Category Archives: Recommendations

On DVD: THE RUSSIAN WOODPECKER

russian woodpeckerComing to DVD next Tuesday, July 26: THE RUSSIAN WOODPECKER

Chad Gracia’s investigation into the truth behind Chernobyl had its world premiere at Sundance last year, where it won the World Cinema Documentary Grand Jury Prize. Screenings followed at Nantucket, BAMcinemaFest, AFI Docs, Milwaukee, Zurich, and Sydney, among others.

I profiled the doc before Sundance here.

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On DVD/VOD: SONS OF BEN

Sons-of-Ben-The-Movie-Corey-FurlanNew to DVD and VOD today, Friday, July 22: SONS OF BEN

Jeffrey C Bell’s chronicle of the ardent fans of a nonexistent sports team debuted at the Tokyo Intl Football Film Festival last year. The doc screened at several other sports fests, including Thinking Football, Off-Side, Kicking + Screening, Berlin’s Fussballfilmfestival, and CineFoot, as well as the Chesapeake film fest. It now comes to DVD and to VOD platforms including iTines, Amazon, and Google Play.

After a previous national soccer league failed, Major League Soccer was formed as a condition of the US’s hosting of the 1994 World Cup, with ten initial teams beginning in 1996. A Philadelphia-based team was not among them, which rankled the city’s passionate soccer fans. Bell’s film reveals the unorthodox steps they took to remedy that situation, as the titular supporters’ club was formed – for a team that did not yet exist. Named after Ben Franklin, and chosen for the appropriate acronym formed, the Sons of Ben began as a desperate, grassroots effort to demonstrate the fanbase for a division one professional soccer team to come to Philadelphia. Founders and early converts detail their promotional activity and unexpected success in paving the way for the Philadelphia Union to join the ranks of MLS. What seems initially likely to become a hopelessly padded, insider-focused talking heads fest ends up changing course to include the intriguing wrinkles of a plan for economic revitalization of the forgotten, largely African-American town of Chester PA as the host of the soccer stadium, and the eleventh-hour arrival of the Great Recession, which threatens to derail all plans. These elements help broaden the film’s appeal into an underdog story that should resonate beyond a small subset of sports fans.

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Asian American International Film Festival 2016: Documentary Overview

BANNER1-finalNew York City’s Asian American International Film Festival returns for its 39th edition starting tonight, Thursday, July 21. By the time the event wraps on Saturday, July 30, it will present approximately 30 new features, including a dozen documentaries, in addition to shorts, panels, and special retrospective screenings.

Jolin-740x416Among the nonfiction programming are the international premiere of Ng Xi Jie’s SINGAPORE MINSTREL, a portrait of a street busker and his environment; as well as the NYC debuts of Siyan Liu and Danni Wang’s JOLIN (pictured), about a young Chinese country girl turned factory worker turned sex worker; Pamela Tom’s TYRUS, a profile of a centenarian Chinese-born visual artist; Michael Siv’s DAZE OF JUSTICE, a personal film about the Khmer Rouge trials; and Ben Wang’s BREATHIN’: THE EDDY ZHENG STORY, about a former convict turned prison reformer. Also screening at the festival is Haito Guo’s BRIGHT SUN MANSION, which follows a Peking Opera master as he tries to keep his art form’s tradition alive in New York City.

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In Theatres & On VOD: THE BLACKOUT EXPERIMENTS

blackoutComing to theatres and to VOD tomorrow, Friday, July 22: THE BLACKOUT EXPERIMENTS

Rich Fox’s exploration of an infamous horror experience made its debut at Sundance this year. It has screened at genre/horror events since, and now becomes available through Gravitas.

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

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In Theatres: THE SEVENTH FIRE

seventh fireComing to theatres this Friday, July 22: THE SEVENTH FIRE

Jack Pettibone Riccobono’s intimate exploration of Native American gang life made its bow at Berlin last year. Additional screenings have included New Orleans, Palm Springs, Documenta Madrid, Mar del Plata, Stockholm, Minneapolis-St Paul, Big Sky, Hawaii, Iran’s Cinema Vérité, and East End.

Riccobono’s artfully filmed portrait is set on the White Earth Reservation in Pine Point MN, and focuses on two men: Rob Brown, a longtime gang leader facing his fifth stint in prison, and Kevin, a teenager who’s on the same path in their impoverished, dead-end community. Urging the boy not to accept that drugs and criminality are inevitable, Brown also faces the consequences of his own actions, including being separated from his young daughter. Offering a candid, and often bleak, look at the continuing cycles of poverty, neglect, and abuse present in Native communities, the film nevertheless does offer room for hope as its young protagonists try to find a path forward.

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Special Screening: SONITA

sonitaComing to NYC’s Rooftop Films tomorrow, Wednesday, July 20: SONITA

Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami’s look at a teenage girl’s unlikely hip-hop aspirations debuted at IDFA, where it claimed an audience award. It came stateside at Sundance, where it claimed both the World Cinema Documentary Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award, and has also screened at Nantucket, Cleveland, True/False, Montclair, Sydney, AFI Docs, and the Human Rights Watch fests, among others.

I profiled the doc before Sundance here.

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On VOD: BACK ON BOARD: GREG LOUGANIS

back on board louganisComing to VOD today, Tuesday, July 19: BACK ON BOARD: GREG LOUGANIS

Cheryl Furjanic’s profile of the Olympic diver debuted at AFI Docs in 2014. Screening berths followed at DOC NYC, New Orleans, Hamptons, Palm Springs, Big Sky, Cleveland, Hot Springs Doc, Frameline, Outfest, and several fests on the LGBT circuit. The doc is now available on VOD via iTunes and Amazon.

I previously wrote about the doc here.

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