Category Archives: Documentary


Patrolman-P-Key-ImageComing to the Audience Network on DIRECTV tomorrow, Saturday, December 20: PATROLMAN P

Ido Mizrahy’s exploration of an infamous police corruption scandal debuted at DOC NYC last year. It has also screened at the Jerusalem Film Festival, and now makes its broadcast debut.

In the early 1970s, then-NYC Mayor John Lindsay formed the Knapp Commission to investigate the NYPD as a response to officer Frank Serpico’s participation in a New York Times story making allegations of widespread corruption in the force. Mizrahy’s film focuses on NYPD officer Bill Phillips, who was compelled to wear a wire to record evidence of illegal police activity for the Knapp Commission after he himself was caught taking bribes. Breaking the code of police brotherhood by ratting out his fellow cops, Phillips alleges he was later set up to take the fall for a double homicide of a pimp and a prostitute, for which he was sentenced to over 30 years in prison. Working with New York magazine reporter Geoffrey Gray, who also occasionally narrates, Mizrahy follows the parallel story of the corrupt 1970s NYPD, full of fantastic archival footage of a seedy, decaying NYC, and the filmmaker’s own efforts to untangle fact from fiction in the charismatic Phillips’ claims of a police payback conspiracy that led to his present state – even resorting to the use of a lie detector. The result is a layered investigation that presents provocative questions about a case which has no simple answers.

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tales grimComing to NYC’s Quad Cinema tomorrow, Friday, December 19: TALES OF THE GRIM SLEEPER

Nick Broomfield’s investigation of an infamous South Central Los Angeles serial killer had its world premiere at Telluride this Summer. It went on to screen at Toronto, DOC NYC, NYFF, CPH:DOX, AFI Fest, and Zurich, among others, and has been shortlisted for the Academy Awards.

In 2010, the LAPD finally made an arrest in a serial killing case that stretches back to 1985, taking in Lonnie Franklin, Jr. The 57-year-old is suspected of being “the Grim Sleeper,” so named because it appeared that the killer took a fourteen year break between murders after 1988, resuming his work in 2002. British director Broomfield enters the African American neighborhood after Franklin’s arrest to make sense of the case: How could Franklin, a well-known figure in the community, be behind the crimes; did anyone suspect him; and why did it take the police so long to catch the serial killer? Though known for his on-screen, participatory approach, Broomfield wisely significantly tones it down here, never overtaking the film with his presence, allowing instead people within the community to take the lead, from Franklin’s friends – initially skeptical of the accusations, but then cautiously revisiting disturbing incidents that are now reframed in a new light – to the film’s standout subject, Pam Brooks, a former sex worker and addict who ends up becoming Broomfield’s guide to tracking down and interviewing other local working girls who encountered Franklin. While members of the community had organized to put pressure on the police to investigate the murders in the 1980s, many felt that the police were disinclined to spend resources on the case, since victims were all African American, and many were prostitutes. Broomfield’s surprisingly intimate interviews underscore this theory, with discrimination and devaluation of the lives of poor black women by law enforcement coming to the fore, making the film a powerful indictment of systemic institutional racism and classism that sadly has even more impact in the wake of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.

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mentorNew to DVD/VOD this week: MENTOR

Alix Lambert’s smalltown bullying exposé debuted at Newport Beach in the Spring. It has also screened at Frameline, Austin, Woodstock, and Chagrin.

Mentor OH has been recognized as one of the best places to live in America, but this designation ignores a rash of teen suicides that have taken place – suicides that seem linked to bullying and homophobia. Lambert’s investigation focuses on two of the victims, Eric and Sladjana, as represented by their parents, who reveal the treatment their children faced in the hallways of Mentor High School. Eric’s is a sadly familiar and simple story: He internalized the homophobic slurs and taunts of worthlessness levied against him on a daily basis, while also suffering physical violence, and kept his torment from his parents until he one day shot himself. Sladjana suffered similar abuse, compounded by her family’s Croatian immigrant background and their corresponding ethnic, cultural, and language differences – but in contrast with Eric’s family, hers were all too aware of what she was going through, and vocal, persistent advocates for their daughter. They actively sought solutions to the bullying, seeking institutional changes at the high school, getting counseling for Sladjana, and expressing their concerns that she might harm herself if she didn’t get relief from the ill treatment – and there pleas fell on deaf ears as their daughter eventually hanged herself. Sladjana’s experience is much more complex, and for that reason takes on a greater weight here – which consequently leads to Eric’s story getting somewhat lost by the time the film wraps up. Lambert spends a bit too much screen time painstakingly laying out Sladjana’s parents’ detailed evidence – email messages with school administrators, records of Sladjana’s visits to the school nurse, logs from counseling sessions – evidence, noted here, that the school itself went out of its way to quickly dispose of in order to protect itself. The film does have clear impact, particularly in revealing Sladjana’s heartbreaking story and exposing the reprehensible actions of the school administration, but leaves somewhat underdeveloped a larger sense of the underlying aspects of the town’s culture that would allow them to willfully ignore or excuse such behavior that sacrifices young people like Sladjana and Eric in its wake.

