Category Archives: Documentary

In Theatres: THE SKYJACKER’S TALE

Coming to theatres this Friday, June 30:
THE SKYJACKER’S TALE

Director:
Jamie Kastner

Premiere:
Toronto 2016

Select Festivals:
CPH:DOX, Victoria

About:
A convicted murderer hijacks a passenger plane to escape to Cuba.

Ishmail Muslim Ali and four accomplices were convicted of killing eight people at a Rockefeller family owned country club in the Virgin Islands in 1972. After years in prison, and on the way back from the VI on a failed appeal in 1984, he managed to hijack a plane and reroute it to Cuba, where he has lived a free man ever since, even starting a family. With extradition on the horizon, Ali agrees to give his version of these events to Canadian documentarian Kastner, who, as in his previous work, unfortunately relies on theoretically stylish but actually quite clunky re-enactments and distracting faux period music to tell the bulk of the story. Beyond these aesthetic choices, the director employs a haphazard, unnecessarily convoluted chronological structure, and seems to go out of his way to valorize his antihero without bothering to convince the viewer that Ali was wrongfully convicted.

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In Theatres: LOOK & SEE: A PORTRAIT OF WENDELL BERRY


Coming to theatres this Friday, June 30:
LOOK & SEE: A PORTRAIT OF WENDELL BERRY

Director:
Laura Dunn

Co-Director:
Jef Sewell

Premiere:
SXSW 2016 (earlier version titled THE SEER)

Select Festivals:
Sundance, Nantucket, Hot Docs, Montclair, Berlin, Nashville, RiverRun

About:
A profile of the outspoken author and environmentalist through his immediate surroundings.

I profiled the doc before Sundance here.

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On TV: VEGAS BABY

Coming to PBS’s America ReFramed tonight, Tuesday, June 27:
VEGAS BABY

Director:
Amanda Micheli

Premiere:
Tribeca 2016

Select Festivals:
San Francisco, AFI Docs, IFF Boston, Cleveland, Miami

About:
People struggling with infertility participate in a contest held by a fertility clinic.

Las Vegas-based Sher Fertility Clinics, a lucrative private chain pioneered by an entrepreneurial South African specialist, annually holds the I Believe contest, offering free in vitro fertilization services to one lucky winner, as determined initially by popular vote online, and then finally by a panel of fertility specialists. Entrants share their often heartbreaking, desperate stories, and while the judges take these into account, they also must balance their decision based on who might have the best chance of actually conceiving – as they make very clear, their services have no guarantee of success. Even so, with costs potentially reaching into the hundreds of thousands, IVF is often out of reach of most ordinary Americans, making the Sher contest an attractive longshot to many, despite its offputting nature. Micheli quickly profiles several hopefuls before revealing the winners, Ann and Brian Johnson, who suffered the miscarriages of twins as well as a failed adoption. The film follows them, as well as a couple of other cases who continue with fertility treatments on their own, to different results. Micheli does offer a far more sensitive approach than might be expected given the potentially sensationalistic aspects of the contest, but more attention could have been paid to its disturbing ethical and moral implications, and to the larger underlying problems with health care and the economy which are viewed to necessitate it.

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On VOD: HONK!

Coming to VOD today, Tuesday, June 27:
HONK!

Directors:
Arnaud Gaillard and Florent Vassault

Premiere:
Marseille Doc 2011

Select Festivals:
Thessaloniki Doc, Doclisboa,

About:
A meditation on the death penalty in America.

French directors Gaillard and Vassault offer a survey of the impact of the death penalty, presenting portraits or episodes with subjects whose lives in some way intersect with death row, from a victim’s family witnessing an execution to a mother of an inmate who honks every time she drives past the prison as a show of solidarity and support. While professionally made and not uninteresting, despite its unappealing title, the project ultimately proves too diffuse to have a strong impact either as a social justice film or to be memorable as an impressionistic slice of Americana.

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On VOD: LAST MEN IN ALEPPO

Coming to VOD today, Tuesday, June 27:
LAST MEN IN ALEPPO

Director:
Feras Fayyad

Co-Director:
Steen Johannessen

Premiere:
Sundance 2017

Select Festivals:
CPH:DOX, Full Frame, Sarasota, Movies That Matter, Istanbul, Nashville

About:
A chronicle the lives of Aleppo’s White Helmets, the city’s volunteer civil defense team.

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

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On DVD: MISSION CONTROL

Coming to DVD tomorrow, Tuesday, June 27:
MISSION CONTROL: THE UNSUNG HEROES OF APOLLO

Director:
David Fairhead

Premiere:
SXSW 2017

Select Festivals:
Sarasota

About:
Members of NASA’s Mission Control recount the triumphs and tragedies of the US space program through the end of the Apollo missions.

I previously wrote about the doc here.

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On DVD/VOD: LEGION OF BROTHERS

Coming to DVD and VOD tomorrow, Tuesday, June 27:
LEGION OF BROTHERS

Director:
Greg Barker

Premiere:
Sundance 2017

Select Festivals:
Minneapolis-St Paul

About:
Green Berets relate their secret missions to overthrow the Taliban after 9/11.

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

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