Category Archives: Documentary

In Theatres: THE IMMORTALISTS

immortalistsComing to theatres today, Friday, November 28: THE IMMORTALISTS

David Alvarado and Jason Sussberg’s portrait of the fight against mortality had its premiere at SXSW this Spring. It went on to screen at Hot Docs, Mill Valley, Philadelphia, Portland, London, Denver, and Sydney Underground.

Unwilling to accept that death is inevitable, the two scientists profiled in Alvarado and Sussberg’s film, Brit Aubrey De Grey and American Bill Andrews, have devoted their professional careers to researching and combatting the aging process. While contrasting figures in approach and appearance, they both make for camera-friendly, if ultimately somewhat irksome, documentary subjects – with their peculiarities unfortunately too often trumping the more intriguing science. Sporting an exaggerated, showy beard, de Grey is an eccentric mad professor type who has cultivated a forced profundity that grows tiresome. He’s also a polyamorous nudist with a much older wife and a frail mother – the latter details primarily introduced to provide personal motivation for his war against senescence, with the former more simply offering evidence of his quirkiness – or perhaps foreshadowing a full turn to a developing cult of personality. The far more straitlaced Andrews is instead excessively represented through his obsession with marathon running, which is putting stress on his and his wife’s bodies as they age. For a point of poignancy and additional incentive, his research partner and friend is diagnosed with cancer. de Grey and Andrews do spend a little time explaining their theories, but Alvarado and Sussberg seem willing to gloss over the curious fact that they take opposing views on the same mechanism at the heart of the aging process. Additionally, aside from a brief debate between de Grey and an Oxford professor that touches on larger issues around immortality – overpopulation, limited resources, etc – the filmmakers generally allow their subjects to sidestep these thorny concerns. While the film has found a couple of curious characters with supposedly unorthodox ideas, it unfortunately fails to fully explore the content – or potential – of their crusade.

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In Theatres: THE KINGDOM OF DREAMS AND MADNESS

1201x782-KEY-IMAGE-kingdom_1-©-2013-Dwango-copy-1160x652Coming to theatres tomorrow, Friday, November 28: THE KINGDOM OF DREAMS AND MADNESS

Mami Sunada’s behind-the-scenes look at Studio Ghibli debuted theatrically in Japan last November. Its festival circuit has included Toronto, DOC NYC, San Sebastian, Sydney, Rio, St Louis, and Melbourne, among others.

I wrote about the film for the DOC NYC program, saying:
Offering animation fans a rare look inside Japan’s Studio Ghibli, this fascinating film profiles its most famous creators, Hayao Miyazaki (SPIRITED AWAY, HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE), and his friendly rival and business partner, Isao Takahata (POM POKO). As both men work on their swan songs – Miyazaki’s THE WIND RISES and Takahata’s THE TALE OF THE PRINCESS KAGUYA – Mami Sunada contrasts the auteurs’ creative approaches while offering insight into the vision and dedication that have consistently resulted in onscreen magic.

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In Theatres: ANTARCTICA: A YEAR ON ICE

antarcticaComing to theatres this Friday, November 28: ANTARCTICA: A YEAR ON ICE

Anthony Powell’s chronicle of polar living made its bow at the New Zealand International Film Festival last year, winning the prize for best doc cinematography. It has gone on to screen at Calgary, Anchorage, Cleveland, and Thin Line.

In a project that took a decade to complete, Powell trains his specially-made cameras on the least hospitable part of the world, filming inhabitants of the McMurdo scientific research station on Antarctica’s Ross Island. McMurdo is one of several international scientific installations, with a combined population totaling about 5000, though fewer than 700 remain throughout the harsh Winter months. A diverse cross-section of these intrepid individuals, representing scientists, technicians, support staff, and service workers, who make their home in the pristine polar environment. It takes a certain type of personality to seek out this kind of life experience, so it’s not surprising that many of Powell’s subjects have an endearing element of quirkiness about them, though even that can give way during the punishing total darkness and monotony of Winter. Powell’s beautifully lensed film expertly conveys a sense of the wonder and beauty of the setting, particularly in stunning time-lapse footage, creating a fascinating portrait of a unique place and of its temporary caretakers.

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In Theatres: REMOTE AREA MEDICAL

still_remoteComing to theatres this Friday, November 28: REMOTE AREA MEDICAL

Jeff Reichert and Farihah Zaman’s look at a temporary volunteer medical services clinic bowed at Full Frame last year. It went on to screen at Hot Docs, IFF Boston, Sarasota, RiverRun, Traverse City, Milwaukee, Seattle, Los Angeles, Denver, and Nashville, among others.

I included the film in my Hot Docs coverage here.

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On DVD: A LIFE IN DIRTY MOVIES

The-Sarnos-Still-2-580x300Coming to DVD today, Tuesday, November 25: A LIFE IN DIRTY MOVIES

Wiktor Ericsson’s revisitation of the work of a softcore auteur premiered at Gothenburg last year. Its festival circuit included DOC NYC, London, Cleveland, and the San Francisco and Toronto Jewish film festivals, among others.

I previously wrote about the doc here.

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On DVD/VOD: METALLICA: SOME KIND OF MONSTER

metallicaComing to DVD and VOD today, Monday, November 24: METALLICA: SOME KIND OF MONSTER

Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky’s portrait of a metal band in therapy had its world premiere at Sundance in 2004. It went on to screen at Nashville, Philadelphia, Sydney, Ptown, Transylvania, Thessaloniki Doc, Athens, and Jerusalem, among many others, and to be released theatrically, winning the Independent Spirit Award for Best Documentary in 2005. Recently screened as part of DOC NYC’s Docs Redux section, this DVD re-release commemorates the film’s 10th anniversary, and also marks its debut on VOD platforms.

In 2001, as heavy metal rock icons Metallica set out to record a new album, they invited filmmakers Berlinger and Sinofsky to document the process. When band group therapist Phil Towle is introduced, it becomes clear that this will deviate from the standard behind-the-scenes, studio-focused rockumentary approach. After nearly two decades together, the band has to face serious communication and anger issues – not to mention individual struggles with drugs and alcohol, which soon remove lead singer James Hetfield from the scene for months. When he returns, his carefully controlled and limited schedule leads to increasing tensions between Hetfield and drummer Lars Ulrich, manifested not in the stereotypical aggression of out-of-control rockstars, but in unexpected discussions of hurt feelings that lend a distinct air of couple’s counseling to the proceedings. As a result, Berlinger and Sinofsky engender curiosity in their film beyond the band’s existing fanbase, crafting an intimate and honest look at middle-aged performers trying to make their musical marriage work.

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Special Screening: ALMOST THERE

1201X782-Almost-There_16x9-1160x652Coming to Los Angeles’ ArcLight Doc Series tonight, Monday, November 24: ALMOST THERE

Dan Rybicky and Aaron Wickenden’s profile of an outsider artist debuted at DOC NYC last week. It now makes its LA premiere as the closing film of the ArcLight Doc Series’ Winter season.

I previously wrote about the film for DOC NYC’s program, saying:
After Dan Rybicky and Aaron Wickenden meet octogenarian Peter Anton, they become fascinated by a series of elaborate autobiographical collage diaries that the eccentric outsider artist has created, stretching back decades. Becoming enmeshed in his life – as they later learn, like so many before them – the filmmakers help him mount a gallery exhibition for the first time, which leads to unanticipated revelations about Anton’s past, a radical change in his unfathomable living situation, and complex questions about the limits of altruism.

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