On TV: OIL & WATER

OilAndWater_400x222Coming to the WORLD Channel’s Global Voices series this Sunday, May 24: OIL & WATER

Laurel Spellman Smith and Francine Strickwerda’s look at two young men’s encounter with ecological disaster had its world premiere at Seattle last year. Other screenings included Rhode Island, Rio, Bahamas, Wild & Scenic, Maryland, Sebastopol Doc, and Princeton and DC’s Environmental fests.

Despite vastly different backgrounds, David and Hugo are linked by a common interest. David is an American who became passionate about the negative impact of oil exploitation in South America when he was a pre-teen, and eventually made his way to Ecuador working for fair trade practices in oil. Hugo is of the Cofan people, and was sent by his tribe to get an education in the US in order to return with the knowledge of the Western world and become a leader to help his people against the further destruction of their lands and traditions. Spellman Smith and Strickwerda follow both men’s stories over six years, as David finds success in his efforts, while Hugo initially struggles to figure out a way to attend university without American residency so he may fulfill the mandate of his people. Unfortunately, in addition to Hugo largely playing second fiddle to David’s more dynamic trajectory, their two stories are always very separate and only tangentially related, ultimately making the project feel somewhat arbitrarily structured.

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In the Works: NORTHWEST PASSAGE

A coming of age documentary in the shadow of TWIN PEAKS.

northwest passageAs a boy, Travis Blue witnessed the transformation of his small hometown into the setting for David Lynch’s groundbreaking television series, TWIN PEAKS. Inspired, he sought an escape from his tormented upbringing, especially connecting with the series’ enigmatic central figure, Laura Palmer, a homecoming queen with a dark double life. Echoing her reckless adolescent exploration, Travis began experimenting with his sexuality and with drugs as he became more and more obsessed with the show and its fan festivals. In his first feature documentary, Adam Baran, the long-time co-curator of NYC’s popular Queer/Art/Film series, tells Travis’ story, working with executive producers Jonathan Caouette (TARNATION director) and P David Ebersole and Todd Hughes (ROOM 237 executive producers) to offer a stranger than fiction tale of life imitating art. Continue reading

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In Theatres: SOMETHING BETTER TO COME

1425570773editor_something_better_to_come_01-resize-375x210Coming to theatres today, Friday, May 22: SOMETHING BETTER TO COME

Hanna Polak’s longitudinal portrait of a Russian girl made its debut at IDFA last year, where it claimed a special jury award. Other festival screenings have included True/False, ZagrebDox, Documenta Madrid, Doc.fest Munich, and Docs Against Gravity.

Polak first encounters her protagonist, Yula, at the age of ten. She seems unremarkable, save for the place she calls home: the Svalka, the largest landfill in Europe, located just outside of Moscow. Curious to understand how people could live in such an environment, Polak tenaciously returned periodically over the course of fourteen years, tracking Yula, her mother, and the loose-knit community that shared the unorthodox environs, and in the process allows the viewer to witness a girl grow into a young woman. Though at a decided disadvantage, having grown up with virtually nothing and struggling with the same factors that plagued her mother, Yula nevertheless dreams of escaping the trap of poverty. Polak crafts an impressionistic, indelible study of adolescence and of a hardscrabble existence.

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On VOD: WINNING: THE RACING LIFE OF PAUL NEWMAN

1968PaulNewman-7821Coming to VOD tomorrow, Friday, May 22: WINNING: THE RACING LIFE OF PAUL NEWMAN

Adam Carolla and Nate Adams tribute to the late actor’s passion for car racing made its debut at a special charity event in Los Angeles last month. It now becomes publicly available across VOD platforms via FilmBuff, including iTunes, Vudu, XBOX, Google Play, PlayStation, Amazon, and cable VOD, alongside special one-night only screening events, including one in conjunction with the Indy 500.

It’s revealed at the end of this affectionate celebration that comedian Adam Carolla, who serves as one of the film’s directors, is the present-day owner of several of Newman’s racing cars. This kind of personal affinity informs the project, which is heavy on anecdotes and love for the Oscar-winning Hollywood icon, but otherwise struggles to find a driving force to compel casual viewers forward. The film is most interesting as it details how Newman caught the racing bug while making the 1969 film WINNING, and otherwise does an only serviceable job recounting his growing dedication to the sport over time, eventually winning national championships and co-owning his own team. Interviewees include contemporaries in the racing world, including Willy T Ribbs, a trailblazing African-American driver, and Mario Andretti, as well as admirers from without, like famously car-crazy Jay Leno and Pixar’s John Lasseter, who developed a CARS character specifically for Newman to voice, in what was to be the actor’s final role.

