Category Archives: Film

On TV: LEITIS IN WAITING

Coming to PBS’s Pacific Heartbeat tomorrow, Saturday, May 25:
LEITIS IN WAITING

Directors:
Dean Hamer, Joe Wilson, and Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu

Premiere:
Festival of Commonwealth Film 2018

Select Festivals:
Los Angeles, Margaret Mead, Frameline, Outfest, Doc Edge, Sydney Mardi Gras, Melbourne Queer, Shanghai Queer

About:
An exploration of the impact of Western prejudices on Tonga’s community of transgender women, known as leitis.

The South Pacific island kingdom of Tonga has long held its transgender citizens in esteem. The leitis play important roles in religious and special events, and have been in service to the royal family for generations. Despite this, the influence of Western prejudices against LGBT individuals, fomented by the encroaching presence of evangelical Christian ministries, has had a negative impact on the leitis, threatening their safety and traditions. Dean Hamer and Joe Wilson, whose previous work has explored LGBT themes, including the life of their collaborator here, transgender Hawai’ian activist Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu, in KUMU HINA, explore the experiences of leitis under these shifting cultural norms, chiefly Joey Joeleen Mataele. Mataele, a mother figure for the younger women profiled here, is an activist on the global stage and even a mistress of ceremonies for the local leiti pageant. Though the film perhaps tries to tackle a bit too much, resulting in a tendency to over rely on talking heads, it nevertheless offers intriguing insight into non-Western conceptions of gender and how they can be detrimentally affected by outside forces.

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In Theatres: BARBARA RUBIN & THE EXPLODING NY UNDERGROUND

Coming to theatres today, Friday, May 24:
BARBARA RUBIN & THE EXPLODING NY UNDERGROUND

Director:
Chuck Smith

Premiere:
Hot Docs 2018

Select Festivals:
DOC NYC, Rotterdam, Thessaloniki Doc, Seattle, Jeonju

About:
A forgotten 1960s film pioneer receives her due.

The film screened as part of DOC NYC, for which our program notes read:
Offering a recontextualization of the 1960s New York art and experimental film scene through the story of a remarkably influential, yet unheralded, figure, Chuck Smith’s film introduces viewers to Barbara Rubin. This extraordinary young filmmaker, who defied sexist conventions when she picked up a film camera and shot an art-porn masterpiece, was instrumental in connecting Andy Warhol to the Velvet Underground and Bob Dylan to the Kabbalah before dramatically and unexpectedly leaving the scene behind as quickly as she arrived.

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In Theatres: HALSTON

photo by Berry Berenson Perkins

Coming to theatres tomorrow, Friday, May 24:
HALSTON

Director:
Frédéric Tcheng

Premiere:
Sundance 2019

Select Festivals:
CPH:DOX, Tribeca, Seattle, Montclair, Sarasota

About:
An exploration of the life and legacy of America’s first celebrity designer.

My pre-Sundance doc profile may be found here.

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On VOD: MEOW WOLF: ORIGIN STORY

New to VOD this week:
MEOW WOLF: ORIGIN STORY

Directors:
Morgan Capps and Jilann Spitzmiller

Premiere:
SXSW 2018

Select Festivals:
Tallgrass, BendFilm, Santa Fe, Denver

About:
The story of the inexplicably popular Santa Fe-based artist collective.

I previously wrote about the doc here.

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In Theatres & Special Screening: RUNNING WITH BETO

Coming to theatres tomorrow Friday, May 24 and to Rooftop Films this Saturday, May 25:
RUNNING WITH BETO

Director:
David Modigliani

Premiere:
SXSW 2019

Select Festivals:
Seattle, IFF Boston, Martha’s Vineyard, Full Frame, Dallas,

About:
A candid behind-the-scenes look at Beto O’Rourke’s 2018 campaign for US Senate.

Beto O’Rourke was elected to the US House of Representatives in 2012, representing Texas as a Democrat. He won re-election to two more terms, but instead of seeking re-election last year, he challenged Republican incumbent Ted Cruz for the US Senate. While viewed by many as a fool’s errand given the state’s deep-seated red leanings, the charismatic Everyman shocked naysayers with a campaign that very nearly unseated his regressive opponent, demonstrating that Texas may not be as much of a lock for the Republicans as believed, and brought O’Rourke to national prominence, clearing the way for his current 2020 US Presidential bid. None of this will come as a surprise to anyone watching David Modigliani’s film – as with most campaign docs, the outcome is already known, so what matters is how the story is told and how close one gets to the candidate. Here, the approach is fairly straightforward, but Modigliani benefits from a subject who comes off as genuine, likeable, and optimistic – a mean feat for a politician. In addition, the filmmaker profiles several individuals working on the campaign, providing welcome new personalities to round out the proceedings as they barrel down to the inevitable results of election night, and highlighting how O’Rourke’s campaign has opened the door for potential progressive change in Texas and beyond.

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In Theatres: THE PROPOSAL

Coming to theatres this Friday, May 24:
THE PROPOSAL

Director:
Jill Magid

Premiere:
Tribeca 2018

Select Festivals:
Hot Docs, Sheffield, Rotterdam, Dokufest, New Orleans, Camden, Docaviv, Docs Against Gravity, Ambulante, Antenna, RIDM, Palm Springs, Hamptons, Vancouver, Göteborg, Portland, Salem, DocPoint

About:
The artist/filmmaker engages in a polite battle of wills over access to – and the legacy of – a celebrated Mexican architect’s work.

The culmination of a five-year project that has included art installations, exhibitions, and publications, Jill Magid’s first feature interrogates the contested legacy of Luis Barragán. Barragán, a well-respected Mexican architect, died in 1988, and eventually, his family sold his archive, name, and work to a private Swiss corporation, Vitra. Supposedly, the purchase was made by Vitra’s Rolf Fehlbaum as a gift to his then-fianceé, Federica Zanco, but, in Magid’s view, Vitra consistently has blocked access to Barragán’s work by pretty much anyone, including other artists or scholars, and she has used this as the basis for her multi-year, multi-media project. Taking a personal, essayistic approach, the artist chronicles her correspondence with Zanco, the archive’s director, while traveling through Mexico and elsewhere, tracing Barragán’s steps and concocting an audacious offer of her own to rival Fehlbaum’s alleged grand gesture to Zanco. While the conceit of the film – and Magid’s constant presence – may wear some viewer’s patience thin, its larger themes remain fascinating enough to more or less excuse its shortcomings.

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In Theatres: WOODSTOCK: THREE DAYS THAT DEFINED A GENERATION

Coming to theatres this Friday, May 24:
WOODSTOCK: THREE DAYS THAT DEFINED A GENERATION

Director:
Barak Goodman

Premiere:
Tribeca 2019

Select Festivals:
Seattle, DocLands

About:
An immersive reflection on how organizers defied the odds to stage the seminal music event.

While Woodstock has become an iconic event in the history of music and of the 1960s counterculture, the fuller background on the happening’s origins may not be quite as well known. Barak Goodman’s masterful project revisits the 1969 concert and its planning, placing viewers in the midst of the action via remarkable archival visual footage and present-day audio commentary from organizers, attendees, and performers. From John Roberts and Joel Rosenman’s original plans to the idea’s rapid spread, the securing of and loss of the original setting to locating the eventual site of Max Yasgur’s Bethel farm, the overwhelming logistics to the need for support from the local community, this new doc draws the audience back to those three eventful days in August that capped off the tumultuous sixties and defined a generation.

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