Dubai 2014: Documentary Overview

imgres-1The 11th edition of the Dubai International Film Festival, the oldest Gulf State event of its kind, begins tomorrow, Wednesday, December 10, and runs for a week. This year’s festival has seen some radical changes due to budget constraints, largely reflected in the elimination of its co-production platform, as well as other perennial programs such as the Muhr Asia/Africa Awards section. As a whole, the event showcases a tighter line-up in 2014, including slightly fewer documentary features – 21 to last year’s 25. About a third of these are familiar from other festivals’ programming, while the remaining largely represent new regional work.

our metropolisThe Arabian Nights section includes Wafa Jamil’s COFFEE FOR ALL NATIONS, about a Palestinian man who opens a small coffee shop accessible to Palestinians and Israelis alike; and Takeharu Watai’s PEACE ON THE TIGRIS – IRAQ WAR AND 10 YEARS OF LIFE IN BAGHDAD, which follows the Japanese filmmaker as he tries to reunite with the Baghdad residents he filmed at the onset of the war in 2003; while the Cinema of the World’s doc offerings include Gautam Sonti and Usha Rao’s OUR METROPOLIS (pictured), chronicling Bangalore’s residents’ struggle against the forced development of their city.

in this landSeveral nonfiction works are included in the Muhr Feature category: Reine Mitri’s IN THIS LAND LAY GRAVES OF MINE (pictured), an exploration of racial and religious territorialism in Lebanese land sales; Bassem Fayad’s DIARIES OF A FLYING DOG, about a Lebanese man and his dog, both with obsessive compulsive disorder; Hazem Alhamwi’s FROM MY SYRIAN ROOM, a personal reckoning with Syria’s 2011 civil war; Hind Shoufani’s TRIP ALONG EXODUS, about the filmmaker’s father, a 1970s Palestinian revolutionary; Salim Abu Jabal’s ROSHMIA, which follows the efforts of an elderly Palestinian couple to seek compensation for the forced relocation; and Nujoom Al Ghanem’s NEARBY SKY, the story of the struggle of the first female Emirati to enter her camel in the traditionally male-led camel beauty pageant.

Leave a comment

Filed under Documentary, Film, Film Festivals, Overviews, Recommendations

Sundance 2015: Premieres, Documentary Premieres & Special Events Announced

ad_34504873_9f4e6961aeb34e6e_webThis is the third pointer to the lineup announcements for the 2015 Sundance Film Festival. Just announced are the selections for the Premieres, Documentary Premieres, and new Special Events section, located here.

The programming slate will wrap up this week with announcements revealing Sundance Kids and Shorts programming.

Announced last week: US and World Cinema Documentary and Dramatic Competitions and NEXT, and Spotlight, Park City at Midnight, and New Frontier.

Leave a comment

Filed under Documentary, Film, Film Festivals, Sundance

In Theatres & On DVD/VOD: JINGLE BELL ROCKS!

jingleComing to theatres today, Monday, December 8 and to DVD and VOD tomorrow, Tuesday, December 9: JINGLE BELL ROCKS!

Mitchell Kezin’s celebration of Christmas music had its world premiere at IDFA last year. It has gone on to screen at DOC NYC, New Orleans, Cleveland, Lone Star, St Louis, and Whistler.

I previously wrote about the film for DOC NYC’s program, saying:
Ever since he was a kid, Mitchell Kezin has loved Christmas music. But the likes of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” and “White Christmas” don’t excite the filmmaker – he’s on a search for the twelve best, under-appreciated Christmas songs ever recorded. His infectious quest leads him to other holiday music fanatics, including hip hop legend Joseph “Rev Run” Simmons of RUN-DMC, The Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne and filmmaker John Waters, and uncovers such unexpected tunes as “Santa Claus Was a Black Man” and “Christmas in Vietnam.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Documentary, Film, Recommendations, Releases

On Cable: REGARDING SUSAN SONTAG

regarding susanComing to HBO tonight, Monday, December 8: REGARDING SUSAN SONTAG

Nancy Kates’ exploration of the noted writer made its bow at Tribeca, where it picked up a special jury prize. Other fest screenings have included Seattle, Sheffield, Vancouver, San Francisco Jewish, Frameline, Outfest, Inside Out, Provincetown, IDFA, Doku.arts, and the United Nations Association Film Festival.

Recalling a foregone era in American culture when a critical writer was far more easily able to attain widespread, mainstream fame, Kates recounts the complex personal and professional history of Susan Sontag, the author of such seminal works as “Notes on ‘Camp,'” AGAINST INTERPRETATION, and ON PHOTOGRAPHY. Deftly balancing biographical elements with excerpts from her output of writing, filmmaking, and media appearances, the film crafts a compelling, sometimes contradictory portrait that remains respectful without descending to the hagiographic. As noted in her own words – voiced here by Patricia Clarkson – Sontag’s curious relationship to her own sexuality informed her writing, and though she maintained an air of privacy around her lesbian affairs in public, they form a significant, and sometimes surprising, portion of the film, with several former lovers interviewed here or appearing in archival footage. On the professional side, Kates examines not only the work which drew her acclaim, such as those indicated above, but also less successful efforts, such as her first novel, the derided experimental THE BENEFACTOR, and her lambasted first film, DUET FOR CANNIBALS. Despite Sontag’s late-in-life feelings of dissatisfaction and failure in her career, Kates’ film serves as a potent reminder that the writer was once celebrated in our culture as a polymath, proudly intellectual and a contributor to an enriching and enlightening discourse around a wide-range of interests.

