SXSW kicks off tomorrow, Friday, March 7, and runs through Sunday, March 16. Between attending True/False (post to come) and working on programming Nantucket, I have been remiss in highlighting this year’s documentary line-up in any depth. As I’ve noted before, my annual pilgrimage to Austin feels like a rite of Spring, a week of typically warm weather that preps me for the eventual thawing out of a NYC seemingly caught in an endless polar vortex. While I’ll be checking out as many of the offerings, fiction and nonfiction alike, for Nantucket, my heart remains with the latter, so I’m especially interested in the fifty feature docs that are included in this year’s lineup. Selections from each section are highlighted below. Continue reading
Coming to theatres today, Wednesday, March 5: PARTICLE FEVER
Filmmaker and former physicist Mark Levinson’s look at the launch of the Large Hadron Collider made its debut at Sheffield last year. It went on to screen at the New York Film Festival, Telluride, Vancouver, CPH:DOX, Bergen, Duba, Palm Springs, and True/False, among others.
The Large Hadron Collider, built over a ten-year span by CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research), is the biggest particle collider in the world, a device to help particle physicists conduct experiments to better understand the workings of the universe. This massive undertaking takes center stage in Levinson’s doc, as the film follows several scientists in the lead-up and completion of the device and its primary goal in finally proving or disproving the existence of the much-written-about Higgs boson, otherwise known as the “God particle.” In showcasing what is essentially the world’s largest science experiment, Levinson smartly uses his subjects, like producer and physicist David Kaplan, to inject humor and humanity into what might otherwise initially seem too complex or special interest to resonate with a general audience. To the contrary, this well-crafted doc – edited by the acclaimed Walter Murch – proves fascinating, offering viewers up-close access to the spectacle of the LHC and the cutting edge research being conducted there, culminating in a genuinely moving climax that should prove inspirational whatever the viewer’s science background.
Coming to NYC’s Maysles Cinema as part of the Doc Watchers series tomorrow, Thursday, March 6: AMERICAN REVOLUTIONARY: THE EVOLUTION OF GRACE LEE BOGGS
Grace Lee’s portrait of a nonagenarian civil rights activist made its debut at the Los Angeles Film Festival last year, where it won the documentary audience award. It went on to screen at DOC NYC, AFI Docs, Woodstock, Athena, and the San Diego and Seattle Asian fests, among others.
I previously wrote about the film out of AFI Docs for Indiewire, saying:
Grace Lee (no relation) first met her subject while making a previous film about her namesakes, THE GRACE LEE PROJECT, but knew immediately that the Chinese American activist could sustain her own feature. Developed over the course of twelve years, Lee’s engaging portrait of the 97-year-old Detroit-based visionary reveals a rich life devoted to social justice, from civil rights and the Black Power movement to labor and environmental concerns and beyond. Boggs’ story, and the beliefs that have driven her, offer an inspirational and practical approach to affecting change. AFI Docs marks only the film’s second stop on the circuit, having debuted just a week earlier at the Los Angeles Film Festival (picking up an audience award) – with many more fests surely in its future.
Coming to theatres tomorrow, Wednesday, March 5: INTERIOR. LEATHER BAR.
James Franco and Travis Mathews fiction/non-fiction hybrid re-imagining the rumored lost footage of William Friedkin’s CRUISING made its debut at Sundance last year. Since then, it has screened extensively, including berths at Berlin, Hot Docs, Rotterdam, Cleveland, Seattle, Atlanta, and at scores of LGBT fests, such as Frameline, NewFest, Outfest, Mix Brasil, and Russia’s Side By Side, among many others.
My pre-Sundance profile of the film may be found here.
Coming to DVD tomorrow, Tuesday, March 4: REPORTERO
Bernardo Ruiz’s indepth look at intrepid investigative journalism in Mexico made its debut at Ambulante in 2012. It went on to screen at Full Frame, IDFA, Los Angeles, Human Rights Watch, and the United Nations Association fests, among others.
Against a backdrop of narco-trafficking fueled violence, Mexico has seen a coordinated silencing of the press via intimidation and even assassination. Despite the danger, journalists like Sergio Haro remain committed to exposing the truth beyond organized crime and the corrupt politicians they have bought. Ruiz follows Haro in his investigations, even as the riveting film tells the larger history of the publication he writes for, Zeta, a Tijuana-based weekly that is published across the border to escape potential censorship, and which has seen its unfortunate share of tragedy. The work that Haro and Zeta as a whole risk their safety doing serves as a powerful example of the necessity of a free press to expose and prevent horrific abuses of power.
Hao Wu’s crosscultural coming of age of China’s one-child generation made its debut at Sheffield last year. It went on to screen at DOC NYC, CNEX Doc, Hawaii, DMZ Doc, and St Louis, among other events.
Wu uses the first collaboration between China and Broadway to explore the experiences and expectations of the children born of the implementation of the one-child policy, introduced in 1979 to curb overpopulation concerns. Profiling would-be performers from across socioeconomic strata, but all under extreme pressure from and beholden to their parents, the film’s surface story – the staging of FAME at Beijing’s Central Academy of Drama under the direction of Broadway professionals – serves as an apt mirror for the lofty dreams – and practical limits – of success. At the same time, the interactions between the students and their American musical theatre mentors reveal an intriguing instance of crosscultural adaptation and collaboration, with one particular scene promising select students an unlikely shortcut to Broadway success proving to be especially memorable.
Coming to DVD this coming Tuesday, March 4: THE IRAN JOB
Till Schauder’s look at an American basketball player on an Iranian team debuted at the 2012 Los Angeles Film Festival. Its fest circuit included Vancouver, New Orleans, San Diego, Philadelphia, Denver, and Documentary Edge before a limited theatrical release and VOD release last year.
I previously wrote about the doc upon its theatrical release here.