Category Archives: Documentary

Special Screening: CESAR’S LAST FAST

cesar's last fastComing to NYC’s Indocumentales series this Wednesday, February 25: CESAR’S LAST FAST

Richard Ray Perez and Lorena Parlee’s chronicle of Cesar Chavez’s 1988 hunger protest debuted at Sundance last year. Its festival circuit has also included Atlanta, Chicago Latino, San Diego Latino, Minneapolis St Paul, San Francisco, DOXA, and Ambulante California, among others.

I profiled the doc before Sundance here.

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In Theatres: KUNG FU ELLIOT

kung fu elliotComing to theatres today, Friday, February 20: KUNG FU ELLIOT

Matthew Bauckman and Jaret Belliveau portrait of an inept provincial would-be action hero debuted at Slamdance last year, winning the award for best doc. Since then, it has screened at Sarasota, Hot Docs, Awesome Fest, Fantasia, and Fantastic, among other festivals.

The titular subject is an immature aspiring filmmaker who has two very bad homemade action films to his name that may or may not have won awards at local Canadian festivals. He ropes in his put-upon girlfriend and several friends to participate in his endeavors, filmed on the cheap on weekends in parks and featuring hokey martial arts and bargain basement stunts and FX. The film ostensibly follows him as he tries to up the ante in making his third film, BLOOD FIGHT, which gets delayed by technical issues, a trip to China, and, unconvincingly, domestic issues involving him lying about his supposed partial Japanese heritage, a dead ex, and several cases of infidelity. Despite Bauckman and Belleveau’s claims to the contrary, much of this reads as inauthentic, suggesting that Elliot and his girlfriend worked with the film team at least partially to stage some of what’s here – notably, very dubious captured-on-screen infidelity and over-the-top arguments – to make a semi-mockumentary played straight. At the very least, if the filmmakers weren’t a party to manufacturing the hard to believe elements, they instead may have been played by their subjects. Regardless, the film is never as funny or as provocative as it’s meant to be, though I’ll grant that it has clearly resonated with audiences much more than I’d have expected.

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On TV: A WILL FOR THE WOODS

A-Will-for-the-Woods-Key-Image-Photo-by-Jeremy-Kaplan-280x140Coming to PBS’s America ReFramed series this coming Tuesday, February 24: A WILL FOR THE WOODS

Amy Browne, Jeremy Kaplan, Tony Hale, and Brian Wilson’s look at the intersection of environmentalism and the mortuary industry made its debut at Full Frame in 2013. It went on to screen at DOC NYC, New Orleans, AFI Docs, Sidewalk, Camden, Big Sky, Cleveland, and Atlanta, among other events.

I included the film in my AFI Docs coverage here.

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ZagrebDox 2015 Overview

zagrebdox_logoThe 11th edition of Croatia’s premier nonfiction event, ZagrebDox, begins this Sunday, February 22, and continues through Sunday, March 1. The festival annually showcases nearly one hundred new and retrospective feature documentaries, in addition to shorts, masterclasses, panels, and a pitching forum. Its programming lineup includes a healthy mix of international work that has already debuted on the festival circuit, and has been covered here previously, as well new regional work, which makes up the bulk of the following overview:

russianOf the fest’s two competitions, Regional and International, there are more new titles that catch my eye in the former, including: Goran Stanković’s meditation on the lives of Serbian miners, IN THE DARK; Damir Ibrahimović and Eldar Emrić’s hybrid psychological profile of a Russian mafioso, RUSSIAN (pictured); Hrvoje Mabić’s look at a lesbian couple’s attempts to deal with past trauma, SICK; and Eva Kraljević’s portrait of her sister with Down’s syndrome, I LIKE THAT SUPER MOST THE BEST.

jettThe non-competitive Official Programme consists of nine thematic sections, including Biography Dox, which features films like Marcus Vetter and Karin Steinberger’s THE FORECASTER, on a prescient American economic analyst, and Lorenzo Cioffi and Alessandro De Toni’s RUSTAM CASANOVA – LIFE OF AN ARTIST, about a chameleon-like opera singer; Controversial Dox, featuring work like Aleksandar Nikolić’s THE SERBIAN LAWYER, which focuses on an attorney struggling to defend former enemies, and Karim B Haroun’s MYSTIC MASS, detailing a massive Shia Muslim ritual; Happy Dox, such as Oscar Pérez’s THE FINAL STRETCH, about a small Spanish village facing crisis; Teen Dox, which includes August Baugstø Hanssen’s profile of a borderline personality disorder sufferer, IDA’S DIARY, Alexandra Likhacheva’s look at modern Russia through the eyes of two disaffected young people, LONG.BLACK.CLOUD IS COMING DOWN, and Linda Hakeboom’s portrait of a Dutch rockstar poised for international celebrity, WHO THE FUCK IS JETT REBEL (pictured); as well as strands on global music, current affairs, documentary auteurs’ latest work, and factual programming.

