Category Archives: Film


occupation dreamlandComing to NYC’s Stranger Than Fiction series tonight, Tuesday, February 24: OCCUPATION: DREAMLAND

Ian Olds and Garrett Scott’s portrait of US soldiers stationed in Fallujah debuted at Rotterdam in 2005. It went on to screen at SXSW, Full Frame, Palm Springs, Vienna, New Zealand, Atlanta, and Portland Doc, among others. It also won the Truer Than Fiction Award at the Independent Spirits. Scott sadly passed away just days before the Spirit Awards. The Garrett Scott Documentary Development Grant was established at Full Frame after his death to help emerging filmmakers receive mentorship as they work on their debut nonfiction features.

Embedded within the US Army’s 82nd Airborne during the Winter of 2004, Olds and Scott record the daily grind faced by the young soldiers as tensions continue to mount in the Iraqi city of Fallujah. Though set up in a once-luxurious elite resort locally nicknamed “Dreamland,” the squad’s vocalized frustrations and thankless missions reveal it to be more of a nightmare. Tasked with the seemingly contradictory jobs of both maintaining security and trying to improve US/Iraqi relations – in essence, scaring the locals with aggressive raids by night, then trying to gladhand the understandably suspicious residents by day – the soldiers are surprisingly frank about their views of the quagmire the war has quickly become. While the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the experiences of various soldiers, have been amply documented over the past decade plus, the film retains an understated power and poignancy as it draws the audience in to empathize with the troops on the ground, even if neither the viewer, nor the soldiers themselves, necessarily understand the ultimate point of the war they’re waging.

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CodeBlack460x260Coming to DVD tomorrow, Tuesday, February 24: CODE BLACK

Ryan McGarry’s inside look into America’s health care crisis made its debut at Los Angeles in 2013, where it won the Best Documentary Award. Other fest appearances include the Hamptons, Vancouver, Heartland, Denver, Santa Barbara, Portland, and Cleveland. In addition to a theatrical release, the film has screened at numerous medical schools around the US and in several other countries.

Shot between 2008 and 2012 by McGarry while he was a resident at LA Country General, this film presents a candid, doctor’s-eye-view of the state of emergency medicine from within the trenches. Beginning in the legendary, cramped C-Booth, the ward where many of the tenets of emergency medicine were originated, the film soon follows its young physician subjects as they adjust to the new demands of a state-of-the-art facility, which basically results in a stifling amount of bureaucratic paperwork that takes time away from actual interactions with patients who need them the most. As waiting times to seek medical attention continue to grow, the residents and staff grow frustrated, turning to unorthodox solutions to try to alleviate the problem, with varying levels of success. In focusing his attention on his experiences as a young physician, McGarry offers an unexpected, compelling perspective on the problems plaguing American health care, and, moreso, a provocation that a solution needs to be found, even if he doesn’t pretend to have an all-encompassing panacea himself.

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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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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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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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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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