Coming to DVD today, Tuesday, October 18: A COURTSHIP
Amy Kohn’s look at the modern-day practice of Christian Courtship made its debut at Tribeca last year. Its fest circuit also included Traverse City, Rocky Mountain Women’s, Iran’s Cinema Verite, and Thessaloniki Doc, among other events.
Christian Courtship is viewed by its adherents as a corrective and alternative to secular dating, which is considered inappropriate if not ungodly. Investing trust in God’s intentions, and all decision-making power in the hands of her father, a woman’s prospective suitors must first win over the latter before being allowed to get to know her – and even then, under constant chaperoning until their wedding day. In this conception of courting, a woman doesn’t just save her virginity for her future husband, but also her first kiss, causing much consternation for any who come to Christian Courtship after leading a secular life, such as Kohn’s protagonist, Kelly. In her 30s, Kelly has turned to the Wrights to become her spiritual parents, overseeing her courtship – her own parents’ divorce was responsible for her turn to religion, and they do not understand her passivity in seeking a mate. After much praying the Wrights agreed to serve in this role, taking Kelly into their home until her husband is brought to them by God – if ever. Through the course of the film, Mr Wright is shown too-gleefully interviewing and rejecting one suitor – possibly because of the latter’s acceptance of celibate homosexuals in the clergy – and falling for another one, until a disagreement over religious interpretation relegates Kelly back to a likely future as an old maid. While a frankly backward practice, Kohn seems to want to present it sans judgement, though she undercuts this with some distractingly goofy music choices, and an introduction of the Wrights which immediately paints them in a negative light, encouraging their young daughters not to go to college or have any dreams aside from marriage and motherhood. Regardless, in offering a glimpse into this regressive custom, the modest film indulges a strange curiosity.
Coming to PBS’s American Experience tomorrow, Tuesday, October 18: TESLA
David Grubin’s portrait of the eclectic inventor makes its debut on the long-running PBS history series.
As argued in Grubin’s biography, Tesla should be a household name – not as the name of an electric car, but for the man for whom that commercial vehicle is named, Nikola Tesla. Born in Croatia in 1856, Tesla displayed an early interest in tinkering and invention, developing a motor that could run on alternating current, long thought to be impossible. His idol, Thomas Alva Edison, has been unable to crack AC, and instead invested his energies in a far less efficient direct current system to create the first electrical grids in NYC. Heading to America in 1884, Tesla began working for Edison, but soon struck out on his own when his employer failed to embrace the younger man’s competing system. After some struggle, he found a supporter in industrialist George Westinghouse, who bought Tesla’s patents and surpassed Edison’s electrical distribution system. Celebrated as a forward-thinking inventor, Tesla became a celebrity, but prone to flights of fancy, he soon squandered the public’s good will, and the interest of potential investors, as he made dodgy claims about communicating with Martians as he pursued sadly unsuccessful plans to develop wireless communication and free energy for the masses. While hewing to the PBS strand’s very conventional narration and talking heads format, Grubin’s film succeeds in paying due to the inventor’s accomplishments and appeal.
Coming to POV tonight, Monday, October 17: HOOLIGAN SPARROW
Nanfu Wang’s portrait of intimidation against a Chinese human rights activist debuted at Sundance this year. Screenings followed at Nantucket, Hot Docs, Full Frame, Sheffield, Cleveland, Human Rights Watch, Dallas, One World, Thessaloniki Doc, Los Angeles Asian Pacific, Documenta Madrid, Encounters, and Traverse City, among other events.
I profiled the doc before Sundance here.
Coming to PBS’s Doc World this Sunday, October 16: AMONG THE BELIEVERS
Hemal Trivedi and Mohammed Ali Naqvi’s behind-the-scenes look at jihadist indoctrination premiered at Tribeca last year. The doc went on to screen at IDFA, CPH:DOX, Sydney, AFI Docs, DMZ Docs, Vancouver, Stockholm, Rio, Human Rights Watch London, and St Louis, among other events.
I previously wrote about the film here.
Coming to DVD today, Friday, October 14: BAYOU MAHARAJAH
Lily Keber’s portrait of an unsung piano genius debuted at SXSW in 2013. Screenings followed at New Orleans, Melbourne, Krakow, Hawaii, Little Rock, and the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Sound + Vision, among other events.
Self-described as the “Black Liberace,” gay, black, one-eyed New Orleans piano player James Booker sold himself short by comparing himself to anyone, as Keber’s affectionate profile reveals. Described as a true genius by influential musician Allen Toussaint, Booker had his own unique musical style, and started playing professionally while still a teenager, working with the likes of Aretha Franklin, Little Richard, and Fats Domino. He also struggled with alcohol and drug addiction and had mental health issues, resulting in a wild personality and a tendency towards self-destruction that undercut his talent and chances for larger success. While somewhat holding back on fully fleshing out her subject, Keber wisely incorporates a great deal of performance footage to let Booker’s music speak for him.
Coming to theatres today, Friday, October 14: SHADOW WORLD
Johan Grimonprez’s look at the influence of the global arms trade made its debut at Tribeca this Spring. Its fest circuit has also included Edinburgh, San Francisco, Encounters, Durban, Guanajuato, New Zealand, Dokufest Kosovo, and Vancouver.
Taking a big picture view of global politics, Grimonprez makes the audacious claim that politics is all about war, with the world’s superpowers financially invested in keeping us in perpetual conflict, regardless of the consequences. Adapted from the 2011 book of the same name by Andrew Feinstein, the film is grist for the conspiracy theory mill, but, despite some messiness and early missteps, not without chillingly convincing arguments. The starting point for this clarion call to constant war comes in the 1980s with – of course – hawkish Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher and the rise of Saudi Arabia’s influence on geopolitical affairs, but continues down the line through George W Bush’s Halliburton-benefitting war on terror and Obama’s embrace of drone strikes. It’s a dense and challenging project, and though overstating its case at times, Grimonprez’s film remains thought-provoking throughout.
Coming to Investigation Discovery this Saturday, October 15: SOUTHWEST OF SALEM: THE STORY OF THE SAN ANTONIO FOUR
Deborah S Esquenazi’s investigation into a miscarriage of justice premiered at Tribeca this Spring. It went on to screen at Hot Docs, Sheffield, DocuWest, AFI Docs, Frameline, Outfest, and Inside Out, among other events.
I previously wrote about the doc here.