Coming to NYC’s Stranger Than Fiction series tomorrow, Tuesday, April 4: THE ROAD TO FAME
Hao Wu’s crosscultural coming of age of China’s one-child generation made its debut at Sheffield last year. It went on to screen at DOC NYC, CNEX Doc, Hawaii, DMZ Doc, and St Louis, among other events.
Wu uses the first collaboration between China and Broadway to explore the experiences and expectations of the children born of the implementation of the one-child policy, introduced in 1979 to curb overpopulation concerns. Profiling would-be performers from across socioeconomic strata, but all under extreme pressure from and beholden to their parents, the film’s surface story – the staging of FAME at Beijing’s Central Academy of Drama under the direction of Broadway professionals – serves as an apt mirror for the lofty dreams – and practical limits – of success. At the same time, the interactions between the students and their American musical theatre mentors reveal an intriguing instance of crosscultural adaptation and collaboration, with one particular scene promising select students an unlikely shortcut to Broadway success proving to be especially memorable.
Coming to DVD this coming Tuesday, March 4: THE IRAN JOB
Till Schauder’s look at an American basketball player on an Iranian team debuted at the 2012 Los Angeles Film Festival. Its fest circuit included Vancouver, New Orleans, San Diego, Philadelphia, Denver, and Documentary Edge before a limited theatrical release and VOD release last year.
I previously wrote about the doc upon its theatrical release here.
The filmmakers behind THESE AMAZING SHADOWS explore the voice actors who dub the Hollywood superstar internationally.
In the global business of Hollywood moviemaking, a film’s international box office is key to its overall success. In most markets, audiences disdain subtitles, preferring to instead watch films dubbed into their own language. The result is the creation of a curious kind of invisible, yet audible, local star – the regular dubbing actor who serves as the comforting, native voice of famed celebrities in different countries around the world. Director Paul Mariano and producers Christine O’Malley and Kurt Norton – the filmmakers behind THESE AMAZING SHADOWS – another inside look at and celebration of filmmaking – and the rest of their team go behind the scenes and into the dubbing studios of the international film marketplace to explore the work and lives of several local actors familiar to their fellow countrymen as the voices of George Clooney.
Coming to theatres today, Thursday, February 27: AS THE PALACES BURN
Don Argott’s band profile-turned-courtroom drama made its world premiere earlier this month at Philadelphia’s Trocadero Theatre. SpectiCast releases the doc worldwide for a series of largely one-night-only events tomorrow.
Originally commissioned to profile the popular metal band Lamb of God and their fans as they toured around the world, Don Argott found himself having to switch gears unexpectedly when lead singer Randy Blythe is arrested halfway through the tour upon arriving in Prague. At the band’s last concert in the Czech Republic, two years ago, a young fan died after sustaining injuries trying to stage dive, and Blythe is being held responsible, though the authorities made no effort to contact him or the band in the intervening two years. Despite posting bail, Blythe is not released from prison, and faces up to a decade in prison if found guilty, a situation which inspires Lamb of God’s legion of fans, and fellow celebrity musicians, to petition for his return to the States. In a case of being in the right place at the right time, Argott is able to use Blythe’s unfortunate predicament to craft a much more intriguing film than the one he set out to make, but one still informed by the footage he’d already shot highlighting the band’s impact on their admirers, as, at the center of the courtroom drama that develops is the spectre of one of those fans, the young man who lost his life. Interesting in its exploration of an initially Kafka-esque foreign justice system, and successful in making the viewer root for Blythe, the circumstances of the change in focus make it difficult for Argott to really individuate the band members or to more fully develop Blythe, beyond establishing that the once out-of-control singer has been clean and sober for some time. Still, it remains an intriguing enough stranger than fiction story that is able to resonate beyond the band’s core fanbase.
One of my favorite film events of the year, the True/False Film Festival, begins its second decade tomorrow, with its eleventh edition running through the weekend. Just over forty features plus several shorts will screen for the fest’s loyal local Columbia MO audience, as well as the scores of visitors that flock to the event each year. A festival with a distinctive vision, an appreciation for cinematic non-fiction, the organizers also have cultivated a unique approach to the event itself, peppering it with beloved traditions, like the March March Parade, eclectic screening venues, and fun parties. This year, they’ve decided to shake things up even further, revealing several weeks ago that they will be sharing revenue with their featured filmmakers. I’m always excited to head out to the festival, which carefully curates a program of new and recent work, cherry-picking from among the best of Sundance, IDFA, and other events, while offering some secret sneak previews, and, this year notably, a number of world premieres – though they don’t make a big deal about the latter. The following highlights these as well as other works I haven’t already mentioned here before. Continue reading
Coming to DVD today, Tuesday, February 25: PEOPLE OF A FEATHER
Joel Heath’s examination of the Inuit and their relationship to the eider duck made its debut at Hot Docs in 2011. It went on to screen at Vancouver, DocuWest, United Nations Association, Big Sky, Cleveland, and at numerous environmental fests in San Francisco, Korea, New Zealand, Estonia, and Indonesia, among others.
