Category Archives: Documentary

Special Screening: MATEO

mateoComing to NYC’s Rooftop Films tomorrow, Friday, July 18: MATEO

Aaron I Naar’s portrait of an unlikely mariachi singer had its world premiere earlier this year at SXSW. It went on to screen at Hot Docs and Martha’s Vineyard, and will be part of the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Sound+Vision series next month.

Matthew Stoneman proves that appearances can be deceiving. Not only does the nerdy, ginger-haired man look far younger than his fifty years, but when he starts to sing, he becomes almost another person, one known by the titular Hispanicized sobriquet. The intriguing story of how Stoneman went from aspiring to be the next Elton John to claiming the title of America’s first white mariachi – it involves robbery and prison time – is only the backdrop of Naar’s complex profile. Following him over four years, the director focuses on Mateo’s make it or break it moment – completing an album in his adopted home of Havana while he contends with self-destructive tendencies, including a distracting predilection for Cuban prostitutes and poor business instincts. Emerging at once as both the film’s hero and anti-hero, Stoneman engenders audience support and head-shaking frustration in equal measures, taking this beyond standard music doc conventions to a much more intriguing look at the wide chasm that lies between talent and fame.

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On VOD: A BRONY TALE

brony taleNew to VOD this week: A BRONY TALE

Brent Hodge’s look at MY LITTLE PONY’s adult fandom had its world premiere this Spring at Tribeca. Its fest circuit has included DOXA, Seattle, Calgary Underground, and New Zealand’s Documentary Edge, among others.

Like the other, very similar documentary profile on this subculture, Laurent Malaquais’ BRONIES: THE EXTREMELY UNEXPECTED ADULT FANS OF MY LITTLE PONY, Hodge weaves together portraits of various fans, possible explanations for the phenomenon, and a climax at a Brony convention, while using a performer from the show as a tour guide of sorts through the fandom. His choice of featured subject is his personal friend, Ashleigh Ball, who voices two roles on the latest version of the franchise, and whose invitation to attend BronyCon ostensibly serves as the impetus for the filmmaker’s project. She’s an appealing enough point of identification for a general audience – while part of the show, she’s not herself a brony – though she seriously overplays her wariness, unconvincingly hemming and hawing about whether she should accept a free trip to NYC, while scenes about her non-Pony-related music career are nothing more than gratuitous plugs. While Hodge explores the unorthodox nature of the fanbase through some of his interview subjects – chiefly a pair of psychologists who have been studying the phenomena – he seems more interested in simply celebrating its positivity, which is fine enough. Where the film overreaches, however, is through those psychologists, who proffer the theory that bronies are a response to 9/11 the way that hippies were the product of Vietnam. While there’s something to be said for the fandom’s earnest, non-cynical embrace of the show’s very basic concepts of cooperation and friendship, it’s going many steps too far to suggest such an import for a small fringe subculture without any practical agenda beyond entertainment and community.

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In Theatres: ALIVE INSIDE

alive insideComing to theatres this Friday, July 18: ALIVE INSIDE: A STORY OF MUSIC & MEMORY

Michael Rossato-Bennett’s look at the restorative power of music debuted at Sundance this year, where it picked up an audience award. Its fest circuit has included Nantucket, Seattle, Big Sky, RiverRun, deadCenter, Nashville, Ptown, and Cleveland, among several others.

My pre-Sundance profile of the doc may be found here.

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On VOD: TEENAGE

teenageComing to VOD today, Tuesday, July 15: TEENAGE

Matt Wolf’s exploration of the birth of the teenager premiered at Tribeca last year. Screenings followed at Hot Docs, AFI Docs, Melbourne, Traverse City, Sidewalk, BFI London, DMZ Docs, Hot Springs, CPH:DOX, Denver, Portland, and Big Sky, among others. It now comes to various VOD platforms.

I previously wrote about the doc out of Tribeca here.

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On VOD: SOUNDING THE ALARM

SoundingTheAlarm_HeroComing to VOD today, Tuesday, July 15: SOUNDING THE ALARM

John Block’s exploration of the impact of autism has been screening at special events at hospitals, universities, and media centers in Boston, Miami, and New York since the beginning of the year. It most recently screened as part of last month’s Nantucket Film Festival, and now comes to Netflix, iTunes and Amazon Prime.

