Category Archives: Documentary

Tribeca 2015: Competition & Viewpoints Lineups Announced

tribecaThe Tribeca Film Festival has just announced the films in its World Narrative Competition, World Documentary Competition, and Viewpoints section. The remaining features from the Spotlight, Midnight, and Special sections will be revealed this Thursday, March 5. Of the 51 titles revealed today, 23 are documentaries, noted below: Continue reading

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Coming to NYC’s Film Forum this Friday, March 6: GREY GARDENS

Albert and David Maysles, Ellen Hovde, and Muffie Meyer’s seminal portrait of an unforgettable mother and daughter bowed in 1975 at the New York Film Festival. It went on to screen at Cannes and Toronto the following year, and is recognized as a classic of nonfiction filmmaking. The film now returns to theatres in a newly restored version for its 40th anniversary.

I previously wrote about the doc here.

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bridgeComing back to DVD today, Tuesday, March 3: THE BRIDGE

Eric Steel’s controversial exploration of Golden Gate Bridge suicides made its debut at Tribeca in 2006. It went on to screen at San Francisco, London, Sarajevo, Chicago, and Havana, among others. Initially released on DVD in 2007, Kino Lorber re-releases it now.

After reading that San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge was the most popular site in the world for suicide jumpers, Steel set out to document a year of the bridge, setting up cameras more than a mile away and shooting the expanse of the structure for the entirety of 2004. During this period, they caught several suicides and suicide attempts on film, a selection of which are shown here, accompanied by interviews with family members, friends, and witnesses who provide what background they can on why these individuals made the choice to end their own lives. Additionally, they speak with Kevin Hines, who suffers from bipolar disorder and survived an earlier jump – a rare occurrence as noted here. Steel was criticized for lying on his film permit application about the focus of his film, and even more so for including footage of the suicides he captured on film, with some suggesting he would encourage copycats, and others simply calling the project a snuff film in disguise. Despite these charges of voyeurism and exploitation, the film exposes the deep discomfort around the subject of suicide. As strangers are viewed walking along the bridge, the audience watches with dread as individuals linger, fearful that they may hop over the unprotected railing and fling themselves into the water below. While it’s a relief when this doesn’t happen, it’s still an uncomfortable shock every time it does. Steel’s interviews with survivors reveal something of the jumpers’ lives – and suffering – helping to humanize the disturbing statistics and draw awareness to the underlying issues of depression and other psychological problems that our society still doesn’t want to fully face.

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Special Screening: THE FARM: ANGOLA, USA

The-Farm-530x317Coming to NYC’s Stranger Than Fiction series tomorrow, Tuesday, March 3: THE FARM: ANGOLA, USA

Jonathan Stack and Liz Garbus’ exploration of life and death in the notorious Louisiana prison debuted at Sundance in 1998, where it won the Documentary Grand Jury Prize. Its festival run also included San Francisco, Full Frame, Santa Barbara, and Florida, among several others. The film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, and won two Emmy Awards.

Stack and Garbus, working with co-director Wilbert Rideau, then a death row inmate at Angola and the editor of the prison’s investigative journalism magazine, profile the lives of six other inmates in what is know as the country’s largest and most dangerous maximum-security prisons, once the site of a large slave plantation named after the African nation from which its labor was procured. Ranging from first timers just arriving to serve out their sentence to forty-year veterans, the men candidly discuss the realities of life behind bars as they reveal the circumstances that brought them there and the ways they’ve coped with the realization that, for 85% of its population, Angola will be their last stop before death – whether by execution or other causes. Starkly addressing the latter statistic, one subject, convicted for murdering his wife, is followed in his last months as he succumbs to lung cancer, while another man, who has already served 20 years of a 100 year sentence for rape, doggedly maintains his innocence but is perfunctorily denied parole consideration despite credible doubt. While the filmmakers don’t sugarcoat the crimes that many of their subjects have committed and admitted to, they powerfully point out the hypocrisy and injustice of a system that denies even the possibility of the rehabilitation that it’s supposed to support – rehabilitation that is demonstrable in several of the men whose stories they follow here, but who are doomed to live out the rest of their days behind bars.

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out in the silenceComing to PBS’s America ReFramed series tomorrow, Tuesday, March 3: OUT IN THE SILENCE

Joe Wilson and Dean Hamer’s personal confrontation with small town homophobia has been screening extensively at festivals, universities, conferences, and community events since 2009. Among the festivals it’s appeared in are Human Rights Watch, Nashville, Rhode Island, aGLIFF, ImageOUT, Reel Affirmations, and Reeling. The film has also received an Emmy Award.

After longtime partners Wilson and Hamer decided to place their wedding announcement in Wilson’s rural hometown newspaper, the simple act sets off virulent homophobia within the community of Oil City PA, with anti-gay activists like Diane Gramley, the heartless and humorless head of the local American Family Association, denouncing gay marriage. A local resident, Kathy, takes note of the controversy, and, with no one else to turn, reaches out to Wilson to somehow help her her teenage son, CJ, the victim of regular bullying at school. Moved by her plea, the filmmaking pair returns to Oil City to explore why the conservative community has reacted so strongly against their declaration of love and commitment, and why Kathy has had such difficulty finding support for CJ’s plight. Believing that commonality trumps difference, they seek out an illuminating dialogue with opponents, forming an unexpected friendship with an Evangelical preacher who criticizes their union, while they also serve as role models for young CJ, providing compassion and hope that he will make it through this challenging time.

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A portrait of a beloved, influential American author, and the story of the more than three decade odyssey to complete it.

vonnegutIn 1982 documentary filmmaker Robert Weide contacted Kurt Vonnegut, proposing that he make a documentary about his life and career. Securing the author’s permission, the project commenced in 1988 – but what was intended to be completed in short course carried on until Vonnegut’s death in 2007. Over the intervening decades, the filmmaker and his literary idol became close – so much so, that the meta story of their friendship eventually found its way into the project, spurring Weide to complete the film with the assistance of filmmaker Don Argott.

Weide and Argott are nearing the end of a Kickstarter campaign to allow them to finish the long-gestating project. At the time of this writing, they’re closing in on their goal, having received over 80% of their $250,000 target so far. With just over a week and half to go before the deadline, there’s time for interested readers to contribute. For more information about the project, check out its website.

Vonnegut was the first author whose work I became obsessed with as a teenager, so, on a personal level, I’m extremely curious about the insight Weide gained about the author’s life and work through their decades-long collaboration. The fact that Weide was also behind Larry David’s CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM as a director and executive producer promises a knowing appreciation of Vonnegut’s sense of humor and satire. While I’m typically extremely wary of meta elements to nonfiction projects, it’s a welcome sign that Weide has brought in Argott, himself an accomplished documentarian (LAST DAYS HERE, THE ART OF THE STEAL, and ROCK SCHOOL, among others), to oversee this element, who will hopefully providing some distance. At the same time, it’s the rare project that is crafted over such a lengthy period of time, so in this case, focusing some attention on the story behind the story seems justified, and, as the filmmakers note, at least in the case of Vonnegut, meta-textuality is a defining characteristic of his work, so this aspect should have a direct resonance with the film’s ultimate subject.

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kung fu elliotComing to VOD today, Friday, February 27: KUNG FU ELLIOT

Matthew Bauckman and Jaret Belliveau profile of an aspring Canadaian action hero made its bow at Slamdance last year. Other fest screenings have included Sarasota, Hot Docs, Awesome Fest, Fantasia, and Fantastic Fest, among others.

I previously wrote about the film here.

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