With the popularity of true crime documentaries on Netflix, from the entertaining surrealism of Tiger King to the frightening warning of Seaspiracy, the factual and informative medium of storytelling has been popularised, with modern audiences far more willing to sit through a documentary feature. In fact, 2021 has been a particularly special year for the genre, with the likes of Mr. Bachmann and his Class, Flee and Summer of Soul each demonstrating the power of the documentary from many different cultures around the world.
The non-narrative black and white nature documentary Gunda was one of many extraordinary factual films to grace our screens in 2021, with the meditative experience looking into the lives of several animals on a farm. Shot in wonderous monochrome, this film from Russian filmmaker Viktor Kosakovskiy is a compelling spiritual journey as well as a rousing call for vegetarianism, providing a profound insight into the mannerisms of such remarkable everyday creatures.
Joker star and famous animal-rights activist Joaquin Phoenix acts as the executive producer for the film, continuing his support for such nature documentaries that started with his role in the 2005 film, Earthlings. In his unsurprisingly gushing impression of the film, he states, “Gunda is a mesmerising perspective on sentience within animal species, normally – and perhaps purposely – hidden from our view”.
Highlighting the films “importance” and “artistry”, Phoenix adds: “Victor Kossakovsky has crafted a visceral meditation on existence that transcends the normal barriers that separate species”. Accentuating the film’s emotional core, Phoenix‘s appreciation for the film is to be expected as an animal rights campaigner as well as being the executive producer for the film itself.
The praise of director Paul Thomas Anderson is less expected, however, with the filmmaker having worked with Joaquin Phoenix on the 2012 film The Master, co-starring Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Jesse Plemons and Rami Malek. In his own lavish explanation of the film, Anderson called the film, “pure cinema,” before adding: “This is a film to take a bath in – it’s stripped to its essential elements, without any interference”.
With his own film to market and promote, Paul Thomas Anderson also released his ninth film, Licorice Pizza in 2021, starring Alana Haim, Bradley Cooper, Benny Safdie, Tom Waits, Sean Penn and the son of the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Cooper. Whilst Anderson hopes for the success of his own, he is also quick to admire the efforts of Viktor Kosakovskiy and his film Gunda.
Agreeing with Phoenix’s opinion of the film, Paul Thomas Anderson adds, “It’s what we should all aspire to as filmmakers and audiences – pictures and sound put together to tell a powerful and profound story without rush”.
Whether or not it is indeed Anderson’s favourite film of 2021, he concludes by explaining, “It’s jaw-dropping images and sound put together with the best ensemble cast and you have something more like a potion than a movie”.