Category Archives: Film

On TV/DVD: THE BLACK PANTHERS: VANGUARD OF THE REVOLUTION

black panthersComing to PBS’s Independent Lens and to DVD this coming Tuesday, February 16: THE BLACK PANTHERS: VANGUARD OF THE REVOLUTION

Stanley Nelson’s chronicle of the Black Power organization made its debut at Sundance last year. Screenings followed at San Francisco, Sheffield, Pan African, IFF Boston, AFI Docs, Full Frame, Seattle, Encounters, Cleveland, MoMA’s Documentary Fortnight, DOXA, Sidewalk, and Black Harvest, among many other events.

I profiled the doc before Sundance here.

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On TV: BB KING: THE LIFE OF RILEY

93328137-BB king -ON-STAGE-cropComing to PBS’s American Masters tomorrow, Friday, February 12: BB KING: THE LIFE OF RILEY

Jon Brewer’s profile of the late blues legend debuted in a longer version in London in 2012. This earlier version screened at various fests, including New Orleans, NXNE, and Sedona, and has since been cut down for its television broadcast debut and revised to acknowledge KIng’s passing last year.

Born Riley B King on a cotton plantation in Mississippi, the son of sharecroppers, Brewer’s famed subject rose to the heights of the blues to become synonymous with the American music genre. Working in collaboration with King and his estate, the filmmaker constructs an appreciative biography of the musician through interviews with the man himself and glowing testimonials from family members, fellow musicians and famous fans, including Bonnie Raitt, Bono, Ringo Starr, John Mayer, and Morgan Freeman, who also narrates. Archival footage of performances both classic and more recent supplements the proceedings, amply demonstrating the consummate skills of the King of the Blues, and his well-earned place within cultural history.

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Berlin 2016: Documentary Overview

66_Berlinale_Plakat_1The 66th edition of the Berlinale opens tonight, Thursday, February 11 and runs through Sunday, February 21. A massive undertaking, the world-class festival, Germany’s largest, annually screens approximately 400 new and retrospective films across a wide range of programming strands. Among the new features on offer this year are just about seventy documentaries and hybrids, a sampling of which are noted below. Additionally, the festival is once again presenting Meet the Docs, a networking platform that is part of its corresponding European Film Market. The latter includes fifteen documentaries not in the official Berlinale fest program co-presented under the Docs Spotlight series by festivals IDFA, CPH:DOX, and DOK Leipzig; Meet the Festivals sessions; and a series of nonfiction-focused panels and conversations. Beyond this, the festival also presents Doc Station as part of the Berlinale Talents program, featuring ten projects in development. While my schedule continues to make attending the festival inconvenient, my attention would be drawn to the following programmed documentary features, were I to be heading to Berlin this weekend: Continue reading

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On DVD/VOD: SECUNDARIA

secundariaNew to DVD this week: SECUNDARIA

Mary Jane Doherty’s portrait of students at Cuba’s National Ballet School made its bow at IFF Boston in 2013. Other screenings have included the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Dance on Camera, Cartagena, Milwaukee, Havana, Newburyport Doc, and San Francisco Dance film fest.

Over nearly two dozen trips in the course of three years, Doherty traces the development of three young dancers, who began the prestigious school’s program in 2007: outgoing Gabriela, who comes from a relatively privileged background; shy Maryara, who, in contrast, is raised by a poor single mother; and Moisés, even poorer, and of African descent, making his road the hardest – though his story surprisingly doesn’t pop. Instead, after offering a quiet but unremarkable view of the school, its teachers, and the likeable enough but subdued subjects for a chunk of its initial running time, circumstances end up ultimately turning the film’s focus on Maryara, who takes the opportunity of being outside of Cuba while on an international tour to unexpectedly defect to America. This incident offers Doherty a surprising climax to an otherwise fine but unremarkable portrait, allowing the film to subtly explore some of the underlying tensions of life, culture, and politics in the island’s communist setting.

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On DVD: MACHINE GUN PREACHER

machine gun preacherNew to DVD this week: MACHINE GUN PREACHER

Kevin Evans and Zac Simpson’s look at an unlikely humanitarian made its debut at the Gasparilla International Film Festival in 2014.

Already the subject of a poorly-reviewed Hollywood action film by the same name, Evans and Simpson’s documentary profiles Sam Childers, a biker and former drug dealer who, after finding God, has dedicated his life to helping the orphans of South Sudan. A controversial figure, he has raised funds to build a compound to house, educate, and feed the charges he rescues, while protecting them with armed guards. Though produced for the NGO Angels of East Africa, the film admirably tries to avoid descending into outright hagiography, detailing the strain Childers’ self-appointed mission has placed on his family relationships and their finances. At the same time, the film’s general praise of his missionary work overwhelms any extended consideration of the serious contradictions its subject poses as a self-professed man of God gleefully toting guns, and is altogether too scattershot in its approach to create a cohesive portrait.

