The director of HOOP DREAMS and THE INTERRUPTERS profiles the man who popularized film criticism in the United States.
Steve James’ latest project tells the story of Roger Ebert, who, with fellow Chicago critic Gene Siskel, became unlikely celebrities through their weekly television show reviewing movie releases. While their rating system, “Two Thumbs Up,” quickly became familiar to even the most casual filmgoer, the pair’s reviews on air and in print demonstrated a deep love of cinema. After Siskel’s untimely death in 1999, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Ebert continued their show, becoming the most recognizable and influential film critic in the country. A familiar face at film festivals, often in the company of his beloved wife Chaz, and an active presence online, he struggled with various cancer diagnoses for more than a decade before passing away earlier this year. Based on Ebert’s titular memoir, James details the critic’s life and work, drawing on an impressive range of interview subjects, from the film’s executive producer Martin Scorsese to other directors Ebert championed, from Errol Morris to Ava DuVernay. Continue reading
A rural Columbian town becomes the frontline for gold exploitation by a Canadian multinational mining concern.
The titular mountain town has steadily drawn from its wealth of gold deposits for over five centuries, but that has all changed in recent years. Colombia, hungry for widespread economic development and relationships with the West, has imperiled the community by selling mines to a small Canadian company at an alarming rate. With gold prices soaring in the wake of the global economic recession, the Canadians plan to displace the 8,000 people of Marmato, level the mountain, and transform their home into an open-pit to extract the estimated $20 billion in gold buried within. Filmmaker Mark Grieco has been living among the people and filming since 2006, chronicling the slow takeover of the town and the growing resistance of its people to what seems to be inevitable. Continue reading
A sport escapes the imagination of JK Rowling to be played on the fields of college campuses across the world.
Few recent literary series have achieved the global popularity that met HARRY POTTER. Thanks in large part to the successful film adaptations, Rowling’s tales came to life for younger and older readers alike, allowing a glimpse into a secret world of wizards with their own schools of witchcraft, battles with dark forces, and even a popular competitive contact sport – Quidditch, a chaotic team game played on flying broomsticks. First-time feature director Farzad Nikbakht Sangari explores the Muggle (non-magic, for those unfamiliar with the series) version of the sport, which has quickly spread to hundreds of other campuses in just the past eight years. Sangari follows UCLA’s quidditch team as they make a run for the Quidditch World Cup against reigning champions Middlebury College, where the real-world version of the game was first developed by fans in 2005. Continue reading
Against the stunning backdrop of Antarctica, a scientist continues his thirty-year mission to track climate change through penguin populations.
Ron Naveen is the chief investigator for the Antarctic Site Inventory, gathering data in the region that has benefitted the work of polar scientists from around the world. While that project is entering its second decade, Naveen has been traveling to Antarctica even longer, conducting a census of the continent’s penguins, noting how different colonies adapt – or don’t – to climate change, and what lessons these can provide for the rest of the world as we face similar environmentally challenges. The Emmy-nominated production company Getzels Gordon follows Naveen and his team of intrepid researchers as they brave the harsh weather and unforgiving terrain to decode the critical signals the birds are providing in response to their dramatically changing environment. Continue reading
Filmmaking cousins return to their grandparents’ struggling hometown to find hope in the face of poverty.
Sundance alum Andrew Droz Palermo (cinematographer, A TEACHER and BLACK METAL) and Emmy winner Tracy Droz Tragos (director, BE GOOD, SMILE PRETTY) have family roots in the eponymous Missouri town that marks the cousins’ first creative collaboration as co-directors. The place where their grandparents served important community roles had fallen into economic and social decline, offering few opportunities and seemingly promising only the trap of cyclical poverty. Prompted to explore the realities of life in the endangered town, Andrew and Tracy narrowed their focus to three teenage boys, revealing both the pitfalls and potential that the future might hold. Continue reading
Unearthing the largely forgotten story of the world’s first female film director.
