On TV: TRIBAL JUSTICE

Coming to PBS’s POV this coming Monday, August 21:
TRIBAL JUSTICE

Director:
Anne Makepeace

Premiere:
Santa Barbara 2017

Select Festivals:
Brooklyn, Berkshire, Big Sky Doc, Full Frame, Woods Hole

About:
A portrait of two Native American tribal court judges in California.

Makepeace’s film explores the tribal court system of the two largest tribes in California, the Yurok in the north and the Quechan in the South, through the caseloads of Abby (Yurok) and Claudette (Quechan). Because the tribes are sovereign nations, they are able to work with the California state courts in many cases to take over jurisdiction of certain matters related to their tribespeople. In contrast to conventional Western conceptions of the judicial system as a place for punishment, the tribal court system instead practices restorative justice, with the aim to reform offenders or issues within the community so that they can escape from cyclical patterns of recidivism and crime. While Abby largely deals with community matters – addiction, substance abuse, child welfare – Claudette’s story is more complicated in that also herself becomes part of the court system as the guardian of her wayward nephew, Isaac, a 17-year-old just steps away from becoming another statistic in state prison. Makepeace takes a no-frills but effective approach, and benefits from two appealing protagonists, in exploring the possibilities – and limits – of restorative vs punitive justice.

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Special Screening: THE WORK

Coming to NYC’s Rooftop Films tomorrow, Friday, August 18:
THE WORK

Directors:
Jairus McLeary and Gethin Aldous

Premiere:
SXSW 2017

Select Festivals:
Seattle, Sheffield, BAMcinemaFest, Sarajevo, Melbourne

About:
Folsom State Prison hosts an intensive men’s group therapy workshop.

McLeary and Aldous focuses on one of the two times a year when Folson’s program – nicknamed “the work” by the participating inmates – allows non-convicts to enter the prison to participate in a four-day intensive workshop alongside the prisoners. Three of these civilians are followed as they take part, guided by inmates who are seasoned program participants. One man recognizes that a couple of bad decisions could have led him to Folsom like has happened to so many of his friends, another recognizes he has never fully pursued his aspirations, and the third, who comes off as an arrogant jerk, is primarily attracted to participate in order to experience a sense of danger. Over the course of the often friction-filled workshop, each civilian – and several inmates – are coaxed to open up about formative experiences, many connected to issues with their fathers, and the emotional baggage they carry, while protected here in a safe space, with no surveillance or guards present. While they find the intense experience cathartic, it feels forced or performative at times, and the film’s verité approach doesn’t provide an opportunity to flesh out its subjects sufficiently to give the viewer a sense of how impactful this group therapy writ large really ultimately may be.

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On VOD: MONKEY BUSINESS: THE ADVENTURES OF CURIOUS GEORGE’S CREATORS

New to VOD this week:
MONKEY BUSINESS: THE ADVENTURES OF CURIOUS GEORGE’S CREATORS

Director:
Ema Ryan Yamazaki

Premiere:
Los Angeles 2017

Select Festivals:
Nantucket

About:
The secret origin of Curious George.

I previously wrote about the doc here.

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In Theatres: SIDEMEN: LONG ROAD TO GLORY

Coming to theatres this Friday, August 18:
SIDEMEN: LONG ROAD TO GLORY

Director:
Scott D Rosenbaum

Premiere:
SXSW 2016

Select Festivals:
Nashville, Gold Coast, Woods Hole, Calgary

About:
A tribute to unheralded blues musicians who supported stars Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf.

Rosenbaum’s reverent portrait is one in the growing subgenre of music docs that aims to finally give due to talented but previously unrecognized background or supporting performers. In this case, the focus is on African-American bluesmen Pinetop Perkins, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, and Hubert Sumlin, who contributed piano, drums, and guitar, respectively for luminaries like Waters and Wolf. While falling on rough times after these band leaders died, the sidemen experienced a resurgence of interest in their later years as their music was rediscovered by younger audiences interested in the roots of rock and roll, and finally received some of the industry accolades that had long eluded them, including Grammy Awards for Perkins and Smith in 2011. Drawn from interviews conducted before the deaths of all three in that year, the film offers an unfortunately conventional biographical portrait, livened up somewhat with music and performance footage, as it charts their careers and the influence they had on musicians who followed them.

