Category Archives: Documentary

In Theatres & On VOD: MANNY

mannyComing to theatres and VOD tomorrow, Friday, January 23: MANNY

Ryan Moore and Leon Gast’s profile of an unlikely boxing champion bowed at SXSW last year. Other screenings include Toronto’s Reel Asian and Little Rock.

First-time filmmaker Moore benefits from enlisting veteran helmer Gast, no stranger to boxing docs thanks to his Oscar-winning WHEN WE WERE KINGS, to tell the story of champion Manny Pacquiao, a Filipino man who used the sport to climb out of lifelong poverty and onto the world stage. His is a rags-to-riches, Cinderella story, appealing on the surface as archival footage and much too serious narration shows his string of victories, but becomes an inadvertent parody of celebrity as Pacquiao is shown trying earnestly to conquer the worlds of both music stardom and politics, all while still devoting the bulk of his time to the ring. Unfortunately the film doesn’t particularly seem interested in interrogating the intriguing cost or consequences of fame beyond brief suggestions of extramarital trysts or gambling problems, preferring instead to offer up a hagiographic portrait, complete with admiring comments from recognizable admirers like Mark Walhberg and Jeremy Piven. As a result, while Moore and Gast might succeed in introducing an appealing sports figure with a familiar, inspirational backstory to the uninitiated, there’s not much beyond that to make their portrait particularly memorable.

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On VOD: BEFORE YOU KNOW IT

before-you-know-it-documentary-620x350New to VOD this week: BEFORE YOU KNOW IT

PJ Raval’s look at the lives of senior gay men had its world premiere at SXSW in 2013. Other festival screenings included IFF Boston, San Francisco, Edinburgh, Lone Star, Cucalorus, Cleveland, Florida, and several LGBT fests, including Inside Out, Outfest, Image Out, Reeling, Image + Nation, and Polari. It now comes to several VOD platforms, including iTunes, Google Play, Vudu, and more, with the assistance of the Sundance Institute’s #ArtistServices program.

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

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On DVD: ART AND CRAFT

art-and-craft-film-tribecaComing to DVD next Tuesday, January 27: ART AND CRAFT

Directors Sam Cullman and Jennifer Grausman and co-director Mark Becker’s portrait of an unusual art forger debuted at Tribeca last year. It went on to screen at Nantucket, Hot Docs, Montclair, and San Francisco, among others, and was shortlisted for the Documentary Feature Oscar.

I previously wrote about the doc here.

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Slamdance 2015: Documentary Overview

slamdanceThe 21st edition of Slamdance runs this Friday, January 23 through Thursday, January 29. Taking place concurrently with Sundance, it’s usually a challenge for the scrappy event to rally audiences and industry interest, but there are often a couple of small, hidden gems that emerge from the programming. I won’t have time to attend any screenings at the Treasure Mountain Inn given my Sundance duties, but with just ten feature documentaries in Slamdance’s slim line-up, here are a few nonfiction works that might end up popping:

thorRyan Wise’s I AM THOR (pictured) profiles not the Marvel comic book and movie Norse god, but Jon Mikl Thor, a 1970s rocker looking for his comeback. Another nostalgia-focused project, Jeremy Royce’s 20 YEARS OF MADNESS, reunites the team behind 1990s cult TV program 30 MINUTES OF MADNESS for a final episode.

rodmanPerhaps in line to benefit from more recent events, Colin Offland’s DENNIS RODMAN’S BIG BANG IN PYONGYANG (pictured) focuses on the outsized sports personality’s relationship to North Korea’s Kim Jong-un. Also exploring the intersection of celebrity and geopolitical events is Ben Patterson’s SWEET MICKY FOR PRESIDENT, which sees the Fugees’ Pras Michel become involved in the Haitian presidential campaign. Finally, heading into more serious terrain, Morgan Schmidt-Feng’s ON HER OWN details a woman’s struggles to hold on to her family farm against economic instability.

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In Theatres: RED ARMY

1201x782-03.-RED-ARMY-FU_XXX_ARCHSTILL_FETISOV_BOOK_039_FETISOV_GROUP_MILITARY_001-copy-1160x652Coming to theatres this Friday, January 23: RED ARMY

Gabe Polsky’s chronicle of the Soviet Union’s premier ice hockey team debuted at Cannes last year. It went on to screen at Telluride, Toronto, DOC NYC, the New York Film Festival, Chicago, Zurich, Austin, Vancouver, Karlovy Vary, Atlantic, and the Hamptons, among others.
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Even for non-fans of the sport, hockey became the must-see face-off between the US and the USSR in the 1980 Lake Placid Winter Olympics. The victory of the underdog American team – the so-called “Miracle on Ice” – was jingoistically spun to speak volumes about the superiority of the country – and capitalism – over the Soviet system, nevermind that the Russian team went on to win back-to-back gold in the 1984 and 1988 games. Polsky’s vibrant film moves beyond the singular 1980 showdown to reflect on the history of the Red Army team, its players, and the power of sports within the USSR. At its center is Vyacheslav “Slava” Fetisov, the team captain, a bristly, cocksure, and often very funny protagonist who reflects on the rigor and effectiveness of Soviet training, and the bonds of brotherhood it forged. If this inside view of Soviet-era ideology through athleticism isn’t fascinating enough, Fetisov recounts the paradigmatic shift that took place for teammates with the collapse of the USSR – a swirl of NHL contracts, culture clash, betrayals, unexpected lows, and triumphant comebacks, both on the ice and off.

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In Theatres: MISS HILL: MAKING DANCE MATTER

misshill1_2Coming to theatres this Friday, January 23: MISS HILL: MAKING DANCE MATTER

Greg Vander Veer’s profile of a pivotal figure in American dance debuted as the opening night film of the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Dance on Camera last year. Other fest berths have included Sarasota, Berkshire, Dance Camera West, St Louis, and Vancouver.

Martha Hill may not be as well-known as the other Martha of contemporary dance, Martha Graham, but in many ways, as argued in Vander Veer’s loving tribute, she’s just as – perhaps even more – significant. While Hill’s on-stage career was brief, her influence was felt more as an educator and advocate, proving instrumental in reshaping the nation’s positioning of dance not as a sidelined form of girls’ physical education, but as a full-fledged art form. At both the groundbreaking Bennington School of the Dance and at Juilliard, where she founded the dance department, Hill championed the art form, significantly arguing that dancers should have grounding in both modern techniques and classical ballet training. Vander Veer’s coverage of Hill’s behind-the-scenes role in legitimizing dance-as-art may at times feel hagiographic, a bit too insider, and somewhat repetitive, but gains significant power in the second half, when he tackles the political machinations behind the establishment of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, which sees a fascinating David vs Goliath face-off between George Balanchine’s New York City Ballet and Hill’s Juilliard.

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2015 Sundance Docs in Focus: PARIS IS BURNING

paris is burningThe final profile for this year’s Sundance comes From the Collection, celebrating one of the most enduring documentaries about subcultures: PARIS IS BURNING, Jennie Livingston’s classic look at NYC’s drag ball culture. Continue reading

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