Category Archives: Film


naked roomComing to NYC’s Anthology Film Archives tomorrow, Friday, August 29: THE NAKED ROOM

Nuria Ibáñez’s raw exploration of troubled children had its world premiere at Mexico’s FICUNAM last year. It went on to screen at DocsDF, Ambulante, Morelia, BAFICI, Thessaloniki Doc, Hola Mexico, and Rendezvous with Madness.

Taking place entirely within a single room – a hospital’s pediatric psychologist’s office – Ibáñez’s deceptively uncomplicated film hones in on the faces of young girls and boys as they are coaxed to reveal a host of debilitating concerns, from mental illness to the aftermath of sexual abuse. Responding to an offscreen therapist, and the occasional comments from their parents, the young subjects lay bare personal trauma, struggling to articulate what would be difficult even for adults. Taking a simple yet rigorous formalistic approach, Ibáñez forces the viewer to confront her subjects on their own level for the duration of the film, in the process offering validation and empathy for their pain.

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through a lensComing to NYC’s Film Forum today, Wednesday, August 27: THROUGH A LENS DARKLY: BLACK PHOTOGRAPHERS AND THE EMERGENCE OF A PEOPLE

Thomas Allen Harris’ exploration of black self-representation premiered at Sundance earlier this year. It has also screened at Berlin, Santa Barbara, Montclair, Pan African, Atlanta, Boston LGBT, Frameline, and Open City Docs, among several others.

My pre-Sundance doc profile may be found here.

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Venice 2014: Documentary Overview

253705-venice-film-fest-71stThe grandfather of all film events, the Venice International Film Festival, enters its eighth decade as its 71st edition begins tonight, Wednesday, August 27. Running through Saturday, September 6, the Biennale will present over 100 features between its official selection and two autonomous simultaneously presented events, offering attending industry a sneak peek at a number of titles that will almost certainly generate awards attention by the end of the year. Among these are just over 20 new documentaries, many of which I’ll highlight below: Continue reading

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Project Wild ThingComing to DVD today, Tuesday, August 26: PROJECT WILD THING

David Bond’s crusade to reconnect kids with nature had its world premiere at Sheffield last year. The film has gone on to screen at SF Green, One World, Cork, and Cambridge.

Taking on the role of both filmmaker and on-screen guide a la Morgan Spurlock, Bond, discouraged by the realization of how much time children now spend in front of screens, cheekily appoints himself the marketing director for Nature and sets out on a public campaign to get Britain’s kids back outdoors. Consulting with marketers, brand strategists, and publicity firms, he concocts several schemes aimed to combat childhood obesity and instill imagination. Ultimately, in a hokey, manufactured manner, he “realizes” that he can’t boil down Nature into a sellable brand, and, even worse, that he’s been neglecting his own kids in the zeal of his campaign, so he sets out to expose them to the pleasures of playing outside one-on-one. While a likeable enough film, the preciousness of its approach crosses the line into annoying territory more than once, undercutting its ultimate message.

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american cheerleaderComing to VOD today, Tuesday, August 26: AMERICAN CHEERLEADER

David Barba and James Pellerito’s look at the high-spirited world of competitive high school cheerleading debuts exclusively on VOD platforms today via FilmBuff. It will also screen at NYC’s All-American High School Film Fest in October.

In this fun real life version of BRING IT ON, two teams fight to make it to the National High School Cheerleading Championship – one to defend their title, the other in the hopes of finally claiming it for themselves. Barba and Pellerito’s buoyant immersion into the world of aerials, pyramids, flyers, and catchers focuses on New Jersey coach Kim Gaskin’s Burlington Township High School defending champions and Kentucky coach Sheryl Shoemaker’s Southwestern High School squad, who placed fourth the previous year. As the clock counts down to the competition – and the coveted white jackets that go to the winning team – the film balances the girls’ rigorous training with a history of the development of the activity into a legitimate sport, taking time out to profile several of the players as they cope with sickness, injury, and family tragedy.

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big-menComing to PBS’s POV tonight, Monday, August 25: BIG MEN

Rachel Boynton’s exploration of oil exploitation in West Africa made its bow at Tribeca last year. Its fest circuit has included Locarno, Hot Docs, Bergen, Camden, Vancouver, Pan African, RIDM, CPH:DOX, True/False, Films From the South, Human Rights Watch London, and Planete+ Doc.

Filming between 2007 and 2011, Boynton reveals the story of Ghana’s unexpected entry into the oil industry and the resultant jockeying for profit and power in board rooms and in the halls of government, gaining remarkable access to the various entities involved – Dallas-based Kosmos Energy, a firm whose initial high risk investment in oil exploration in Ghana paid off; their partner, local outfit EO Group; Ghana’s national oil company, GNPC; members of the government; and, as a cautionary parallel narrative, representatives from neighboring Nigeria’s embattled oil industry, as well as the scrappy group of rebels who sabotage their pipelines in protest and for black market profit, the Deadly Underdogs. It’s to Boynton’s credit that through five years, a change in government, charges of corruption, criminal investigations by both the US and Ghanaian governments, board firings, and a worldwide financial crisis, she nevertheless retains a clarity of storytelling that raises provocative questions that have no easy answers. Wisely focusing on a handful of key players, notably EO Group’s fall guy, George Owusu, and Kosmos Energy’s CEO, Jim Musselman, the film places multinational concerns within a personal, relatable context. In so doing, she deftly demonstrates how the aspiration to become the “big men” of her title can all too easily open the floodgates to avarice and self-interest above all else.

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ghost birdComing to DVD tomorrow, Tuesday, August 26: GHOST BIRD

Scott Crocker’s investigation into birding wish fulfillment made its debut at Hot Docs in 2009. It went on to screen at Indie Memphis, Rome, Hot Springs, and Big Sky, among others.

I previously wrote about the film out of Hot Docs for Indiewire, saying:
The apparent sighting of a long-thought-extinct ivory-billed woodpecker sets off Scott Crocker’s investigatory film. While the fabled bird’s re-emergence is validated by authorities, leading to Woodpeckermania in the neighboring community, corroborating evidence proves elusive, sparking a debate encompassing science, commerce, hope, and conservation. Demonstrating canny storytelling, Crocker draws the viewer into the hoopla before unpacking the debate about whether the bird has, in fact, been re-discovered – and what that means for the small Arkansas town that has been put on the birding map, as well as for the truly endangered avian species that could use even a fraction of the attention.

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