Attempting to blend ethnography with environmental awareness, Heath approaches the Inuit of Canada’s Hudson Bay both historically, reconstructing their life from a century ago, in an homage to Robert Flaherty’s NANOOK OF THE NORTH; and, in contrast, presently, working with the inhabitants of Sanikiluaq to explore their day-to-day and traditional activities, including the hunting of the eider duck, whose down keeps them warm. Expanding from the latter, the film adds yet another dimension, the observations of a scientific research team looking at the behavior of both the eider duck and the troubling environmental impact of hydro projects in the region. Of these, the historical reconstructions add the least to the proceedings, detracting from the more compelling, and urgent, ecological controversy. Despite this, the beautiful lensing, including underwater and time-lapse photography, presents audiences with a distinct view of the challenges transforming life for both men and fowl today.
Coming to NYC’s Anthology Film Archives as part of the NYWIFT Presents series tonight, Tuesday, February 25: HOW TO LOSE YOUR VIRGINITY
Therese Shechter’s humorous study of our culture’s obsession with purity debuted at Jihlava last Fall. Other fest screenings have included DOC NYC, Cucalorus, and the St John’s International Women’s fest, among others.
I previously wrote about the doc here.
Coming to VOD today, Tuesday, February 25: ITALY: LOVE IT OR LEAVE IT
Gustav Hofer and Luca Ragazzi’s personal chronicle of their ambivalence around their home debuted at Milano in 2011. It went on to screen at Zurich, Thessaloniki Doc, Reykjavik, Docpoint, Goteborg, SXSW, Full Frame, Hot Docs, Seattle, Antenna, and DOXA, among others. FilmBuff now releases the film across multiple platforms.
I previously included the doc in my Thessaloniki coverage here.
Coming to DVD tomorrow, Tuesday, February 25: BETTER THINGS: THE LIFE AND CHOICES OF JEFFREY CATHERINE JONES
Maria Paz Cabardo’s portrait of the comic book artist and fine art illustrator made its debut at Kansas City’s Spectrum Fantastic Art Live! event in 2012. It went on to screen at Belfast, Leeds, and Hoboken, among other fests.
Jones, who passed away in 2011, had a career that spanned four decades, including sequential comic book art, fantasy/sci-fi book cover illustrations, and regular strips in National Lampoon and Heavy Metal. While this work is greatly admired by fellow artists, it hasn’t extended much beyond a niche fanbase. Cabardo’s film, in great part, aims to correct this obscurity, serving up countless examples of Jones’ impressive work, and offering points of curiosity, such as the influence of the 1979 art book, THE STUDIO, produced together with workspace-mates and now-notable fellow illustrators Bernie Wrightson, Michael Wm Kaluta, and Barry Windsor-Smith. While this is an admirable mission, it still feels somewhat too insider and anecdote-driven, and serves to dilute the more intriguing personal elements that make Jones’ story unique, chiefly his transition from male-identified Jeff Jones to female identified Jeffrey Catherine Jones, but also her complicated friendship with artist – and, at that point, fellow crossdresser – Vaughn Bode, and bouts with depression which at times interrupted her ability to create art. While the film addresses these biographical details, the more general artist appreciation often competes with them, holding the project back from transcending its limited scope or likely audience. Still, Cabardo succeeds in creating a tribute to Jones’ work that demonstrates the late artist’s exceptional talent.
Coming to DVD tomorrow, Tuesday, February 25: THE CRASH REEL
Lucy Walker’s exploration of snowboarder Kevin Pearce’s traumatic brain injury had its world premiere at Sundance last year. The film went on to screen at DOC NYC, Berlin, Hot Docs, True/False, Full Frame, Seattle, and Los Angeles, among many others, and was shortlisted for the Best Documentary Oscar.
I profiled the doc before Sundance here.