human experimentComing to theatres and to VOD today, Friday, April 17: THE HUMAN EXPERIMENT

Dana Nachman and Don Hardy’s investigation into the potential dangers we face from everyday chemical exposure debuted at Mill Valley in 2013. It went on to screen at IDFA, Big Sky, Cinequest, One World, Boulder, Cleveland, Nashville, Planete + Doc, and Washington DC’s Environmental fests, among others.

As suggested by its title, Nachman and Hardy’s film posits that all of us have been unwilling participants in a nasty scientific study over the past half century that essentially has consisted of releasing 80,000 chemicals into the American marketplace in pretty much every product you can think of, assuming these chemicals are safe, and sitting back while health problems increase, from breast cancer to infertility to autism. While the film takes on too much to be able to establish completely persuasive causality, where it is much more effective is in its consideration of the efforts of the chemical industry in lobbying against regulation and better safety testing. Though this lobby makes use of Big Tobacco’s playbook to deny blame or introduce skepticism – well covered in other recent docs like MERCHANTS OF DOUBT – Nachman and Hardy’s exploration offers compelling evidence that should make viewers take notice of the shortcomings of our present protections from potential harm.

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ANTARTIC-master675Coming to theatres today, Friday, April 17: ANTARCTIC EDGE: 70° SOUTH

Dena Seidel’s look at the work of climate change researchers had its world premiere at the Princeton Environmental Film Festival last month. It will also screen at the upcoming International Wildlife and Minneapolis film fests.

The latest in a growing group of environmental docs set in polar environments, Seidel’s film follows a team of scientists as they investigate the impact of climate change in Antarctica, spending months at sea to study a wide range of subjects, all ultimately connected to increased carbon levels and the warming of the oceans. These include the dramatic loss of sea ice, and its impact on penguin habitat, with a resultant decline in their population; the effects on krill and other smaller organisms that serve as the primary food for larger animals; and the tracking of various species to determine changes in development, feeding ranges, and behavior. Researchers note the dangers posed by icebergs, tempestuous seas, and equipment failure, as well as the personal sacrifices they make to collect the data they hope will ensure the future. Though attempting to inject some personality via brief profiles of a few scientists, Seidel’s film, made through Rutgers University, remains primarily educational rather than artful as it illustrates the important work being done to make sense of the mess we’ve made of the environment.

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childrenofgiant james dean kidsComing to PBS’s Latino/a focused Voces series tomorrow, Friday, April 17: CHILDREN OF GIANT

Hector Galán’s look at the impact on Latinos of the 1956 epic GIANT had its world premiere at San Antonio’s CineFestival earlier this year. Since then, the doc has screened in Marfa TX and at a number of community screenings in advance of its PBS debut tomorrow.

Sixty years ago, the small West Texas town of Marfa played host to some of the biggest stars in Hollywood, as George Stevens filmed his adaptation of GIANT. Based on Edna Ferber’s contentious novel, the film embraced its themes of gender inequality and racial and class divisions between Mexican- and Anglo-Americans, heady topics for a studio picture starring Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, and James Dean. Galán returns to Marfa, speaking to residents who were cast as extras and surviving actors like Earl Holliman and Elsa Cardenas, to reveal behind-the-scenes details of the production’s takeover of the town, and how its controversial themes affected not only Marfa’s residents, but Latino/a audiences around the world. While the film errs too much on the side of the former, indulging in far too many anecdotal reminiscences about run-ins with celebrities and the like, rather than keeping focused on the more interesting focus on race and class, this ostensible focus nevertheless elevates it beyond a simple “making of” featurette.

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Visions du Réel 2015 Overview

visionsThe long-running Swiss nonfiction event, Visions du Réel, begins tomorrow, Friday, April 17, and concludes next Saturday, April 25. More than 100 features will screen during the 46th event, which takes place annually in Nyon, with highlights noted below: Continue reading

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saladComing to theatres tomorrow, Friday, April 17: SALAD DAYS: A DECADE OF PUNK IN WASHINGTON, DC (1980-1990)

Scott Crawford’s look back at a legendary decade of music had its world premiere at DOC NYC last year. It has also screened at Sound Unseen, Big Sky, and at engagements around the country.

I previously wrote about the film for DOC NYC’s program, saying:
As a teenager in the 1980s, Scott Crawford began a fanzine documenting the explosion of a distinctive brand of hardcore punk music in Washington, DC, exemplified by bands like Minor Threat, Bad Brains, and Fugazi. Drawing from his own immersion in that world, and featuring a who’s who of musicians, label owners, photographers and writers, his new documentary explores the development and evolution of the DC punk scene, and how it shaped independent music and popular culture in the decade that followed.

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populationNew to DVD and VOD this week: POPULATION BOOM

Werner Boote’s investigation into the truth behind overpopulation fears debuted in Austrian theatres in 2013. Festival screenings include CPH:DOX, One World, Transylvania, Washington DC’s Environmental film fest, and several other environmental festivals around the world.

Just around Halloween 2011, the media briefly turned its attention to an announcement that the world’s population had reached seven billion, a growth of one billion inhabitants in just a dozen years, sparking renewed interest in the long-held fears of an overpopulated Earth short on basic natural resources. As a result, Austrian filmmaker Boote sets out around the globe to question whether these concerns are justified, adopting an on-camera host presence a la Michael Moore. It’s immediately apparent that Boote doesn’t believe in the supposed dangers of overpopulation, but he feigns naiveté in interview after interview to tease out the real culprits that have led to the problems facing the world. While the established arguments would have it that exponential population growth puts a strain on our global capacity for food, energy, and water, Boote and his interview subjects offer the practical reasoning that it’s not simply a question of overpopulation, but of overconsumption – and the people taking more than their fair share are not the poor of the developing world, who typically don’t have easy access to the planet’s limited non-renewable resources, but instead the greedy developed world, and, more specifically, the banks and the petrochemical industries. Overpopulation, in this conception, is merely a convenient but powerful distraction to shift the blame for a lack of resources from the 1% haves who are swallowing them up to the 99% have-nots who are struggling to make due without. While a simple argument, it’s compelling, but Boote’s tired filmmaking approach, which includes an especially irksome repeated image of the director pretending to read a paper while standing in the middle of traffic in various world cities, as well as extended, non-dynamic sit down interviews, robs the film of the impact it might have had in more capable hands.

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mannyNew to DVD this week: MANNY

Ryan Moore and Leon Gast’s portrait of a Filipino boxing champion premiered at SXSW last year. It has also screened at Toronto’s Reel Asian and Little Rock, among other fests.

I previously wrote about the doc here.

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