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Entries in documentaries (135)

Friday
Nov072014

Review: The Overnighters

[The Overnighters was recently longlisted as one of the 134 films in contention for this year's Best Documentary Feature Oscar. Here's Amir with his thoughts on the film.]

Jesse Moss spent more than a year in the North Dakotan town of Williston following a news story he had found about mass immigration to the oil rich area. When the practice of fracking began to turn the fortunes of the Midwestern state around after recession, thousands of men flocked there from all the around the U.S. in search of a new life. The sudden, unsustainable upsurge in population caused tensions to grow between the local residents and the itinerant workers, fuelled by reports of theft and sexual abuse that were alleged to be committed by the “overnighters”.

 In the midst of this, pastor Jay Reinke of the Concorida Lutheran Church is opening the doors of the church (and its parking lot) to these men and allowing them to sleep there at nights. His congregation feels uneasy about the presence of the nomads. The more reserved church members complain ostensibly about the mess and chaos left over by allowing more people in the small space than it was designed for, or bring up fire hazard issues. The more outspoken members mention the past records of the temporary workers, some with felony charges, others with their names listed on the sex offenders list.

Click to read more ...

Monday
Nov032014

134 Semi-Finalists for Best Documentary Feature

Whoopsy. I forgot to share this list... Herewith the films that could be up for Best Documentary Feature this year. We'll get a finalist of 15 at some point next month followed by 5 nominees in January "until we crown A WINNAH!" If we've reviewed the titles, you'll notice their pretty color which you can then click on to read about them. The magic of the internet. You can also see the animated and documentary Oscar charts here.

The 134 Semi-Finalists

A-C
Afternoon of a Faun: Tanaquil Le Clercq, Ai Weiwei: The Fake Case, Algorithms, Alive Inside, All You Need Is Love, Altina, America: Imagine the World without Her, American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs, Anita, Antarctica: A Year on Ice, Art and Craft, Awake: The Life of Yogananda, The Barefoot Artist, The Battered Bastards of Baseball, Before You Know It, Bitter Honey, Born to Fly: Elizabeth Streb vs. Gravity, Botso The Teacher from Tbilisi, Captivated The Trials of Pamela Smart, The Case against 8, Cesar’s Last Fast, Citizen Koch, CitizenFour, Code Black, Concerning Violence, The Culture High, Cyber-Seniors

D-F
DamNation, Dancing in Jaffa, Death Metal Angola, The Decent One, Dinosaur 13, Do You Know What My Name Is?, Documented, The Dog, E-Team, Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me, Elena, Evolution of a Criminal, Fed Up, Finding Fela, Finding Vivian Maier, Food Chains, The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden, Getting to the Nutcracker, Glen Campbell…I’ll Be Me, Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia, The Great Flood, The Great Invisible, The Green Prince, The Hacker Wars, The Hadza: Last of the First, Hanna Ranch, Happy Valley, The Hornet’s Nest

I-M
I Am Ali, If You Build It, The Immortalists, The Internet’s Own Boy, Ivory Tower, James Cameron’s Deepsea Challenge, Jodorowsky’s Dune, Journey of a Female Comic, Keep On Keepin’ On, Kids for Cash, The Kill Team, Korengal, La BareLast Days in Vietnam, Last Hijack, The Last Patrol, Levitated Mass, Life Itself, Little White Lie, Llyn Foulkes One Man Band, Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles, Manakamana, Merchants of Doubt, Mission Blue, Mistaken for Strangers, Mitt, Monk with a Camera, Nas: Time Is Illmatic, National Gallery, Next Goal Wins, Next Year Jerusalem, Night Will Fall, No Cameras Allowed, Now: In the Wings on a World Stage

