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Entries in documentaries (128)


NYFF: From Russia with Love and 'Pomegranates'

New York Film Festival isn't just about the new. Here is Glenn on the restoration of Sergei Parajanov's 1968 avant-garde classic 'The Color of Pomegranates'.

Conversing at a bar last Friday night after the premiere NYFF screening of David Fincher’s Gone Girl, I mentioned to Nathaniel that I knew what shot I would choose for “Hit Me With Your Best Shot”. I’m not sure about you, but I frequently find myself attempting to work out what my selection would be when I watch a movie. As I’ve mentioned previously, I am very much into the visual and formal aspects of a film so whether it’s a cheap horror movie or a prestige epic my eyes attempt to scope these things out.

Which brings me to the restoration of Sergei Parajanov’s The Colour of Pomegranates (also known as Sayat Nova). This, quite frankly, is a film in which it would be impossible to find just one single piece of imagery to label the best.

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NYFF: The Look of Silence

The New York Film Festival begins this Friday, and here our pre-coverage continues with Jason taking on Joshua Oppenheimer's documentary The Look of Silence.

It was Winston Churchill who said that, "History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it." And so it's gone for as long as there has been war, or even just one caveman bonking another caveman on the head with a bone fragment a la the opening scenes of 2001 - to the winner goes the watering hole, the bragging rights, the spoils. Documentarian Joshua Oppenheimer smells those spoils, and they stink.

The Look of Silence follows up on the promise of Oppenheimer's brilliant 2012 documentary The Act of Killing with devastating precision - where that first film took a long strange trip past some surreal dance routines slash murder reenactments performed by those on the "winning" side of history after the 1965 Indonesian genocide, Silence trains its eye on those left devastated in the wake of that original horror, those who continue to live under the thumb - much is made of how these people are neighbors, seeing each other every day - of those in power who now gleefully recount the atrocities, ones which viewed backwards through the lens of rose-colored self-righteousness and propaganda seem, to them, to be patriotism, heroism.

Oppenheimer picks at the scab of scarcely buried history - a "wound" is continually referred to, and he makes you feel as if the muddy floor of the jungle might flood open with gore at any moment. These villages seem wet with it - brown rivers run buoyed with invisible bodies, ghosts heavy and thick in the air like electrical storms. The victors can sense it too; they swat at the camera's insinuations like there's a cloud of gnats too small for us to see, their lips tremble, and as the rumbling in their bellies uneases them they try to squirm their way free - they're proud of their accomplishments until the script flips and they suddenly feel looked upon, and after that it's a torrent of equivocations: "I wasn't the one in charge," "I was just doing my duty," and on.

As with The Act of Killing, The Look of Silence feels extraordinary to even exist, especially in a day and age such as this where we can't really wrap our minds around people (especially politicians) not ten sentences and head-nods ahead of how they're coming off - but then, why should these men care? They won, at whatever cost - like mankind in God's image, like a rib torn from Adam to craft Eve, the past was molded and built by the beat of their bloodied knuckles. It is written.

At one point the daughter of one of the murderers illustrates this generational gap - the way the reality of the past has been sanded down with willful and precise misrepresentation - and as we watch her resolve shake upon hearing the truth what he father's heroism really consisted of it's as potent as a tidal wave. These people are neighbors alright, but only some of them seem to know their houses are build upon fields of blood and bones and unaccounted-for barbarism. And those who know, they watch and they wait, hoping someone - an Old Testament God seems as if not more likely than an American documentary filmmaker - will give voice, and vision, to their pain.


The Look of Silence screens at NYFF on Tuesday September 30th at 6:30pm and on Wednesday October 1st at 9pm.


NYFF: Ethan Hawke Introduces 'Seymour'

The New York Film Festival begins this Friday and Glenn continues our pre-fest coverage by looking at 'Seymour: An Introduction'.

