Category Archives: Documentary

In Virtual Release: QUEEN OF LAPA

Coming to virtual theatrical tomorrow, Friday, June 19:
QUEEN OF LAPA

Directors:
Theodore Collatos and Carolina Monnerat

World Premiere:
Maryland 2019

Select Festivals:
Göteborg, RiverRun, Antenna Doc, NewFest, San Francisco IndieFest, Sidewalk, Rhode Island, Oxford, Philadelphia Latino

About:
A portrait of a legendary Brazilian sex worker activist.

Nearing sixty at the time of filming, unforgettable trans cabaret performer and activist Luana Muniz has been a sex worker since age eleven. More than two decades ago, she created a hostel in the seedy Lapa district of Rio de Janeiro to provide a safe space for other trans sex workers in a society mired by transphobia and corruption. Filmmakers Theodore Collatos and Carolina Monnerat train their camera on the outspoken, larger-than-life Luana, highlighting her no-nonsense relationships with her surrogate daughters, and capturing the atmosphere of the community they’ve created with a relaxed familiarity. The result is a refreshingly nonjudgemental immersion into Luana’s world, made all the more poignant when it’s revealed that the house mother has since passed away.

Leave a comment

Filed under Documentary, Film, Recommendations, Releases

In Virtual Release: MY DARLING VIVIAN

Coming to virtual theatrical tomorrow, Friday, June 19:
MY DARLING VIVIAN

Director:
Matt Riddlehoover

World Premiere:
SXSW 2020 (online)

About:
A portrait of Johnny Cash’s first wife, long misrepresented in the performer’s mythology.

Johnny Cash struggled to win over his demons of addiction with the selfless love and devotion of his true love, June Carter, following a difficult marriage to the mother of his four daughters – or so goes the Cash legend, as immortalized in the Oscar-winning biopic WALK THE LINE. Director Matt Riddlehoover’s respectful doc aims to serve as a corrective, rehabilitating the image and understanding of Vivian Liberto, Cash’s long-suffering first love and first wife. As signaled by its title, the film foregrounds the deep love between Liberto and Cash, revealed here not only through interviews with their children, but through a trove of letters showing just how besotted The Man in Black was over the Italian beauty he met in 1951 while still an Air Force cadet. At the same time, Riddlehoover details Liberto’s side of the story in the eventual demise of the relationship after he found fame – a mix of neglect compounded by Cash’s troubles with drugs and affair with June Carter, as well as the racist fallout of Liberto being mistaken for being African American by the media. In the ensuing years, Cash and Carter’s worldwide platform allowed them to revise history, which eventually led to Liberto being reframed as a harridan and often erased from the story entirely. While distractingly overscored, this thoughtful profile benefits from absolute candor from the Cash daughters and from a rich archive, helping to illuminate Vivian in all her fullness.

Leave a comment

Filed under Documentary, Film, Recommendations, Releases

On VOD: MY FATHER THE SPY

New to VOD this week:
MY FATHER THE SPY

Director:
Jaak Kilmi and Gints Grube

World Premiere:
Sheffield 2019

Select Festivals:
Jihlava, Riga, Cinema Verite, EBS International Doc

About:
A woman explores the impact of her father’s life as a Soviet double agent.

Ieva Lešinska-Geibere was born in Soviet Latvia during the Cold War. In 1978, at the age of 20, a rare visit to the US to visit her father irrevocably changed her life. Ieva discovered that her father, who worked for Soviet mission at the United Nations, was not only a KGB spy, but that he was planning to defect. Ieva was offered the choice of joining him, leaving her mother and life in Latvia behind to live under a new identity in the US, or of protecting herself by heading to the Soviet embassy. Now a translator and journalist, Ieva recounts this transformative time in her life, revisiting locations and speaking to former federal agents who played a role, while also trying to make sense of her fraught relationship with her parents as a result of these Cold War spy games. Filmmakers Jaak Kilmi and Gints Grube enliven an already fascinating story with the clever use of stylized photographic re-enactments, adding another layer to Lešinska-Geibere’s unusual tale of secrets and lies.

Leave a comment

Filed under Documentary, Film, Recommendations, Releases

On VOD: THE POLLINATORS

New to VOD this week:
THE POLLINATORS

Director:
Peter Nelson

World Premiere:
Big Sky Doc 2019

Select Festivals:
Vancouver, Newport Beach, San Francisco DocFest, Woodstock, Heartland, Woods Hole, Napa Valley, Virginia, Sedona, Sonoma, IFF Boston, Newburyport Doc, New Haven, San Francisco Green

About:
An exploration of beekeeping and the crises facing the world’s bee population.

The plight of the honeybee has been featured in several documentaries over the past decade, notably in a spate of films exploring the disturbing phenomenon of colony collapse disorder. Filmmaker Peter Nelson turns his focus on a more comprehensive view of the vital role that bees play in our complex, interconnected food system. His starting point is with beekeepers, and specifically with those intrepid apiarists who are hired annually to transport their hives from orchard to orchard to pollinate flowering crops, enabling the production of billions of dollars worth of food. In his somewhat familiar but helpfully informative and often beautifully lensed film, Nelson largely draws from their expertise – together with farmers and scientists – to detail the problems facing not only bees, but the agriculture system as a whole, from the soil-degrading impact of industrial farming and its use of pesticides and fungicides to parasites and viruses and the capture of environmental regulatory agencies by the chemical industry.

