival took place in Akranes from the 17th to the 21st of July and saw a host of international guests visit the town over the course of the event. The main jury, which consisted of Icelandic filmmaker Anna Þóra Steinþórsdóttir, deputy artistic director of the Edinburgh International Film Festival Diane Henderson and film critic Jessica Kiang, also gave special mention to Macedonian film, ‘Honeyland.’ ‘Haunted’ by Christian Einshøj won in the mid-length category, and ‘All Inclusive’ by Corina Schwingruber Ilić was the favoured short.
‘Bruce Lee and the Outlaw’ follows the life of Nicu, a Romanian street kid, as he navigates the city of Bucharest and life as a homeless urchin. Supporting Nicu, who is fondly known as “the outlaw,” is a strange and mysterious figure—the eponymous Bruce Lee. No, not the one you’re thinking of—this Bruce Lee is a petty criminal covered in silver paint; the self proclaimed king of the underworld.
In this real-life Oliver Twist he plays the role of Fagin, caring for a raggedy bunch of homeless kids and creating a home for them all in the network of tiny tunnels underneath the city. These cramped and unsuitable quarters turn out to have been built by Ceausescu and were intended to be a central heating system for the city. Throughout the movie, the impact of the fall of communism and the reality it has created for the citizens of Romania is frequently highlighted.
Hard to watch
There is a real warmth and love between Bruce Lee and his charges, many of whom refer to him as ‘dad’. Still, it is incredibly hard to watch as this clearly kind and loving father figure provides Nicu with the silver Aurolac paint he is frequently covered in, so that he can huff it as a drug. Nicu, who it is later revealed is actually 16, appears to be perhaps a nine or ten year old kid. These scenes are difficult, not just because of their content but also because it throws the question of goodness back at the audience. Bruce Lee is the only person who cares about these children and provides them with affection, food and shelter. But his morality, and the viewer’s, are constantly called into question throughout the documentary.
‘Bruce Lee and the Outlaw’ is Joost’s first foray into documentary filmmaking, but his subjects were already well known to him as he has been chronicling the lives of Romanian street children through his photography since 2011. His sensitivity and familiarity with his chosen topic plays a huge role in how the film develops, but the lack of objectivity does not detract from the thoughtfulness of how the piece is delivered. The award at IceDocs is just the latest in a string of accolades for ‘Bruce Lee and the Outlaw’; the documentary has already won at Busan International Film Festival, the International TRT Documentary Awards and Munich International Documentary Festival.
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