Category Archives: Documentary

In Theatres: FOOD CHAINS

food chainsComing to theatres today, Friday, November 21: FOOD CHAINS

Sanjay Rawal’s exposé of exploited migrant farmworkers had its world premiere at Berlin at the beginning of the year. It went on to screen at Tribeca, Guadalajara, Vancouver, Minneapolis St Paul, and Napa Valley.

Making a strong argument that today’s migrant farmworkers, like those organized by Cesar Chavez in the 1950s and ’60s, are not much better off, Rawal’s film likens them to slave labor in a system controlled by large corporations. The ostensible focus here is on the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a union of Florida tomato pickers who stage a hunger strike to get the attention of powerful supermarket chain Publix. While other corporate entities have signed on to CIW’s Fair Food Program, which modestly asks for farmworkers to be paid a penny more per pound of tomatoes picked, Publix views the issue as a labor dispute and refuses to come to the bargaining table. While Rawal uses this standoff as the backbone of his film, it’s a bit unsatisfying, as the hunger strike ultimately fails. Still, the workers serve as a sympathetic point of identification for the viewer, and their plight forces us all to take stock of who suffers when we benefit from lower food costs.

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In Theatres: THE CIRCLE

circleComing to theatres today, Friday, November 21: THE CIRCLE

Stefan Haupt’s docudrama about gay life in Switzerland in the 1950s and early 1960s debuted at Berlin earlier this year, where it took home both an audience award and the Teddy for Best Documentary. It has gone on to screen at Seattle, Outfest and other LGBT fests in Boston, Torino, and Freiburg, among others.

Unlike its neighbor Germany, Switzerland had no laws prohibiting homosexuality. As a result, an underground community thrived in the capital of Zurich. At the center was Der Kreis (The Circle), a homophile organization that published a magazine and organized social events for its members. Haupt’s film primarily is concerned with the story of two of its members, young teacher Ernst Ostertag and even younger drag performer Robi Rapp, who meet at a Circle ball in the mid-1950s and soon pair up. As their relationship develops, a series of sensationalized gay murders turn unwanted attention to the community, culminating in police crackdowns and the ultimate dissolution of the organization. Through it all, however, Ernst and Robi remain together, and even become the first same sex couple to marry decades later, as is revealed through the intermittent documentary elements to Haupt’s awkwardly constructed docudrama, which is decidedly more fiction than non. While their story – and the larger one of the organization – has the potential for compelling viewing, the strange decision to meld a perfectly staged fictional version with talking head interruptions proves unsuccessful. It’s also something of a headscratcher, as the scripted aspect of the story could more than hold its own – beyond paying polite respect to the real couple, the documentary elements add very little to the proceedings that isn’t already covered by the actors.

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In Theatres & On VOD: THE HOMESTRETCH

thehomestretchComing to theatres and to VOD tomorrow, Friday, November 21: THE HOMESTRETCH

Anne de Mare and Kirsten Kelly’s look at the lives of three homeless Chicago teens had its world premiere at Hot Docs this Spring. The doc has gone on to screen at AFI Docs, Citizen Jane, Indie Memphis, Human Rights Watch, and Hot Springs, among others.

de Mare and Kelly’s film opens with the sobering fact that between 2000-3000 youth are among Chicago’s homeless population before zeroing in on just three, Anthony, Kasey, and Roque, whose stories are largely unconnected except for their shared desire to better their situation via education. Technically speaking, none of these subjects is presently homeless – while Anthony and Kasey are no longer able to live in the under-resourced transitional youth program, Belfort House, due to age and curfew violations, respectively, both are set up in subsidized apartments. They continue to struggle, so their housing situation remains relatively insecure, but they at least are within the system and seeking solutions. Roque is far less at risk, however, having found a surrogate family in the form of his saintly teacher and substitute mother, Maria, and her husband and kids. His undocumented status presents a major hurdle, but Maria helps him circumvent this, even going to bat for him to ensure he gets enrolled in college after an initial rejection. His presence is a strange fit in the film, but perhaps is included as a wildly hopeful inspiration that things can get much better. The more outgoing Anthony and Kasey seem to be more appropriate subjects for the topic, as he reckons with job training and the realities of teen fatherhood while on probation, while she struggles to figure out her path, having been rejected by her family for her sexuality. As is often the problem with conventional survey approaches like the one taken here, the viewer is left wondering if the film would have been stronger had it instead focused on one intriguing, indelible character rather than three mildly engaging ones.

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Special Screening: THE MEASURE OF ALL THINGS

measure of all thingsComing to NYC’s The Kitchen tomorrow, Friday, November 21 and Saturday, November 22: THE MEASURE OF ALL THINGS

Sam Green’s live documentary rumination on mankind’s desire to make sense of itself debuted at Sundance at the beginning of the year. Performances followed at Hot Docs, Planete+ Doc, Sheffield, and at Mass MOCA, among other venues.

I profiled the project before Sundance here.

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In Theatres: LITTLE WHITE LIE

little whiteComing to theatres tomorrow, Friday, November 21: LITTLE WHITE LIE

Lacey Schwartz’s personal exploration of the impact of family secrets had its premiere at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival. The doc has gone on to screen at DOC NYC, New Orleans, Sidewalk, Black Harvest, BlackStar, Trinidad and Tobago, Woods Hole, Martha’s Vineyard African American, and Philadelphia Jewish fests, among others.

I previously wrote about the film for DOC NYC’s program, saying:
Growing up in an upper-middle-class Jewish household, Lacey Schwartz knew she looked different from the rest of her family, but her darker complexion and curly hair were brushed off as traits inherited from her Sicilian grandfather. When she finally begins to dig deeper, Lacey uncovers unspoken family secrets and willful denial that cuts to the core of her very sense of self, inspiring an intriguing re-evaluation and redefinition of identity.

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Special Screening: A WORLD NOT OURS

A-World-Not-Ours-Key-Image-580x300Coming to NYC’s Maysles Cinema as part of the DocWatchers series tonight, Thursday, November 20: A WORLD NOT OURS

Mahdi Fleifel’s memoir of his refugee camp upbringing bowed at Toronto in 2012. Other fest screenings included Berlin, Abu Dhabi, CPH:DOX, BAFICI, and DOC NYC, where it won a jury award.

I previously wrote about the doc upon its theatrical debut here.

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In Theatres & On VOD: DEATH METAL ANGOLA

Death-Metal-Angola-Key-Image-Johan-Legraie-280x140Coming to theatres and to VOD tomorrow, Friday, November 21: DEATH METAL ANGOLA

Jeremy Xido’s look at catharsis through music debuted at Dubai in 2012. It went on to screen at DOC NYC, New Orleans, Rotterdam, Sarasota, BAFICI, DMZ Docs, CPH:DOX, Docslisboa, In-Edit Rio, Transylvania, Sydney, and Bergen, among several others. In addition to its theatrical run in NYC, the film becomes available on iTunes.

I previously wrote about the film for DOC NYC’s program, saying:
Sonia runs the Okutiuka orphanage in Huambo, Angola’s second largest city, nearly decimated by decades of civil war. Her boyfriend, Wilker, is a death metal guitarist. To raise awareness and funds for the orphanage, the industrious couple organizes the country’s first-ever national rock concert, tapping into the unexpected healing power hardcore music can engender in a youth population that has directly witnessed the worst of humanity and now only seeks a peaceful future.

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