Leave a comment

Filed under Documentary, Film, Releases

On DVD: SHOOT TO MARRY

New to DVD this week:
SHOOT TO MARRY

Director:
Steve Markle

World Premiere:
Slamdance 2020

Select Festivals:
Lighthouse, Canadian Film Fest

About:
A lonely filmmaker tries to find his perfect mate through the process of making a doc.

Filmmaker Steve Markle is in his early 40s, has never been married, and feels a bit like a loser. His solution: Set off across the US to ostensibly interview “interesting” women, while actually looking for a prospective girlfriend, and, hopefully, a wife. The result is a manufactured and overlong meta-doc/essay film meant to explore love and relationships, with Markle scrutinizing his own failings in a self-deprecating way. If one were to be generous, perhaps Markle’s film could be likened to a modern-day SHERMAN’S MARCH, but Ross McElwee’s project was a product of a different time. Ultimately, Markle seems harmless, but, then again, he’s the one telling the story, so it’s not completely clear how uncomfortable the women felt who he misled into being in his film. It’s understandable that some viewers might have a serious issue with the ethical lines the director oversteps, while others may find the often cringeworthy film to be fairly innocuous.

Leave a comment

Filed under Documentary, Film, Releases

AFI Docs 2020 Overview

Festival:
The 18th AFI Docs

Dates:
June 17-21 (online)

About:
Available online throughout the US, this Washington DC event showcases nearly 30 new feature and episodic documentaries. Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Documentary, Film, Film Festivals, Overviews, Recommendations

On DVD: THE QUEEN AT WAR

Photo: Topical Press Agency/Getty

Coming to DVD today, Tuesday, June 16:
THE QUEEN AT WAR

Director:
Christopher Bruce

World Premiere:
ITV British TV broadcast (April 2020)

About:
An exploration of the impact of WWII on the British monarch.

I previously wrote about the doc here.

Leave a comment

Filed under Documentary, Film, Releases

On DVD/VOD: WHAT SHE SAID: THE ART OF PAULINE KAEL

Coming to DVD/VOD today, Tuesday, June 16:
WHAT SHE SAID: THE ART OF PAULINE KAEL

Director:
Rob Garver

World Premiere:
Telluride 2018

Select Festivals:
DOC NYC, Berlin, Edinburgh, Karlovy Vary, Thessaloniki Doc, Miami, Cleveland, Montclair, Seattle, Docs Against Gravity, Transilvania, New Zealand, Vancouver, Mumbai, Rio, Docaviv

About:
A portrait of controversial and influential film critic Pauline Kael.

I previously wrote about the doc here.

Leave a comment

Filed under Documentary, Film, Recommendations, Releases

On TV: MAE WEST: DIRTY BLONDE

Coming to PBS’s American Masters tomorrow, Tuesday, June 16:
WEST: DIRTY BLONDE

Directors:
Sally Rosenthal and Julia Marchesi

World Premiere:
PBS broadcast (June 2020)

About:
A portrait of the trailblazing film icon.

While Mae West long ago became part of the Hollywood pantheon that makes her unforgettable, over time she’s been reduced to something of a caricature, remembered more for a catchphrase than for specific roles. Surprisingly, Sally Rosenthal and Julia Marchesi’s PBS documentary corrective is the first notable documentary about the controversial entertainment powerhouse, who ruled pre-Code Hollywood. They spruce up a conventional biography format with fantastic archival footage and numerous clips from her films, as well as commentary from historians, friends, and celebrity admirers. What emerges is an intriguing profile of a self-assured woman who insisted on controlling her own image and career, and who was particularly savvy about using controversy to her benefit. While some of the arguments presented about her films’ intersection with race and class matters are perhaps overstated, the documentary succeeds in reclaiming West’s revolutionary appeal and will inspire viewers to seek out her body of work.

Leave a comment

Filed under Documentary, Film, Recommendations, Releases

On TV: LITTLE MISS WESTIE

Coming to The WORLD Channel’s America ReFramed tomorrow, Tuesday, June 16:
LITTLE MISS WESTIE

Directors:
Joy E Reed and Dan Hunt

World Premiere:
DOC NYC 2018

Select Festival:
Southern Circuit, BendFilm, LGBT fests in Palm Springs, London, Philadelphia, San Antonio, Ft Lauderdale, and Melbourne

About:
A young trans girl is coached through her first pageant by her trans brother.

The film screened as part of DOC NYC, for which our program notes read:
If Ren could go back in time before she was four, she would tell her parents that she wasn’t happy living as a boy. Now, Ren is about to take part in a rite of passage for their community in West Haven, CT as the first out transgirl to compete in the Little Miss Westie Pageant. Coaching her through the competition: Her older brother Luca, who previously took part in the pageant when he lived as a girl. Gender dynamics evolve in front of the viewer’s eyes while two transgender siblings explore who they are in this intimate portrait.

Leave a comment

Filed under Documentary, Film, Recommendations, Releases