A photographer by trade, Allah has spent three years with these people, gaining their confidence enough to then move on to filming them and recording their words. Image and audio are dislocated, though. The pictures capture their subjects in a noirish contrast, often coloured by strip-lighting, moving in slow motion. They're accompanied by unattributed dialogues, sometimes including the director himself, in which people talk about their lives, blighted by vagrancy, alcoholism, or addiction to the synthetic marijuana, K2. The images sometimes seem to correspond to the person speaking, at other times they appear to visualise concepts being referred to. This is cinematic poetry that forces the viewer not just to pay attention, but to engage completely with the work - discovering their own connections and narratives with eye and ear.
One such link might be the work of Pedro Costa, whose filmic odyssey into the world of the immigrant slum Fountainhas in Lisbon shows an equal regard for chiaroscuro imagery and the plight of the deprived. However, Allah is created something far more intimate. His camera hovers near faces, staring deep into bleary and haggard eyes that reflect all of the injustices that people describe - maltreatment comes from their fellow subjects as well as the police, who one voice describes as "upset 'cause they can't find nobody to bully but homeless." Perhaps surprisingly, Allah chooses to ignore the macro-issues, the sociopolitical injustices. Instead, he keeps his camera and microphone trained close on the resilient life in this little square of New York; the result is formally bracing, angrily urgent and deeply humane.
CPH:DOX runs from 5-15 November in Copenhagen. For more of our coverage, follow this link.
Ben Nicholson | @BRNicholson