Category Archives: Film

In Theatres: ONCE WERE BROTHERS: ROBBIE ROBERTSON AND THE BAND

Coming to theatres today, Friday, February 21:
ONCE WERE BROTHERS: ROBBIE ROBERTSON AND THE BAND

Director:
Daniel Roher

World Premiere:
Toronto 2019

Select Festivals:
DOC NYC, IDFA, Boulder, Miami Jewish, Calgary

About:
A candid recounting of the history of the legendary music group.

The film screened as part of DOC NYC, for which our program notes read:
The Band got started as a group of musicians backing up Bob Dylan on tour, but grew into a legend in their own right, starting with the 1968 album Music from the Big Pink (recorded in Woodstock) and culminating in their 1976 farewell concert filmed by Martin Scorsese for THE LAST WALTZ. In the aftermath, The Band members went their separate ways, battling addiction and broken friendships, never recapturing their original bonds.

Filmmaker Daniel Roher focuses on The Band’s founder Robbie Robertson, who started opening up in his candid book TESTIMONY: A MEMOIR. Robertson gives an emotional account of The Band’s history, artistry, and the tensions that divided fellow members Garth Hudson and the now-deceased Levon Helms, Rick Danko, and Richard Manuel. We hear other testimonies from the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Van Morrison, and Scorsese (also the film’s executive producer) who decode the magic of The Band’s haunting songs such as “The Weight,” “Up on Cripple Creek,” and “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.”

Even for casual listeners, this film is eye-opening for its portrayal of the magical years when The Band shared a deep brotherhood and created music that left a lasting mark.

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On DVD: STRAIGHT/CURVE: REDEFINING BODY IMAGE

New to DVD this week:
STRAIGHT/CURVE: REDEFINING BODY IMAGE

Director:
Jenny McQuaile

World Premiere:
June 2017 (EPIX broadcast)

Select Festivals:
Julian Dubuque, Gold Coast

About:
An exploration of the impact of unrealistic standards of beauty on perceptions of body image.

As suggested by the title of Jenny McQuaile’s documentary, her focus on body image is intimately connected to the fashion industry, where “straight” refers to industry standard-sized models – unrealistically thin but supposedly aspirational for the everyday person – while “curve” denotes models outside of this range and closer to the body type of most people. Size itself, however, is not the only industry-wide standard of beauty, of course, as people of color and older individuals have also tended to be excluded. Combined, this extremely limited definition of acceptable beauty has contributed to feelings of inadequacy and worse for those who don’t seem to fit the model, particularly young women whose inculcated insecurities drive multibillion dollar industries of weight loss, cosmetic surgery, and fashion. McQuaile assembles a range of experts, from fashion industry insiders and academics to non-standard-sized models and other advocates, to weigh in on the damaging impact of these unrealistic standards, and, importantly, to fight back with an empowering message of diversity, countering the flood of harmful images with a celebratory fashion shoot and exhibition deliberate in its inclusivity. While addressing a familiar issue, the film offers refreshing positivity and energy that helps to set it apart.

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On DVD: SCANDALOUS

New to DVD this week:
SCANDALOUS

Director:
Mark Landsman

World Premiere:
Hamptons 2019

Select Festivals:
DOC NYC, Austin, Kansas, Denver

About:
An exploration of the influential tabloid, the National Enquirer.

I previously wrote about the doc here.

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On DVD: THE TRUTH ABOUT MARRIAGE

New to DVD this week:
THE TRUTH ABOUT MARRIAGE

Director:
Roger Nygard

World Premiere:
Orlando 2018

Select Festivals:
Kansas City, Worldfest Houston, Cinequest, Breckenridge, Twin Cities

About:
The filmmaker explores why marriages succeed or fail.

Director Roger Nygard, who serves as a superfluous onscreen interviewer as well as narrator, wants to explore why marriages don’t work for half of all newlyweds, and why each couple thinks they’re the exception. He sort of follows three couples over several years, but largely intersperses interviews with numerous others, including friends and therapists/relationship experts. The three couples include a briefly shown older man/younger mail-order-bride who divorce pretty quickly; a polyamorous couple who seem to be doing fine after a few years; and an obnoxious white American rapper who womanizes his way through Brazil only to end up getting a woman pregnant and becoming a dad. Topics covered include the history of marriage and property laws, marriage for love as a modern invention, what causes attraction, power struggles in relationships, the importance of sex, monogamy, cheating, and the deeper reasons why people marry, such as companionship. Unfortunately, the project is incredibly basic and old-fashioned in its non-stop talking heads/survey approach to documentary storytelling, and comes off like a cross between a how-to educational film and subpar therapy sessions.

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On VOD: AFTER PARKLAND

New to VOD via Hulu this week:
AFTER PARKLAND

Directors:
Emily Taguchi and Jake Lefferman

World Premiere:
Tribeca 2019

Select Festivals:
Hot Docs, Traverse City, Denver, Camden, Martha’s Vineyard, AFI Docs, Key West

About:
A profile of several survivors and family members as they reckon with the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

I previously wrote about the doc here.

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In Theatres: THE STATE AGAINST MANDELA AND THE OTHERS

Coming to theatres today, Wednesday, February 19:
THE STATE AGAINST MANDELA AND THE OTHERS

Directors:
Nicolas Champeaux and Gilles Porte

World Premiere:
Cannes 2018

Select Festivals:
IDFA, Göteborg, Jewish fests in Palm Beach, Boston, New York, San Francisco, and London

About:
A recounting of the trial that sentenced Nelson Mandela and his co-defendants to life in prison.

Between 1963 and 1964, Nelson Mandela and nine black and Jewish co-defendants took part in the Rivonia Trial in apartheid-era South Africa. While there is no visual record of the proceedings, more than 250 hours of audio recordings survive. Filmmakers Nicolas Champeaux and Gilles Porte make use of this newly discovered archival material, illustrating it through stylish animation, to bring the focus back on the “others” of the title. Supplementing this visual style with archival news footage and new interviews, the filmmakers craft an often compelling, if overindulgently lengthy, portrait of a pivotal chapter in the fight for freedom in South Africa.

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Berlin 2020: Documentary Overview

Festival:
The 70th Berlinale

Dates:
February 20-March 1

About:
Germany’s pre-eminent cinema event, the first organized by new artistic director Carlo Chatrian and executive director Mariette Rissenbeek, is notably slimmer than in past years, presenting approximately 170 new features, of which just over 50 are nonfiction. Continue reading

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