About: A profile of Joanna Harcourt-Smith and her life on the run with Timothy Leary.
The film screened as part of DOC NYC, for which our program notes read: Oscar-winning filmmaker Errol Morris is drawn to larger-than-life characters, but Joanna Harcourt-Smith soars above them all. She’s a Scheherazade of sexual escapades and psychedelic tripping as she describes her life with the High Priest of LSD Timothy Leary through his period as an escaped convict who was recaptured in her company. Did she betray him as Allen Ginsburg and others suspected? Harcourt-Smith doesn’t hold back in questioning her own behavior in this humorous, outlandish chapter of 1970s excess.
Coming to VOD tomorrow, Friday, November 27: ZAPPA
Director: Alex Winter
World Premiere: SXSW 2020 (unscreened)
Select Festivals: DOC NYC, Camden, Montclair, Philadelphia
About: The definitive portrait of musician Frank Zappa.
I previously wrote about the film for DOC NYC’s program, saying: Through his pioneering band, Mothers of Invention, as well as his solo work, Frank Zappa embraced a variety of genres, from rock and jazz to experimental and classical music, ultimately producing more than 60 albums in a career spanning four decades. An outspoken critic of the status quo and staunch defender of free expression, he was an iconoclast who literally inspired a revolution in Czechoslovakia. Granted access to Zappa’s personal archives, including thousands of hours of unreleased music, films, and interviews, director Alex Winter has constructed the definitive portrait of the maverick musician.
Select Festivals: DOC NYC, DOXA, Taipei Golden Horse, Hot Springs Doc, Melbourne Doc, Newburyport Doc
About: A former marine animal park trainer wages a war to save his beloved walrus.
The film screened as part of DOC NYC, for which our program notes read: Phil Demers, an eccentric free spirit, becomes an unexpectedly popular trainer at Niagara Falls’ Marineland after forming a bond with the park’s first walrus, Smooshi. For the next decade Demers cares for Smooshi and other animals in increasingly decrepit conditions. After he quits as a result of these concerns—and is accused of plotting to steal a walrus—Demers takes to social media and the courts, waging war to save Smooshi. Unconventional and heart-wrenching, Nathalie Bibeau’s film follows Demers on his crusade for justice.
About: An investigation into the identity of the infamous plane hijacker.
The film screened as part of DOC NYC, for which our program notes read: In 1971, on Thanksgiving Day, a man calling himself Dan Cooper hijacked a commercial flight, holding passengers ransom for $200K. After his demands were met, he freed the hostages, forced the plane back in the air, and escaped mid-flight via parachute, never to be heard from again. Combining meticulous archival footage, stylish re-enactments, and in-person interviews with those who flew the plane and others who claim to know Cooper, this high-octane film attempts to solve the longstanding mystery of DB Cooper’s identity and ultimate fate.
About: A Navajo family struggles with the contradictions of working for the coal industry.
The film screened as part of DOC NYC, for which our program notes read: Deep in the Navajo Nation, one family struggles to honor their ancestry while embracing the future. Lawrence, a single father, is employed by Peabody Energy, a company tearing apart his sacred homeland for coal. As he contends with the contradictions between his work and his heritage, his secretive teenage daughter, Caitlin, finds herself going against tradition to discover her own identity. With unparalleled access to reservation life and the palpable trust of their onscreen subjects, filmmakers Hunter Robert Baker and Jordan Fein craft a poetic and deeply moving family portrait.
Coming to Showtime this Sunday, November 22: BELUSHI
Director: RJ Cutler
World Premiere: Tribeca 2020 (unscreened)
Select Festivals: DOC NYC, Cannes, AFI Fest, Chicago
About: A profile of legendary actor/comedian John Belushi.
The film screened as part of DOC NYC, for which our program notes read: On John Belushi’s 30th birthday, he had the top TV show in SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, the top film in ANIMAL HOUSE, and the top record with THE BLUES BROTHERS. But his insatiable appetites and anarchic energy were fraught with danger. Filmmaker RJ Cutler (THE SEPTEMBER ISSUE) combines footage of Belushi’s legendary acts with rare footage and personal letters to his wife Judy to illuminate one of the great performers of the late 20th century.
About: An inside look at Japan’s popular national high school baseball championship.
The film screened as part of DOC NYC, for which our program notes read: Baseball is life for the die-hard competitors in Koshien, Japan’s national high school baseball championship, whose alumni include US baseball stars Shohei Ohtani and former Yankee Hideki Matsui. As popular as America’s World Series, the stakes are beyond high in this single-elimination tournament. For Coach Mizutani, cleaning the grounds and greeting guests are equally important as honing baseball skills, however, demonstrating discipline, sacrifice, and unwavering dedication. Director Ema Ryan Yamazaki follows Mizutani and his team on their quest to win the 100th annual Koshien, and, in the process, goes beyond baseball to reveal the heart of the Japanese national character.