For 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
Coming 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.
Coming to DVD today, Tuesday, September 22: HIT AND STAY
Joe Tropea and Skizz Cyzyk’s exploration of Vietnam era protests by the Catholic left made its bow at the Chicago Underground Film Festival last year. Other fest screenings have included Rehoboth Beach, Sidewalk, Indie Memphis, and Maryland.
The Catonsville Nine were a group of Catholic activists who burned draft files in 1968, then prayed as they waited to be arrested. Among their number were priests, including Father Philip Berrigan and his brother, Daniel. It wasn’t the first time that Father Philip was involved in an action – the previous year, he was one of the Baltimore Four, responsible for dousing other draft records in blood. The Catonsville Nine’s trial generated national attention, and while they were convicted of destroying property and interfering with draft laws, nearly half their number went underground. Expanding from their story, Tropea and Cyzyk’s film considers several other incidents of protest actions taken by the religious left, inspired by the actions of Berrigan and his cohorts.This attempt to be comprehensive unfortunately robs the project of necessary focus, devolving into a survey that detracts from the potentially far more interesting Catonsville story.
Coming 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.
Coming to DVD tomorrow, Tuesday, September 22: SLAYING THE BADGER
John Dower’s look at a major pre-Armstrong cycling controversy debuted at Tribeca this Spring. It went on to screen at Sheffield and AFI Docs before its ESPN broadcast this Summer.
Skillfully interweaving race footage and contemporary interviews, Dower explores the history of Greg LeMond, the first American to win the Tour de France. Following the disqualifications of Lance Armstrong and Floyd Landis for doping, LeMond is now the only official American winner – but, as the film reveals, this victory was hard-fought, pitting the naive young rider against his charismatic and self-driven older mentor Bernard Hinault. Like the best sports docs, Dower’s film is able to extend beyond the specificity of its cycling milieu to draw in viewers who don’t have the slightest interest in the Tour de France. While he provides ample background and explanations about the rules of the competition, these simply offer context to allow a general audience to follow the drama as it affects the subjects, rather than function as slavish details that would only serve superfans of the sport. The result is an often gripping, immediate retelling of a rivalry between two strong personalities who were supposed to be teammates.
Coming to VOD today, Monday, September 22: WEB
Michael Kleiman’s look at the impact of digital connectivity on remote Peruvian villages had its world premiere last year at DOC NYC, where it picked up the audience award. Screenings followed at Ashland, Atlanta, Miami, IFF Boston, and Little Rock, among others. In conjunction with screenings around the world as part of Social Media Week, The Orchard releases the doc on iTunes, Google Play, Vudu, XBOX, Amazon, and Sony.
I previously wrote about the film for DOC NYC, saying:
Director Michael Kleiman follows Peruvian families living in remote regions as their children experience the One Laptop per Child program, gaining access to the Internet for the first time. WEB considers both the benefits and complications that arise from digital connections. Alongside the poignant and sometimes humorous local stories, Kleiman interviews leading thinkers on the Internet including author Clay Shirky, Wikipedia’s Jimmy Wales, and One Laptop founder Nicholas Negroponte for an insightful look at our times.
Neil Barsky’s portrait of the controversial NYC mayor debuted at the Hamptons in 2012. Screenings followed at Palm Springs and the Jewish fest circuit, including Boston, New York, Toronto, and Atlanta, among others.
I previously wrote about the film here.