O-R
Occupy the Farm, The Only Real Game, The Overnighters, Particle Fever, Pay 2 Play: Democracy’s High Stakes, Pelican Dreams, The Pleasures of Being Out of Step, Plot for Peace, Point and Shoot, Poverty Inc., Print the Legend, Private Violence, Pump, Rabindranath Tagore – The Poet of Eternity, Red Army, Remote Area Medical, Rich Hill, The Rule, The Salt of the Earth, Shadows from My Past, She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry, A Small Section of the World, Smiling through the Apocalypse – Esquire in the 60s, Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon, The Supreme Price

T-Z
Tales of the Grim Sleeper, Tanzania: A Journey Within, This Is Not a Ball, Thomas Keating: A Rising Tide of Silence, Through a Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People, True Son, 20,000 Days on Earth, Unclaimed, Under the Electric Sky, Underwater Dreams, Virunga, Waiting for August, Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago, Warsaw Uprising, Watchers of the Sky, Watermark, We Are the Giant, We Could Be King, Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger, A World Not Ours

IDA Nominees
Nominations were also recently announced for the International Documentary Association Awards and the IDA Nominees for Best Documentary Feature are all represented here: Finding Vivian Maier (also honored for its writing), Citizen Four, Point and Shoot, The Salt of the Earth, and Tales of the Grim Sleeper. Other films on this long list receiving IDA nominations in various categories are: Keep on Keepin' On (Humanitas Nominee), Last Days in  Vietnam (Best Editing), and two films honored for their compelling use of news footage (Captivated the Trial of Pamela Smart & Concerning Violence), and Evolution of a Criminal (Emerging Filmmaker Prize)

Absent from the List
I'm disappointed not to see Stray Dog from Debra Granik. The Possibilities are Endless which was just nominated for a BIFA today is also absent. But the real shockers are no Silvered Water: Syria Self Portrait or The Look of Silence, a sequel of sorts to Oscar nominee The Act of Killing, which have both received nothing but raves. But then again it's always desperately confusing as to when and why documentaries qualify for Oscars. Maybe we'll see them on next year's eligible list since some of the titles in the list above are over a year old?

Friday
Oct242014

Posterized: Best Documentary Winners of the Past 30 Years

THE TIME OF HARVEY MILK (1984), a true classic. Have you seen it?
If there's anything that makes me feel unsophisticated when it comes to the cinema it's my general relationship to documentaries. Like your average movie consumer (non cinephile division) I only see them if the subject matter interests me. If there were a narrative equation wouldn't that be "i'll only see this or that genre"? And ewww, that's not the way to be. Variety is always best when consuming art. Man cannot live by multi-quandrant blockbusters OR art films alone. 

Over the years as The Film Experience has expanded we've given more space to documentaries largely because Glenn & Amir are obsessed with them. So for today's Posterized, a special edition surveying the last 30 years of the Best Documentary Feature category. I went back that far because The Times of Harvey Milk (1984) is basically one of my favorite things that I've ever seen in my life and I wanted to know if YOU have seen it. I enjoyed Milk (2008) a lot when it came out but it was very deja vu since so much of it was in this great film.

Anyway, I'm taking an informal survey to gauge your interest in this type of movie (and it's adjacent Oscar category) in the comments so do tell. How many of these Oscar winners have you seen?  There's actually 31 of them in the past 30 years since there was one tie. I have only seen 10 which I am embarrassed to admit as an Oscar pundit but there it is. I am not a total completist each year. Most of these films are available on DVD still though sadly not many are streaming.

HOW MANY HAVE YOU SEEN?

Click to read more ...

Wednesday
Oct222014

Documentary Short Finalists: A Closer Look at This Oscar Crop

You can watch the Kehinde Wiley documentary here from PBSAs you may have heard, the finalist list for the Documentary Short Oscar has been announced. It is 8 films wide from which (presumably) 5 nominees will emerge though remember in the Aughts when it was usually 4 nominees which is so annoying. (Symmetry please, Oscar). Among those 8 films we have a few about illness (The Lions Mouth Opens, Joanna, Our Curse), one about the arts (Kehinde Wiley: An Economy of Grace) one environmental picture (White Earth) one picture Nathaniel will never be able to sit through because it's about slaughterhouses (The Reaper) which means he can't have a perfect Oscar record this year, and one about a natural disaster (One Child) which killed thousands but which focuses on three families.

