Category Archives: In the Works

In the Works: FOLLOWING BORUCH

After decades struggling with personal demons, the filmmaker’s uncle, a Hasidic Jewish man, tries to get his life on track.

following boruchFilming over the course of several years, Paula Eiselt tells the story of her uncle Bernie (in Hebrew, Boruch), the only Hasidic member of her immediate family, and a man whose mental illness, alcoholism, and drug and sex addiction have cost him the life he has always desired. Nearly fifty, Bernie, who has never held a steady job, nor started a family, sets out to achieve these dreams of stability, make peace with his past, and remain clean and sober, while facing the challenges of addressing difficult personal issues that remain stigmatized within his Orthodox community. Exploring recovery within an insular yet ultimately comforting context, Eiselt offers a unique perspective on second chances and self-determination. Continue reading

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In the Works: GIUSEPPE MAKES A MOVIE

A look at how a critically-acclaimed underground trailer park filmmaker makes his latest feature over the course of two days.

giuseppe makesLikened to both John Cassavetes and John Waters, Giuseppe Andrews has quietly been making rough-hewn feature films on the cheap for fifteen years, often set in and starring residents of the trailer park communities in which he was raised, with titles like DAD’S CHICKEN, WHO FLUNG POO?, AIRPLANE PILLOWS, and DOILY’S SUMMER OF FREAK OCCURRENCES. Screening at underground festivals in New York and Chicago, as well as the late Cinevegas, former child actor turned outsider auteur Andrews has self-distributed his films online, or worked with Troma to release them on DVD, garnering attention from select critics and a cult following. Like Cassavetes, Andrews’ more recent work as an actor in films like CABIN FEVER or TV series like CSI has financed his low-budget filmmaking. Director Adam Rifkin, who cast Andrews in his film DETROIT ROCK CITY, works with producer Mike Plante, filmmaker and programmer at Sundance and Cinevegas, to reveal Andrews’ creative process. Continue reading

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Special Note: Submit Your Project to w(n)td

Just a quick reminder: To have your feature-length documentary work-in-progress (in production or post) considered for a potential profile here as part of my regular In the Works feature, use the submission form on the Submit page. Note that preference is typically given to docs that are just beginning crowdfunding campaigns, in order to give readers a chance to become more engaged with projects.

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In the Works: STREETWISE: TINY REVISITED

The husband and wife team behind the Oscar-nominated and Sundance award-winning STREETWISE returns to that film’s most unforgettable subject.

streetwise tinyIn July 1983, renowned photojournalist Mary Ellen Mark and writer Cheryl McCall told the story of the lives of Seattle’s street kids in LIFE magazine. Affected by the teens they met, including 13-year-old prostitute Tiny, the duo returned later that year with director Martin Bell, Mark’s husband, to create a documentary film about nine youths they met. Released theatrically, STREETWISE also screened in competition at Sundance in 1985, where it won a special jury prize, and was later nominated for the Best Documentary Oscar. In the decades that followed, Mark and Bell have maintained a relationship with Tiny, filming her as she struggled with drugs and poverty and became a mother several times over. Over the next year, the filmmakers will return to Seattle to capture Tiny and her family today, using the footage from the past 30 years to supplement the story. Continue reading

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In the Works: LIFE ITSELF

The director of HOOP DREAMS and THE INTERRUPTERS profiles the man who popularized film criticism in the United States.

life itselfSteve James’ latest project tells the story of Roger Ebert, who, with fellow Chicago critic Gene Siskel, became unlikely celebrities through their weekly television show reviewing movie releases. While their rating system, “Two Thumbs Up,” quickly became familiar to even the most casual filmgoer, the pair’s reviews on air and in print demonstrated a deep love of cinema. After Siskel’s untimely death in 1999, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Ebert continued their show, becoming the most recognizable and influential film critic in the country. A familiar face at film festivals, often in the company of his beloved wife Chaz, and an active presence online, he struggled with various cancer diagnoses for more than a decade before passing away earlier this year. Based on Ebert’s titular memoir, James details the critic’s life and work, drawing on an impressive range of interview subjects, from the film’s executive producer Martin Scorsese to other directors Ebert championed, from Errol Morris to Ava DuVernay. Continue reading

