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Oscar Horrors: Kathy Bates in Misery

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Entries in documentaries (220)


Interview: 'Fire at Sea' Director Gianfranco Rosi on Blurring the Line Between Documentaries and Fiction

Jose here. Gianfranco Rosi’s Fire at Sea, takes a look at the migrant crisis with completely new eyes. He creates a parallel narrative in which the dangerous journeys of migrants trying to arrive in Europe seem to go almost unnoticed by the people of the island of Lampedusa, where many of them meet their fates. The island vignettes, which pay tribute to the Sicilian lifestyle, mainly focus on the misadventures of Samuele, a little boy who spends his days playing with his slingshot, worrying about diseases he’s much too young to have, and admiring the sea, perhaps unaware of the nightmare it represents to the migrants’ struggle. Rosi doesn’t create a story of ironic contrast, instead he offers a snapshot of the world we live in, and invites us to reexamine our role in the world. The documentary won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival where Jury President Meryl Streep called it “urgent, necessary filmmaking”, it also went on to be selected as Italy’s entry for the Foreign Film Oscar.

As the film opens in New York, I sat down with Rosi to talk about his views on documentaries, storytelling and how the worlds of his films are interconnected.

JOSE: You spend years working on your films and shooting. How do you know when you have a story?

GIANFRANCO ROSI: When I start the film I never know which story I’ll end up doing. I start from something a very simple structure, there’s an island, migrants, this is what happens when migrants arrive, this is where they come from. I have a geometrical idea of what’s going on - when I have this idea of the place I look for elements and people who will become my protagonists...

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Doc Corner: Ava DuVernay's '13th' is Essential

by Glenn Dunks

Sometimes to be a film-lover is to question why we indulge in certain films. It’s a question we have no doubt all asked ourselves at one point or another after a particularly gruelling film. It would have been so much easier to just let it slip passed us and be content within our bubble. It would be easy to see 13th, for instance, the new documentary from Selma and Middle of Nowhere director Ava DuVernay, on our Netflix screens and think that it is not for us – that because we already see the world through a lens of equality without racism that it is not necessary viewing, that it is just preaching to the converted. Why spend 100 minutes feeling as if the weight of misery is bearing down on us?

But 13th is an essential viewing for everybody. It is essential for you and for myself. Essential for Americans and those outside its borders. Essential most of all for white people and black people and everybody else. That its subject and themes still bear immediate relevance make it so. But DuVernay’s best achievement with the thorough and the soulfully searching 13th isn’t that it is just a wake-up call for race relations in America right at this very moment, but that her film will no doubt prove to be invaluable in the understanding of America’s history of racism for years to come.

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Critics Choice Splinter Group Doc Prizes

You can't be both a feature film and a mini-series. Make up your mind! (Hopefully Oscar won't allow for shenanigans.)I don't think I got the memo from the Broadcast Film Critics Association this time. After fusing their TV awards into their movie awards like the Globes last season they're now separating out their doc prizes. I don't remember seeing a ballot. What's more they still haven't solved their loosey-goosey problems with pesky things like "categories." Somehow they've nominated O.J. Made in America for both Documentary Feature AND Documentary Limited Series. How can you be both things? Uff da. 

Nevertheless since Glenn has done such a fine job covering documentaries for us, it would be remiss not to note that we've already reviewed most of the nominees! The nominees in 13 categories (a silly abundance since many of the nominees repeat under different sub-categories) after the jump. Titles with links go to our reviews...

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Doc Corner: American Crime Stories in 'Tower' and 'The Witness' 

Consider this: half a century ago, among the first people in the modern history to be shot and killed by a mass gunman at an American school included a pregnant woman and her unborn baby, a Latino teenage delivery boy, and a father of six. These people and fourteen more were all victims of Charles Whitman who, after murdering his mother and his wife, took a collection of rifles and ammunition to the 27th floor of the main tower building at the University of Texas in Austin and for 96 minutes fired at anybody who moved on the ground below.

Now, consider this: after 49 years of guns being banned on campus, the state of Texas’ 2015 “open carry” laws mean anybody just like Whitman could walk onto the same space today that once saw so much blood spilled and who could argue? It seems absolutely baffling that the cite of what it known as America’s first mass school shooting is now going backwards in time along with the rest of the state (and the country?). How quickly some forget the people they pay lip service towards wanting to protect.

So it is appropriate then that Tower should come along to try and remind us of the tragedies of before and, however indirectly, the absurdities of today...

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NYFF: Uncle Howard & Brillo Box (3 ¢ off)

Here's Jason reporting from NYFF on two docs that deal with a younger generation being affected and influenced by the art dealings of their elders.

It seems like every other gay person that I meet has a gay aunt or uncle who informed their childhood in some way - I never did; the closest I got was a friend of my mother's who was whispered about as a weird bachelor type, but he was out of her life before I was born. But you remember such things, small weird whispers as they are, when they're your singular life-line to a big world actually existing out there where you can figure your own stuff out. 

I don't know or care if director Aaron Brookner is gay himself but you get the same sensation from watching Uncle Howard, his new documentary on his uncle, a film-maker who died at the age of 34 from AIDS - the thirst to eat up all he can about this fabulous person who lived a fabulous life in the margins of his own, and what that was like for him... 

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Doc Corner: Netflix's Big Oscar Push

A flurry of documentaries are having their premieres on Netflix and in their own way serve as glowing examples of the positives and the negatives of the streaming platform. Netflix made an impression very early in their life as original content providers; the Academy’s documentary branch has already warmed to their productions and acquisitions. They deserved the statue for The Square in 2012 (losing to music doc 20 Feet from Stardom), and proved their keen eye (and deep pockets) were no fluke with subsequent nominations for Virunga (losing to Citizenfour), What Happened Miss Simone?, and Winter on Fire (both losing to music doc Amy) 

This year it’s entirely feasible to imagine an Oscar line-up with five Netflix titles. I can't imagine the doc branch ever letting that happen, but they have the product and it’s looking entirely possible they could finally win in a memorable and game-changing first. But what about the films themselves: Into the Inferno, Amanda Knox, and Audrie & Daisie?

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NYFF - Abacus: Small Enough to Jail

Here's Jason reporting from the New York Film Festival with the latest doc from the director of Hoop Dreams.

At first Abacus: Small Enough to Fail plays like a game of chicken that director Steve James is playing with our sympathies - Bankers, the premiere villains of the 21st century, who might as well come with their own lightning strike and accompanying thunder-crack on the soundtrack, are here our Heroes. You'd be forgiven for spending the first act or so asking yourself, as the drama unfolds - am I really sympathizing with these people?

And James doesn't mess around, aiming straight for our sentimental jugulars...

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