On TV: AMERICAN SELFIE: ONE NATION SHOOTS ITSELF

Coming to Showtime tonight, Friday, October 23:
AMERICAN SELFIE: ONE NATION SHOOTS ITSELF

Director:
Alexandra Pelosi 

World Premiere:
Showtime broadcast (October 2020)

About:
A wide-ranging look at a polarized America. 

Despite the title of filmmaker Alexandra Pelosi’s project, her documentary isn’t really about selfies, except for an opening segment engaging with tourists in front of Jeff Koons’ Cloud Gate in Chicago’s Millennium Park. Instead, she travels across America for about a year, beginning in September 2019, to capture the nation’s division at Trump rallies, environmental protests, pro-gun gatherings, Black Friday sales, the Super Bowl, and a variety of locations related to the pandemic, from grocery stores being emptied of products and funeral homes inundated with victims of the coronavirus to Black Lives Matter protests in the wake of George Floyd’s murder to Trump’s reprehensible photo op at St John’s Church. If it’s division she wished to capture, she does so in spades, with many scenes punctuated by angry people yelling at one another. It’s a lot to take in and, frankly, goes on a bit too long, but it is an honest snapshot of what we’ve come to, and an urgent reminder of the role those currently in power have played in fanning these flames of discord for their own benefit.

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On VOD: SEAT 20D

New to VOD this week:
SEAT 20D

Director:
Jill Campbell

World Premiere:
Hamptons Doc Fest 2019

About:
A sculpture project helps a mother reckon with the loss of her son in a terrorist attack.

Alexander Lowenstein was a passenger on Pan Am 103 on December 21, 1988, part of a group of Syracuse University students returning from a semester abroad in London. The plane was destroyed by a terrorist bomb that ultimately claimed 270 victims and came to be known as the Lockerbie bombing. As a way to process her grief, Alexander’s mother, Suse, turned to her artwork, beginning a sculpture of a woman confronted with the death of her child. Reaching out to other families from the Lockerbie bombing, Suse found 75 other mothers who wished to participate. The result, completed over the course of 15 years, is the sculpture garden dubbed Dark Elegy. When focused on Suse and the healing properties of the artistic process, the film is strongest; attempts to bring in other stories, including an overextended sequence with Syracuse University’s Remembrance Scholar program, prove less successful.

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On VOD: WHITE NOISE

New to VOD this week:
WHITE NOISE

Director:
Daniel Lambroso

World Premiere:
AFI Docs 2020

Select Festivals:
IDFA, Hot Springs Doc

About:
An up-close look at three media-hungry, white nationalist alt-right influencers. 

Following the ascendancy of Trump on a platform of divisiveness, fear mongering, and pandering to the extreme right, filmmaker Daniel Lambroso spent several years gaining impressive access to and the trust of three figures at the center of the alt-right movement: white supremacist leader Richard Spencer, Canadian anti-immigration and anti-feminist blogger Lauren Southern, and conspiracy theorist Mike Cernovich. There’s a cynicism that pervades all three distasteful subjects, but none more so than Cernovich, who seems like he’s willing to do or say anything to make money. Southern and Spencer don’t come off much better, equally disingenuous about the real world impact of their words and even contradictory about their beliefs. For some viewers, the very existence of a documentary giving more screentime and attention to these amoral media whores may be deeply problematic, but Lambroso makes it worthwhile, providing just enough rope for them to hang themselves. Still, it’s decidedly a film to hatewatch once and not look back again after it’s wrapped up.

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On TV: FIRST VOTE

Coming to The WORLD Channel’s America ReFramed tonight, Tuesday, October 20:
FIRST VOTE

Director:
Yi Chen

World Premiere:
Los Angeles Asian Pacific 2020

Select Festivals:
AFI Docs, CAAMFest, Houston Asian American Pacific Islander, Hawaii, Hot Springs Doc

About:
A profile of several Asian Americans who get involved politically in the 2018 midterm elections.

