Category Archives: Documentary

On VOD: FEELINGS ARE FACTS: THE LIFE OF YVONNE RAINER

New to VOD via Vimeo on Demand this week:
FEELINGS ARE FACTS: THE LIFE OF YVONNE RAINER

Director:
Jack Walsh

World Premiere:
Berlin 2015

Select Festivals:
DOC NYC, Rio, Dance on Camera, Calgary Underground, San Francisco Dance, Sebastopol Doc, Frameline, LGBT fests in London, Boston, Portland, Vienna, Buenos Aires, Vancouver, Copenhagen, Milwaukee, Hamburg, Bologna, Sao Paulo, Sydney

About:
An expansive look at the life and work of Yvonne Rainer.

I previously wrote about the film for DOC NYC’s program, saying:
A long-overdue portrait of an iconoclastic performer, Jack Walsh’s film profiles the incomparable Yvonne Rainer. In the 1960s, within a scant few years as a dancer and choreographer, she radically changed the art form through her influential work at the Judson Dance Theater. When she shifted to film in the 1970s, she continued to innovate, creating avant-garde work from an unapologetically feminist viewpoint. Still vital and creating new boundary-pushing choreography at the age of 80, Rainer continues to inspire.

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On DVD: SEAHORSE: THE DAD WHO GAVE BIRTH

New to DVD this week:
SEAHORSE: THE DAD WHO GAVE BIRTH

Director:
Jeanie Finlay

World Premiere:
Tribeca 2019

Select Festivals:
Hot Docs, Sheffield, Chicago, Göteborg, St Louis, Bergen, DocPoint, Hot Springs Doc, Rocky Mountain Women’s, Nashville

About:
An intimate portrait of a transgender man’s pregnancy.

Over the course of three years, filmmaker Jeanie Finlay follows Freddy, a gay transgender man, as he makes the decision to stop taking testosterone in order to become pregnant and fulfill his dream of becoming a father. In this way, he will be like the titular marine life, in which the male of the species gives birth. While Freddy sees pregnancy as a pragmatic decision – using his biology to achieve a goal that otherwise might be hard to achieve – it has unexpected consequences, for himself and others around him. As his body begins to change, Freddy confronts complex questions around gender, maleness, parenthood, and identity. Finlay takes an appropriately delicate, though sometimes too leisurely, approach, but it yields affecting results. That said, the film’s subtitle is off-putting. A recent addition, it helps set the viewer’s expectations more clearly than the original more poetic, standalone title, but it also lends the doc an unfortunate air of tabloid sensationalism that thankfully does not actually materialize within it. Beyond that, the subtitle’s use of “the dad” suggests that McConnell is the sole trans man who has decided to become pregnant, and that’s far from the case – this isn’t even the only documentary about the subject. While this might seem like a minor quibble, the subtitle – likely a fairly innocent marketing decision – unintentionally serves to further other McConnell, even if Finlay’s film itself is clearly sympathetic and supportive.

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Special Screening: OLYMPIA

OLYMPIA

Coming to North America via a special streaming event tomorrow, Thursday, July 9 and in Europe on Friday, July 10:
OLYMPIA

Director:
Harry Mavromichalis

World Premiere:
DOC NYC 2018

Select Festivals:
Sidewalk, Lemesos Doc, Edmonton, Los Angeles and San Francisco Greek fests

About:
An intimate portrait of acclaimed actress Olympia Dukakis.

I previously wrote about the film for DOC NYC’s program, saying:
Follow Academy Award winner Olympia Dukakis behind the scenes in this affectionate profile of a stalwart New Yorker and beloved stage and screen treasure. A woman ahead of her time, Olympia has always defied expectations, eluding the limits of her heritage and gender to challenge standards and shatter precedent. Moving between past and present, filmmaker Harry Mavromichalis lovingly captures the actress as she travels back to Greece, shares self-deprecating stories, and reflects on her extraordinary career.

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On VOD: MUCHO MUCHO AMOR

photo by Giovan Cordero

Coming to Netflix today, Wednesday, July 8:
MUCHO MUCHO AMOR

Directors:
Cristina Costantini and Kareem Tabsch

World Premiere:
Sundance 2020

Select Festivals:
True/False, Hot Docs, SXSW, Full Frame, Miami

About:
A loving profile of long-missing and once world-famous Latinx television personality Walter Mercado.

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

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In Virtual Release: AI WEIWEI: YOURS TRULY

Coming to virtual release tomorrow, Wednesday, July 8:
AI WEIWEI: YOURS TRULY

Director:
Cheryl Haines

Co-Director:
Gina Leibrecht

World Premiere:
San Francisco 2019

Select Festivals:
DOC NYC, Big Sky Doc, United Nations Association, BendFilm, Raindance, Virginia, Boulder, Sonoma

About:
A behind-the-scenes look at the dissident Chinese artist’s Alcatraz exhibition.

The film screened as part of DOC NYC, for which our program notes read:
In 2013 artist Ai Weiwei and curator Cheryl Haines created an interactive art installation on San Francisco’s Alcatraz Island. Formerly imprisoned by the Chinese government for his art and political activism, Ai uses his experiences as inspiration. Through a unique combination of kites, Legos, and postcards, Ai and Haines pay tribute to prisoners of conscience across the globe. Visually impressive and uplifting, this film is a celebration of freedom of speech, human rights, and the power of art.

