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100 Best of the 21st Century?

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Entries in documentaries (207)


Doc Corner: Reality Bites in 'Kate Plays Christine'

Glenn here. Each Tuesday bringing you reviews of documentaries from theatres, festivals and on demand.

There is so much to unpack within Robert Greene’s Kate Plays Christine, not least of which is whether the film ought to be considered a documentary in the first place. Greene pushes the concept of documentary as a malleable construct that audiences should question the authenticity of much further than his previous 'non-fiction' work, Actress. This time by altogether abandoning reality, he calls into question everything we see in a documentary. By making the audience ask what is and is not real in Kate Plays Christine, Greene is essentially making us question what is real in any documentary and consider the motivations and mechanics behind them.

Audiences have no doubt asked these questions before in famously are-they-or-aren’t-they works of documentary like Catfish, Exit Through the Gift Shop, and even this year’s Tickled

But those films, traditional narratives regardless of their factuality, are nothing on Kate Plays Christine. An altogether hypnotic film in which actress Kate Lyn Sheil sets about studying the life of Christine Chubbuck for a strange, absurdly amateur feature film about the seemingly forgotten Floridian newscaster who shot herself live on air in 1974 seemingly in an act of desperation and contempt for how far television news had succumbed to the mantra of “if it bleeds it leads”...

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Stream This: No Country For Freddy's Happyness

I trust you're all Netflixing today to prepare for Hit Me With Your Best Shot: "The Get Down" tonight. We've missed Baz Luhrmann, haven't you? Netflix hasn't announced its September availabilities yet but here are a few things that just arrived as well as a few you'll need to watch quickly, if you have any desire, as they expire shortly. Let's freeze frame them at random places and see what turns up, shall we?


She will now lay her eggs - eggs with a truly remarkable destiny.

Flight of the Butterflies (2012)
That sounds uneccessarily dramatic, like it's a tagline for a butterfly blockbuster. This is, you guessed it, a documentary on butterflies. Pretty pretty.

(seven more movies after the jump)

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Doc Corner: Werner Herzog's 'Lo and Behold'

Glenn here. Each Tuesday bringing you reviews of documentaries from theatres, festivals and on demand.

The indefatigable German director Werner Herzog is an unlikely superstar of the modern age – a man responsible for some of the most singular cinematic visions of our time who has remodelled himself over the last two decades primarily as a documentarian. A filmmaker with a unique verbosity who can devour a metaphor and roll it across his tongue like he was twisting a cherry stem. His accent frequently inciting giggles when paired with subject matter that many feel is outside of the wheelhouse of a 73-year-old man like albino crocodiles, Kanye West, Pokemon, or as in the case of his latest film, Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World, the internet at large.

I confess that sometimes I struggle with Herzog’s need to narrate all of his documentaries himself. No doubt spurred on by producers and financiers who see the inherent value if having Herzog, a walking meme among content producers. I was not a fan of Cave of Forgotten Dreams, for instance, for many of the same reasons people adored it. His often long-winded and meandering habits don’t always connect with me as a viewer the way they no doubt do for so many others. And while I was thankful to see Herzog return to the world of non-fiction after the flat and dusty Queen of the Desert (still unreleased in America, unsurprisingly), his latest felt like it was more the product of an over-excited team rather than something organically Herzog. [more...]

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Doc Corner: A Russian Master Returns at MIFF Plus Frank Zappa and More

Glenn here. Each Tuesday reviews n documentaries from theatres, festivals, and on demand. This week four more from MIFF following last week's round-up.

The Event

One of Russian/Ukrainian cinema’s contemporary masters, Sergei Loznitsa, has a career that has successfully juggles both documentary traditional narrative cinema. His latest is The Event, a rather exceptional example of the artform that at just 74 minutes long nonetheless has the aura of an epic. Utilizing only black and white 35mm archival footage recorded in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) over the three days of the attempted coup d’etat that failed and eventually brought about the end of the U.S.S.R., The Event is a key reminder that for many in the world dictatorships, revolutions, and social revolt are issues of genuine life and death and not just something to tweet about online.

The found footage is of a remarkable quality, having been stored away for decades seemingly never to be seen since. While the images shown are filmed far away from the crisis happening in Moscow, they are still nonetheless fascinating to watch. This isn’t a film of violent confrontations like Loznitsa’s Maidan, rather it is one of bewilderment. A sea of faces descending on the public spaces of Leningrad to hear speeches, huddle around transistor radios, and read mass-distributed pamphlets that breed fear. Some of them are concerned, but many of them look simply nonplussed. Still, on screen they are rivetting. In the film’s best scene, a massive crowd stands in silence their hands in the air with peace signs, while in another a Soviet flag is drawn down over Parliament and replaced by the imperial tri-color one that flies still today albeit its colors faded by the black and white, a likely powerful statement by the Ukrainian-born Loznitsa to suggest in hindsight that just because one horror might be ending, doesn't mean another won't follow. Of course, they’re just two moments of many that make The Event a special film and with an occasional musical score courtesy of Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake”, a rousing and powerfully cinematic one, too.