Leave a comment

Filed under Documentary, Film, Recommendations, Releases

In Theatres: POVERTY, INC

PovertyInc1webComing to theatres today, Friday, December 5: POVERTY, INC

Michael Matheson Miller’s exploration of the downside of global charity debuted at Anthem, the Libertarian Film Festival, this Summer, where it won the audience award. Other festival stops have included Austin, Docutah, Chagrin Doc, Savannah, Denver, and Leeds.

Miller’s film questions whether the good intentions of international aid actually do more harm than good in the long run, encouraging dependence rather than self-reliance, and propagating paternalism that inevitably positions the recipients of relief as lesser or incapable nations. While altruism in and of itself is not viewed as a problem, the film instead suggests that the way it has historically been employed bolsters an inefficient, if not wholly broken system. Not unexpectedly, a major focus is Haiti, where the immediate humanitarian response to the devastating 2010 earthquake was certainly necessary and warranted, but continued past the point of emergency to disincentivize the local community from rebuilding. When rice is provided for free, and numerous NGOs provide free services, the argument goes, the local populace sees no need to take the lead in shoring up their community, developing entrepreneurially to solve their own problems, and thereby creating capability on a local level that sustains the community as a whole. While the film may not be able to offer comprehensive solutions, the essential message is to assist in more thoughtful ways, integrated with the needs of the community, and presented in a way to empower them to take over and build on it, rather than to simply grow dependent on the assistance. As a whole, while there’s nothing objectionable about this concept, the film’s approach, while straightforward enough, is also a fairly flat and artless survey, with weak narration and a parade of expert talking heads that are more suited to television than to a theatrical context.

Leave a comment

Filed under Documentary, Film, Releases

Sundance 2015: Spotlight, Park City at Midnight & New Frontier Announced

ad_34504873_9f4e6961aeb34e6e_webThis post is a pointer to the second lineup announcement for the 2015 Sundance Film Festival. This year’s selections in Spotlight, Park City at Midnight, and New Frontier may be found here.

The remaining non-competition feature sections, Premieres, Documentary Premieres, Sundance Kids, and the new Special Events, as well as Shorts, will be revealed in further announcements next week.

If you missed yesterday’s announcement, the US and World Cinema Documentary and Dramatic Competitions, plus NEXT, click here.

Leave a comment

Filed under Documentary, Film, Film Festivals, Sundance

On Cable: PAULY SHORE STANDS ALONE

Pauly-ShoreComing to Showtime tonight, Thursday, December 4: PAULY SHORE STANDS ALONE

Shore’s self-directed standup road trip doc debuted at the Los Angeles Downtown Film Festival this Summer, where it picked up an award. It went on to screen at Woodstock this past October.

Decades past the height of his MTV and bro comedy popularity, the now middle-aged comedian contends less with celebrity and more with the challenges of an ailing mother, an aging body, and earning a living as a standup. While known for early 1990s comedies like ENCINO MAN and SON IN LAW, the film makes it clear that he didn’t just pop up out of nowhere – his father, Sammy, was himself a comic, and his mother, Mitzi, founded and ran the celebrated Comedy Store in Hollywood, a venue which saw some of the most notable comedians of the past several decades hone their craft, from Richard Pryor to Roseanne, Robin Williams to Sam Kinison. While Hollywood may not be turning to Shore with star vehicles any longer, he maintains a healthy fanbase that shows up to his comedy club appearances. As he travels to mostly small towns in the Midwest to perform, Shore’s film catches audiences up to his present activities – living with his mother, who suffers from advanced Parkinson’s, renting out his own home to help with finances, contending with an enlarged prostate, and half-heartedly considering whether he should finally grow up, settle down, and start his own family. While Shore is able to tap into some of his old “Weasel” stoner persona, he tends more toward a quieter, often self-deprecating humor, at least for the purposes of this unapologetically self-promoting behind-the-scenes portrait. While it may not resonate as strongly as its obvious forebears JOAN RIVERS: A PIECE OF WORK or ELAINE STRITCH: SHOOT ME, which benefit from performers with far more history behind them, this fairly conventional road trip doc is appealing enough for what it aims to do, presenting a different side of a figure who is otherwise often quickly dismissed out of hand for having presumed to continue beyond the peak of his mainstream celebrity.

Leave a comment

Filed under Documentary, Film, Releases