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SXSW 2016: Additional Features Announced

sxsw film 2016Supplementing their main features announcement last week, SXSW has just revealed the remainder of their film programming here, bringing the doc count to 57 of a reported 139 features. Following is the list of newly announced nonfiction features per section:

Festival Favorites:
newtownSelections culled from other notable festivals.

CAMERAPERSON
Kirsten Johnson
Exposing her role behind the camera, Johnson reaches into the vast trove of footage she has shot over decades around the world. What emerges is a visually bold memoir and a revelatory interrogation of the power of the camera.

GLEASON
Clay Tweel
At the age of 34, Steve Gleason was handed a death sentence. When doctors diagnosed him with ALS, they gave the former NFL defensive back and New Orleans hero two to five years to live. So that is what Steve chose to do – live.

NEWTOWN (pictured)
Kim A Snyder
Documenting the aftermath of the deadliest mass shooting of schoolchildren in American history. A cast of characters within Newtown and beyond interconnect to weave an intimate story of trauma, grief and community resilience.

PRESENTING PRINCESS SHAW
Ido Haar
The true story of the incredible Princess Shaw and the enigmatic composer Kutiman, who discovers her from the other side of the world.

RICHARD LINKLATER – DREAM IS DESTINY
Louis Black and Karen Bernstein
A feature-length documentary on the filmmaker Richard Linklater and an unusual look at a fiercely independent film style that emerged from Austin, Texas in the 1990s.

TRAPPED
Dawn Porter
Following the clinic workers, women, and lawyers on the front lines of the battle as they fight to keep abortion safe and legal across the US for millions of poor and uninsured women caught in a political quagmire.

Special Events:
darkonUnique one-offs.

DARKON
Luke Meyer and Andrew Neel
10th Anniversary screening of the cult-hit documentary about American LARPers. The film covers an epic war raging through the fantasy realm of Darkon, investigating our complex relationship with fantasy and reality.

Additions to Already Announced Sections

24 Beats Per Second:
sidemen
ROBERT KLEIN CAN’T STOP HIS LEG
Robert Klein
A hilarious and heartfelt look at the career and influence of comedy legend Robert Klein.

SIDEMEN – LONG ROAD TO GLORY (pictured)
Scott Rosenbaum
An intimate look at the lives and legacies of piano player Pinetop Perkins, drummer Willie ‘Big Eyes’ Smith and guitarist Hubert Sumlin, all Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf sidemen.

Visions:
boone
BOONE
Christopher LaMarca
Haunting and deeply human, Boone tells the story of three young goat farmers as they transition with the seasons and come to terms with the physical and emotional grit required to live in deep relationship with the land. This experiential film is a visceral meditation on the sacrifice and struggle of a lifestyle born of self reliance, a sensual homage to the heart and soul of a farmer.

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On DVD: MURDER OF A PRESIDENT

murder of a presidentComing to DVD today, Tuesday, February 9: MURDER OF A PRESIDENT

Rob Rapley’s consideration of the legacy of the 20th President of the United States made its world premiere on the PBS strand American Experience at the beginning of this month.

Rapley’s look at James A Garfield stems from Candice Millard’s book DESTINY OF THE REPUBLIC: A TALE OF MADNESS, MEDICINE AND THE MURDER OF A PRESIDENT, which lays out the fuller breadth of concerns addressed than is suggested by the film’s more truncated title. While the program does focus much of its running time on the assassination attempt that precipitated Garfield’s lingering, untimely demise just four months after he took office, Rapley does an admirable job establishing the Ohio congressman’s credentials, charisma, and unusual rise to power against a sadly familiar backdrop of economic disparity and cronyism. In addition to making the case for Garfield as a proto-Kennedy or Obama, the film also sketches out several other key players, including his principled wife Lucretia, political enemy NY Senator Roscoe Conkling, unbalanced assassin and position seeker Charles Guiteau, and the president’s malpracticing personal physician, Dr Doctor Willard Bliss, who, it’s argued here, likely bears a fair amount of the blame for Garfield’s passing. Like several other tales made for American Experience, this one employs numerous re-enactments, and while they are professionally mounted, they ultimately add very little to the otherwise compelling proceedings except a hokey, old-fashioned feeling that’s distinctly out of step with modern nonfiction programming.

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