Category Archives: Recommendations

On VOD: PRAY THE DEVIL BACK TO HELL

pray the devilNew to VOD this week: PRAY THE DEVIL BACK TO HELL

Gini Reticker’s look at the women-led peace movement in Liberia debuted at Tribeca in 2008, where it won the Best Documentary award. Screenings followed at IDFA, São Paulo, Silverdocs, Traverse City, Jackson Hole, Heartland, Palm Springs, St Louis, and One World. The doc was just released on iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, and Vudu.

After a civil war which saw dictator Charles Taylor rise to power, LIberia became embroiled in a second civil war pitting warlords against the despot. In the middle, citizens suffered, with more than a million LIberians killed or displaced by the conflict. Reticker focuses on the unlikely but remarkably effective actions of a group of Christian women who grew a church prayer for peace into an activist movement that inspired a parallel Muslim conclave. With religion a factor in the civil war, between a supposedly devout Christian Taylor and predominantly Muslim rebels, the women’s unity across religious lines helped their cause for peace. Using whatever tactics they could come up with – including withholding sex and shaming men by threatening to strip naked in front of them – the activists forced participation in peace negotiations, and, ultimately, worked together to witness the election of the first female head of state in Africa, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. While no-frills in its approach, the film succeeds by virtue of its compelling subjects and their dogged determination for peace.

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In Theatres & On VOD: AMANDA KNOX

amandaknox_01Coming to theatres and to Netflix today, Friday, September 30: AMANDA KNOX

Rod Blackhurst and Brian McGinn’s re-examination of a sensationalized murder case made its debut at Toronto earlier this month. It now opens theatrically and exclusively on Netflix, and has just been announced as part of DOC NYC’s Short List.

The 2007 murder of Meredith Kercher, a British exchange student living in Perugia, Italy, set off a worldwide media frenzy that made Amanda Knox, her unassuming roommate, infamous. Pegged as the primary suspects, Knox and her Italian boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito were painted in the mainstream media as sexually depraved psychopaths, and eventually convicted twice by Italian courts before finally being acquitted. In their absorbing, well-constructed revisitation of Knox’s story, Blackhurst and McGinn gain the cooperation not only of Knox and Sollecito, but also, pivotally, Italian prosecutor Giuliano Mignini and Daily Mail tabloid journalist Nick Pisa, whose unfounded, salacious theories pathologizing and demonizing female sexual experimentation set in motion what followed. This inside perspective should prove illuminating – and disturbing – both for those who followed the case through the media’s wild speculation and for viewers who have no previously familiarity with Knox.

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On DVD/VOD: MINIMALISM: A DOCUMENTARY ABOUT THE IMPORTANT THINGS

minimalismReleased earlier this month on DVD and on Vimeo and now coming to iTunes and Amazon VOD tomorrow, Friday, September 30: MINIMALISM: A DOCUMENTARY ABOUT THE IMPORTANT THINGS

Matt D’Avella’s look at life, pared down, debuted at the Los Angeles Art-House Film Festival last year. Other fest play has included Raindance, Lone Star, St Louis, Big Sky Doc, Fargo, and AmDocs.

Inspired by the adventures of its main protagonists, Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, known as the Minimalists, who have shared their story previously via their website, podcasts, and books, D’Avella’s film profiles individuals who have rejected a consumer-focused existence to live life more simply. As the Minimalists travel on a book tour, they reveal how they shed their previous ways and the stress it has alleviated. Expanding beyond their example, D’Avella interviews a range of others who have also embraced the concepts of minimalist living, which doesn’t advocate giving up everything but instead challenges people to be more thoughtful about consumption and the reasons for it. At its heart the concept is simple and pragmatic, and there’s an immediate and convincing appeal. If the film comes off as evangelical, that’s partly the point, but can be offputting to some viewers, as is the project’s somewhat unavoidable lack of visual dynamism. While professionally shot, the bulk of the film consists of people talking about the changes they’ve made rather than showing the viewer that process in practice.

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In Theatres: DO NOT RESIST

filkins-do-not-resist-1200Coming to theatres tomorrow, Friday, September 30: DO NOT RESIST

Craig Atkinson’s exploration of the militarization of law enforcement debuted at Tribeca, where it won Best Documentary. Its fest circuit has also included Hot Docs, Traverse City, AFI Docs, DOXA, Human Rights Watch, Telluride Mountainfilm, Bergen, Zurich, Dokufest, and Camden.

Taking a measured, restrained approach that only makes its content more chilling, Atkinson’s debut uses the protests to police brutality in Ferguson to launch into a nationwide look of the rapid expansion of state-sanctioned violence in the name of policing. Most disturbing is the federal government’s not-so-subtle encouragement of applying militaristic aggression on crime within even the smallest of communities. As a consequence of the war on terror, surpluses of military heavy equipment and other gear are routinely bequeathed by Homeland Security when there is both no obvious need nor community support, encouraging a mindset that even low-level offenders should be treated like enemy combatants, subject to lethal force. While the film’s survey approach lacks a central protagonist to help focus the project, it nevertheless conveys its urgent, cautionary message with strength.

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In Theatres: AMONG THE BELIEVERS

amongthebelieversComing to theatres tomorrow, Friday, September 30: AMONG THE BELIEVERS

Hemal Trivedi and Mohammed Ali Naqvi’s candid exploration of jihadist indoctrination debuted at Tribeca last year. Screenings followed at IDFA, CPH:DOX, Sydney, AFI Docs, DMZ Docs, Vancouver, Tallgrass, Stockholm, Rio, Heartland, Human Rights Watch London, and St Louis, among other events.

I previously wrote about the doc here.

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In Theatres & On VOD: DANNY SAYS

danny saysComing to theatres and VOD this Friday, September 30: DANNY SAYS

Brendan Toller’s look at a music world impresario made its bow at SXSW last year. Screenings have included BFI London, San Francisco Jewish, Provincetown, Sound + Vision, Big Sky, Montclair, Melbourne, CPH:DOX, and Athens, among other events.

I previously wrote about the doc here.

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New York Film Festival 2016: Documentary Overview

1437138_1280x720The 54th annual New York Film Festival opens this Friday, September 30, and runs through Sunday, October 16. As has been the case in recent years, nonfiction has been embraced by the event’s programmers in contrast to its historical neglect, with documentaries making up nearly half of the more than fifty offered new feature films. Particularly notable is the selection of Ava DuVernay’s exploration of mass incarceration in America, 13TH, as NYFF’s Opening Night Film – the first time a documentary has claimed that coveted slot, and one of two docs in the program’s Main Slate. A sampling of other nonfiction follows below. Continue reading

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