fest of dutyZagrebDox’s Special Programme this year consists of two focus areas, the Middle East, which features such work as Firouzeh Khosrovani’s FEST OF DUTY
(pictured), a look at a traditional Muslim ceremony for girls, and Søren Steen Jespersen and Nasib Farah’s WARRIORS FROM THE NORTH, on the radicalization of young Somali men; and Thriller Dox, which includes Andreas Koefoed’s THE ARMS DROP, about a 1995 weapons deal that went wrong, and Pekka Lehto’s EMERGENCY CALL – A MURDER MYSTERY, on an unsolved 2006 crime in small Finnish town.

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On Cable: CITIZENFOUR

citizenfour-300x160Coming to HBO this coming Monday, February 23: CITIZENFOUR

Laura Poitras’ chronicle of how Edward Snowden revealed his knowledge to the world made its bow at the New York Film Festival last Fall. It went on to screen at London, DOC NYC, DOK Leipzig, CPH:DOX, IDFA, and Goteborg, in addition to its theatrical release. The film has been nominated for the Best Documentary Oscar, with the winner announced this Sunday, February 22.

I previously wrote about the doc upon its release

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On TV: AMERICAN DENIAL

american denialComing to PBS’s Independent Lens this coming Monday, February 23: AMERICAN DENIAL

Llewellyn Smith’s exploration of the US’s historical and current problems with race makes its debut on the Emmy Award-winning public television series. It is also being shown at community screenings around the country.

Smith’s wide-ranging profile on American attitudes to race centers on the work of Swedish social scientist Gunnar Myrdal, who was commissioned by the Carnegie Corporation to conduct an impartial, outsider’s study on race relations in 1938. Visiting the Deep South, then fully under Jim Crow, and adopting a curious naïveté, Myrdal elicited the true opinions of white residents on the so-called “Negro problem,” which he essentially recouched as white prejudice. The researcher ultimately released his findings in a landmark book, AN AMERICAN DILEMMA: THE NEGRO PROBLEM AND MODERN DEMOCRACY, which identified a provocative cognitive dissonance between what he referred to as the “American Creed” – the democratic principle of equality and opportunity that shapes the nation’s identity – and a deep-seated white prejudice which seeks to limit the political, social, and economic status of non-whites. Smith threads Myrdal’s story through the film, while also applying its conclusions to later studies – such as psychological tests that reveal lingering, unconscious bias against blacks in both white and black subjects – and in present-day systems of power, most notably the cumulative effect of racial profiling and mass incarceration on generations of black men’s sense of self and self-worth. The film tackles a bit too much for its hour running time – for example, unnecessarily delving into Myrdal’s personal issues with his research partner and wife, even given their tangential, thematic parallels to his research – and intermittently employs an irksome series of staged still re-enactments, but is better served by its use of creative illustrations and footage of psychological experiments with young African-American children. Belying wishful thinking that American society has reached a colorblind, post-racial state, the thought-provoking film instead challenges viewers to acknowledge the powerful role denial plays in the disjunction between our principles and our actions, in both our individual and systemic approaches to race.

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In Theatres: APPROACHING THE ELEPHANT

approachingtheelephant613x463Coming to Brooklyn’s Made in NY Media Center via IFP’s Screen Forward program this Friday, February 20: APPROACHING THE ELEPHANT

Amanda Rose Wilder’s in-depth look at a year of alternative education made its debut at True/False last year. Other festival appearances included Nantucket, New Orleans, Sarasota, Maryland, BAMcinemaFest, Camden, CPH:DOX, RIDM, and Rotterdam.

I previously wrote about the doc for Nantucket’s program, saying:
Seeking an alternative to America’s troubled educational system, Alex, an idealistic young teacher, opens a small free school in Little Falls NJ where all classes are optional and determined by student interest, and the only rules that exist are democratically decided upon by both the teachers and the students. Director Amanda Rose Wilder immerses the viewer in this radical and fascinating experiment, chronicling the school’s tumultuous inaugural year. While wonderfully individuated children adapt to unprecedented freedom and must take responsibility for their own learning, Alex and his staff also must contend with the inevitable strong personalities that test the limits of their open community.

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