Special Screening: BODY OF WAR

BOW570x317Coming to NYC’s Stranger Than Fiction series tomorrow, Tuesday, October 6: BODY OF WAR

Ellen Spiro and Phil Donahue’s portrait of an Iraq War vet debuted at Toronto in 2007. It went on to screen at the Hamptons, AFI Fest, Palm Springs, Santa Barbara, and SXSW, among other events.

Tomas Young called his recruiter just two days after September 11, convinced by George W Bush that he could be part of the team to bring al Qaeda to justice in Afghanistan. Eventually, however, he ended up in Iraq – for all about five days before he sustained injuries that left him paralyzed from the chest down. Spiro and Donahue follow Young as he becomes a vocal – and poignantly visible – reminder of the cost of war, appearing at anti-war events and demanding answers about an exit strategy four US troops. By focusing on one veteran’s experience rather than presenting a wider survey, the film wisely allows viewers to form a deeper intimacy with Young and his struggles. A parallel thread on the US Senate floor that follows West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd’s passionate call to push back the tide of war, as well as an army of pro-war senators parroting Bush’s talking points, is decidedly heavy-handed in contrast, but a meeting between Young and Byrd towards the end of the film helps mitigate its overuse.

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Sinner_in_Mecca_1Now on VOD: A SINNER IN MECCA

Parvez Sharma’s secret recording of his pilgrimage to Mecca premiered at Hot Docs. Screenings have followed at Sheffield, Outfest, and LGBT fests in Chicago, Toronto, Philadelphia, Sydney, and Dublin, among others. It was released on iTunes this past weekend.

I previously wrote about the doc upon its theatrical release here.

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this changesComing to theatres today, Friday, October 2: THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING

Avi Lewis’ look at grassroots opposition to climate change made its debut at Toronto last month. In addition to screening at the Atlantic Film Festival, the film has had a number of special screenings around Europe in the lead up to its US and Canadian release.

Inspired by her recent book of the same name, Naomi Klein serves as occasional onscreen interviewer and overly conversational narrator here. Adopting a faux, gently conspiratorial tone with the audience, she confesses she, too, is put off by climate change films – but this one is different! In practicality, it’s really not that much different. Lewis and Klein shift the focus to inspirational stories of resistance, but the basics are still here: rightly troubling information about the damage that’s been done, and continues to be done, to our planet in the shortsighted interest of profit. The contextual frame that Klein employs to make sense of how and why we’ve gotten to where we are is interesting – the widespread adoption of the Enlightenment era notion that nature is like an animal that mankind must tame, rather than something upon which humanity depends on to survive. In her view, this paradigmatic shift enabled the capitalistic impulse to exploit nature in whatever way deemed necessary to make a profit, regardless of its ultimate, catastrophic results. In Klein’s view, recognizing this underlying concept allows for the possibility of changing it, offering more hope than if one were to simply conclude that man’s basic nature is to be destructive. That’s all well and good, but the examples she uses of grassroots resistance still fall wide of enabling systemic transformation, and their coverage here is so broad that complex issues are unfortunately oversimplified. While the film is not likely to engender awakening in those not already convinced of the need for immediate action to curb climate change, its core audience will likely embrace the pep rally feel in a social issue doc subgenre that’s not typically known for optimism.

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finders keepersComing to VOD today, Friday, October 2: FINDERS KEEPERS

Bryan Carberry and Clay Tweel’s chronicle of a strange property battle had its world premiere at Sundance this year. It has gone on to SXSW, Hot Docs, RiverRun, Sarasota, Traverse City, IFF Boston, New Zealand, Melbourne, and Sundance NextFest, among others.

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

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brandComing to NYC theatres tomorrow, Friday, October 2: BRAND: A SECOND COMING

Ondi Timoner’s portrait of provocateur comedian Russell Brand had its world premiere at SXSW this year. It has gone on to screen at BFI London, Los Angeles, Sarasota, Ashland, Sidewalk, Sydney, Melbourne, Vancouver, and Seattle, among others.

Taking on a subject who has likened himself to the Messiah is no easy task, but Timoner manages to balance his admitted narcissism with insight more often then not, preventing this from being a celebrity puff piece or hagiographic biopic. Her film takes on a lot – not only providing an extended history of the life and meteoric career of the comedian for those who may only know him as a short-lived Mr Katy Perry, but also chronicling his descent and recovery from addiction, his re-invention as a social critic/activist/author, and, if that’s not enough, his global stand-up tour, “Messiah Complex.” Timoner’s ultimately compelling film successfully captures Brand’s ambivalence as he seeks to transcend what’s expected of his celebrity and agitate for something else – even if he’s often a bit hazy on the details.

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the_fake_case-624x421Coming to PBS’s POV tomorrow, Friday, October 2: AI WEIWEI: THE FAKE CASE

Andreas Johnsen’s chronicle of the dissident artist’s ongoing troubles with the Chinese government made its world premiere at IDFA in 2013. It went on to screen at Hot Docs, One World, Istanbul, Tempo, Tampere, and DocsBarcelona, among others.

I previously wrote about the film upon its theatrical release here.

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thecreepinggarden-still1Coming to theatres today, Wednesday, September 29: THE CREEPING GARDEN

Tim Grabham and Jasper Sharp’s exploration of the strange world of slime mold debuted at Fantasia last year. Other screenings have included Hot Docs, Fantastic Fest, Imagine Science, CPH:DOX, Leeds, Cleveland, New Horizons, Revelation, and DOXA.

Grabham and Sharp go on a wide-ranging cinematic forage for slime mold, the bizarre, mobile organisms that used to be considered fungi, behave a bit like a plant and a bit like an animal, and come in a range of types, most resembling something out of a science fiction film. Rather than taking a straightforward TV nature doc approach, the film refreshingly adopts a distinctly quirky tone, down to its unearthly score, as the directors profile several individuals who work with slime mold in intriguing ways. Beyond scientists or amateur foragers who study the strange lifeform, the film visits with a visual artist who collaborates with slime mold, a computer scientist who has demonstrated their ability to create some rather uncanny mapping of pathways, and a composer who incorporates them into his won creative work. Beyond this, the filmmakers even revisit a fun 1931 film starring slime molds, Percy Smith’s MAGIC MIXIES, and its pioneering use of time-lapse photography. The overall result is a clever, fascinating work of science-nonfiction.

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