Coming to theatres today, Friday, May 19:
HELL ON EARTH: THE FALL OF SYRIA AND THE RISE OF ISIS
Sebastian Junger and Nick Quested
Hot Docs, Greenwich, Provincetown
A comprehensive exploration of the conflict in Syria and the origins of the Islamic State.
Taking an overarching view, Junger and Quested seek to illuminate a large and complex topic that encompasses the motivations of dictator Bashar al-Assad, the revolutionary potential of the Arab Spring, the consolidation of power by radical Islamic militants, the resultant refugee crisis, and the inaction of Western powers to the conflict. At the same time, the filmmakers weave in more personal stories as a supplement to the larger recent political history lesson, following the efforts of a family of Syrians seeking an escape from the war, and Kurdish forces defending their home, among other threads. While perhaps taking on a bit too much at times, the overall effect is still soberly compelling.
Coming to theatres tomorrow, Friday, May 19:
LEGION OF BROTHERS
Green Berets relate their secret missions to overthrow the Taliban after 9/11.
My pre-Sundance profile of the doc may be found here.
Coming to PBS’s American Masters series tomorrow, Friday, May 19:
JAMES BEARD: AMERICA’S FIRST FOODIE
A portrait of the influential food author, instructor, and personality.
While devotees of the Food Network and culinary magazines like Bon Appétit have no doubt heard of the James Beard Foundation Awards, it’s less certain that they know for whom the awards are named. Federici constructs a loving tribute to the man whose name has come to represent the highest honor in the American culinary world today, tracing the importance of Beard’s role in the history and development of modern food culture. He was the first would-be television food star – a bit too early to the table in the 1950s – and popularized entertaining at home with his nearly two dozen cookbooks, while also being a key presence at just about every social event one could imagine attending. The film draws on some enjoyable archival material, though it largely depends on a parade of interviews with and anecdotes from a who’s who of the culinary world and with those who knew the man best.
Coming to theatres and to VOD this Friday, May 19:
FIGHT FOR SPACE
DOC NYC 2016
Members of an African-American Baltimore high school stepping team pursue their goals of higher education.
I wrote about the film for DOC NYC’s program, saying:
In 1962, spurred by the Cold War, President John F Kennedy famously made the bold proclamation that NASA would send astronauts to the moon by the end of the decade, not because it was easy, but because it was a challenge. The Space Race inspired a generation to pursue careers in science and technology, but as the balance of world power shifted, interest in space exploration declined. Paul Hildebrandt’s film serves as an urgent call to re-awaken our sense of wonder and discovery.
Coming to theatres this Friday, May 19:
ABACUS: SMALL ENOUGH TO JAIL
New York, Chicago, IDFA, Palm Springs, True/False, Cleveland, Full Frame, Dallas, Hong Kong, Montclair
A small Chinatown bank becomes the only institution to face criminal charges as a result of the 2008 financial crisis.
I previously wrote about the doc here.
Coming to NYC’s Stranger Than Fiction series tomorrow, Wednesday, May 17:
Full Frame 2017
A portrait of New York City in October 2008.
Shuman’s city symphony of sorts portrays NYC and its diverse residents as they look forward hopefully to Barack Obama’s election as US president, while still reckoning with the immediacy of the still-fresh financial crisis. Giving a loose structure to this hourlong survey is the filmmaker’s proxy, WFMU radio reporter Clay Pigeon, who conducts man-on-the-street interviews with a range of city residents, while also revealing a sense of uncertainty about his own financial security. In some ways, the film hinges on the viewer’s response to Pigeon, who is prone to posing well-meaning but sometimes invasive questions – particularly cringe-worthy is an exchange with a transgender woman – and to whatever personal associations the audience brings to today’s political climate, almost unthinkable in the world documented just over eight years ago.
Coming to the World Channel’s America ReFramed tonight, Tuesday, May 16:
Dinesh Das Sabu
Seattle South Asian Film Festival 2016
Dallas VideoFest, Asian American fests in Austin, Seattle, and Los Angeles
The filmmaker’s personal exploration of mental illness in his Indian-American family.
Twenty years ago, Sabu and his four sibling suddenly found themselves orphans, losing first their father to cancer and, shortly thereafter, their mother to suicide stemming from a struggle with schizophrenia. Traumatized by this loss, the family kept their mother’s mental illness a secret, and, miraculously, the older children successfully raised the younger ones to adulthood. Having struggled with depression, the filmmaker seeks answers to this silenced family history, despite the hesitancy of some of his siblings, prompting sometime painful interviews as well as a not-particularly relevant trip to India. While Sabu tackles a taboo topic with understandable restraint, unfortunately at times he loses his way in his exploration, betraying his inexperience as a filmmaker. He also fails to fully explore the most intriguing aspects of his family’s story – how they essentially reared one another, and how this ultimately impacted them all.