Filmmaker Yi Chen, herself a first time voter, sets out to understand what experiences shaped the political beliefs of other Asian Americans in the lead up to the 2018 midterm elections. She focuses primarily on North Carolina, where she profiles Sue Googe, a proud gun-toting Chinese immigrant who unsuccessfully runs as a Republican for congress with the message that her background lets her know that socialism doesn’t work and must be stopped. Also in NC are Kasier Kuo, a progressive Democrat who tries to make sense of Chinese support Trump; and Jennifer Ho, a professor and progressive Democrat who leads class discussions focusing on race in America and the perception of Asians. In Ohio, Lance Chen becomes a key organizer for the Republican Party, keeping a database of Chinese Americans and doing grassroots outreach to get their support for Republican candidates. While the filmmaker has identified an intriguing topic that rarely receives much mainstream consideration, her film suffers from its short running time. Its hourlong format but with a trimmed down cast, or a more fleshed out longer cut, would strengthen the project substantially, allowing its individual subjects to make more of an impact. Still, the film provides welcome insight and helps to break down false notions of any kind of monolithic Asian American identity or political consensus.

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On TV: FEELS GOOD MAN

Coming to PBS’s Independent Lens tonight, Monday, October 19:
FEELS GOOD MAN

Director:
Arthur Jones

World Premiere:
Sundance 2020

Select Festivals:
True/False, SXSW, Big Sky Doc, Taipei, Fantasia, Sidewalk, Kyiv

About:
An exploration of the unpredictable development of an influential Internet meme.

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

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In Theatres & In Virtual Release: BELLY OF THE BEAST

Coming to select theatres and to virtual cinema today, Friday, October 16:
BELLY OF THE BEAST

Director:
Erika Cohn

World Premiere:
Human Rights Watch NYC 2020

Select Festivals:
Mill Valley, Heartland, Double Exposure, Cucalorus, Rocky Mountain Women’s

About:
A woman sterilized without her consent while in prison teams with a dedicated attorney to stop the process.

When Kelli Dillon was serving time in a Californian prison for defending herself and her children from an abusive partner, she was misdiagnosed with cervical cancer. Without her consent, the treatment included the removal of her uterus. Soon, she found that this was neither an unfortunate error nor a unique case, but instead a common experience for other female inmates, particularly for other women of color. Working with attorney and activist Cynthia Chandler, Kelli fights to expose and prevent the illegal practice. Delving into America’s disturbing history of eugenics and the continued inhumane treatment of prisoners, Erika Cohn’s film profiles the hurdles still faced by those seeking to prevent racial and reproductive injustice.

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In Virtual Release: THIS IS NOT A MOVIE

Coming to virtual cinemas today, Friday, October 16:
THIS IS NOT A MOVIE

Director:
Yung Chang

World Premiere:
Toronto 2019

Select Festivals:
DOC NYC, IDFA, Palm Springs, Docs Against Gravity

About:
A portrait of legendary foreign correspondent Robert Fisk.

The film screened as part of DOC NYC, for which our program notes read:
Award-winning filmmaker Yung Chang (UP THE YANGTZE) profiles the legendary Middle East journalist Robert Fisk, known for his books PITY THE NATION and THE GREAT WAR FOR CIVILIZATION. Now in his 70s, Fisk remains vital and intrepid. The film follows him on contemporary reporting missions from Syria to Bosnia, while also looking back on the incomparable career that brought him face to face with Osama Bin Laden and virtually every other historic figure in the region.

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NewFest 2020: Documentary Overview

Festival:
The 32nd NewFest

Dates:
October 16-27

About:
About a third of the features screening at this year’s hybrid online/drive-in edition of New York’s LGBTQ film festival are documentaries.

Continue reading

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On VOD: TIME

Coming to Amazon Prime tomorrow, Friday, October 16:
TIME

Director:
Garrett Bradley

World Premiere:
Sundance 2020

Select Festivals:
New York, London, Hamptons, Miami, Zurich, Camden, Mill Valley

About:
A longitudinal portrait of a marriage and a family separated by incarceration.

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

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On DVD: SILICONE SOUL

New to DVD this week:
SILICONE SOUL

Director:
Melody Gilbert

World Premiere:
Thessaloniki Doc 2018

Select Festivals:
DOC NYC, One World, Fargo, SF DocFest, Minneapolis-St Paul, Sofia, BendFilm, Chagrin Doc, AmDocs, DocuWest

About:
Profiles of individuals who have developed attachments to lifelike dolls.

I previously wrote about the doc here.

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