Coming to theatres today, Friday, February 15:
A TUBA TO CUBA
TG Herrington and Danny Clinch
New Orleans, Tallgrass
New Orleans’ legendary Preservation Hall Jazz Band travels to Cuba.
Herrington and Clinch’s film follows Ben Jaffe, whose parents, Sandra and Allan, founded venue Preservation Hall in the French Quarter, as he fulfills their long-held but politically challenging dream of tracing the roots of New Orleans’ jazz back to Cuba. As a result, in addition to serving as a travelogue bridging cultures through music, the film also profiles the history of Preservation Hall and its band. Jaffe and his fellow bandmates reflect on their experiences in the newly-opened country after President Obama lifted the embargo, while Cuban musicians also offer their take when they’re not collaborating on songs via the universal language of music. Though best suited to fans of jazz, the film nevertheless has struck a chord with general audiences in its focus on cross-cultural exchange and lively energy.
LORENA | Courtesy of Sundance Institute
Coming to Amazon Prime today, Friday, February 15:
An exploration of the notorious case of Lorena and John Wayne Bobbitt
I profiled the doc series before Sundance here.
The 16th Big Sky Documentary Film Festival
Nearly 60 new or recent doc features screen as part of Montana’s largest film event. Continue reading
New to DVD/VOD this week and coming to theatres tomorrow, Friday, February 15:
PARKLAND: INSIDE BUILDING 12
Florida (September 2018)
A play-by-play of the Parkland FL high school mass shooting and its aftermath.
A project that was met with criticism by some survivors and family members, Charlie Minn’s doc is split into two parts: the first maps out the shooting from start to finish, while the second pays tribute to each of the 17 victims through brief interviews with family members and friends. In the former, talking heads with Parkland survivor students and teachers, as well as law enforcement, families, and media, offer a very detailed recounting of the tragedy, through to the perpetrators arrest. These are augmented with a blueprint of the school floor plan, accompanied by simple animation demonstrating the killer’s movements and the devastation he left in his wake. Some student shot cameraphone footage and later media coverage supplement the proceedings. Following the survivor tribute section, the doc ends with Emma Gonzales’ now well-known speech at the March for Our Lives rally. While not feeling exactly sensationalistic, Minn’s project generally has a very basic TV feel, with a surface level treatment that simply revisits the tragedy rather than yielding any particular insights, despite notable access to witnesses.
New to DVD and VOD this week:
Big Sky Doc, Sebastopol Doc, St Louis, Anchorage, RiverRun
A profile of a biker club consisting of veterans of the Bosnian War.
During the Bosnian War in the early 1990s, Lija helped defend his city, Livno – service for which he feels no guilt. Now, he leads many of his comrades-in-arms from those days in the Wolves motorcycle club. Though the viewer might expect these hardened veterans to live up to the aggro biker stereotype, the portrait that emerges in Shawn Convey’s surprisingly understated film upends those preconceptions. While some of the Wolves’ younger members engage in some disruptive behavior, to the gentle headshaking of Lija and his cohort, the club as a whole is dedicated to charitable work, from blood drives and building repair to taking responsibility for the care and protection of a herd of wild horses – stewardship that is laden with metaphor about their own membership. Convey’s project is a quiet one, focused more on observation than on fleshing out the personalities or lives of the Wolves – save, to some extent, Lija – but nevertheless paints an intriguing portrait of trauma and healing.
New to DVD this week:
American Experience (January 2019)
The history of Florida’s shifting relationship with the Everglades.
While “draining the swamp” has taken on a different meaning in more recent years, this installment of the long-running PBS series American Experience focuses on an earlier, more literal instance: the drive to reclaim land from the Florida Everglades in the early 20th century. Viewing wetlands across the nation as disease- and vermin-ridden habitats that interfered with manifest destiny and the all-important profit motive, efforts were undertaken to literally drain the swamps, tame the land, and expand mankind’s footprint. While not straying from the PBS storytelling template, Randall Maclowry succeeds in laying out a compelling tale of greed, creative/duplicitous salesmanship, and environmental shortsightedness that would radically transform the biologically diverse and ecologically essential Everglades for decades, until keener minds would recognize the need for their preservation.
Coming to VOD via MUBI today, Wednesday, February 13:
BROTHERS OF THE NIGHT
RIDM, FIDM, Indielisboa, Transilvania, Diagonal, Bergen
A docudrama exploring the lives of young Bulgarian straight men who work in a Viennese gay hustler bar.
Skewing far more toward fiction than nonfiction, Patric Chiha’s film mixes obviously scripted scenes that pay homage to RW Fassbinder’s QUERELLE with less explicitly staged but still seemingly dramatized moments between his subjects, as well as some more straightforward documentary moments, to capture the world of gay-for-pay Bulgarian hustlers in Vienna. Most of these young men have come to Austria in search of more legitimate work, but for one reason or another – lack of opportunity, lack of language proficiency – have turned to hustling to earn money for their wives and children back in Bulgaria. Most identify as straight, and have set self-imposed limits on the sexual acts they will or won’t perform as a way to maintain their sense of sexual identity. Veteran hustlers share tips with newcomers, friends give advice about how to deal with family commitments back home, and, in general, the men bond through their common background and circumstances – sometimes with suggestions of closer-than-friendship connections between otherwise straight guys. While Chiha provides an intriguing look at the fluidity of male sexuality and the bonds of brotherhood, the artificiality of the storytelling unfortunately serves as a constant distraction. There’s more to be gleaned from the few explicitly nonfiction scenes demonstrating camaraderie and intimacy between his subjects than from the theoretically “real” but obviously staged moments that cast unnecessary questions into the truthfulness of the proceedings.