Category Archives: Documentary

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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Asian American International Film Festival 2014: Documentary Overview

Screen-Shot-2014-06-20-at-3.56.26-PMTomorrow, Thursday, July 24 kicks off the 37th edition of the longest-running event celebrating the work of Asian and Asian American filmmakers, AsianCinevision’s Asian American International Film Festival. Running through Saturday, August 2, AAIFF will present nineteen features, including six documentaries:

bringingtibethome02-770x433The Asian American nonfiction offerings this year are: Tenzin Tsetan Choklay’s BRINGING TIBET HOME (pictured), in which a Tibetan artist smuggles tons of Tibetan soil to the seat of Tibet-in-exile, Dharamsala; Dianne Fukami and Eli Olson’s STORIES FROM TOHOKU, following Japanese Americans on a mission to Japan to help in the aftermath of disaster; Steven de Castro’s FRED HO’S LAST YEAR, a tribute to the jazz composer in his vibrant final year of life; and Dean Hamer and Joe Wilson’s KUMU HINA, on an inspirational trans Native Hawaiian teacher.

lovehotel31-770x433Asian doc features screening this year are Philip Cox and Hikaru Toda’s THE LOVE HOTEL (pictured), about sex, intimacy, and commerce in conservative Osaka; and Christine Choy’s GHINA, a cross-cultural exploration of the growing presence and developmental influence of China in Ghana.

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Special Screening: AN HONEST LIAR

honest liarComing to Brooklyn’s Nitehawk Cinema for its Summer Documentary Series (in collaboration with the Tribeca Film Institute) tomorrow, Wednesday, July 23: AN HONEST LIAR

Justin Weinstein and Tyler Measom’s wide-ranging look at the life and work of a famed skeptic debuted at Tribeca. Its fest circuit has also included Nantucket, Hot Docs, AFI Docs, and Outfest.

I previously wrote about the film for the Nantucket program, saying:
Renowned magician-turned-paranormal-skeptic James “The Amazing” Randi has been debunking claims of pseudo-science and the supernatural for more than four decades. Incensed that his beloved magic tricks were being co-opted by con artists for their own financial gain at the expense of the gullible general public, Randi and his collaborators have exposed faith healers, psychics, fortune tellers, and gurus around the world, often duplicating their tricks publicly to demonstrate how willing we all are to be deceived. But Randi himself is not immune to self-deception, especially in matters of the heart, as revealed in Justin Weinstein and Tyler Measom’s lively and entertaining portrait.

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On DVD: NEXT GOAL WINS

Next Goal WinsComing to DVD today, Tuesday, July 22: NEXT GOAL WINS

Mike Brett and Steve Jamison’s uplifting chronicle of the worst soccer team in the world debuted at Tribeca this Spring. It’s gone on to screen at Sydney, Sedona, Bermuda Docs, San Diego Latino, and various soccer-focused film events.

When the nondescript American Samoa soccer team lost to Australia by a devastating score of 31-0, they received the ignominious distinction of ranking lowest of all teams attempting to qualify for the World Cup in 2001. Over the next decade, the team continues its losing streak, never winning an official match – until non-nonsense Dutch coach Thomas Rongen arrives to prepare the ragtag team for the 2014 qualifier. Brett and Jamison follow the former award-winning coach as he gets his men – and one refreshingly embraced fa’afaine third gender player – into shape with discipline. Far more than a simple sports doc, this is an engaging underdog story, as the team seeks redemption on the world stage, even luring their losingest goalie back from Seattle to exorcise those 31 goals. Beyond this, the film also functions as a portrait of American Samoa in microcosm, from reflections on the lack of economic opportunities, leading many youth to enlist in the US military, to its status as an American territory, and how soccer serves as a way for the amateur players to represent pride in their culture internationally.

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On DVD: SMALL SMALL THING

small small thingComing to DVD today, Tuesday, July 22: SMALL SMALL THING

Jessica Vale’s exploration of systemic violence against children in Liberia premiered at Palm Beach last year. Other festival screenings have included Dallas, Bronze Lens, Encounters, Warsaw, Baghdad, Toronto Black, LA Pan African, and Egypt’s Luxor fest.

I previously wrote about the doc upon its theatrical release here.

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Special Screening: ART AND CRAFT

art-and-craft-film-tribecaComing to Brooklyn’s Nitehawk Cinema for its Summer Documentary Series (in collaboration with the Tribeca Film Institute) tomorrow, Tuesday, July 22: ART AND CRAFT

Directors Sam Cullman and Jennifer Grausman and co-director Mark Becker’s profile of a compulsive charlatan had its world premiere at Tribeca this Spring. It’s gone on to screen at Nantucket, Hot Docs, Montclair, Maryland, and San Francisco, among others.

I previously wrote about the film for the Nantucket program, saying:
Over the past 30 years, Mark Landis has placed his art in museums across the country – an impressive feat under normal circumstances, but especially noteworthy in this case, because Landis is an art forger. He doesn’t seek financial gain for his copies, but instead donates his work, adopting various identities – from estate executor to Jesuit priest – to facilitate his gifting. Technically, he may not even have committed a crime, but that hasn’t stopped Matthew Leininger, the museum registrar who first discovered Landis’ con, in his mission to end the deception. Tackling questions of authorship, authenticity, mental illness, and purpose, the filmmakers have crafted a complex portrait of an unforgettable character.

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