Category Archives: In the Works

In the Works: WELCOME TO LEITH

A nearly deserted North Dakotan town becomes the unlikely battleground for white supremacy.

craig-cobb-welcome-to-leithWith no more than two dozen inhabitants, rural Leith ND drew the attention of Craig Cobb, a notorious white supremacist who had relocated to the state due to the recent oil boom, because of the availability of land. Purchasing several plots, he later expressed his intent: to draw other white supremacists to the town and take over its governance, a goal met with resistance by the long-time residents. Filmmakers Michael Beach Nichols and Christopher Walker chronicle the standoff, as the two opposed small communities try to lay claim to their self-determination with the help of their supporters. Continue reading

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In the Works: ELSTREE 1976

A look at STAR WARS from the perspectives of extras and bit players who appeared in the first film.

elstree 1976George Lucas’ seminal sci-fi blockbuster has worked its magic over viewers since its debut in 1977, with sequels, prequels, and subsequent re-releases, not to mention comic book, novel, toy, and cartoon tie-ins, fueling new generations of fandom. Several documentary projects have been produced, from behind-the-scenes “making-of” or appreciations that have appeared as bonus content on official releases, or independent productions often exploring the fanbase itself. Director Jon Spira’s new project takes a more microscopic approach, focusing on the original film through the experiences of several individuals who appeared in it – but not its stars, but instead bit players or extras who may have only been on-screen for seconds. Far from being what they expected to be a forgettable job they had in suburban North London in the Summer of 1976, Spira’s subjects reflect on their unanticipated, continued connection to the film. Continue reading

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In the Works: HAVANA MOTOR CLUB

Cuban auto enthusiasts find their hopes for a legal car race dashed by the Pope’s visit – among other roadblocks.

havana motorOne of the most visible indicators of the US sanctions against Cuba since the Revolution is the anachronistic presence of vintage 1950s cars that dot its streets. For the most part, only those with political connections and money have been able to afford newer imported cars from Europe or Asia. For most, refitted classic cars have been the only option, and, for some, a source of pride, such as the men of Bent-Jorgen Perlmutt’s film. With car racing long outlawed by Castro, they’ve held underground drag races. With recent reforms, the men grow excited about participating in the first legal race since 1959, painstakingly working on finding the right parts to give them the edge. But when a Papal visit cancels their plans, organizers find themselves caught in limbo. Continue reading

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In the Works: BEING GEORGE CLOONEY

The filmmakers behind THESE AMAZING SHADOWS explore the voice actors who dub the Hollywood superstar internationally.

being georgeIn 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.
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In the Works: ART AND CRAFT

The story of a notorious art forger who feels compelled to donate his work to museums across the country.

art and craftOver thirty years, Mark Landis has honed his painting skills to enable him to make remarkable copies of a wide range of artwork. Unusually, rather than profit financially from his forgeries, Landis instead began contacting small museums and other institutions under assumed identities to donate his work, passing them off as rare originals. When Matthew Leininger, a museum registrar, grew suspicious of one instance of Landis’ “philanthropy,” his investigation uncovered Landis’ deception, involving more than 45 museums in nearly twenty cities, and ultimately resulted in a museum exhibition of the forgeries. Filmmakers Sam Cullman, Jennifer Grausman, and Mark Becker began telling Landis’ tale when he was exposed, and have followed him for the past several years, learning of the mental illness that drives his unorthodox behavior. Continue reading

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In the Works: FOLLOWING BORUCH

After decades struggling with personal demons, the filmmaker’s uncle, a Hasidic Jewish man, tries to get his life on track.

following boruchFilming over the course of several years, Paula Eiselt tells the story of her uncle Bernie (in Hebrew, Boruch), the only Hasidic member of her immediate family, and a man whose mental illness, alcoholism, and drug and sex addiction have cost him the life he has always desired. Nearly fifty, Bernie, who has never held a steady job, nor started a family, sets out to achieve these dreams of stability, make peace with his past, and remain clean and sober, while facing the challenges of addressing difficult personal issues that remain stigmatized within his Orthodox community. Exploring recovery within an insular yet ultimately comforting context, Eiselt offers a unique perspective on second chances and self-determination. Continue reading

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In the Works: GIUSEPPE MAKES A MOVIE

A look at how a critically-acclaimed underground trailer park filmmaker makes his latest feature over the course of two days.

giuseppe makesLikened to both John Cassavetes and John Waters, Giuseppe Andrews has quietly been making rough-hewn feature films on the cheap for fifteen years, often set in and starring residents of the trailer park communities in which he was raised, with titles like DAD’S CHICKEN, WHO FLUNG POO?, AIRPLANE PILLOWS, and DOILY’S SUMMER OF FREAK OCCURRENCES. Screening at underground festivals in New York and Chicago, as well as the late Cinevegas, former child actor turned outsider auteur Andrews has self-distributed his films online, or worked with Troma to release them on DVD, garnering attention from select critics and a cult following. Like Cassavetes, Andrews’ more recent work as an actor in films like CABIN FEVER or TV series like CSI has financed his low-budget filmmaking. Director Adam Rifkin, who cast Andrews in his film DETROIT ROCK CITY, works with producer Mike Plante, filmmaker and programmer at Sundance and Cinevegas, to reveal Andrews’ creative process. Continue reading

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Special Note: Submit Your Project to w(n)td

Just a quick reminder: To have your feature-length documentary work-in-progress (in production or post) considered for a potential profile here as part of my regular In the Works feature, use the submission form on the Submit page. Note that preference is typically given to docs that are just beginning crowdfunding campaigns, in order to give readers a chance to become more engaged with projects.

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In the Works: STREETWISE: TINY REVISITED

The husband and wife team behind the Oscar-nominated and Sundance award-winning STREETWISE returns to that film’s most unforgettable subject.

streetwise tinyIn July 1983, renowned photojournalist Mary Ellen Mark and writer Cheryl McCall told the story of the lives of Seattle’s street kids in LIFE magazine. Affected by the teens they met, including 13-year-old prostitute Tiny, the duo returned later that year with director Martin Bell, Mark’s husband, to create a documentary film about nine youths they met. Released theatrically, STREETWISE also screened in competition at Sundance in 1985, where it won a special jury prize, and was later nominated for the Best Documentary Oscar. In the decades that followed, Mark and Bell have maintained a relationship with Tiny, filming her as she struggled with drugs and poverty and became a mother several times over. Over the next year, the filmmakers will return to Seattle to capture Tiny and her family today, using the footage from the past 30 years to supplement the story. Continue reading

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In the Works: LIFE ITSELF

The director of HOOP DREAMS and THE INTERRUPTERS profiles the man who popularized film criticism in the United States.

life itselfSteve 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

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