Category Archives: Recommendations


supreme priceComing to theatres this Friday, October 3: THE SUPREME PRICE

Joanna Lipper’s portrait of Nigerian democracy through one family made its debut at Full Frame this year. It has gone on to screen at Nantucket, Human Rights Watch, IFF Boston, AFI Docs, and Raindance, among others.

I previously wrote about the doc for Nantucket’s program, saying:
While Hafsat Abiola was attending Harvard in 1993, her father, M.K.O. Abiola, was elected president of their native Nigeria, but he was never permitted to take control of the government. The country’s corrupt military rule refused to relinquish power, M.K.O. Abiola was imprisoned, and the election results annulled. His wife, Hafsat’s mother, Kudirat, took up his struggle and led the nation’s pro-democracy movement, but at a terrible cost. Continuing their legacy, the fearless Hafsat returns to Nigeria to correct the wrongs perpetrated against her parents and her people, and to empower other women to become involved in the struggle for greater democracy and equality.

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nyreview_3_060918_560-504x360Coming to HBO tonight, Monday, September 29: THE 50 YEAR ARGUMENT

Martin Scorsese and David Tedeschi’s tribute to The New York Review of Books debuted as a work-in-progress at Berlin at the beginning of the year before its office premiere at Sheffield. Other appearances have included Telluride, Toronto, Jerusalem, and the New York Film Festival.

Scorsese partners with Tedeschi, his documentary editor, to celebrate a half century of intellectual curiosity and debate, as realized through the pages of the influential, if rarified, New York City literary institution. Birthed in the vacuum of a newspaper strike that threatened the industry as a whole – and as a direct criticism of The New York Times Book Review – the Review has prided itself taking its own path, criticizing the critical darlings, and spilling ink on the underappreciated. Despite its supposed titular focus on “books,” the publication has always expanded beyond that remit to offer commentary and reportage on a range of non-literary cultural and political criticism. Effectively, then, Scorsese and Tedeschi’s challenge is to condense the major developments of the past five decades – and the viewpoints of editor Robert Silvers and his contributors on this history – into an accessible form. Largely, they succeed, offering viewers a survey of the magazine’s history, an overview of its greatest-hits, and a sense of its recent concerns – represented here by critical voices on Occupy Wall Street and Tahrir Square. The result can’t hope to be comprehensive, but that’s not its intent – instead it’s more akin to skimming through an issue, reading a bit here and there when one’s curiosity is piqued, and bookmarking some articles to delve into more deeply later.

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Special Screening: WATCHERS OF THE SKY

watchers of skyComing to the JCC in Manhattan’s CineMatters series this Wednesday, October 1: WATCHERS OF THE SKY

Edet Belzberg’s meditation on genocide had its world premiere at Sundance this year, where it picked up two awards. It’s gone on to screen at Nantucket, Cleveland, Hot Docs, Milwaukee, Melbourne, Sydney, and Human Rights Watch, among other events.

I profiled the doc before Sundance here.

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ivory towerComing to DVD this coming Tuesday, September 30: IVORY TOWER

Andrew Rossi’s look at the rising cost of higher education had its world premiere at Sundance this year. It’s gone on to Sarasota, Miami, Seattle, Full Frame, Cleveland, and Montclair, among others.

My pre-Sundance profile of the doc may be found here.

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New York Film Festival 2014: Documentary Overview

imgres-2For New York cinephiles, Fall truly hasn’t begun until the start of the New York Film Festival. The 52nd edition of the venerable event kicks off this Friday, September 26 and runs through Sunday, October 12. While the festival was never particularly nonfiction-minded under the long tenure of Richard Peña, that has changed drastically in recent years, with documentaries now claiming a significant portion of the lineup – by my count, nearly half of the new features represented are documentaries or essay films. The following runs down several of these works: Continue reading

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Harlem-Street-Singer-Key-Image-Photo-by-Alice-Ochs-Getty-Images--580x300Coming to theatres this Friday, September 26: HARLEM STREET SINGER

Trevor Laurence and Simeon Hutner’s exploration of the life and legacy of a little-remembered musician made its debut at DOC NYC last year. Its festival circuit also included St Louis, Leeds, Revelation, and Tallgrass, among others.

I previously wrote about the film here.

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last unjustComing to DVD today, Tuesday, September 23: THE LAST OF THE UNJUST

Claude Lanzmann’s revisitation of the Holocaust through a singular perspective debuted at Cannes last year. It went on to screen at Toronto, New York, London, CPH:DOX, Torino, Seattle, and Thessaloniki Doc fest, among several others.

In making his 1985 nine-hour opus about the Holocaust Lanzmann found himself unable to reconcile a problematic interview he conducted and filmed in 1975 with Rabbi Benjamin Murmelstein, the last surviving Jewish elder, appointed by the Nazis to administer the propagandistic “model camp” Theresienstadt, heralded as a “gift” to the Jews but in fact a notorious concentration camp. Labeled a collaborator, Murmelstein spent his remaining years in Rome, feeling unwelcome in Israel, despite being acquitted of all charges. Although Lanzmann decided not to include Murmelstein in his film, he confesses here that their interview haunted him, so much so that nearly forty years later, the director has focused his latest project solely on the controversial figure. Though new footage has been incorporated featuring Lanzmann’s travels to key locations noted by the elder, the weight of the film comes from the interview. Presented out of chronological order, this exchange captures a complex man who has answers and justifications for every question posed, always insisting, not unconvincingly, that his actions stemmed from a pragmatism that at least kept some alive – not least of which, Murmelstein himself. This is an encounter full of ambiguities, and its easy to see why the director was affected – there are no easy conclusions to be drawn in assessing the character of man in many ways forced to take on an ultimately thankless role. It makes for a challenging, yet riveting, viewing experience.

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