The complete absence of World War II / Holocaust related docs will make your Oscar pool way harder this year. Sorry about it. Half the films are in English with Spanish, Chinese, and two from Poland filling the other half. You can read more about these films on the animation/documentary page which has been fully updated this morning with links to official sites and trailers.

For comparison's sake here are the trailers to Joanna and Our Curse. Get this: They're both about families dealing with incurable life-threatening illnesses, they're both from Poland, and they're both debut films from their directors Aneta Kopacz and Tomasz Sliwinski respectively

JOANNA by Aneta Kopacz - trailer for the short documentary (40') from Wajda Studio on Vimeo.

 

You can read more about the individual entries and where to watch the films or purchase them on the updated Animation & Documentary Oscar Chart 

Tuesday
Oct072014

NYFF: Telling Tales of the Grim Sleeper

Our NYFF coverage continues - here is Jason on the serial-killer documentary Tales of the Grim Sleeper.

As much as Tales of the Grim Sleeper is about telling the tales of the South Central Los Angeles based serial killer, who killed anywhere from ten to over a hundred women, presumed to be mostly drug addicts and prostitutes, over the course of twenty-plus years, Nick Broomfield's tremendously effective documentary slowly reveals itself to be more than these pieces - really its the very existence of these pieces, and the crew's ability to suss them out one after the other, that forms the true tale, which is one of a police department's indifference to the horrors being visited upon a poor, black community already destroyed by poverty, drugs and violence, and what those blind eyes have helped wreak.

Step back and look at what I just wrote to maybe assess some of the scope of the systemic failure on hand here - anywhere from ten to one hundred women. Over the course of twenty years. When Broomfield allows the doc's score to slide into subtle variations on the Psycho and Halloween theme music it's hard to decide if its the serial murderer or the black-hole absence of law-enforcement that's truly inspiring the horror show here. The wall that goes up from the LAPD is certainly far more frightening than any Michael Myers mask.

That's not to say that the Grim Sleeper himself - 57 year-old Lonnie David Franklin Jr. was arrested in 2010 and is still awaiting trial - is by any means let off the hook here. The film drops itself down into his skeptical community (literally using Google maps to fall right into its tree-less urban endlessness) in the wake of his arrest and picks away at their distrust (distrust of these white documentary film-makers, or of anyone showing concern really) to piece together the picture of a man very clearly capable of much awfulness. His neighbors and friends and eventually his victims, finally given a voice, have, whaddya know, an awful lot to say.

But Franklin's probable guilt (and the horrific details that we come to form that opinion with) is not so much what you walk away from the film with - it's the fact that nobody has been bothering to listen to these voices before now that haunts - the years and the bodies that have been allowed to pile up. The lasting mark that Tales of the Grim Sleeper reveals is that of the erasure of the basic humanity from an entire community, and the vacuum that leaves in its wake. The guardians have ignored their oaths - it is they who sleep, the gates unmanned, allowing these grim nightmares to take root.

Tuesday
Oct072014

NYFF: Debra Granik's 'Stray' Doc

New York Film Festival is in its final week and here is Glenn on Debra Granik's documentary 'Stray Dog'.

Debra Granik’s last film was nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award and catapulted its lead star into super-stardom. Naturally, she hasn’t made a film since. Just like Patty Jenkins, Kimberly Peirce, Courtney Hunt and more, it appears newfound success doesn’t necessarily breed an open door (or open checkbook) to future career possibilities for many female directors. We were recently talking about this in regards to Kimberly Reed, but artists tend to find a way to release their creativity, and so while Granik wasn't able (or at least hasn’t yet managed) to get adaptations of Russell Banks’ novel Rule of the Bone or a signposted HBO series off the ground, she has taken on the reigns of a documentary, a first for the Tennessee native.

