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Entries in documentaries (131)

Wednesday
May272015

HBO’s LGBT History: Common Threads (1989)

Manuel is working his way through all the LGBT-themed films & miniseries produced and distributed by HBO.

Last week we looked at the quietly touching film Tidy Endings (1988), written and starring Harvey Fierstein and a must-see for Stockard Channing completists. We’re not going far this week, since much of HBO’s early LGBT output tried to grapple with the AIDS epidemic that had dominated the cultural conversation about gay men in the 1980s.

Did you know that films produced by HBO have won over 20 Oscars? This past year alone, HBO dominated both documentary categories with Citizenfour and Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1 emerging victorious. It has been a stealth awards run which Sheila Nevins (currently the president of HBO Documentary Films but her involvement stretches back to 1979) has all but nurtured herself. 

Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt (1989)
Written & Directed by: Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman (based on the book, The Quilt: Stories From The NAMES Project by Cindy Ruskin)
Narrated by: Dustin Hoffman (who'd just won his 2nd Oscar)

HBO’s commitment to strong documentary storytelling goes back to the late 1980s; their first Oscar win came in 1985 when the American Undercover special Soldiers in Hiding won the Best Documentary Feature award, the first time it was bestowed to a pay cable service. Having hosted the then-surgeon general in their 1987 informative special, AIDS: Everything You and Your Family Need to Know…But Were Afraid to Ask, it’s not surprising HBO would help produce Epstein and Friedman’s Common Threads which won Best Documentary Feature at the 62nd Academy Awards, the year Driving Miss Daisy took Best Picture (how’s that for a double feature?). Common Threads continued the network’s commitment to mining urgent and contemporary social issues in their documentaries...

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Monday
Apr272015

Hot Docs "Best of Enemies"

Amir continues his coverage of Toronto's Hot Docs festival. Will he spot any future Oscar nominees?

It is hard to imagine today that there was once an America where political debates in the media were sensational, not just sensationalized. Harder yet is to envision a time when conservative political commentators weren’t complete buffoons, but rather eloquent, smart thinkers. That is exactly the time that Best of Enemies transports us to, Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville’s film about the televised debates leading up to the 1968 Republican and Democratic national conventions. ABC, then trailing as America’s third network and in search of a ratings boost, decided to pit two of the country’s most famous commentators against one another: the liberal Gore Vidal and the conservative William F. Buckley Jr. The two were known to dislike each other and their pairing on live TV was sure to cause a stir.

Their prediction proved to be correct when on the 8th night of a series of incendiary discussions, Buckley reacted to Vidal’s name-calling and being labeled a “crypto-Nazi” with a momentary burst of anger...

Now listen, you queer, stop calling me a crypto-Nazi or I’ll sock you in the face and you’ll stay plastered.”

 

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Friday
Apr242015

"Listen to Me Marlon"

The Hot Docs 2015 Film Festival started in Toronto yesterday. Our Canadian correspondent Amir is on hand to cover the proceedings.

The best film of last year’s Hot Docs festival was Robert Greene’s Actress, a rich and moving film about the life of The Wire’s Brandy Burre. It went on to become one of the most praised films of the year; and it’s easy to imagine the same level of acclaim for this year’s buzziest title at the festival, the similarly actor- centric Listen to Me Marlon. As the title suggests, British director Stevan Riley’s film is about Marlon Brando, and it defies any expectation one might have going into a documentary about a deceased actor.

That this film has been made is something of a miracle to begin with. Brando apparently recorded more than 200 hours of audiotapes about himself, of which none has been available to the public heretofore. Riley has been granted access to these by Brando’s estate and has assembled and edited them for the voice-over narration of his film. There is no new footage and no interviews shot for this film, only archival material from Brando’s performances, his television interviews and some behind the scenes footage and rare videos of his personal life. The result, a raw and immensely personal look at the actor’s life, is absolutely mesmerizing...

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Friday
Apr172015

Tribeca: Relating to "The Wolfpack"

The Tribeca Film Festival 2015 kicked off this week and we'll be bringing you our screening adventures. Here's special guest Joe Reid on a buzzy documentary...
 

