Category Archives: Film

Traverse City 2014: Documentary Overview

tcff-1-2014Michael Moore’s Traverse City Film Festival celebrates its first decade beginning today, Tuesday, July 29, with more than 200 films screening before its 10th anniversary edition wraps up this Sunday, August 3. Among these are more than fifty feature documentaries, largely offering the festival audience a look at some of the standout programming that premiered earlier in the year at notable fests like Sundance, SXSW, Tribeca, and Hot Docs, as well as a smattering of premieres and largely undiscovered gems, noted below:

Meet-the-PatelsIn the first category are titles such as Geeta Patel and Ravi Patel’s funny, personal look at Indian matchmaking in America, MEET THE PATELS (pictured); Håvard Bustnes’ ridealong with unassuming senior activist agitators, TWO RAGING GRANNIES; Andrew Renzi’s meditation on modern-day Montana cowboys, FISHTAIL; Alan Hicks’ portrait of a musical mentor/mentee relationship, KEEP ON KEEPIN’ ON; Luis Lopez and Clay Tweel’s look at the race to popularize 3D printing, PRINT THE LEGEND; and Kris Kaczor’s environmentally-focused chronicle of participatory democracy in New England, DIVIDE IN CONCORD.

Bending-the-Light-2Making its world premiere at the fest is Michael Apted’s celebration of the craft of lensmaking, BENDING THE LIGHT (pictured); while North American debuts include Vít Klusák and Filip Remunda’s GOOD DRIVER SMETANA, a portrait of an unlikely Czech activist; and Jeroen Van Velzen’s A GOAT FOR A VOTE, which follows three Kenyan teenagers as they run for class president. US Premieres include Dave Jannetta’s doc murder mystery, LOVE AND TERROR ON THE HOWLING PLAINS OF NOWHERE; and Joerg Burger’s existential experimental doc, FOCUS ON INFINITY. Other nonfiction titles taking the spotlight include Thomas A Morgan and Jack Henry Robbins’ profile of American homelessness, STORIED STREETS; Julianna Brannum’s portrait of an influential political activist, LADONNA HARRIS: INDIAN 101; and Robin Blotnick and Rachel Lears’ inspiring underdog story of unionizing undocumented NYC bakery workers, THE HAND THAT FEEDS.

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On DVD: IN NO GREAT HURRY

In-No-Great-Hurry-Key-Image-Photo-by-Tomas-Leach-280x140Coming to DVD today, Tuesday, July 29: IN NO GREAT HURRY: 13 LESSONS IN LIFE WITH SAUL LEITER

Tomas Leach’s portrait of a seminal figure in American photography debuted in 2012 and has screened at film and photography events including DOC NYC, Thin Line, Salem, Open City, SANFIC, and Bath. It enjoyed a limited theatrical release at the beginning of the year.

I previously wrote about the doc upon its release here.

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On DVD: FINDING VIVIAN MAIER

findingvivian_01Coming to DVD tomorrow, Tuesday, July 29: FINDING VIVIAN MAIER

John Maloof and Charlie Siskel’s chronicle of the discovery of the work of the previously unknown photographer made its debut at Toronto last year. It went on to screen at DOC NYC, New Orleans, Berlin, Palm Springs, and Boulder, before its very successful theatrical release.

I previously wrote about the doc out of Toronto here.

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On Cable: LOVE CHILD

love childComing to HBO tonight, Monday, July 28: LOVE CHILD

Valerie Veatch’s look at a shocking case of parental negligence in South Korea had its world premiere at Sundance earlier this year. Other fest screenings have included Provincetown, Waterfront, and JeonJu, among others.

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

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On TV: FALLEN CITY

fallen cityComing to PBS’s POV tonight, Monday, July 28: FALLEN CITY

Qi Zhao’s exploration of the aftermath of a natural disaster had its premiere at IDFA in 2012. It went on to have its North American debut at Sundance, and also screened at DOXA, Belfast, Brisbane, LA Asian Pacific, and Boulder, among others.

I previously profiled the doc prior to Sundance here.

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In the Works: ALMOST THERE

The story of the unexpected consequences of newfound attention on an undiscovered outsider artist.

almost_there-01After filmmakers Dan Rybicky and Aaron Wickenden meet Peter Anton drawing portraits at Chicago’s Pierogifest, they start to befriend the octogenarian artist, and learn that he has created a series of elaborate autobiographical collage diaries in which he has documented every year of his life. Fascinated by his work, they become wrapped up in his life, especially when they discover that his lifelong home has fallen into squalor. When the filmmakers help him mount a gallery exhibition of his outsider art for the first time, this leads to unanticipated revelations about his past, a radical change in his living situation, and questions about the limits of altruism. Continue reading

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Special Screening: THE CASE OF THE THREE SIDED DREAM

Rahsaan1-710x450Coming to NYC’s Rooftop Films tomorrow, Saturday, July 26: THE CASE OF THE THREE SIDED DREAM

Adam Kahan’s tribute to innovative jazz musician Rahsaan Roland Kirk made its debut at SXSW this Spring. Its festival run includes Full Frame, Maine, jazz fests in New York and Burlington, and the upcoming Pan African fest in Atlanta and Don’t Knock the Rock in LA.

