Category Archives: Recommendations

On TV: WINTER AT WESTBETH

Coming to PBS’s America ReFramed tomorrow, Tuesday, December 11:
WINTER AT WESTBETH

Director:
Rohan Spong

Premiere:
Sydney 2016

Select Festivals:
DOC NYC, Melbourne, Gold Coast, Salem, ZagrebDox

About:
An inspiring look three elder artists.

I previously wrote about the film DOC NYC’s program, saying:
Occupying the former Bell Laboratories, the West Village’s Westbeth Artists Housing has been home to an eclectic community of professional artists since 1970. Director Rohan Spong puts the spotlight on three longtime residents as they engage with their craft over the course of a year: 75-year-old contemporary dancer Dudley, 82-year-old poet Ilsa, and 95-year-old experimental filmmaker Edith. The resulting tripartite portrait is a celebration of creativity and self-expression no matter one’s age.

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On TV: SACRED

Coming to PBS this coming Monday, December 10:
SACRED

Director:
Thomas Lennon

Premiere:
Tokyo 2016

Select Festivals:
DOC NYC, IDFA, Sebastopol Doc, RiverRun, Cleveland, Ashland, Montclair

About:
A look at spirituality around the world.

I previously wrote about the doc here.

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In Theatres: AMAZING GRACE

Coming to Film Forum tomorrow, Friday, December 7:
AMAZING GRACE

Realized and Produced by:
Alan Elliott

Premiere:
DOC NYC 2018

About:
A landmark Aretha Franklin music concert film is released over forty years after it was filmed.

The film premiered at DOC NYC, for which our program notes read:
In January 1972, Aretha Franklin gave two days of gospel performances at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Watts, Los Angeles, recording what would become her bestselling album, Amazing Grace. The sessions were captured by a film crew led by Sydney Pollack, but the footage wound up shelved in a vault and has remained one of the lost cinematic treasures of twentieth-century music. Before Pollack’s death in 2008, he expressed a wish for the film to be completed, and producer Alan Elliott took it up with a team of supporters as a passion project.

This documentary lets the events unfold on film without imposing present-day interviews. It fits in the tradition of other concert documentaries of the era, such as MONTEREY POP and WOODSTOCK, yet it stands out for its focus on African-American music (preceding WATTSTAX, filmed later that year).

As the daughter of Detroit’s prominent Reverend CL Franklin, Aretha was deeply immersed in gospel and grew up among the leaders of the genre. Her father and other gospel mentors can be spotted in the crowd – as can Mick Jagger and Charlie Watts, lingering in the back of the church. In his book on Amazing Grace, author Aaron Cohen calls the album “a milestone because of Franklin’s call-and-response with her collaborators.” Leading the musicians is Reverend James Cleveland, backed by the legendary Atlantic Records rhythm section and the Southern California Community Choir. Watching their interactions is revelatory for both gospel aficionados and outsiders. To paraphrase the title song: what once was lost, now is found.

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On DVD: PIRIPKURA

New to DVD this week:
PIRIPKURA

Directors:
Renata Terra, Bruno Jorge, Mariana Oliva

Premiere:
Festival do Rio 2017

Select Festivals:
IDFA, Edinburgh, Docville Thessaloniki Doc, One World, Ambulante, Movies That Matter, EDOC, Margaret Mead

About:
A quest to locate the last survivors of an indigenous Amazonian tribe.

The nomadic Piripkura people roamed Brazil’s Mato Grosso region for generations before development largely destroyed their way of life. Now there are only three known members of the tribe – Rita, who left the forest; and remaining in the forest, her brother, Pakyi, and her nephew, Tamandua. While the land remains protected because of their presence, it’s a precarious situation, and once every several years, the men’s existence must be re-confirmed to stop the push to expand development. This strangely compelling film follows the efforts of Jair Candor to locate Pakyi and Tamandua, and then documents the fascinating crosscultural communication they share before the latter once again vanish into the rainforest.

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Sundance 2019: New Frontier Announced

This post is a pointer to the third lineup announcement for the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. This year’s selections in the New Frontier section may be found here.

Already announced are the films in the US and World Cinema Documentary and Dramatic Competitions, NEXT, Documentary Premieres, Premieres, Midnight, Spotlight, and Kids sections, as well as the Indie Episodic, Special Events, and Shorts lineups.

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On VOD: VIGILANTE: THE INCREDIBLE TRUE STORY OF CURTIS SLIWA AND THE GUARDIAN ANGELS

New to VOD this week:
VIGILANTE: THE INCREDIBLE TRUE STORY OF CURTIS SLIWA AND THE GUARDIAN ANGELS

Director:
David Wexler

Premiere:
DOC NYC 2017

Select Festivals:
Denver

About:
A look at the origins of the controversial crime-prevention organization.

I previously wrote about the film for DOC NYC’s program, saying:
In 1979, Curtis Sliwa, a McDonald’s night manager in the Bronx frustrated with rampant crime, decided to take a stand. Recruiting a diverse crew, and adopting a distinctive uniform of a white t-shirt and red beret, the Guardian Angels were born. Targeting lawlessness on the New York City Subway, the Guardian Angels attracted praise and criticism alike, viewed as heroes to some, vigilantes to others. In David Wexler’s entertaining look back at a very different NYC, Sliwa presents his unfiltered take on his controversial organization and its enduring legacy.

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On DVD: NO DINOSAURS IN HEAVEN

New to DVD this week:
NO DINOSAURS IN HEAVEN

Director:
Greta Schiller

Premiere:
New York Academy of Sciences (Fall 2010)

About:
An exploration of the undermining of fact-based science education by religious groups.

I previously wrote about the doc here.

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