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Dystopian Visions

Dystopian Visions (photo)

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On our last day in Denmark, a few of us in the CPH:DOX American contingent stopped by Christiania, Copenhagen’s hippie paradise and self-proclaimed autonomous zone. In stark contrast to the cobblestones and slick Scandinavian design of the main city, Christiania is dirt paths and DIY housing, a neighborhood based around abandoned military barracks that were taken over by squatters in the early ’70s.

It was too early for much to be going on, but on the main drag the cannabis market that’s made the area a favorite for backpackers and a constant source of controversy was already open, with stalls displaying giant blocks of hash for sale, while a few nearby stands offered rasta wear. A dog trotted by, and a few dreadlocked Danes warmed their hands over a trashcan fire.

“Maybe it’s just me, but this all seems incredibly ‘Children of Men,'” I said.

Or maybe it was just that dystopia was on everyone’s mind, being a strong undercurrent in the Copenhagen International Documentary Film Festival program. These days, dark visions of the future and docs pretty much go hand in hand, since nonfiction film has become hopelessly entwined with social issues.

With one of the most progressive, boundary-pushing, eyebrow-raising lineups you’re going to find in a documentary festival, CPH:DOX actually actively strives to get away from the idea of docs as just journalism, or as just a means of galvanizing viewers toward activism — to promote, as the programmers stressed, “the documentary as cinema, and the documentary as art.” Which ultimately meant that doses of impending doom came not with a lecture, but with artful vision — these are, after all, unavoidably troubled times.

11172009_videocracy.jpgTake “Videocracy,” Erik Gandini’s brilliant jaw-dropper about the ties between Italian politics and Italian television that could hold its own with Matteo Garrone’s “Gomorrah” in a disturbing double feature depicting the country as careening towards “Blade Runner.” At its center is the elusive figure of Silvio Berlusconi, who’s both Italy’s Prime Minister and its major media mogul, and, in Gandini’s view, the man responsible for infecting the nation with a terminal fixation on boob tube celebrity.

That’s the kind of ambitious scope that usually defeats a project before it even begins, but “Videocracy” works astoundingly well because it’s styled as an essay, without the pretense of objectivity. Gandini narrates and makes a sort of stream-of-consciousness case for his conception of Italian today, luxuriating in a Lynchian score and hypnotic footage of glittering, never-quite-graspable talk and game shows, brightly lit sets, scantily clad dancing girls and applauding audiences — television as a sweeping sedative.

“Videocracy” hops between interview subjects, often favoring them with wordless still portraits in their chosen surroundings. There’s Rick Canelli, the singing martial artist who aspires to be a combination of Jean-Claude Van Damme and Ricky Martin, but who meanwhile is a factory worker who still lives with his mother. There’s Marella Giovannelli, the woman who lives next door to Berlusconi’s vacation villa on Sardinia, and who makes a living taking flattering photos of his party guests and making them available for purchase. There’s Lele Mora, the country’s most powerful agent, who never seems to leave his all-white house but who nevertheless manages to pull strings via cell phone — his ring tones are hymns to Mussolini, of whom he’s a proud fan.

11172009_videocracy2.jpgAnd then there’s Fabrizio Corona, the mesmerizing/repugnant head of a paparazzo ring that sells incriminating photos back to the celebrities in them. Others might call this extortion, which is what Corona gets indicted for, but when he gets out of jail, he reinvents himself as an opportunistic, nihilistic truth-teller and vaults into the realm of celebrity he used to despise, guesting on talk shows, launching a t-shirt line and making a series of paid nightclub appearances. In “Videocracy”‘s money shot (though not its literal one, in which Corona lies in bed, surrounded by a pile of cash), he showers and then preens, nude, in front of the mirror, suiting up and soaking himself in cologne, dead-eyed and directly out of “American Psycho.” An unmentioned attendant is there in the bathroom with him the whole time, but then again, so is a camera crew. As “Videocracy” makes clear, in this world, shame is for the weak.

A more tangible type of forbidding future is on view in “Cities on Speed,” four hour-long docs from Danish filmmakers, each set in a different megacity, that had their premiere at CPH:DOX. Bogotá, Cairo, Mumbai, Shanghai: all face serious urban stresses as their populations explode — well, presumably so, in the case of Bogotá, as that was the one I didn’t get to see. The best of three I did catch was “Mumbai Disconnected,” an examination of attempts to remedy traffic problems in India’s largest city.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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