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In Virtual Release: BLOODY NOSE, EMPTY POCKETS

Coming to virtual release, first as a special one-day only benefit, today, Tuesday, July 7, and then expanding this Friday, July 10:
BLOODY NOSE, EMPTY POCKETS

Directors:
Bill Ross, Turner Ross

World Premiere:
Sundance 2020

Select Festivals:
Berlin, CPH:DOX, True/False, Big Sky Doc, Calgary Underground

About:
A chronicle of the patrons and staff of a dive bar on what is meant to be its final day.

I profiled the film before Sundance here.

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On TV: THE VOTE

Coming to PBS’s American Experience tonight, Monday, July 6 and tomorrow, Tuesday, July 7:
THE VOTE

Director:
Michelle Ferrari

World Premiere:
AFI Docs 2020

About:
A chronicle of American women’s fight for the right to vote.

As is noted more than once in Michelle Ferrari’s informative, if conventional, documentary, history typically tells us that American women were “given” the right to vote in 1920, but this elides the seven decades-long struggle waged by suffragists to demand this critical aspect of citizenship. Timed to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution, this two-day, two-part entry in PBS’s long-running American Experience series reviews the collective organizing that led to the enfranchisement of women, while putting the spotlight on key figures in the movement and the disparate paths they took to achieving their goal. Ferrari weaves in a welcome consideration of the role of black women in the suffragist movement, and how race, class, and privilege frequently came into play over the long years of the campaign, often forcing women of color into the background for political expediency. While the first half covers a larger period, including lessons learned from the British suffrage movement, the significance of the 1848 Seneca Falls women’s rights convention, and the deferment of addressing the issue on a national scale in favor of state-by-state referenda, the more compelling second half is weighted more towards the final few years of the struggle, as votes for women became intertwined with other pivotal moments in Woodrow Wilson’s presidential administration, most notably America’s relationship to World War I. Although the story of the women’s suffrage movement is less familiar to most as compared to more recent progressive struggles, the similarities between their tactics is clear, and a stark reminder that collective action can yield transformative results.

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On VOD: CAPITAL IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY

New to VOD last week:
CAPITAL IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY

Director:
Justin Pemberton

World Premiere:
Sydney 2019

Select Festivals:
DOC NYC, Melbourne, New Zealand, Jerusalem, Hamburg

About:
An adaptation of the unexpected international bestselling economics book.

I previously wrote about the doc here.

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On TV: OUTCRY

Coming to Showtime beginning this Sunday, July 5:
OUTCRY

Director:
Pat Kondelis

World Premiere:
SXSW 2020 (cancelled)

About:
A high school football star convicted of a horrific crime fights to prove his innocence.

In 2013, on the basis of a four-year-old boy’s accusation of sexual abuse, police in Cedar Park TX arrested Greg Kelley, an 18-year-old local high school football star. A year later, despite his steadfast claims of innocence, Kelley was convicted and sentenced to 25 years in prison with no hope of parole. Kelley’s friends and family – as well as a growing group of supporters – come to his defense, beginning a campaign to somehow secure his freedom, buoyed by a new defense attorney. Filmmaker Pat Kondelis follows the story over five years, and, over the course of five episodes, convincingly frames it as a miscarriage of justice that cost not only Kelley his freedom, but brought false relief to the survivors, each victims of a shoddy police investigation that sought a successful conviction rather than the facts. Though affectively enraging and gripping as a whole, the series includes some puzzling elements – what are viewers to make of a victim’s rights advocate who doesn’t appear to be connected to the case in any way, but who doggedly insists that Kelley is guilty, regardless of any exculpatory evidence? Where did die-hard Kelley advocate Jake Brydon come from, and why is he so invested in the case? What exactly caused the Texas ranger independently investigating the case to make an about face and seemingly fabricate damaging findings about Kelley? How did police chief Sean Mannix and Detective Chris Dailey survive unscathed despite the outpouring of criticism they faced? While Kelley’s story does find an ultimate ending, the larger case in which he was involved remains frustratingly unresolved on many levels, with the viewer left unsure what can or should happen next. Still, the engaging series makes clear that what happened in this case, while extreme, is not unique to Cedar Park TX, and, coming at a time of reckoning around the role of the police in America, underscores the need for serious reforms to the criminal justice system.

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In Virtual Release & On VOD: JOHN LEWIS: GOOD TROUBLE

Coming to virtual cinemas and to VOD today, Friday, July 3:
JOHN LEWIS: GOOD TROUBLE

Director:
Dawn Porter

World Premiere:
Tribeca 2020 (cancelled)

About:
A wide-ranging look at the life, activism, and political career of the esteemed civil rights icon.

John Lewis emerged as a young leader of the civil rights struggle with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in the 1960s to eventually claim a congressional seat representing Georgia beginning in 1987, where he remains a vital, conscientious presence to this day. Filmmaker Dawn Porter deftly balances a retrospective appreciation for the work Lewis has done in his long career of activism with a reminder of the present-day battles he continues to wage for a just and equitable nation. Following Lewis during 2018 as he campaigns for fellow progressive Democratic candidates, the film makes crystal clear the continuity between his past and present – the insidious rise of voter suppression that Lewis struggled against decades ago. Arriving in a critical election year, the film should serve as a potent reminder of the freedoms individuals like Lewis sacrificed to secure, and of the renewed threat they face in today’s hyperpolarized political landscape.

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