I thought a lot about Yorgos Lanthimos' Dogtooth during Crystal Moselle's Sundance winning documentary The Wolfpack, now playing at the Tribeca Film Festival. How could I not? The Wolfpack tells the story of the Angulo family, including the seven siblings whose extreme home-schooling meant they were rarely permitted outside their modest Lower East Side apartment. That kind of forced isolation of children is always going to make me think of Lanthimos' dark comedy.

Knowing the premise, you might expect the Angulo kids to end up as warped as those kids in Dogtooth, but they're decidedly not. They speak about their unusual childhood with uncanny emotional intelligence and articulation. And the more you watch The Wolfpack, the more you might want to chalk it all up to the power of the movies.

The dynamite opening to the film sees the Angulo boys' filmed reenactment of Reservoir Dogs (1992), complete with costumes, props, and honestly? Some pretty decent line-readings. You immediately get a sense of how long the boys have had to perfect this production. It helps when you're never allowed to leave your home. These boys are no mere dabblers; they're movie fanatics, with hand-drawn movie art papering their walls; with lists at the ready ranking their personal favorites. They're shown transcribing Pulp Fiction, studying Blue Velvet, poring over Scream. I found myself leaning forward, relating so hard.

More...

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Friday
Apr102015

Interview: "Dior and I" Director. Film and Fashion Are More Connected Than You'd Think

Jose here to bring you and interview as the new documentary Dior and I opens in select theaters.

In April 2012, Raf Simons was announced as the new creative director at Christian Dior, fashion experts all over the world were surprised that they’d chosen a minimalist Belgian designer who up to then had mostly been known for his menswear, and when his first couture collection debuted, the house of Dior was once again giving people something to talk about, as Simons sought to pay tribute to the man whose “New Look” revolutionized fashion in the twentieth century. What few people knew was the behind-the-scenes drama that had the introverted Simons become the hero at the center of a thriller which had him try to deliver a couture collection in two months, as opposed to the six most designers are given to work with.

In his provocative documentary Dior and I, director Frédéric Tcheng gives us access to this exclusive world in which art and commerce are at constant odds with each other. Tcheng has amassed an admirable nonfiction filmography comprised of some of the greatest fashion films in recent years, he co-produced and edited the Oscar short-listed Valentino: The Last Emperor and co-directed the delicious Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel, but as he explained during our chat in New York City, he’s not interested in being “a fashion filmmaker”, but instead wants to tell compelling stories that transcend into the universal.

THE INTERVIEW

JOSE: Something that never becomes clear in the film is why he would agree to do the collection in eight weeks? Did you ask him about this?

FRÉDÉRIC TCHENG: (Laughs) I think the timing just happened to be that way, I’m not sure what was actually said at the meetings when they were negotiating his arrival, so I can’t speak for that. What I gather is that Dior wanted him to start with couture as a statement, not ready to wear, but couture, which happens only twice a year. Everyone was waiting for Dior to announce a new designer, and it took them almost a year to do it, so I don’t know what happened in those meeting rooms.

This time element gave you the tools to make a thriller! [More...]

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Wednesday
Apr082015

April Foolish Oscar Discussion: Animated Features

These two specialized categories can be perplexing from the outside, documentaries moreso, as to what is eligible, why it's eligible, and what motivates people to vote as they do. The official eligibility lists don't arrive until later in the year but for now on the new charts we'll add documentary titles as they make some kind of mark and we'll dive right into animated features, which apart from the foreign produced entries, are much easier to track.

Pixar vs Pixar this year?

This upcoming Oscar season, Walt Disney Studios Animation will be out of the mix after two consecutive wins. Their next features Zootopia and Moana, which both look quite promising, aren't due until March and November of 2016. To fill that giant vacuum, Pixar will likely come roaring back after an uncharacteristic absence last year with two titles Inside Out and The Good Dinosaur

But the contest that's most curious might not be a contest... at least in terms of Oscar. We have two features that are trading on collective international nostalgia for 2D classic properties: The Little Prince and Peanuts Movie. But they're both getting the CG or mixed media approach. That's not so odd since contemporary cinema loves to regurgitate and "update" (shudder) but what's unusual is that both films are clearly trying to mix the endearing flat linework and visual style of these beloved gems into newly three dimensional worlds. A safe bet: these films, particularly The Little Prince which looks "schizophrenic", will be divisive. 

Check out the charts! Which of these films are you most curious about and do you agree with the April Foolish guesswork?