Granik and her producing partner Anne Rosellini discovered the title character of Stray Dog, a Missouri-living biker and Vietnam veteran, when filming Winter’s Bone in 2009. Ronnie “Stray Dog” Hall looks imposing, but as Granik’s wonderfully quiet and observant documentary shows, he is a man with demons. Much like all the other men who returned from the Vietnam war and others like it, he can’t get the images of death and destruction out of his head. Throughout the film he and his friends all struggle to hold back tears – many unsuccessfully – as they recall the nightmarish visions they witnessed for the sake of their country (a country that shamefully doesn’t do its due diligence in helping them).

Material like this is rife with the possibility of condescension. The idea that highbrow audiences will be watching this film and marveling at how they never knew those motorbike-riding hicks from the flyover states could be so gosh-darn nice, entertaining and feel good. Luckily Granik’s film swerves away from that, never letting the material approach caricature or colorfully adding mocking stylistic affectations or local music to make a point that, lol, they have such adorable small town attitudes (another NYFF doc, Red Army about a Russian hockey team, does just that).

One of the film’s most interesting passages comes late in the runtime as Alicia, Ronnie’s Mexico-born wife, goes back home to fetch her two children to come back and live with them. The boys with the lack of English and expectations of California sun and palm trees as seen in the movies makes for a fascinating transition and I almost wish it hadn’t have arisen so late in the production and had allowed Granik to follow it further. However, the story of the boys is nicely juxtaposed to that of Stray Dog himself. All of them are grabbing at the American dream, but Ronnie has been doing it for decades, hoping to stop the horrors of war from squandering the life he’s been able to make for himself. B+

Monday
Oct062014

NYFF: Syria Plays Itself in 'Self-Portrait'

New York Film Festival is going strong and here is Glenn on one of the finest works of non-fiction at the fest.

A young boy named Omar walks through the rubble-strewn streets of Syria followed by a woman with a camera. He picks flowers, his eyes pop and at something as simple as the size of a plant’s leaves, and giggles as his inquisitive mind asks questions to his unseen follower. The boy then tells the woman with the camera that they shouldn’t go down a certain street because there are snipers down there. It is spoken with such nonchalance by the child that one might assume he’s just re-enacting dialogue from a computer game or perhaps a movie. Rather it's just an average day in the life of this child as he navigates his way through his hometown of Homs.

This is a moment, a very confronting one, from Silvered Water, Syria Self-Portrait and the woman with the camera is Wiam Bedirxan. She is a young Kurdish activist and school teacher trapped in her home-country under heavy fire and also the co-director of this rather exceptional documentary who worked in collaboration via Facebook, Gchat and Skype with the politically exiled Ossama Mohammed who had previously fled to France and made this movie by compiling video from a reported 1001 Syrians who filmed the deadly revolution of their country on mobile phones and with photographs, uploaded to the internet platforms like YouTube, effectively creating a patchwork of a self-portrait of this nation under siege.

The conceit is a brave one especially given the quality of many of the images – footage, especially early on, is taken by Syrian men and women on the run from bullets, shelling and blood-loss; in one scene somebody gives chase after their phone, constantly filming, is nabbed by a passerby only to turn a corner and discover the thief has been shot and killed – and yet it is one that entirely works. It’s perhaps crude and the boxy, mis-shapen, heavily pixilated footage is rough around the edges, but it’s that very personal take from the frontlines that makes the documentary work. The assemblage is captivating and paints a picture that feels both broad and intimate at the same time.

Punctuated by somewhat cryptic title-cards and interspersed with even-harder-to-watch footage of maimed felines and youths being tortured that should wrench tears even out of audiences who feel desensitized by the onslaught of grim Syrian news. I could have done without the familiar bubbling sound of Skype that appears increasingly in the film’s tail-end, but the way it presents a country at a terrible crossroads is fresh and unique, penetrating through the glut of war documentaries in much the same way as The Square (albeit less accessible – Netflix won’t be acquiring this one). B+

Silvered Water, Syria Self-Portrait screens on Wednesday Oct 8 (6.15pm)

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