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In Theatres: WHITNEY. “CAN I BE ME”

Coming to theatres this Friday, August 18:
WHITNEY. “CAN I BE ME”

Directors:
Nick Broomfield and Rudi Dolezal

Premiere:
Tribeca 2017

Select Festivals:
Nantucket, AFI Docs, Sydney, Karlovy Vary, Documentary Edge, Los Angeles, Galway

About:
An intimate reassessment of Whitney Houston’s life and career.

I previously wrote about the doc for Nantucket’s program, saying:
Whitney Houston was one of the most successful female recording artists of all time, counting six Grammys among more than 400 awards earned in her lifetime, more consecutive number one hits than The Beatles, and international crossover appeal to rival that of Michael Jackson. Despite her decades of success, she is best remembered for her troubled marriage to fellow singer Bobby Brown – memorably documented on his reality show, BEING BOBBY BROWN – her struggles with addiction, and her tragic death at the age of 48 in 2012. Acclaimed documentarian Nick Broomfield and iconic music video director Rudi Dolezal issue a corrective in the form of a compelling and sensitive portrait that explores Houston’s success and the confluence of factors that contributed to the talented performer’s fate.

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On DVD: BETTING ON ZERO

Coming to DVD tomorrow, Tuesday, August 15:
BETTING ON ZERO

Director:
Ted Braun

Premiere:
Tribeca 2016

Select Festivals:
Hamptons, Montclair

About:
An investigation into Herbalife’s business model in the wake of a hedge fund’s attack on the company.

Braun’s entry into this examination of the mammoth multi-level marketing corporation is Bill Ackman, CEO of Pershing Square Capital, who shorted Herbalife several years ago and frequently defends his assertion that the company will fail because of illicit practices. While critics charge that Ackman has a vested financial stake in bringing Herbalife down, he counters that he’s doing this on ethical grounds, and that’s generally the view that Braun follows. While the film does briefly explore the antagonism between Ackman and rival Carl Icahn, who takes the opportunity to double down on Herbalife, Braun wisely expands from this specific financial world focus to take a closer look at Herbalife’s alleged pyramid scheme and those who have suffered serious consequences from becoming involved in the company – in recent years, the Latino community in large numbers. Using a fairly conventional approach, including some weak narration and excessive, repetitive graphics, the filmmaker nevertheless presents convincing, damning arguments that Herbalife’s model is less about selling its products and more about recruiting gullible distributors, tellingly substantiated by company executives in clips from insider celebrations/motivational events, and, more importantly, by Federal Trade Commission investigation findings. At the same time, by taking Ackman’s unfulfilled crusade as its structuring device, the film remains slightly unsatisfying, never reaching the hoped for conclusion signaled by its title.

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In Theatres: CALIFORNIA TYPEWRITER

Coming to theatres this Friday, August 18:
CALIFORNIA TYPEWRITER

Director:
Doug Nichol

Premiere:
Telluride 2016

Select Festivals:
DOC NYC, Denver, Cleveland, Nashville, Big Sky Doc, Mill Valley, Documentary Edge, Woods Hole, SF DocFest

About:
An appreciation of a bygone but once ubiquitous technology.

I previously wrote about the film for DOC NYC’s program, saying:
Named for one of the last remaining typewriter repair shops in the US, Doug Nichol’s crowdpleasing film celebrates the design, tactility, and permanence of the typewriter. As the shop struggles to survive, devotees including Tom Hanks, John Mayer, and Sam Shepard weigh in on their deep love for the machines. For those beyond repair, artist Jeremy Mayer lovingly repurposes their parts to create elegant sculptures. Nichol’s crafts an entertaining ode to a technology that most find obsolete and disposable but which some still joyously embrace.

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