Category Archives: Film


back on board louganisComing to HBO tomorrow, Tuesday, August 4: BACK ON BOARD: GREG LOUGANIS

Cheryl Furjanic’s portrait of the Olympic diving champion made its bow at AFI Docs last year. Its fest circuit also included DOC NYC, New Orleans, Hamptons, Palm Springs, Big Sky, Cleveland, Hot Springs Doc, Ashland, Frameline, Outfest, and other fests on the LGBT circuit, including Portland, Seattle, Miami, Denver, Honolulu, and Boston.

I previously wrote about the film for DOC NYC’s program, saying:
This strikingly candid profile explores the triumphs and tragedies of Greg Louganis, considered by many the greatest diver of all time. A four-time Olympian, Louganis became a household name and an inspiration to countless athletes, but after he publicly revealed his sexuality and HIV status, the backlash cost him dearly. BACK ON BOARD follows Louganis as he simultaneously faces the loss of his home and the possibility of redemption, returning to the diving board to mentor the 2012 US Olympic diving team.

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antonovComing to PBS’s POV tonight, Monday, August 3: BEATS OF THE ANTONOV

Hajooj Kuka’s look at the role of community in the face of a refugee crisis had its world premiere at Toronto last year, where it claimed an audience award. Other fest appearances have included Dubai, Goteborg, Carthage, FESPACO, Luxor, Human Rights Watch, Tempo Doc, San Francisco, Seattle, Encounters, and Sydney, among others.

Set along the border of Sudan and South Sudan, an area emblematic of the half-century civil war that has plagued the only-recently separated countries, Kuka’s film focuses on refugees from the Blue Nile and Nuba Mountain regions, only a fraction of the 1.5 million Sudanese displaced by the conflict. Despite being subject to frequent bombing raids by the Sudanese government against the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, carried out by the Russian-made Antonov planes that lend the film its title, this community of farmers, herders, and rebels show a surprising resilience, laughing upon the completion of a bombardment as a show that they have once again survived. As Kuka’s untraditional portrait unfolds, it demonstrates the role music plays in bonding the people, surveyed here in vignettes as they express their views on the conflict and its impact on their lives, showcased through their employment of music and dance.

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toe tagComing to HBO tonight, Monday, August 3: TOE TAG PAROLE: TO LIVE AND DIE ON YARD A

Alan Raymond and Susan Raymond’s exploration of life in prison without the hope of parole makes its world premiere on the acclaimed cable network.

Set in the maximum-security California State Prison in the Mojave Desert, the film focuses on its Progressive Programming Facility, also referred to as Yard A or the Honor Yard, a program specifically geared to inmates sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. For this population of 600, Yard A provides a refuge from the culture of violence that plagues most prisons: Beyond offering opportunities to focus on spirituality, art, and music, a pre-requisite of participating in the program is the eschewal of longstanding prison mores like drugs, gang activity, and self-imposed racial segregation. The filmmakers profile several of the inmates, identifying their crimes, and showcasing the programs they’re engaged in, from painting murals to anger management. While some interviewees cling to their claims of innocence, others own up to their crimes, reconciled to the reality that, barring a legislative change, they will die in prison, since, as one inmate notes, life without parole is essentially just another kind of death sentence. Coming at a time when prison reform has entered the national dialogue, the Raymonds’ candid film also draw attention to the nation’s often excessive sentencing laws, which finds nonviolent and violent offenders alike caught in the prison-industrial complex, including juvenile offenders deprived of any hope of release no matter whether they are rehabilitated or not.

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farleyComing the theatres today, Friday, July 31: I AM CHRIS FARLEY

Brent Hodge and Derik Murray’s tribute to the late comedian makes its debut this weekend in limited theatrical engagements around the country prior to its broadcast debut on Spike next month.

Farley, best known for his time as a SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE cast member before breaking into films with TOMMY BOY, died of a drug overdose at the age of 33. Hodge and Murray’s film chooses to focus more positively on the trajectory of the comedian’s life and career than on his sad death – a choice that often sits awkwardly with the emotional tenor of the interviews they elicit from friends and family. Hewing closely to biopic conventions, the film trots out family members in the form of Farley’s siblings to sketch out his idyllic, loving Wisconsin upbringing and his natural showmanship, while college friends and Second City castmates trace the early development of his talents as he discovered performing, particularly through improv, which paved the way for his SNL breakthrough, and which are showcased here through intriguing albeit crude video recordings. The requisite focus on his memorable SNL characters takes up the bulk of the film, accompanied by an impressive roster of talking heads, including the typically reclusive Adam Sandler and Lorne Michaels – a testament to the enduring impact Farley had on his collaborators nearly two decades after his death. At the same time, the filmmakers’ never seem to give enough breathing room to process the seemingly still-raw grief expressed by Farley’s friends over his sad death, instead taking pains to shift the mood back to one of celebration, a tactic that ends up feeling forced, making this look back at a self-sabotaged career feel a bit too superficial and rose-colored than well-rounded.

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best of enemiesComing to theatres today, Friday, July 31: BEST OF ENEMIES

Morgan Neville and Robert Gordon’s revisitation of a notorious battle of the minds debuted at Sundance this year. It has traveled extensively since, screening at Nantucket, BAMcinemaFest, AFI Docs, Outfest, San Francisco, SXSW, Hot Docs, Full Frame, Srasota, Miami, and IFF Boston, among others.

I profiled the doc before Sundance here.

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Special Screening: RACING EXTINCTION

racing extinctionComing to NYC’s Rooftop Films tomorrow, Friday, July 31: RACING EXTINCTION

Louie Psihoyos’ rousing environmental call to action had its world premiere at Sundance at the beginning of the year. It has since screened at Nantucket, Telluride Mountainfilm, DC’s Environmental fest, Seattle, Maui, SF Green, and Boulder, among others.

My pre-Sundance profile of the doc may be found here.

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Melbourne 2015: Documentary Overview

miff_art_940_470hzFounded in 1952, the Melbourne International Film Festival is among the longest-running film events in the world, championing Australian cinema while also showcasing the best international work on the fest circuit. The 2015 edition opens today, Thursday, July 30 and runs through Sunday, August 16, and presents approximately 80 new and retrospective feature length documentaries as part of its impressive line-up. A selection of world premieres, regional filmmaking, and less familiar titles are noted below. Continue reading

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