Category Archives: Film

On VOD: CRACK: COCAINE, CORRUPTION & CONSPIRACY

Coming to Netflix today, Monday, January 11:
CRACK: COCAINE, CORRUPTION & CONSPIRACY

Director:
Stanley Nelson

World Premiere:
Netflix (January 2021)

About:
A provocative investigation of the crack epidemic of the 1980s-’90s.

America’s ill-conceived and ineffective “war on drugs” ramped up under Ronald Reagan and George HW Bush in the 1980s, largely as a response to crack. Draconian laws punished dealer and user alike, resulting in mass incarceration, disproportionately affecting people of color and laying siege to their communities and families, with the parallel militarization of the police. While crack use was hardly limited to Black people, with some estimating that as many as two-thirds of users were actually white, law enforcement and the media largely ignored the latter, instead demonizing people of color. Acclaimed documentarian Stanley Nelson revisits the origins of the crack epidemic and explores its legacy, offering astute historical and cultural context for how and why crack emerged and became central to mainstream, racist narratives of Black criminality and the expansion of the prison industrial system.

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On TV: THE CODEBREAKER

Coming to PBS’s American Experience tonight, Monday, January 11:
THE CODEBREAKER

Director:
Chana Gazit

World Premiere:
American Experience (January 2021)

About:
The recently declassified story of an unheralded female cryptanalyst who was instrumental in America’s war effort against Nazi Germany.

Elizebeth Smith Friedman would tell people that during WWII, she held an unassuming role in the US Navy. The truth would not come out until decades after her death, when classified documents would reveal the pivotal role she played as a codebreaker, responsible for foiling Nazi plans to torpedo essential supply ships and for exposing an extensive espionage ring in Latin America. As Chana Gazit’s biography reveals, Friedman was not always out of the public eye, however – she gained a fair amount of celebrity in the 1930s when she was tasked by the US Coast Guard to lead a codebreaking unit to decrypt messages used by organized crime leaders transporting alcohol during Prohibition, and later served as chief witness during the trials that followed against the gangsters. But, during WWII, in the men’s world of the military, despite her expertise in cryptanalysis, Friedman was not permitted to lead her own unit, so she was overshadowed by less experienced men, and her contributions kept strictly classified. Though she would lay the foundation for the NSA, there was no place for her postwar. While Gazit’s film follows the dry American Experience house style, it nevertheless succeeds in giving Friedman her long deserved recognition.

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2021 Sundance Docs in Focus: SUMMER OF SOUL (…OR, WHEN THE REVOLUTION COULD NOT BE TELEVISED)

Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Mass Distraction Media


SUMMER OF SOUL (…OR, WHEN THE REVOLUTION COULD NOT BE TELEVISED)
Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson revisits a long overlooked piece of Black music history.

Festival Section:
US Documentary Competition (Day One film)

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On TV: A DAY IN THE LIFE OF AMERICA

Coming to PBS’s Independent Lens tonight, Monday, January 11:
A DAY IN THE LIFE OF AMERICA

Director:
Jared Leto

World Premiere:
Tribeca 2019

About:
July 4, 2017, as experienced across the country.

Coordinating shoots in each US state, plus Puerto Rico, director Jared Leto takes an approach similar to Jeff Deutchman’s two election docs, 11/4/08 and 11/8/16, creating a mosaic of a single day through a series of vignettes. While the previous films were focused on presidential elections, Leto’s more broadly takes the temperature of the country on Independence Day, though not every scene explicitly references this. There is enough patriotism – or, more disturbingly, nationalism and white supremacy – on display to offer a snapshot of America less than a year into the divisive 45th president’s first term, but the film as a whole doesn’t attempt to present an explicit, overarching political message. Instead Leto and his editors offer overly brief vignettes that broadly attempt to capture America’s diversity, often creating dialogue through pointed juxtapositions. By its design, the well–produced doc was never meant to delve deeply into any single particular issue, but its survey structure nevertheless results in a disjointed and not especially satisfying watch as a whole.

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2021 Sundance Docs in Focus: RITA MORENO: JUST A GIRL WHO DECIDED TO GO FOR IT

Courtesy of Sundance Institute


RITA MORENO: JUST A GIRL WHO DECIDED TO GO FOR IT
Mariem Pérez Riera profiles the pioneering, EGOT-winning star of stage and screen.

Festival Section:
US Documentary Competition

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On VOD: THE DISSIDENT

Coming to VOD today, Friday, January 8:
THE DISSIDENT

Director:
Bryan Fogel

World Premiere:
Sundance 2020

Select Festivals:
DOC NYC, Hot Docs, Zurich, Aspen, Savannah, Stockholm

About:
An investigation of the shocking murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

My pre-Sundance profile of the doc may be found here.

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2021 Sundance Docs in Focus: REBEL HEARTS

Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Corita Art Center, Immaculate Heart Community, Los Angeles


REBEL HEARTS
Pedro Kos reveals the story of an unlikely group of radically progressive nuns.

Festival Section:
US Documentary Competition

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2021 Sundance Docs in Focus: HOMEROOM

Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Sean Havey


HOMEROOM
Peter Nicks profiles an Oakland high school class in the tumultuous year of COVID and a widespread reckoning of racial injustice.

Festival Section:
US Documentary Competition

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In Theatres/Virtual Release: THE REASON I JUMP

Coming to select theatres and to virtual cinemas tomorrow, Friday, January 8:
THE REASON I JUMP

Director:
Jerry Rothwell

World Premiere:
Sundance 2020

Select Festivals:
DOC NYC, Hot Docs, AFI Docs, Docs Against Gravity, London, ReelAbilities

About:
A profile of non-verbal autistic young people, based on the New York Times bestseller by Naoki Higashida.

My pre-Sundance profile of the doc may be found here.

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In Virtual Release: BEAUTIFUL SOMETHING LEFT BEHIND

Coming to virtual cinemas tomorrow, Friday, January 8:
BEAUTIFUL SOMETHING LEFT BEHIND

Director:
Katrine Philp

World Premiere:
SXSW 2020 (unscreened)

Select Festivals:
DOC NYC, Camden, Reykjavík, Nordisk Panorama, Haifa, Bergen, Montclair

About:
An intimate child’s eye view of a counseling center which focuses on mourning the loss of loved ones.

The film screened as part of DOC NYC, for which our program notes read:
New Jersey’s Good Grief counseling center offers a holistic approach to mourning. Filmmaker Katrine Philp presents viewers with a child’s perspective of its programs, offering an affectionate and intimate look at the lives of several children who have recently lost their parents and must navigate their grief by embracing sadness with honesty, bravery, humor, and love. The result is an enlightening film in which the students become our teachers in finding better ways of coping with loss.

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