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The-Joe-ShowComing to VOD today, Tuesday, December 16: THE JOE SHOW

Randy Murray’s revealing look at the infamous Sheriff Joe Arpaio debuted at the Sedona International Film Festival this Winter. It has also screened at Hot Docs, Phoenix, DocuWest, Las Vegas, and Poland’s American Film Festival, among others. FilmBuff now releases the film on VOD platforms including iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, Xbox, PlayStation, Vudu, and Google Play.

Since 1992, Arpaio has spent his time as the sheriff of Arizona’s Maricopa County seeking publicity, and his public relations director Lisa Allen and he are more than happy to relive past press coups and celebrate themselves in front of Murray’s camera, the sheriff even allowing himself to be coaxed into karaoke numbers to bookend the film. As already signaled by the film’s title, these badly crooned songs underscore what’s at Arpaio’s core: a desire to be in the spotlight, no matter what – good or bad. Murray cannily constructs his film at first to seem to be more-or-less a puff piece, allowing Arpaio space to make a joke of the stunts he’s pulled as harmless or entertaining, and giving more screen time to someone who would likely shrivel up and vanish if the media stopped indulging him. Allen, for her part, treats her extensive interviews as chummy, reality TV confessionals, reveling in how great a job she’s done for Arpaio, and obnoxiously asking “So what is the downside, exactly?” to their media-hungry antics. As the portrait proceeds, however, critical voices become stronger, and demonstrate exactly what that downside is as they reveal Arpaio and his office’s abuses of power, from racial profiling in the targeting of undocumented immigrants to failing to investigate hundreds of sex crimes, to prisoner deaths through cruel treatment and the systematic intimidation of political opponents. Adopting a “tough on crime” approach not because it’s a deeply-considered philosophy to matters of law enforcement but instead because it’s what will get him attention and, in turn, popular support, Arpaio emerges not just as a reprehensible, self-serving public figure, but as a deeply cynical, amoral one, more than happy to play around with serious issues that hurt real people in the desperate pursuit of celebrity.

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1201x782-KEY-IMAGE-A-Small-Section-of-the-world-Photo-by-Logan-Schneider-copy-1160x652Coming to VOD today, Tuesday, December 16 and to theatres this Friday, December 19: A SMALL SECTION OF THE WORLD

Lesley Chilcott’s profile of a women-run coffee collective made its bow at Woodstock this Fall. Other festival screenings have included DOC NYC, Indie Memphis, and Savannah. In addition to theatrical engagements, FilmBuff now releases the doc on VOD platforms including iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, Google Play, Playstation, Time Warner Cable, VHX, Vudu, XBOX, and Xfinity, with Netflix to follow next month.

I previously wrote about the film for DOC NYC’s program, saying:
In equal measures inspiring and endearing, Leslie Chilcott’s film spotlights a group of Costa Rican village women who, seeking a way to offset the economically motivated flight of their husbands and sons from the community, form ASOMOBI, a coffee-growing collective – despite not knowing the first thing about growing coffee. Persevering through a steep learning curve and numerous setbacks, ASOMOBI captures the attention and support of a local exporter, and through her, the international coffee industry.

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Red_Hollywood_001Coming to DVD tomorrow, Tuesday, December 16: RED HOLLYWOOD

Thom Andersen and Noël Burch’s examination of the work of blacklisted directors originally debuted at Locarno in 1996. This revised version has screened at the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Art of the Real, as well as at a special retrospective series this past August.

I previously wrote about the film here.

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Sundance 2015: Additional Programming Announced

ad_34504873_9f4e6961aeb34e6e_webThe 2015 Sundance Film Festival has just announced a number of additional selections to the Premieres, Special Events, and New Frontier sections, while also revealing the lineups for Sundance Kids and this year’s From the Collection retrospective screening. The new programming may be found here.

Previously announced: US and World Cinema Documentary and Dramatic Competitions and NEXT; Spotlight, Park City at Midnight, and New Frontier; Premieres, Documentary Premieres, and Special Events; and Shorts.

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