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Entries in Doc Corner (126)


Doc Corner: The Thrilling 'United Skates'

By Glenn Dunks

Dyana Winkler and Tina Brown’s utterly divine United Skates begins with a tangle of bodies that zig, zag and spin across a roller rink floor in choreographed fashion. Close-ups of sweat-damp skin and excited faces. Neon signs, fluorescent clothes and a thumping beat. In just these brief opening moments before the title crashes on screen, I was hypnotised by the way the camera was capturing these people and embedding itself on the floor, swooping and swinging with as much vigour as the people its watching. The way it captures their passion, their movement and, without even saying a word, their unbridled joy and the memories of days gone by.

It’s my favourite opening of the year; nothing has quite approached the very simple act of hooking me so immediately and in such a way that I bolted upright, eager to see where I was going to be taken. Luckily, United Skates isn’t just about the roller skates and the booty shorts and the basslines. It’s about so much more, smartly using a nostalgic touchstone of African American culture as a means to dissect contemporary issues around race.

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Doc Corner: The Thrilling Failure of 'Shirkers'

By Glenn Dunks

Apologies once again for the recent absense, but working 12-to-15-hour days in an office somewhat curb one's ability to sit down and write reviews. However, we're returning to regularly scheduled programming with one of the best documentaries of the year.

Documentaries about moviemaking aren’t uncommon. We see several released each year, usually offering creative insight and historical context to works of art both great and terrible – and in the case of those like American Movie even surpassing the reputation of the movie they’re about. Documentaries about failed movies are less common, although no less fascinating and often allow their subject to attain something of a mythical status. The latest addition to this sub-genre of non-fiction is Sandi Tan’s Shirkers, a thrillingly assembled combination of cinematic mystery, sombre tribute, and aching paean to lost potential.

“Shirkers” is not only the name of the documentary, but also the name of the film that Tan made in 1992 with her friends Jasmine Ng, Sophia Siddique and the mysterious older man named George Cardona. The original Shirkers was to be the first Singaporean film directed by a woman and was a radical change from the sort of film that the island nation was typically known for like 1972’s They Call Her Cleopatra Wong.

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Doc Corner: Movie Stars - Fonda, Kael and Dukakis

by Glenn Dunks

DOC NYC is still going in New York, running until this Thursday the 15th. We’re looking at just a very small selection of films screening at the festival including these today based around three iconic names in American cinema: film critic Pauline Kael, and Oscar-winning actors Jane Fonda and Olympia Dukakis.

I noted on social media as I sat down to watch my screener of Rob Garver’s biography that there were certainly worse ways to spend one’s Sunday evening that surrounded by the words of the late, great Pauline Kael and an abundance of film clips. Sometimes a film can give you exactly what you ask for and that’s exactly what I received from What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael about the much loved (and loathed) film critic...

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Doc Corner: DOC NYC - Michael Moore's 'Fahrenheit 11/9'

DOC NYC is currently underway in New York and one of the great things is that alongside all the world, American, and New York premieres, the festival includes significant documentary titles from throughout the year. We’re using this opportunity to catch up with the latest from Michael Moore, Fahrenheit 11/9, which screened at the fest and is still in limited release across America.

Love him or loathe him – or probably more likely, sit somewhere in the middle of the two emotions – it’s hard to overstate Michael Moore’s importance to American documentary filmmaking. It’s not often that documentaries become pop culture touchstones and he has several that have become just that. The film that this new title is theoretically a sequel to will likely remain the highest grossing documentary of all time for the foreseeable future of cinema. It is interesting to note, however, that the two biggest zeitgeist-hitting political documentaries of the new century – that would be Fahrenheit 9/11 and An Inconvenient Truth – have floundered at the box office with much-belated sequels. Are audiences simply too bombarded by news that the thought of going to see a two-hour movie about the horrors of modern politics is just too much to bear?

Moore's decision to make a sequel to Fahrenheit 9/11 makes a lot of sense in theory, although watching the final product is a curious experience.

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Doc Corner: Memories of the past in four new films at DOC NYC

By Glenn Dunks

DOC NYC starts today in New York where something like 100 films will screen. Of the 300+ screenings and events, there are 135 features and 43 world premieres including the just announced screening of the once-thought-lost Aretha Franklin concert doc Amazing Grace. We will be looking at a just a small slice of the selections based loosely around themes. Part one is focused on memories of the past returning to the surface and involves four films which are about grieving families, the NYC art scene of the 1960s, an underappreciated photographer, and the rise of the Nickelodeon network.

Despite his familiarity with war zones in the Oscar-nominated Virunga from the frontlines of Congo’s bloody poaching crisis and Oscar-winning short The White Helmets from the Syrian civil war, director Orlando von Einsiedel has apparently been less well-equipped to deal with the wars of his own family’s anguish. His latest film, recently nominated for the BIFA Best Documentary prize, is an examination of his own family following the suicide of his brother many years ago. Sending himself out into the Scottish highlands alongside various family members and childhood friends for a series of memorial treks, he hopes the wintry walks will allow his family a chance to talk and confront their pain head-on like they have never done before...

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Doc Corner: Frederick Wiseman's 'Monrovia, Indiana'

By Glenn Dunks

Depending on your point of few, Frederick Wiseman films exist in a realm of apoliticicm or are stealth political missiles. I believe it’s a little bit somewhere in between. It is easy of course to see the markings of a political filmmaker in his works if you know where to look, and can be done so in essentially all of his works from his debut with Titicut Follies in 1967 right up to his most recent works In Jackson Heights and Ex Libris: The New York Public Library.

And yet he’s obviously no Michael Moore or Alex Gibney, and the way his camera silent observes with little regard for constructed narrative (at least in any traditional sense, although his films all tell a story) means that it is easy for his films to feel as if any political ideology that rises to the form of text is purely accidental.

With a film such as Wiseman’s latest – his 42nd and his seventh this decade – it is once again a little from column a and a little from column b. How much you’re willing to indulge, however, may vary considering the topic of his patiently attentive eye is the town of Monrovia, Indiana, a god-fearing, gun-loving town in America’s rust belt that it’s all too easy to assign the moniker of “T***p Country”.

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