At the dawn of the film industry, Alice Guy was a secretary at France’s Gaumont, but her pioneering forays into filmmaking soon led to her taking on the role of head of production for the fledgling film company. Beyond being recognized as the first woman to direct a film, she is also considered, by some accounts, to be the originator of narrative storytelling in the nascent medium. After more than a decade with Gaumont, including relocating to oversee production for the company’s US office, Guy married, and with her husband formed the Solax Company in Flushing NY, where she took the role of artistic director, once again breaking new ground as the first woman to run her own film studio. In over two decades, she was responsible for an estimated 1000 films, and though she continued to lecture on cinema after the advent of the talkies, Guy-Blaché was relegated to the footnotes of cinema history for decades. While film scholars have attempted to correct this oversight in recent years, she still remains virtually unknown. Learning of her story, director Pamela Green and co-director Jarik van Sluijs set out to change that, reintroducing her to today’s filmmakers and film audiences. Continue reading
The team behind the Sundance award-winning BLOOD BROTHER turn their attention to another man attempting to make a difference in he lives of children on the margins.
Gennadiy Mokhnenko has made it his mission to rescue the abandoned kids of Ukraine – the more than 100,000 street children who struggle to survive, often addicted to alcohol and other drugs. In his city of Mariupal, Gennadiy runs an orphanage, but in the face of often corrupt official channels, it’s hard to help as many kids as he’d like to. In response, he’s taken matters into his own hands, roaming the city at night and abducting children, forcing them to go through detox. Using a decade of archival material as well as their own original footage, director/editor Steve Hoover, working again with producer Danny Yourd and cinematographer John Pope, reveal the complexity, and controversy, behind Gennadiy’s extreme activism. Continue reading
Can a background extra use an appearance in a Super Bowl commercial to become a leading man?
Like so many others, Jesse Heiman moved to Los Angeles hoping to become successful in the entertainment business. Lacking contacts, training, and a job, he signed up for background extra work. His distinctive, unusual looks have led to steady work ever since, garnering split-second appearances in the backgrounds of scores of popular films and TV series. After a Swedish man began to notice Heiman popping up in various films, he compiled these appearances in a YouTube video that heralded the young actor as the “World’s Greatest Extra.” That video went viral, leading to a guest appearance on Leno, and, most significantly, a Super Bowl commercial for GoDaddy. With this set up, director/producer Nick Weis and producer/editor Emily Carroll follow Heiman for the next year, to see if this newfound attention can be harnessed into lasting fame, or if instead he’s destined to return to the shadowy backgrounds while others take the spotlight. Continue reading
As Tunisia heads to its first free presidential election, can secular and religious forces manage to work together to create a democracy that satisfies all its citizens?
The Tunisian Revolution of 2010-2011 is recognized as the beginning of the Arab Spring, but as has been the case in other post-revolutionary nations, the road to true freedom is not instantaneous, especially in a country that has never known democracy. To make matters even more complicated, how will the region’s deep-seated religious beliefs come into play? This is the question facing the protagonists of director/producer Jessie Deeter’s film, which follows Bassem Bouguerra, a secular revolutionary, and Jawhara Ettis, a university professor and member of the moderate Islamist party. Even under ousted President Ben Ali’s dictatorial rule, Tunisia espoused secular freedom, but some Tunisians seek a turn to more fundamentalist policies to bring the country in line with Islamic law. As the country tries to set forth its future course with a general election later this year, Deeter and her Tunisian-born co-producer Sara Maamouri follow Bassem and Jawhara to reveal what democracy will look like in a country pulled in separate directions. Continue reading
An inside look at the New Yorker‘s signature cartoons, the artists who create them, and the editorial team who bring them to readers.
Inspired by the magazine’s weekly Caption Contest, director/producer Leah Wolchok, working with producer Davina Pardo, set out to learn more about the cartoonists who played such a vital role in distinguishing the New Yorker on the stands. Gaining access not only to a core group of illustrators, but also to cartoon editor Bob Mankoff and his staff, the filmmakers go behind the panel to explore the history of this feature, which used to be a staple in magazine publishing, and to gain insight into the process artists go through to try to get their sometimes clever, sometimes quizzical gags into print. Continue reading