Category Archives: Recommendations

On TV: DIANA: HER STORY

Coming to PBS tomorrow, Tuesday, August 22:
DIANA: HER STORY

Director:
Kevin Sim

Premiere:
PBS (August 2017)

About:
Twenty years after her death, Princess Diana reveals her intimate thoughts on the Monarchy.

Sim’s project is one of several being released this month commemorating the beloved British figure on the anniversary of her tragic death in 1997. Drawing extensively from video footage filmed by the Princess of Wales’ speech coach, Peter Settelen, the doc offers Diana reflecting on her initially fairy tale romance with Prince Charles, one that captured the attention of the world, and how it came to a sad end. Recorded while separated from Charles as she sought to hone her public speaking abilities and to counter what she and others perceived as an effort by the Royal Family to phase her out, this footage shows a thoughtful princess confiding her feelings of loneliness and frustration as the initial whirlwind of Charles’ courtship gave way to a quickly dawning awareness of the open secret of his affair with Camilla Parker Bowles. Sim may assume, probably rightly, that his intended audience is already well-versed in the details of Diana and Charles lives, leaving viewers less familiar with Royal history occasionally a bit in the dark. Regardless, rather than aiming for a comprehensive recounting, the engaging portrait instead deliberately presents only Diana’s perspective, bolstered by the memories of close friends and associates.

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On TV: TRIBAL JUSTICE

Coming to PBS’s POV this coming Monday, August 21:
TRIBAL JUSTICE

Director:
Anne Makepeace

Premiere:
Santa Barbara 2017

Select Festivals:
Brooklyn, Berkshire, Big Sky Doc, Full Frame, Woods Hole

About:
A portrait of two Native American tribal court judges in California.

Makepeace’s film explores the tribal court system of the two largest tribes in California, the Yurok in the north and the Quechan in the South, through the caseloads of Abby (Yurok) and Claudette (Quechan). Because the tribes are sovereign nations, they are able to work with the California state courts in many cases to take over jurisdiction of certain matters related to their tribespeople. In contrast to conventional Western conceptions of the judicial system as a place for punishment, the tribal court system instead practices restorative justice, with the aim to reform offenders or issues within the community so that they can escape from cyclical patterns of recidivism and crime. While Abby largely deals with community matters – addiction, substance abuse, child welfare – Claudette’s story is more complicated in that also herself becomes part of the court system as the guardian of her wayward nephew, Isaac, a 17-year-old just steps away from becoming another statistic in state prison. Makepeace takes a no-frills but effective approach, and benefits from two appealing protagonists, in exploring the possibilities – and limits – of restorative vs punitive justice.

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On VOD: MONKEY BUSINESS: THE ADVENTURES OF CURIOUS GEORGE’S CREATORS

New to VOD this week:
MONKEY BUSINESS: THE ADVENTURES OF CURIOUS GEORGE’S CREATORS

Director:
Ema Ryan Yamazaki

Premiere:
Los Angeles 2017

Select Festivals:
Nantucket

About:
The secret origin of Curious George.

I previously wrote about the doc here.

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In Theatres: WHITNEY. “CAN I BE ME”

Coming to theatres this Friday, August 18:
WHITNEY. “CAN I BE ME”

Directors:
Nick Broomfield and Rudi Dolezal

Premiere:
Tribeca 2017

Select Festivals:
Nantucket, AFI Docs, Sydney, Karlovy Vary, Documentary Edge, Los Angeles, Galway

About:
An intimate reassessment of Whitney Houston’s life and career.

I previously wrote about the doc for Nantucket’s program, saying:
Whitney Houston was one of the most successful female recording artists of all time, counting six Grammys among more than 400 awards earned in her lifetime, more consecutive number one hits than The Beatles, and international crossover appeal to rival that of Michael Jackson. Despite her decades of success, she is best remembered for her troubled marriage to fellow singer Bobby Brown – memorably documented on his reality show, BEING BOBBY BROWN – her struggles with addiction, and her tragic death at the age of 48 in 2012. Acclaimed documentarian Nick Broomfield and iconic music video director Rudi Dolezal issue a corrective in the form of a compelling and sensitive portrait that explores Houston’s success and the confluence of factors that contributed to the talented performer’s fate.

