Category Archives: Documentary

In Theatres: LEONARD COHEN: BIRD ON A WIRE

leonard_cohenComing to NYC’s Film Forum tomorrow, Wednesday, January 18:
LEONARD COHEN: BIRD ON A WIRE

Director:
Tony Palmer

Premiere:
London’s Rainbow Theatre (1974), Krakow’s Leonard Cohen Festival (2010)

Select Festivals:
Toronto Jewish Film Festival, Copenhagen Jewish Film Festival, In-Edit, Midnight Sun

About:
Life on tour with Leonard Cohen in 1972.

In the Spring of 1972, Palmer followed Leonard Cohen on his European (and Israeli) tour, capturing several performances often marred by poor sound equipment, backstage moments, press junkets, and interactions with fans. Cohen’s dissatisfaction with the concert film resulted in a re-edit and delay of its premiere until 1974, after which it more or less vanished aside from bootleg VHS copies. Thought lost, original footage was discovered in 2009 by the son of Cohen’s manager, prompting Palmer to reconstruct a version closer to his original intention. This new/old version debuted in 2010 but was not released theatrically in the US until now, in recognition of the performer’s death this past November. While offering a look at the young Cohen performing some of his best loved songs, the film is more of a candid chronicle of the singer’s life on tour and, especially, how he dealt with mishaps, than it is a standard concert doc, thankfully. Palmer is present for the performer’s insistent attempts to woo an attractive groupie, while also witnessing a gaggle of annoying, entitled fans demanding refunds after a technically-plagued gig, and, in its emotional climax, Cohen quitting the stage in Jerusalem when he’s not feeling the music, only to finally make a poignant return after much backstage discussion.

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2017 Sundance Docs in Focus: THE HISTORY OF COMEDY

the history of comedyTHE HISTORY OF COMEDY
A sneak-preview of two episodes of a new CNN docuseries exploring the genre across historical, social, and political lines.

Festival Section:
Special Events
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In Theatres & On DVD/VOD: ANTARCTICA: ICE AND SKY

iceComing to theatres this Friday, January 20 and to DVD/VOD next Tuesday, January 24:
ANTARCTICA: ICE AND SKY

Director:
Luc Jacquet

Premiere:
Cannes 2015

Select Festivals:
Busan, Vancouver, Adelaide, Cleveland, Seattle, Traverse City, SF Green, Washington DC Environmental, Helsinki, Bergen

About:
A glaciologist looks back on his pioneering work exposing the dangers of climate change.

In 1956, while in his early 20s, Claude Lorius set off on the first of countless expeditions to study glaciers, most to Antarctica. Based on the observations he made in these early years, he began to speak out about the dangers posed by manmade elevations of global temperature – and, of course, was largely ignored. Now in his 80s, the glaciologist reflects on his lifelong work as he is shown returning to the much changed region – but the bulk of the film captures the Frenchman in his earlier years, via a treasure trove of footage shot by him and his fellow researchers. Sadly, as he did in his original, anthropomorphic version of THE MARCH OF THE PENGUINS, Jacquet unnecessarily doctors this footage, in this case employing a garrulous voice actor to narrate the material to within an inch of its life, and employing a ceaselessly distracting score to make it even harder to appreciate this intriguing period footage, effectively ruining what could have been a compelling project.

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2017 Sundance Docs in Focus: ABSTRACT: THE ART OF DESIGN

abstractABSTRACT: THE ART OF DESIGN
This new Netflix docuseries provides viewers with an in-depth look at today’s leading designers.

Festival Section:
Special Events

Program:
Docuseries Showcase
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In Theatres: THEY CALL US MONSTERS

they_call_us_monsters_still_2_h_2016Coming to theatres this Friday, January 20:
THEY CALL US MONSTERS

Director:
Ben Lear

Premiere:
Los Angeles Film Festival 2016

Select Festivals:
AFI Docs, Austin, Human Rights Watch, Hot Springs Doc, Antenna Doc, Heartland,

About:
A consideration of juvenile offenders who are tried as adults.

