Category Archives: Releases

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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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 TV: PRISON FIGHTERS: 5 ROUNDS TO FREEDOM

prison-fighters-5-rounds-to-freedom-1024x576Coming to Showtime tomorrow, Friday, February 24:
PRISON FIGHTERS: 5 ROUNDS TO FREEDOM

Director:
Micah Brown

Premiere:
Showtime (February 2017)

About:
A profile of Thailand’s prison boxing program, which reduces sentences and offers occasional pardons for successful boxers.

Brown’s film explores the unusual prison fight program, a modern day update of a legendary story about the originator of Muy Thai, who successfully won his own freedom by taking on ten Burmese fighters back-to-back in 1774. Thai wardens saw the prestige that they could gain from having winning prisoners – and suggests that they could profit from it – and have developed prison fight as a rehabilitation program for the crowded, dangerous prison system. The focus here is on Noy Khaopan, a convicted murderer who may see a potential pardon if he wins his next bout, against American Cody Moberly, a white professional fighter briefly profiled here, who escaped drug abuse by coming to Thailand, exploring spirituality, and working the Thai boxing circuit. Also included here is the story of Oh Sirimongkol Singwangcha, a former American-style boxer who achieved celebrity only to find himself in prison on trumped-up drug possession charges. After participating in the prison fight program, Oh eventually won his pardon, and now is able to use what’s left of his fame to eke out a living via Muy Thai boxing. Noy is followed as he trains for his fight, with his parents and young son pinning their hopes on his success so he can rejoin them as a family. On the flip side, the parents of the young man Noy impulsively murdered are also heard from, who would rather see Noy die in prison. Brown hews a bit too close to sports film conventions – and is particularly hampered by overwritten narration – but the film nevertheless tackles an intriguing avenue toward redemption.

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On DVD: MARINONI: THE FIRE IN THE FRAME

marinoniNew to DVD this week:
MARINONI: THE FIRE IN THE FRAME

Director:
Tony Girardin

Premiere:
Hot Docs 2014

Notable Festivals:
Global Visions

About:
A portrait of a curmudgeonly racing bike manufacturer.

I previously wrote about the doc here.

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On DVD: A PLASTIC OCEAN

a-plastic-ocean-image-1400x787New to DVD this week:
A PLASTIC OCEAN

Director:
Craig Leeson

Premiere:
Raindance 2016

Notable Festivals:
Wildlife Conservation, Big Sky, Wild & Scenic, Barbados, Waimea Ocean Film Festival

About:
A journalist travels the world to explore the impact of plastic pollution.

Leeson, who serves as the film’s onscreen host, explains how he came to investigate our world’s plastic problem after fulfilling a lifetime’s dream to see the blue whale in its natural habitat. While on this whale watching expedition, he encountered some of the plastic waste that has been causing harm to ocean ecosystems for years now. This serves as the impetus to embark on a (likely not particularly environmentally-friendly) global odyssey to survey the dangers posed by our disposable-minded culture and plastic’s durability – not just on oceans but on land as well. Leeson and his collaborators, including free-diving champion Tanya Streeter, seen here delivering a TEDx talk, are clearly earnest, passionate advocates for humanity to change their ways, make better choices, and clean up the mess before it’s really too late for us all, but the film itself offers very little that hasn’t been explored in other documentary projects already with more focused and artful storytelling. Still, it’s a well-intentioned project that might help bring attention to an increasingly dire problem.

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On VOD: JESUS TOWN, USA

jesus townNow on VOD via Amazon Video:
JESUS TOWN, USA

Directors:
Billie Mintz and Julian T Pinder

Premiere:
Am Docs 2014

Notable Festivals:
Hot Docs, Visions du Réel, RIDM, Sydney Underground, Heartland, Dokufest Kosovo

About:
Behind the scenes of a small town’s long-established, epically-staged annual passion play.

For nearly 90 years, the biblical story of Jesus has been faithfully recounted on a grand scale in the foothills of Oklahoma for the annual Holy City of the Wichitas Easter passion play. In its earliest days, the event apparently drew more than 200,000 spectators, but attendance has been in decline for decades. Mintz and Pinder’s briefly relate its history, but focus more on the challenges facing the community as they mount the latest staging – in particular, the actor who has long played Jesus has retired, prompting a search for a new Son of God. Enter Zack, a good-natured, rotund, long-haired misfit. The amateur is game for the role of a lifetime, but harbors a secret that could rock the community and which plays out through the course of the film – he no longer considers himself a Christian. Detailing a massive event that’s clearly a labor of love for all involved, but which can come off to outsiders as a quirky slice of Americana and/or Christian low-level zealotry, the filmmakers unfortunately err too much on the side of playing it for laughs. Overlaying the conventions of the mockumentary form on their real-life project, the result is at times strained, with some scenes feeling particularly staged and music as a whole doing disservice to their otherwise appealing subjects and themes.

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On VOD: ACCIDENTAL COURTESY: DARYL DAVIS, RACE & AMERICA

accidentalNew to VOD this week:
ACCIDENTAL COURTESY: DARYL DAVIS, RACE & AMERICA

Director:
Matt Ornstein

Premiere:
SXSW 2016

Select Festivals:
Cleveland, Atlanta, Nashville, Montclair, Bergen

About:
A portrait of an African-American man who befriends KKK members.

I previously wrote about the doc here.

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