I previously wrote about the film in the Nantucket program, saying:
Since the 1990s, the number of reported cases of autism has increased dramatically, with the most recent Centers for Disease Control estimates suggesting a prevalence rate of one in 68 children. A decade ago, when Bob and Suzanne Wright’s grandson Christian was diagnosed, the couple made it their mission to discover the causes, treatments, and cure for the disorder, and they founded the advocacy organization Autism Speaks. Filmmaker John Block’s moving documentary tells the Wrights’ story, as well as the stories of other families affected by their children’s autism diagnoses, detailing their day-to-day struggles and triumphs as they seek better lives for their loved ones.

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On DVD: NORTHERN LIGHT

northernlightComing to DVD tomorrow, Tuesday, July 15: NORTHERN LIGHT

Nick Bentgen’s portrait of community and snowmobiling had its world premiere at True/False last year. Other fests included Visions du Réel, Hot Docs, BAMcinemaFest, New Orleans, Viennale, and Sebastopol Doc.

I covered the doc out of True/False here.

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On TV: GETTING BACK TO ABNORMAL

getting back to abnormalComing to PBS’s POV today, Monday, July 14: GETTING BACK TO ABNORMAL

Louis Alvarez, Andrew Kolker, Peter Odabashian, and Paul Stekler’s look at race relations and politics in post-Katrina New Orleans debuted at SXSW last year. It’s gone on to screen at Hot Springs Doc fest, New Orleans’ FilmOrama, and the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Art of the Real series.

I wrote about the doc out of SXSW here.

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In Theatres & On VOD: THE BATTERED BASTARDS OF BASEBALL

battered bastardsComing to NYC and LA theatres and to VOD today, Friday, July 11: THE BATTERED BASTARDS OF BASEBALL

Chapman Way and Maclain Way’s look at an underdog independent baseball team premiered at Sundance earlier this year. It went on to screen at Tribeca and Los Angeles, among others. It now comes to Netflix, as well as NYC’s Village East and LA’s Laemmle’s Music Hall.

My pre-Sundance profile of the doc may be found here.

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Outfest 2014: Documentary Overview

www.outfestOne of the largest and most influential LGBT film festivals in the world, Outfest, opens its 32nd edition tonight, Thursday, July 10. Running through Sunday, July 20, the fest will bring scores of shorts and over 60 features to Los Angeles audiences, including more than 20 documentary features. Nonfiction takes a few prime slots, including the Gala Centerpiece, MY PRAIRIE HOME, Chelsea McMullan’s profile of Canadian trans musician Rae Spoon; Special Event TO BE TAKEI, Jennifer M Kroot’s portrait of the STAR TREK actor turned LGBT icon; and Platinum selection KATE BORNSTEIN IS A QUEER AND PLEASANT DANGER, Sam Feder’s look at the pioneering gender outlaw.

diorThe main program showcases the remainder of the event’s doc programming, a vibrant mix of recent new work, including, among others, portraits of notable LGBT figures like BACK ON BOARD: GREG LOUGANIS, Cheryl Furjanic’s look at the famed Olympic diver; I ALWAYS SAID YES: THE MANY LIVES OF WAKEFIELD POOLE, Jim Tushinski’s exploration of the life and career of the famed adult filmmaker; AN HONEST LIAR, Justin Weinstein and Tyler Measom’s surprising biography of noted skeptic magician James “The Amazing” Randi; and DIOR AND I (pictured), Frederic Tcheng’s countdown to the unveiling of designer Raf Simons’ first collection for Christian Dior.

naomiOther doc offerings include Thomas G Miller’s LIMITED PARTNERSHIP, about America’s first legally married same-sex couple; Nicolas Videla and Camila Donoso’s NAOMI CAMPBEL, IT’S NOT EASY TO BECOME A DIFFERENT PERSON (pictured), a hybrid project exploring the life of a Chilean trans woman hoping to win a plastic surgery competition; and blair doroshwalther’s OUT IN THE NIGHT, which unpacks the truth behind an infamous case of a so-called lesbian gang attack in Greenwich Village.

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Jerusalem 2014: Documentary Overview

jff-2014_1.jpgTomorrow, Thursday, July 10, was to see the launch of the 31st edition of the Jerusalem Film Festival, which annually showcases a healthy collection of new nonfiction among its 200 strong line-up. Because of recent hostilities in the region, the open air screening of the opening night film has been postponed a week, with the remainder of the festival still set to continue beginning Friday. The festival, which runs through Sunday, July 20, introduces nearly 50 documentary features to the region. The following is a rundown of some of the new and local work making its debut: Continue reading

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