Now on DVD: 30 FOR 30 SEASON II/VOLUME I
Category Archives: Documentary
Coming to VOD today, Tuesday, December 10: STREET JOURNEYS
Tracy Christian’s look at one woman’s mission to help Nairobi’s street children made its debut at Birmingham’s Africa World Doc fest last year. Other screenings have included the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Art of the Real series, LA’s Women’s International film fest, and St Louis. FilmBuff now brings the film to iTunes, Amazon, Movies on Demand, PlayStation, Google, Vudu, CinemaNow, and XBOX.
Christian’s hour-long doc focuses on Shangilia Mtoto Wa Africa, a home established by a well-known Kenyan actress, Anne Wanjugu, to get homeless children off of Nairobi’s streets. Harboring no illusions about life on the streets, Wanjugu’s goal is practical – she teaches theatre arts and skills to give her dozens of charges the tools to escape drugs and exploitation and break the chain of poverty. Filming over several years – profiled children Sam and Martha are shown as they grow from pre-adolescents to young adults – Christian spotlights the beloved Wanjugu until her untimely death about halfway through the film, then shifts to the efforts of others who take the reins at Shangilia, climaxing in a late 2000s performance and recording tour of the US by a selection of children, accompanied by professional African-American musicians. The project is well-meaning, with a welcome, affirming, and proactive message about making a difference even in the face of challenging circumstances, but, over all, it’s a workmanlike film, with the potential of its longitudinal aspect largely unexplored in favor of an overuse of the kids’ performances and timeworn developments like the US trip.
Coming to DVD and VOD today, Tuesday, December 10: UNHUNG HERO
Brian Spitz’s exploration of that size does in fact matter had its world premiere at SXSW earlier this year. It went on to screen at Seattle, Traverse City, Calgary, St Louis, Milwaukee, and Sydney Underground. The film also made its broadcast debut this Fall on Showtime.
I included the doc in my SXSW coverage here.
This is the third of four pointers to the lineup announcements for the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. Just announced are the selections for the Premieres and Documentary Premieres, located here.
The programming slate wraps up with one final announcement revealing this year’s Shorts programming.
Now on DVD: 30 FOR 30 SEASON II/VOLUME I
ESPN’s popular sports documentary series wrapped up its latest season last month. This new boxed set collects half of their most recent offerings, fifteen films covering athletic history, personalities, and issues related to a range of sports. This post and a follow up tomorrow offer very brief thoughts on this collection. Continue reading
Coming to HBO tonight, Monday, December 9: SIX BY SONDHEIM
James Lapine’s profile of the acclaimed composer and lyricist makes its debut as the final film in the HBO Docs Fall series.
Frequent collaborator Lapine joins with critic Frank Rich as executive producer to trace Sondheim’s career and talent, foregoing the standard parade of talking heads gushing about his genius to instead construct a decades-spanning interview with the man himself, culled from archival appearances and newly shot material. Supplementing this footage, in which Sondheim both relates autobiographical details and, more fascinatingly, details his creative process, are the titular set pieces that are meant to be the film’s selling point – a half dozen of his songs, from his Broadway debut WEST SIDE STORY, to his biggest mainstream hit, “Send in the Clowns.” Three of these performances are from past stagings or excerpts from other work, like DA Pennebaker’s COMPANY, while the others are brand-new, serving as an excuse to recruit performers like Darren Criss, America Ferrara, and even Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker (as directed by Todd Haynes). While these re-stagings add some variety, singling out these six songs feels fairly arbitrary, given the breadth of Sondheim’s work, and the inclusion of celebrities somewhat unnecessary in the face of the copious amount of past footage on hand. That said, for a viewer like myself, with virtually zero interest in musicals, the project is laudably accessible, with Sondheim concisely and engagingly able to articulate the fundamentals of his approach to craft, making this worthwhile viewing for a broader audience than one might expect.
Dori Berinstein’s loving tribute to the multi-hyphenate musical genius made its debut at the BFI London Film Festival this Fall. It went on to screen at DOC NYC and the Hamptons, and now comes to Lincoln Center before its national broadcast debut at the end of the month on AMERICAN MASTERS.
I previously wrote about the film for the DOC NYC program guide, saying:
Before his untimely death last year, composer Marvin Hamlisch was a triple-threat in the worlds of music, film and theater. A Juilliard prodigy, he developed into a hit-maker, creating instant classics like THE WAY WE WERE and the score for A CHORUS LINE, winning every major award – Pulitzer, Tony, Grammy, Emmy and Oscar. His loved ones and collaborators, from Barbra Streisand and Carly Simon to Steven Soderbergh and a constellation of Broadway luminaries, offer an affectionate and entertaining tribute of the beloved showman’s life and work.
Brian Knappenberger’s exploration of Internet collective Anonymous debuted at Slamdance last year. It went on to screen at SXSW, Hot Docs, Sheffield, Traverse City, Silverdocs, and Seattle, among others, and to enjoy a limited theatrical as well as VOD release. Knappenberger’s new film on information activist Aaron Swartz, THE INTERNET’S OWN BOY, will premiere in competition next month at Sundance.
I previously included the doc in my SXSW coverage here.
Coming to theatres today, Friday, December 6 and to VOD this coming Tuesday, December 10: DESERT RUNNERS
Jennifer Steinman’s chronicle of a year-long endurance challenge had its world premiere at Edinburgh. Other festival screenings have included Mill Valley, Denver, IDFA, Vancouver, and the Hamptons. In addition to theatrical and other fest engagements, the film will be available on Amazon and iTunes.
I previously wrote about the doc here.
New to VOD this week: ARTIFACT
Bartholomew Cubbins (AKA Jared Leto)’s indictment of the modern recording industry made its debut at Toronto last year, where it won the audience award. It went on to screen at SXSW, DOC NYC, and Melbourne, among other fests. The doc is now available worldwide on iTunes.
Filmed over the course of two years, Leto’s engaging film chronicles his band, Thirty Seconds to Mars, as they record This Is War, the follow-up to their best-selling second album while fighting a staggering $30 million lawsuit waged against them by their record album, BMI. While fans of the band, and music doc lovers generally, will appreciate the behind-the-scenes of the three-man band as they craft songs under the guidance of legendary music producer Flood, the film is far more interesting in its laying out of the arguments against the antiquated business practices of the record industry. As Leto and his partners face the possibility of a career-ending court fight, former BMI executives, attorneys, and other musicians detail the outrageous economics of the music business, where even a multi-million bestseller can leave a band in serious financial debt to their label. The latter comes off as an ever more greedy and clueless corporate tool even as it faces extinction, more than willing to sacrifice its artists in pursuit of a vanishing profit. While Thirty Seconds to Mars manage to figure out a somewhat workable solution, Leto’s film serves as a cautionary tale about the pitfalls of the modern music industry and a call for an alternate model.