Set within the Compound, a high-security sub-jail within California’s Sylmar Juvenile Prison, Lear’s film focuses on a few inmate participants in a screenwriting workshop program run by Gabriel Cowan. As the three teens collaborate on a script that Cowan will eventually produce, they reveal the disturbing, violent crimes they’ve committed. Meanwhile the California legislature struggles with passing a bill that would decrease tough sentencing for juvenile offenders, citing studies that have shown that the latter don’t fully consider or process the consequences of their actions, and should neither be held to the same standards as adults nor irredeemably condemned for criminal actions. At the same time, their crimes have victims, and these too are heard from here, underscoring the complexity of the issue. While Lear struggles to keep focus on the screenwriting workshop, a conceit which seems to have more importance in the film’s first half then largely fades away, hen excels in capturing his subjects’ personalities, moments which remind the audience of just how young, and, in some ways, still innocent, these troubled boys are.

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In Theatres: STRIKE A POSE

strikeComing to theatres this Wednesday, January 18:
STRIKE A POSE

Directors:
Ester Gould and Reijer Zwaan

Premiere:
Berlin 2016

Select Festivals:
Tribeca, Hot Docs, Sheffield, DocAviv, BAFICI, Chicago, Biografilm, Jeonju, Krakow, Sydney, Bogota, Helsinki, Rio, Hot Springs Doc, In-Edit, Provincetown, Outfest, Frameline, NewFest, Inside Out, LGBT fests in Austin, Vancouver, Honolulu, Hong Kong, Copenhagen, Montreal

About:
Madonna’s Blond Ambition tour dancers revisit their brush with fame, 25 years later.

In 1990, Madonna made headlines with a tour that provocatively combined candid sexuality, queerness, and religious imagery in support of her LIKE A PRAYER album. For those not able to see the show live, the performer indulged their curiosity with Alek Keshishian’s tour doc MADONNA: TRUTH OR DARE, the following year, grabbing more headlines with controversial scenes of the singer fellating a water bottle and two of her male dancers kissing – the latter becoming a point of contention in a lawsuit later filed by three of the dancers, just one of the many topics covered in Gould and Zwaan’s project. The filmmakers re-assemble the six surviving male members of the multicultural, mostly gay, troupe – one passed from AIDS complications long ago – to reflect on their participation in the tour and what it accomplished for gay visibility, their ambivalent experiences of celebrity (or being adjacent to celebrity), and its fleetingness and aftermath. The filmmakers struggle a bit in balancing out so many subjects, running into some repetition between their individual interviews and the group’s eventual reunion, but nevertheless proves compelling in its quiet, bitttersweet exploration of the long-lasting impact of their mutual – but background – involvement with fame – in some ways calling to mind 20 FEET FROM STARDOM.

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In Theatres: STARLESS DREAMS

starless dreamsComing to theatres this Friday, January 20:
STARLESS DREAMS

Director:
Mehrdad Oskouei

Premiere:
Berlin 2016

Select Festivals:
True/False, Full Frame, Hot Docs, Human Rights Watch, Camden, Hot Springs Doc, London, Chicago, Antenna Doc, RIDM

About:
A look at the lives of teenage Iranian girls consigned to a juvenile delinquency center.

Having already profiled young men serving time in a similar facility in a previous films, Oskouei sought access to the experiences of young women, incarcerated for a range of offenses, from robbery and drugs to murder. Finally permitted to film, the filmmaker directly interviews the inmates, his voice heard off-camera, serving as a gentle confessor and allowing them to tell their stories – something that it seems it’s unlikely they’ve been permitted the opportunity to do before. Growing up in poverty, subject to all manner of abuse from family, his subjects in many ways find a refuge and an alternate family, even in this prison environment. Through this simple but impactful film, Oskouei crafts a poignant, empathetic portrait of marginalization.

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