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Entries in Doc Corner (57)

Tuesday
May232017

Doc Corner: Awards Hopefuls 'Abacus' and 'Last Men in Aleppo'

by Glenn Dunks

First off, apologies for the sporadic columns over the last two months. My day job for this time period has been behind the scenes of a film festival and there’s something about working 14 hours a day that just makes coming home and doing more writing somewhat less alluring? As a soft apology, here is a look at two films. They have next to nothing in common other than that we may see their names pop up here or there come award season.

The first is Steve James’ Abacus: Small Enough to Jail, a film about an institution – the Abacus Federal Savings Bank of Chinatown, not even one of the top 2000 banks in the country if I saw the stats correctly – that became the only American bank to be criminally indicted in the wake of the financial sector crisis of 2008. The modesty of its subjects, both corporate and human, clearly rubbed off on James who has crafted a standardly assembled yet no less enthralling documentary about what is now a particularly peculiar footnote in the history of American law...

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Tuesday
May092017

Doc Corner: An American Tragedy in 'Casting JonBenet' 

By Glenn Dunks

Casting JonBenet is a dozen films in one. At only 80 minutes, that’s a lot; and yet it never feels over-stuffed, overwrought, or like it is collecting and abandoning subplots (a frustrating trend of some recent documentaries). At its most basic level, Kitty Green’s film is a documentary about the casting of a film about JonBenet Ramsey. It is also a documentary about the Ramsey family and an investigation, of sorts, into the case. It’s a prank, a look into the making of a (seemingly) fake movie. But that's not all...

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Tuesday
Apr252017

Doc Corner: 'Obit'

By Glenn Dunks

An observation made towards the start of Vanessa Gould’s Obit: despite the reputation as the reporting of death, most obituaries are only 10% about the death of an individual. The other 90% is about life. How a person lived it, what they did, where they went and how they go there.

That's an appropriate anecdote to lead with given how turned off people may be about a film set within the supposedly dreary old world of an obituary department in a physical news outlet like the New York Times.

It’s a nice thought from a film whose prime subjects are not dead and are in fact living...

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Tuesday
Apr182017

Doc Corner: 'God Knows Where I Am'

by Glenn Dunks

The discovery of a woman’s lifeless body in an abandoned New Hampshire farmhouse next to a diary that reads how she, if found dead, was the victim of domestic abuse is the starting point for Jedd and Todd Wider’s God Knows Where I Am. These words begin the story of how Linda Bishop came to be in the house, a tragic entry point to a story that takes on further inescapably sad connotations the more we learn about her and what lead to her body lying dead on the hardwood floors of an empty house after the worst winter on record.

It’s not exactly a spoiler to note that domestic violence is not what brought Linda’s life to an end. Perhaps she thought it was...

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Tuesday
Apr042017

Doc Corner: Is 'Five Came Back' Netflix's Oscar Moment?

by Glenn Dunks

It can sometimes feel like we’ve seen WWII from so many perspectives that there can’t possibly be new ways to convey the weight of its tragedy. That Five Came Back, a new three-part mini-docu-series on Netflix, manages to succeed at doing this is just one of its many virtues. Adapted from Mark Harris’ book of the same name by Harris himself and directed by Laurent Bouzereau, this is a three-hour documentary about the work of five of Hollywood’s biggest directorial names of the 1930s who enlisted to support the American war effort the only way that they knew how: through film, and the personal battles they fought in order to do so.

They were Frank Capra, John Huston, George Stevens, William Wyler and John Ford – the latter of whom gets the biggest laugh labelling documentaries in the 1930s as “silly things that rich kooks made” – each of whom left behind successful careers without the promise of anything when they came back.

If they came back at all. The series charts their early efforts before America’s entering the war after Pearl Harbour in 1941 before digging more deeply in the works that they produced from the front lines on the ground and in the skies....

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Tuesday
Mar282017

Doc Corner: Meet the Girls of 'All This Panic'

“It’s just one of those things when you expect something to be amazing and perfect and it’s not.”

Those words are spoken by 16-year-old Lena in Jenny Gage’s gorgeous slice of life documentary, All This Panic, as she describes the feeling of liking a boy who didn’t like her back. Never mind that, though; aren’t they a perfect encapsulation of the teenage existence more generally? Lena is just one of a handful of teenage female subjects that Gage and her cinematographer husband Tom Betterton stumble upon in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn; the experiences of whom make up this exquisite debut feature.

Lena, socially forward but with a struggling family life, is joined by sisters Ginger and Dusty, Gage and Betterton’s neighbours, the elder of which has little concept of where she wants her life to go and confesses to being “petrified of getting old”; Sage, a rare African American student at a prestigious Manhattan school whose outspoken attitude is coupled with an internal battle between her class status and her face; and Olivia, who confides to the camera about her sexuality before she ever would her parents.

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Tuesday
Mar212017

Doc Corner: The Confined Spaces of 'Solitary'

by Glenn Dunks

Solitary could have gone in many different directions. Filmed over a year inside the supermax solitary confinement prison of Red Onion, Virginia, all sorts of independent narratives that are weaved throughout could have made for their own captivating feature. There are the guards, disturbed by what they see, and the death of the region’s prime coal mining industry that brought them to this line of work. There are the crimes of the prisoners, most of them violent, some of them not so. And then there is, like Ava DuVernay’s (broader, superior) Oscar-nominated 13th, the system itself that is obviously damaged and flawed at its very core.

It's nice, but also a little frustrating, then that director Kristi Jacobson (known best for 2012’s A Place at the Table) chose something far less sensational by focusing on the concept of nature versus nurture. Nice because that feels rare in film, but frustrating because it doesn't make the most of its unique access while doing so...

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Tuesday
Mar142017

New Directors / New Films: Strong Island

New Directors / New Films which runs March 15th through the 26th is a festival of emerging international filmmakers here in NYC each year. We'll be covering a few titles including this unravelling of a Long Island murder in Glenn's weekly documentary spotlight.

Strong Island

“There’s one place that all the people with the greatest potential are gathered. One place. And that’s the graveyard. People ask me all the time: what kind of stories do you want to tell, Viola? And I say exhume those bodies – exhume those stories.”

I thought of these words from Viola Davis’ Academy Awards speech last week while writing about the ABC queer rights miniseries When We Rise; thinking of all the men and women lost over the years to AIDS and what they could have done and who they could have been. I did not expect to be thinking of them yet again so quickly, but here we are. I thought of Viola’s words while watching Strong Island because exhume is exactly what first-time filmmaker Yance Ford has done with this film about the death of his older, 19-year-old brother, William, at the hands of a white man who the courts sort little interest in seeking justice for.

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