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In the Works: MARMATO

A rural Columbian town becomes the frontline for gold exploitation by a Canadian multinational mining concern.

marmatoThe titular mountain town has steadily drawn from its wealth of gold deposits for over five centuries, but that has all changed in recent years. Colombia, hungry for widespread economic development and relationships with the West, has imperiled the community by selling mines to a small Canadian company at an alarming rate. With gold prices soaring in the wake of the global economic recession, the Canadians plan to displace the 8,000 people of Marmato, level the mountain, and transform their home into an open-pit to extract the estimated $20 billion in gold buried within. Filmmaker Mark Grieco has been living among the people and filming since 2006, chronicling the slow takeover of the town and the growing resistance of its people to what seems to be inevitable. Continue reading

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In the Works: MUDBLOODS

A sport escapes the imagination of JK Rowling to be played on the fields of college campuses across the world.

mudbloodsFew recent literary series have achieved the global popularity that met HARRY POTTER. Thanks in large part to the successful film adaptations, Rowling’s tales came to life for younger and older readers alike, allowing a glimpse into a secret world of wizards with their own schools of witchcraft, battles with dark forces, and even a popular competitive contact sport – Quidditch, a chaotic team game played on flying broomsticks. First-time feature director Farzad Nikbakht Sangari explores the Muggle (non-magic, for those unfamiliar with the series) version of the sport, which has quickly spread to hundreds of other campuses in just the past eight years. Sangari follows UCLA’s quidditch team as they make a run for the Quidditch World Cup against reigning champions Middlebury College, where the real-world version of the game was first developed by fans in 2005. Continue reading

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In the Works: THE PENGUIN COUNTERS

Against the stunning backdrop of Antarctica, a scientist continues his thirty-year mission to track climate change through penguin populations.

penguin countersRon Naveen is the chief investigator for the Antarctic Site Inventory, gathering data in the region that has benefitted the work of polar scientists from around the world. While that project is entering its second decade, Naveen has been traveling to Antarctica even longer, conducting a census of the continent’s penguins, noting how different colonies adapt – or don’t – to climate change, and what lessons these can provide for the rest of the world as we face similar environmentally challenges. The Emmy-nominated production company Getzels Gordon follows Naveen and his team of intrepid researchers as they brave the harsh weather and unforgiving terrain to decode the critical signals the birds are providing in response to their dramatically changing environment. Continue reading

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In the Works: RICH HILL

Filmmaking cousins return to their grandparents’ struggling hometown to find hope in the face of poverty.

RichHill2Sundance alum Andrew Droz Palermo (cinematographer, A TEACHER and BLACK METAL) and Emmy winner Tracy Droz Tragos (director, BE GOOD, SMILE PRETTY) have family roots in the eponymous Missouri town that marks the cousins’ first creative collaboration as co-directors. The place where their grandparents served important community roles had fallen into economic and social decline, offering few opportunities and seemingly promising only the trap of cyclical poverty. Prompted to explore the realities of life in the endangered town, Andrew and Tracy narrowed their focus to three teenage boys, revealing both the pitfalls and potential that the future might hold. Continue reading

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In the Works: BE NATURAL

Unearthing the largely forgotten story of the world’s first female film director.

Alice-Guy-Blache be naturalAt the dawn of the film industry, Alice Guy was a secretary at France’s Gaumont, but her pioneering forays into filmmaking soon led to her taking on the role of head of production for the fledgling film company. Beyond being recognized as the first woman to direct a film, she is also considered, by some accounts, to be the originator of narrative storytelling in the nascent medium. After more than a decade with Gaumont, including relocating to oversee production for the company’s US office, Guy married, and with her husband formed the Solax Company in Flushing NY, where she took the role of artistic director, once again breaking new ground as the first woman to run her own film studio. In over two decades, she was responsible for an estimated 1000 films, and though she continued to lecture on cinema after the advent of the talkies, Guy-Blaché was relegated to the footnotes of cinema history for decades. While film scholars have attempted to correct this oversight in recent years, she still remains virtually unknown. Learning of her story, director Pamela Green and co-director Jarik van Sluijs set out to change that, reintroducing her to today’s filmmakers and film audiences. Continue reading

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