An Australian gem, Frank Zappa, and lost videogames after the jump...

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Doc Corner: Guns, Nuts, and Celluloid at MIFF

Glenn here. Each Tuesday we bring you reviews and features on documentaries from theatres, festivals, and on demand. This week we are looking at three films from the Melbourne International Film Festival.


We will be looking at Keith Maitland’s Tower in the coming weeks, but the current boom of animated documentaries – we also saw Oscar nominated doc short Last Day of Freedom – reaches its most absurd and gleefully entertaining point with Nuts! A ridiculous story that finds a storytelling home in director Penny Lane’s fabulous criss-cross of animation, archival footage, and talking heads.

Like her last film, Our Nixon of which I had some issues, Nuts! highlights Lane’s canny ability to fish fascinating stories out of the archives and is her latest is a significant step forward creatively. Here, she is wise to use the animation technique to recreate the strange life story of Dr. John Romulus Brinkley and use it as a leaping off point for some wonderfully inventive renderings of the myths and the true stories about this very weird man who built an empire in the 1920s by conning a swath of men across America that surgically grafting goat’s testicles inside an impotent or infertile man’s scrotum would somehow improve their sexual prowess and to use his ahead-of-his-time knowledge of radio to expand his brand.

More on Nuts!, Oscar possibility Newtown, and A Flickering Truth after the jump...

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Doc Corner: 'Women He's Undressed' Reveals Hollywood Couture

Glenn here. Each Tuesday we bring you reviews and features on documentaries from theatres, festivals, and on demand.

Gillian Armstrong is nearly as prolific as a documentarian as she is a dramatic filmmaker. While the likes of her “Seven Years On” series (an Australian 7 Up), her Bob Dylan concert doc Hard to Handle, or the true crime murder mystery of an interior design queen in Unfolding Florence aren’t as well-known as her collaborations with Judy Davis, Cate Blanchett, Mel Gibson, and Winona Ryder, they are eclectic and passionate works nonetheless. As she said in her interview with Jose last year at Toronto, “there’s a different art to making documentaries” and unlike many other directors who split their time between mediums, her documentaries do feel distinctly unique from her other work and yet equally essential.

Her latest non-fiction work is Women He’s Undressed, a peek behind the velvet curtain at Orry-Kelly, a costume designer from Hollywood’s golden age. Armstrong posits that he is a virtual unknown – a claim a deliciously acidic Ann Roth, one of the doc’s more entertaining talking heads, doesn’t have a bar of – including in his home country of Australia. What we do know is that he was gay, secretly dated Cary Grant, Bette Davis was fiercely loyal to him, and that he had a hand in some the greatest films of all time from Casablanca to 42nd Street, An American in Paris to The Letter and many more. You don’t win three Academy Awards without being a little bit special!

[Jane Fonda, Marilyn Monroe's breasts and more...]

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Ava DuVernay Documentary to Open New York Film Festival 

by Murtada

The Fall Film Festivals (Venice, Toronto, Telluride, New York and London) are almost upon us. Or at least the announcements of their programmes are. TIFF announces next Tuesday, Venice at the end of of July. New York announced its opening night selection this week, Ava DuVernay’s The 13th, a documentary about the high incarceration rate, particularly of African Americans, in the United States.

The title refers to the constitutional amendment abolishing slavery:

Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States.”

The film mixes archival footage - from the civil rights movement, Ku Klux Klan to the Black Lives Matter movement - with modern day commentary to present the ramifications of the amendment and the history of racial inequality in the US. It’s an apt choice for all that’s unfolding in 2016. The 13th will be released in cinemas and on Netflix on October 7th.

Lupita Nyongo'o and Madina Nalwanga in Queen of Katwe

Meanwhile lists are also being made for what other movies will appear on the festival circuit. London will open with Amma Asante’s A United Kingdom, and Mira Nair’s Queen of Katwe will have its European premiere there, meaning it will debut somewhere on this side of the Atlantic first. Let’s speculate what else could play at New York, based on precedent that is arbitrary and will probably mean nothing in the end. But it’s fun to speculate:

• Damien Chazelle’s La La Land - this film, with the beloved trailer, will open Venice. Another Emma Stone film, Birdman, opened Venice and closed New York, it could happen again.

• Ang Lee’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk - because Life of Pi opened NYFF in 2012.

• Martin Scorsese's Silence - remember when Hugo started its Oscar campaign with a surprise screening in New York in 2011?

• Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals - the rumour is that it will play in competition at Venice. Come to New York soon after, Tom. We'd like to see Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal together in a movie, too.

• Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester By the Sea - there’s always a Sundance movie that makes it to NYFF, Whiplash and Brooklyn being the last two examples.

• Robert Zemeckis’ Allied - his last two films, The Walk and Flight, both played at NYFF before opening nationwide.

That's just a few titles, we will know much more in the next few weeks. Are you planning to attend any of the fall film festivals?