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On DVD: BETTING ON ZERO

Coming to DVD tomorrow, Tuesday, August 15:
BETTING ON ZERO

Director:
Ted Braun

Premiere:
Tribeca 2016

Select Festivals:
Hamptons, Montclair

About:
An investigation into Herbalife’s business model in the wake of a hedge fund’s attack on the company.

Braun’s entry into this examination of the mammoth multi-level marketing corporation is Bill Ackman, CEO of Pershing Square Capital, who shorted Herbalife several years ago and frequently defends his assertion that the company will fail because of illicit practices. While critics charge that Ackman has a vested financial stake in bringing Herbalife down, he counters that he’s doing this on ethical grounds, and that’s generally the view that Braun follows. While the film does briefly explore the antagonism between Ackman and rival Carl Icahn, who takes the opportunity to double down on Herbalife, Braun wisely expands from this specific financial world focus to take a closer look at Herbalife’s alleged pyramid scheme and those who have suffered serious consequences from becoming involved in the company – in recent years, the Latino community in large numbers. Using a fairly conventional approach, including some weak narration and excessive, repetitive graphics, the filmmaker nevertheless presents convincing, damning arguments that Herbalife’s model is less about selling its products and more about recruiting gullible distributors, tellingly substantiated by company executives in clips from insider celebrations/motivational events, and, more importantly, by Federal Trade Commission investigation findings. At the same time, by taking Ackman’s unfulfilled crusade as its structuring device, the film remains slightly unsatisfying, never reaching the hoped for conclusion signaled by its title.

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In Theatres: CALIFORNIA TYPEWRITER

Coming to theatres this Friday, August 18:
CALIFORNIA TYPEWRITER

Director:
Doug Nichol

Premiere:
Telluride 2016

Select Festivals:
DOC NYC, Denver, Cleveland, Nashville, Big Sky Doc, Mill Valley, Documentary Edge, Woods Hole, SF DocFest

About:
An appreciation of a bygone but once ubiquitous technology.

I previously wrote about the film for DOC NYC’s program, saying:
Named for one of the last remaining typewriter repair shops in the US, Doug Nichol’s crowdpleasing film celebrates the design, tactility, and permanence of the typewriter. As the shop struggles to survive, devotees including Tom Hanks, John Mayer, and Sam Shepard weigh in on their deep love for the machines. For those beyond repair, artist Jeremy Mayer lovingly repurposes their parts to create elegant sculptures. Nichol’s crafts an entertaining ode to a technology that most find obsolete and disposable but which some still joyously embrace.

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In Theatres: THE FARTHEST

Coming to theatres today, Friday, August 11:
THE FARTHEST

Director:
Emer Reynolds

Premiere:
Dublin 2017

Select Festivals:
Tribeca, Edinburgh, Seattle, AFI Docs, Sydney, New Zealand, Telluride Mountainfilm

About:
A comprehensive history of the Voyager mission, from inception to execution to the present day.

Reynolds assembles an impressive collection of archival material, new animation, and interviews with scores of NASA scientists, engineers, and analysts to recount the story of the monumental Voyager project. Relating its history while contextualizing the mission with changes to presidential administrations and the impact of the Challenger disaster on the US space programs, the film offers a privileged look at the planning, preparation, launch, troubleshooting, and media attention afforded the probe and its pioneering images of the solar system. Reynolds also devotes significant attention to the fascinating Golden Record carried within both Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 – an eclectic recording of sounds and images meant to provide a sense of mankind’s existence to whatever extraterrestrial intelligence might happen upon the vehicles, and which became the first manmade object to leave the solar system and travel into interstellar space in 2012. While providing an engaging look at a major achievement of NASA’s past, Reynolds’ film also might just re-awaken viewers’ curiosity about the future of space exploration.

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