Category Archives: Recommendations

On TV/VOD: CITY SO REAL

Coming to NatGeo tomorrow, Thursday, October 29 and then to Hulu on Friday, October 30:
CITY SO REAL

Director:
Steve James

World Premiere:
Sundance 2020

Select Festivals:
Hot Docs, AFI Docs, Denver, Chicago, St Louis, Full Frame

About:
An expansive five-part portrait of modern-day Chicago against the backdrop of a contentious mayoral race and police trial.

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

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On VOD: JOHN LEWIS: GOOD TROUBLE

Coming to HBO Max tonight, Tuesday, October 27:
JOHN LEWIS: GOOD TROUBLE

Director:
Dawn Porter

World Premiere:
Tribeca 2020 (cancelled)

About:
A wide-ranging look at the life, activism, and political career of the esteemed civil rights icon.

I previously wrote about the doc here.

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On TV: TIGHTROPE: AMERICANS REACHING FOR HOPE

Coming to The WORLD Channel tonight, Monday, October 26:
TIGHTROPE: AMERICANS REACHING FOR HOPE

Director:
Viva Van Loock

World Premiere:
DOC NYC 2020

About:
An investigation into America’s epidemics of opioid addiction, poverty, and incarceration.

The film screened as part of DOC NYC, for which our program notes read:
How did the idea of “rugged individualism” become a curse for everyday Americans? Distraught over the loss of too many childhood classmates, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn explore the causes and costs of opioid addiction, poverty, and incarceration plaguing America, from the inner city to small towns like Kristof’s hometown of Yamhill, Oregon. While pockets of empathy and aid exist, are they enough to rescue the thousands of Americans in despair, for whom the American Dream of self-reliance is impossibly out of reach?

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On TV: REPRESENT

Coming to PBS’s Independent Lens tonight, Monday, October 26:
REPRESENT

Director:
Hillary Bachelder

World Premiere:
Cleveland 2020

Select Festivals:
Freep, Woods Hole, Maine

About:
Three female political candidates are followed in local elections in Michigan, Ohio, and Illinois.

I previously wrote about the doc here.

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DOK Leipzig 2020 Overview

Festival:
The 63rd DOK Leipzig

Dates:
October 26-November 1

About:
This notable German nonfiction event has slimmed down for its hybrid edition this year, presenting just shy of 40 new documentary features.

Continue reading

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On VOD: WHITE NOISE

New to VOD this week:
WHITE NOISE

Director:
Daniel Lambroso

World Premiere:
AFI Docs 2020

Select Festivals:
IDFA, Hot Springs Doc

About:
An up-close look at three media-hungry, white nationalist alt-right influencers. 

Following the ascendancy of Trump on a platform of divisiveness, fear mongering, and pandering to the extreme right, filmmaker Daniel Lambroso spent several years gaining impressive access to and the trust of three figures at the center of the alt-right movement: white supremacist leader Richard Spencer, Canadian anti-immigration and anti-feminist blogger Lauren Southern, and conspiracy theorist Mike Cernovich. There’s a cynicism that pervades all three distasteful subjects, but none more so than Cernovich, who seems like he’s willing to do or say anything to make money. Southern and Spencer don’t come off much better, equally disingenuous about the real world impact of their words and even contradictory about their beliefs. For some viewers, the very existence of a documentary giving more screentime and attention to these amoral media whores may be deeply problematic, but Lambroso makes it worthwhile, providing just enough rope for them to hang themselves. Still, it’s decidedly a film to hatewatch once and not look back again after it’s wrapped up.

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On TV: FIRST VOTE

Coming to The WORLD Channel’s America ReFramed tonight, Tuesday, October 20:
FIRST VOTE

Director:
Yi Chen

World Premiere:
Los Angeles Asian Pacific 2020

Select Festivals:
AFI Docs, CAAMFest, Houston Asian American Pacific Islander, Hawaii, Hot Springs Doc

About:
A profile of several Asian Americans who get involved politically in the 2018 midterm elections.

Filmmaker Yi Chen, herself a first time voter, sets out to understand what experiences shaped the political beliefs of other Asian Americans in the lead up to the 2018 midterm elections. She focuses primarily on North Carolina, where she profiles Sue Googe, a proud gun-toting Chinese immigrant who unsuccessfully runs as a Republican for congress with the message that her background lets her know that socialism doesn’t work and must be stopped. Also in NC are Kasier Kuo, a progressive Democrat who tries to make sense of Chinese support Trump; and Jennifer Ho, a professor and progressive Democrat who leads class discussions focusing on race in America and the perception of Asians. In Ohio, Lance Chen becomes a key organizer for the Republican Party, keeping a database of Chinese Americans and doing grassroots outreach to get their support for Republican candidates. While the filmmaker has identified an intriguing topic that rarely receives much mainstream consideration, her film suffers from its short running time. Its hourlong format but with a trimmed down cast, or a more fleshed out longer cut, would strengthen the project substantially, allowing its individual subjects to make more of an impact. Still, the film provides welcome insight and helps to break down false notions of any kind of monolithic Asian American identity or political consensus.

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On TV: FEELS GOOD MAN

Coming to PBS’s Independent Lens tonight, Monday, October 19:
FEELS GOOD MAN

Director:
Arthur Jones

World Premiere:
Sundance 2020

Select Festivals:
True/False, SXSW, Big Sky Doc, Taipei, Fantasia, Sidewalk, Kyiv

About:
An exploration of the unpredictable development of an influential Internet meme.

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

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In Theatres & In Virtual Release: BELLY OF THE BEAST

Coming to select theatres and to virtual cinema today, Friday, October 16:
BELLY OF THE BEAST

Director:
Erika Cohn

World Premiere:
Human Rights Watch NYC 2020

Select Festivals:
Mill Valley, Heartland, Double Exposure, Cucalorus, Rocky Mountain Women’s

About:
A woman sterilized without her consent while in prison teams with a dedicated attorney to stop the process.

When Kelli Dillon was serving time in a Californian prison for defending herself and her children from an abusive partner, she was misdiagnosed with cervical cancer. Without her consent, the treatment included the removal of her uterus. Soon, she found that this was neither an unfortunate error nor a unique case, but instead a common experience for other female inmates, particularly for other women of color. Working with attorney and activist Cynthia Chandler, Kelli fights to expose and prevent the illegal practice. Delving into America’s disturbing history of eugenics and the continued inhumane treatment of prisoners, Erika Cohn’s film profiles the hurdles still faced by those seeking to prevent racial and reproductive injustice.

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In Virtual Release: THIS IS NOT A MOVIE

Coming to virtual cinemas today, Friday, October 16:
THIS IS NOT A MOVIE

Director:
Yung Chang

World Premiere:
Toronto 2019

Select Festivals:
DOC NYC, IDFA, Palm Springs, Docs Against Gravity

About:
A portrait of legendary foreign correspondent Robert Fisk.

The film screened as part of DOC NYC, for which our program notes read:
Award-winning filmmaker Yung Chang (UP THE YANGTZE) profiles the legendary Middle East journalist Robert Fisk, known for his books PITY THE NATION and THE GREAT WAR FOR CIVILIZATION. Now in his 70s, Fisk remains vital and intrepid. The film follows him on contemporary reporting missions from Syria to Bosnia, while also looking back on the incomparable career that brought him face to face with Osama Bin Laden and virtually every other historic figure in the region.

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