Rahsaan Roland Kirk was a self-described Black classical musician, whose accidental blinding shortly after birth predisposed him to experience the world largely through sound. A musical child prodigy, Kirk developed a unique sound and a penchant for playing multiple instruments simultaneously, becoming, in effect, a one-man band – even playing the recorder through his nose when his mouth was otherwise engaged in certain pieces. Kahan’s film, despite the insider nature of its title, a variation on a 1975 Kirk album that only fans are likely to be aware of, provides more than enough context and background to fill-in those viewers who have never been exposed to the musician before. While anecdote-filled interviews with family, friends, and musician collaborators offer personal appreciations, the strength of the film for music fans is in Kahan’s employ of a range of archival footage showing the virtuoso in various performances, from THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW to jazz fest appearances.

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In Theatres: THE KILL TEAM

kill teamComing to theatres tomorrow, Friday, July 25: THE KILL TEAM

Dan Krauss’ investigation into a disturbing case of soldier criminality premiered at Tribeca last year, winning a jury prize. It went on to screen at AFI Docs, San Francisco, Hot Docs, Little Rock, Camden, Vancouver, London, Warsaw, Zagreb, DOK Leipzig, Abu Dhabi, Big Sky, Cucalorus, and Denver, among several others.

I included the film in my AFI Docs coverage here.

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NewFest 2014: Documentary Overview

newfest logoBeginning tonight, Thursday, July 24, NewFest brings six nights of LGBT cinema to NYC audiences for its 26th edition. While still maintaining its slim line-up of only 19 features and just over 20 shorts this year, I expect a re-expansion in the future as the event’s partnership with LA’s larger Outfest continues to develop.

WE_CAME_TO_SWEATblogFor now, the festival presents just four feature length nonfiction or hybrid projects: The world premiere of Kate Kunath and Sasha Wortzel’s WE CAME TO SWEAT: THE LEGEND OF STARLITE (pictured), on the impact of gentrification on NYC’s oldest African American gay bar; Todd Verow and Charles Lum’s AGE OF CONSENT, a history of London’s only gay fetish bar; Stefan Haupt’s THE CIRCLE, a hybrid portrait of Switzerland’s post-war gay underground; and Andrea James’ ALEC MAPA: BABY DADDY, the comedian’s one-man show about new fatherhood.

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Special Screening: POINT AND SHOOT

point-blog480Coming to Brooklyn’s Nitehawk Cinema for its Summer Documentary Series (in collaboration with the Tribeca Film Institute) tomorrow, Thursday, July 24: POINT AND SHOOT

Marshall Curry’s compelling portrait of a sheltered young American turned Libyan freedom fighter had its world premiere at Tribeca, where it won the Best Documentary Award. Others fests include Hot Docs, Maryland, AFI Docs, IFF Boston, Nashville, and the upcoming Traverse City, New Zealand, and Melbourne fests.

Inspired by the films of obscure Australian adventurer Alby Mangels, an early fascination with LAWRENCE OF ARABIA and CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE, and eager to escape his upbringing as a coddled only-child, Baltimore-based OCD-sufferer Matthew VanDyke set out to film himself on an international motorcycle adventure through northern Africa and the Middle East. During his self-described “crash course in manhood,” VanDyke temporarily adopts the alias “Max Hunter” to reflect the image of masculinity he wants to project, and films American soldiers in Iraq who themselves are eager to be filmed looking tough, even staging the kicking in of a door for his camera. Though he returns home to reunite with his girlfriend and mother after the conclusion of his adventure, the outbreak of the Arab Spring lures him back, having previously befriended Nuri, a Libyan hippie turned revolutionary. Still filming even as he takes up arms with the ragtag militants, VanDyke gets caught in an ambush by Gaddafi forces and imprisoned for nearly six months, but still decides to remain even after his escape to fight – though he finds himself more and more conflicted in his dual role of documentarian and freedom fighter. Curry, approached by VanDyke with his footage, deftly interweaves the latter with an extended interview with the adventurer as he watches and reflects on his experiences with the benefit of hindsight. In the process both filmmakers tease out a subtle exploration – if not cultural critique – of the intersection of self-image, performance, and documentation.

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