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In Theatres & On VOD: (DIS)HONESTY – THE TRUTH ABOUT LIES

dishonestyComing to theatres and to VOD tomorrow, Friday, May 22: (DIS)HONESTY – THE TRUTH ABOUT LIES

Yael Melamede’s exploration of why people lie had its world premiere at Full Frame earlier this year. It has also screened at Hot Docs, Montclair, and the new Bentonville FIlm Festival. In addition to a limited theatrical release, the doc will be available on iTunes, Google Play, Amazon Instant Video, and VUDU via Bond/360, as well as through the film’s website.

Melamede’s guide through the big question that her film explores – human dishonesty – is behavioral economist Dan Ariely, whose pioneering work on irrational human behavior inspired this straightforward but pleasantly diverting survey. Threaded throughout the film is the affable Duke University professor’s lecture explication of a series of experiments he conducted to tease out how and why people choose to be dishonest, revealing the sliding “fudge factor” that allows people to rationalize their behavior in relation to the context and beliefs of what is or is not morally or socially permissible. Beyond his engaging, and often surprising, research findings, Melamede regularly highlights individual anecdotes by self-confessed liars, some with positive consequences, such as an author who calmed a hysterical fellow airline passenger by claiming he was an aeronautical engineer, and others with decidedly more negative outcomes, from insider traders to job loss, when the deception was uncovered.

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In Theatres: SEEDS OF TIME

seeds of timeComing to theatres this Friday, May 22: SEEDS OF TIME

Sandy McLeod’s cautionary tale about the future of our food debuted at SXSW last year. Other fest appearances have included Berlin, CPH:DOX, Full Frame, and Seattle, among others.

McLeod’s film profiles Cary Fowler, a renowned agriculturalist who has been at the forefront of preserving biodiversity through seed saving and storage, most famously through the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, a remote Norwegian seed bank located just 800 miles from the North Pole. Operating against the grain of our modern, industrial farming industry, which privileges monocultures as a way to maximize profits, Fowler and his fellow preservationists warn of the potential catastrophic damage that could easily be wrought on our global food supply if a new disease were to wipe out the single strain of crops upon which we’ve grown to depend. The projects he champions around the world aim to preserve crop diversity for the benefit of future generations, from large scale efforts like Svalbard to regionally-specific initiatives, such as a partnership with indigenous Peruvians to prevent the further loss of hundreds of varieties of potatoes to climate change. Fowler emerges as a passionate, if somewhat dry, advocate, and McLeod offers an often visually arresting backdrop while while traversing the globe with her protagonist, but the film often proves over-reliant on statistics and a fairly repetitive survey approach.

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On DVD: ON TENDER HOOKS

tenderNew to DVD this week: ON TENDER HOOKS

Kate Shenton’s look at the suspension subculture debuted at the London FrightFest in 2013. Other fest appearances have included fantastic fests in Puchon, Bruges, and Ravenna, among others.

Shenton’s film, an expansion of a short of the same name that screened at Slamdance and elsewhere in 2012, explores the world of suspension, a subculture of individuals who insert hooks through their skin and are suspended on cables to work through pain, achieve ecstatic states, embrace a kinship with like-minded individuals, or to have fun with unusual body-altering experiences. For the majority of its running time, the film merely functions as a survey of the practice, interviewing various adherents with different levels of experience and various motivations for the unusual act – some who’ve been suspended countless times and are proselytizers, and others who’ve just done it once and are still reeling from the intensity of the experience. Close to the end of the film, Shenton herself becomes suspended, and has a very intense, at times painful, experience, which she doesn’t regret, but is not interested in repeating. It’s refreshing that the outsider filmmaker not only takes a non-judgmental approach to an alternative lifestyle practice that might otherwise be too easily portrayed as a freakshow, but she even participates in it, even briefly. Ultimately, however, the project suffers from a lack of a compelling through line, and, to a lesser extent, very rough production values.

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