Category Archives: Recommendations

On DVD: HOMELAND: IRAQ YEAR ZERO

homeland-23New on DVD this week:
HOMELAND: IRAQ YEAR ZERO

Director:
Abbas Fahdel

Premiere:
Visions du Réel 2015

Select Festivals:
New York, Rio, Lussas Doc, Hamburg, Yamagata Doc, Doclisboa, CPH:DOX, Jihlava, Mar del Plata, Cinema Vérite, Göteborg, True/False, Vilnius, BAFICI, Taiwan Doc, Dokufest Kosovo, Vienna

About:
Life in Iraq, before and after the 2003 American-led invasion.

Split into two distinct sections – “Before the Fall” and “After the Battle” – Fahdel’s epically-lengthed yet intimately-scaled film provides viewers with a look at the activities of several Iraqis, many of them his own family members, in the lead up to and in the aftermath of the initial 2003 attack. Taking a loose, observational approach, the film feels more like a home movie at times, and serves as a survey rather than creating in-depth portraiture. This actually suits it well, particularly in the first part, which captures individuals who don’t have a full sense of what’s to come but think they have seen it all before. Digging wells to deal with expected resource shortages, and taping windows to prevent glass shattering, they seem practical rather than concerned, and otherwise try to go on with their everyday lives, seemingly comfortable enough despite the reminders that they’re living in a repressive regime. The tone changes in the project’s second half, with an Iraq overrun with foreigners, frustrations beginning to mount over disruptions in daily life, and, of course, reckoning with lives lost – including, as revealed in the film’s conclusion, one of its most engaging young subjects. It’s a deeply humanistic, and often difficult to watch, time capsule of a nation forced to contend with the tragedy of war.

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ZagrebDox 2017 Overview

zagrebdox_logoThis Sunday, February 26 sees the start of the 13th annual ZagrebDox. The Croatian event will present 75 new and recent feature documentaries before it comes to a close on Sunday, March 5. In addition to offering local audiences a look at many favorites from the larger doc festival circuit, the festival showcases new regional work, some of which is noted below: Continue reading

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On VOD: NIGHT WILL FALL

night-will-fall-1024New to VOD this Sunday, February 26:
NIGHT WILL FALL

Director:
André Singer

Premiere:
Berlin 2014 (work-in-progress), Sheffield 2014 (official world premiere)

Notable Festivals:
Jerusalem, Telluride, CPH:DOX, IDFA, Hamptons, Traverse City, Documentary Edge, Jewish fests in Moscow, Warsaw, Atlanta, Miami, Chicago, Vienna, Las Vegas, and Copenhagen

About:
The story behind a long-abandoned Allied documentary revealing the horrors of Nazi concentration camps.

As WWII began to come to a close and British, Russian, and American troops liberated German concentration camps, uncovering the atrocities that had been committed there, military cameramen captured film footage as evidence and for propaganda purposes. The plan, as Singer’s impactful film reveals, was to create a documentary, GERMAN CONCENTRATION CAMPS FACTUAL SURVEY, under producer Sidney Bernstein of Britain’s Ministry of Information, to demonstrate the realities of the camp to audiences worldwide, including Germans who might otherwise try to deny the extent of the Nazi regime’s crimes against humanity. Bernstein called on his friend Alfred Hitchcock, already well-established in Hollywood by this time, to serve as a supervising director, but beyond offering some helpful advice, the latter’s role was limited. Ultimately, despite Bernstein’s best efforts, the documentary stalled and was eventually shelved, a victim of political expediency in the face of the need to win the public’s favor back toward Germany as a Cold War ally. The project wouldn’t be completed and restored until 2014. Singer’s compelling but fairly straight-forward chronicle of SURVEY’s origins, development, and censorship includes difficult, necessary footage from that film while laying out its history via very British television-styled narration, and interviews with cameramen, camp survivors, and experts.

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On VOD: ORIGINAL COPY

Original_Copy_1Now on VOD via Amazon Video:
ORIGINAL COPY

Directors:
Georg Heinzen and Florian Heinzen-Ziob

Premiere:
Hot Docs 2015

Notable Festivals:
Rotterdam, Vancouver, Leeds, Yamagata Doc, Mumbai, Fantastic Fest, Split, Indian/South Asian fests in San Francisco, Florida, The Hague, and Stuttgart

About:
Mumbai’s last film poster painter struggles to maintain his craft in a changing world.

Mumbai movie theatre Alfred Talkies has seen better days. Dwindling audiences and changing tastes have put the future of the cinema in jeopardy. Behind the scenes is Sheikh Rehman and his small team of craftsmen, who maintain an art studio within the Alfred, where the compose and produce the colorful, lurid movie poster paintings which promote the Bollywood cinema on offer at the theatre. The father and son filmmaking team observe Rehman at work as he explains the science of his design, which involves copying actor photographs in a massive scale, supplemented by action shots to tempt potential viewers; schools his young protegé; and reckon with an uncertain future. The wistful result is at once a portrait of a dying institution and its artisans, as well as a love letter to film and to cinema-going.

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On DVD: SPEED SISTERS

SPEEDSISTERS-KEYNew to DVD this week:
SPEED SISTERS

Director:
Amber Fares

Premiere:
Hot Docs 2015

Select Festivals:
DOC NYC, Global Visions, Sheffield, Melbourne, EBS Doc, Helsinki, Reykjavik, Calgary, Rio, CPH:DOX, Santa Barbara, If Istanbul, Athena, Glasgow, One World, Atlanta, Cleveland, Palestine fests in Toronto, Atlanta, Boston, DC, Chicago, and Houston

About:
A portrait of an unlikely group of race-car athletes.

I previously wrote about the film here.

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On VOD: THEY CALL US MONSTERS

they_call_us_monsters_still_2_h_2016Coming to VOD today, Tuesday, February 21:
THEY CALL US MONSTERS

Director:
Ben Lear

Premiere:
Los Angeles Film Festival 2016

Select Festivals:
AFI Docs, Austin, Human Rights Watch, Hot Springs Doc, Antenna Doc, Heartland,

About:
A consideration of juvenile offenders who are tried as adults.

I previously wrote about the doc here.

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On VOD: HAUNTERS

1201x782-Haunters_Photo3_byIvayloGetov-1160x652Now on VOD:
HAUNTERS

Director:
Anthony Morrison

Premiere:
DOC NYC 2014

Select Festivals:
Hot Springs Doc, Freep

About:
A behind-the-scenes look at a family that runs a haunted house.

I previously wrote about the film for DOC NYC’s program, saying:
Phobia House consistently has been ranked as one of the best haunted houses in Michigan, but that didn’t stop the fire marshal from shutting down the Gerard family-run business last year. Determined to make up for their losses, the Gerards set out to create their scariest attraction ever. Anthony Morrison shadows them as they scout a new venue, recruit a motley crew of zombies, host screaming sorority visitors, and even contend with intimidation tactics by the local competition in the lead-up to Halloween.

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