In Theatres: ESCAPES

Coming to theatres today, Wednesday, July 26:
ESCAPES

Director:
Michael Almereyda

Premiere:
BAMcinemaFest 2016

Select Festivals:
Rotterdam, San Francisco (both as WIP)

About:
An unconventional biography of occasional actor and BLADE RUNNER screenwriter Hampton Fancher.

On the surface, Fancher would seem to be an unlikely subject for a documentary profile, except perhaps one wholly focused on BLADE RUNNER – and even then, likely primarily suited to that film’s admirers. That’s decidedly not what Almereyda has crafted here, which instead in many ways looks beyond Fancher himself to explore the escapism of storytelling, and, specifically, of Hollywood. His leading man is still front and center, but it’s largely through the images he was part of that his outrageous, perhaps not wholly believable, biography is revealed. Almereyda alternates sections of biography, conveyed through terse screencards, with long stretches of anecdotes – usually involving famous women he seduced –
delivered in voiceover by his subject, and illustrated via clips from the various television shows and obscure films in which he appeared. If at first seemingly too clever by half, the technique soon underscores Fancher’s presence as a not completely sympathetic or reliable narrator, but one who still seems authentically representative of the mythmaking of his industry.

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In Theatres: RUMBLE: THE INDIANS WHO ROCKED THE WORLD

Coming to theatres today, Wednesday, July 26:
RUMBLE: THE INDIANS WHO ROCKED THE WORLD

Directors:
Catherine Bainbridge and Alfonso Maiorana

Premiere:
Sundance 2017

Select Festivals:
Hot Docs, Edinburgh, Thessaloniki Doc, Cleveland, Florida, DOXA, DOK Fest Munich, Docs Against Gravity, Seattle, Big Sky Doc, Biografilm, Sydney, AFI Docs, In-Edit, Traverse City

About:
A celebration of the unheralded Native roots of popular music.

I profiled the doc before Sundance here.

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On VOD: JEREMIAH TOWER: THE LAST MAGNIFICENT

Coming to VOD today, Tuesday, July 25:
JEREMIAH TOWER: THE LAST MAGNIFICENT

Director:
Lydia Tenaglia

Premiere:
Tribeca 2016

Select Festivals:
Hamptons, Mill Valley, Denver, Sedona

About:
A look at the life and career of one of the pioneers of New American Cuisine.

As recounted early in Tenaglia’s oddly compelling but uneven film, Jeremiah Tower was once one of the most influential figures in the culinary world – one of the first true celebrity chefs, whose collaboration with Alice Waters at Chez Panisse put modern American cuisine on the world map. After the closure of his own follow-up restaurant, Stars, however, Tower more or less vanished from the food scene. The early parts of Tenaglia’s profile make too much of this, featuring ponderous pronouncements and overstylized footage of Tower’s wandering around Mexico, before delving into his biography. Unfortunately, this is done with an overuse of re-enactments detailing the chef’s poor little rich boy upbringing – a largely solitary existence spent in the dining rooms of luxury cruises and hotels, ignored by his parents. The re-enactments sadly continue into his young adulthood, as Tower and old friends relate how he came to work at Chez Panisse and form a fruitful partnership with Waters, before the inevitable falling out that seems unresolved to this day. Tenaglia’s project gets a much needed jolt when it moves to the relative present day, in 2014, and it’s revealed that Tower will take over the kitchen of NYC’s Tavern on the Green. From here, Tower’s new post – a thankless one, in the eyes of the culinary elite – shifts the approach of the film to its benefit, chronicling the perfectionist’s attempts at a comeback for both the newly re-opened space and himself.

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Asian American International 2017: Documentary Overview

Festival:
The 40th Asian American International Film Festival

Dates:
July 26-August 5

About:
The first and longest-running Asian/Asian American fest presents more than 25 new features – docs making up half that’s number. Continue reading

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On TV: SUMMER OF LOVE

© Ralph Ackerman

Coming back to PBS’s American Experience – in recognition of the event’s 50th anniversary – tomorrow, Tuesday, July 25:
SUMMER OF LOVE

Directors:
Gail Dolgin and Vicente Franco

Premiere:
American Experience (April 2007)

About:
An in-depth look at the convergence of the counterculture in San Francisco in the summer of 1967.

This look back to the utopian vision of a new youth-driven, free-thinking society is bookended with the Golden Gate Park Human Be-In in January 1967, and the Death of the Hippie mock funeral in October of the same year. The first event, and Timothy Leary’s call for everyone to “turn on, tune, drop out,” served as a clarion call, drawing would-be hippies to San Francisco from all corners of the country – an onslaught that SF city officials resisted and that the counterculture’s limited infrastructure was ultimately unable to properly handle, leading to serious problems, from drug overdoses to the exploitation of youth. Dolgin and Franco concisely explore both why the hippie counterculture emerged in the tempestuous 1960s and why San Francisco became, for many, its hub, drawing on the memories of participants in that unforgettable summer and ample archival footage that showed the transformation of Haight-Ashbury, the response of longtime residents, and the curious onlookers who contributed to the sensationalism of the phenomenon.

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Traverse City 2017: Documentary Overview

Festival:
The 13th Traverse City Film Festival

Dates:
July 25-30

About:
Approximately 100 features screen at this event founded by Michael Moore, including over 40 feature docs. Continue reading

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On TV: SHALOM ITALIA

Coming to PBS’s POV this coming Monday, July 24:
SHALOM ITALIA

Director:
Tamar Tal Anati

Premiere:
Docaviv 2016

Select Festivals:
IDFA, AFI Docs, Festival Dei Popoli, Cleveland, Jewish fests in Los Angeles, Calgary, and Philadelphia

About:
Three Jewish brothers return to their native Italy to find the cave in which they hid from the Nazis.

Emmanuel, Andrea, and Bubi, together with their other family members escaped Nazi persecution by living in a makeshift cave in the Tuscan woods for several months. They eventually emigrated to Israel, but now, nearly seven decades later, they reunite to revisit their old homeland and to see if they can find the sanctuary. The eldest, Emmanuel, has never previously returned – having been forced to grow up too fast, he has little interest in reliving old trauma – but the youngest, Bubi, with few memories of the time, convinced him to help find the place that saved their lives. In between treks in the wood, the brothers share meals and memories, humorously argue as family members do, and, most interestingly, confront the slippages between memories, mythologies, and truths – as revealed when they meet up with a neighbor whose version of her family’s role in their story don’t seem to match their own.

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