It’s curious that Ethan Hawke has appeared on screen this year with Richard Linklater’s Boyhood and now returns behind the camera (after Chelsea Walls and The Hottest State) to direct Seymour: An Introduction. Curious because both films get their life-source from demographics at opposite ends of the age spectrum that are both treated somewhat like lepers of cinema. Teenage boys in Boyhood and kindly old senior citizens aren’t usually treated with such respect and humility as these two Hawke projects. I have not seen Hawke's two previous directorial efforts, but this first foray into documentary is a nice step for this Hollywood stay who has clearly wrestled with being an artist in an industry that doesn't necessary encourage it.

Having said that, this “introduction” to the 86-year-old (I hope I am remembering the age correctly as information about it appears non-existent online) suffers from, perhaps, too much of a need to be charming, rarely digging deep enough into this man’s life to eke out a portrait of lasting relevance. Seymour: An Introduction is nice and lovely and 80 minutes spent with delightful company, but while Hawke flirts with finding something deeper within the renowned pianist’s history to delve into – a brief snipped mentions he has lived alone in the same apartment for 57 years; he begins to tear up at recalling his days performing for troops in Korea – they are shortlived.

Hawke instead prefers to keep his film predominantly observational to his life as it stands today. He tutors students of various ages, performs open-to-the-public masterclasses (which are the film’s highlights), goes for tea at Tipsy Parson café on 9th Avenue, and extols wisdom with bonmots such as “without craft there is no artistry” and “if you feel inadequate as a musician, then you’ll feel inadequate as a person.” His observations about classical music, particularly as it pertains to one’s own personality including the masculinity of Pollock, Brando and Beethoven, are enlightening. So, too, are the occasional memory lane throwbacks to other famed pianists like Glenn Gould and Sir Clifford Curzon.

Bernstein and Hawke after the screening

Hawke does appear on screen, briefly early on and then again towards the end where he introduces Bernstein’s return to public performance (he had given it up many decades ago after a well-reviewed performance at Alice Tully Hall nearly crippled him with nerves and doubt about the industry’s integrity) to a small group of pupils and recognizable faces (Mark Ruffalo can be seen in the crowd, but don’t blink or you’ll miss it). In another way that it plays as an opposite of Boyhood, Seymour: An Introduction settles for telling the story of one man rather than hoping to tell a story of more wider-reaching grasp and I think the film certainly could have benefited perhaps from more exploration of the Upper West Side's role in the forming of these prodigal talents as well more insight into Bernstein's place amongst modern musicians from people who aren't his friends or students. I just wish the film had a bit more meat on its bones to make it a more memorable introduction. B-


Seymour: An Introduction screens on Saturday Sep 27 (12pm) and Monday Sep 29 (9pm). NYFF will also host "An Evening with Ethan Hawke" on Tuesday Sep 30 (6pm).


Stage Door: 'As One' by Kimberly Reed

Glenn here to discuss the latest excursion to the live stage.

It can be easy to bemoan the fate that befalls many female filmmakers. Lord knows I have often found myself lamenting the post breakthrough careers of the likes of Patty Jenkins, Courtney Hunt and others. Those filmmakers for whom a great early work somehow doesn’t permit them the same carte blanche movie projects as male directors like, for example, Marc Webb who got The Amazing Spider-Man off the back of a slight, but popular romantic comedy whereas Kimberly Peirce won her star an Oscar for Boys Don’t Cry and yet it took nine years for a follow-up. Still, as frustrating as it must be to them and to moviegoers when (I assume) financing doesn’t come to them quite as quickly or as robustly as it might another, we thankfully live in a society that doesn’t mean they have to sit around idly letting their creative juices stop flowing. One of the benefits of the expanding TV universe, for instance, is a greater opportunity for female directors like Jodie Foster, an Emmy nominee for directing an episode of Orange is the New Black, and Jennifer Lynch, for whom Teen Wolf and Psych have allowed more opportunities than film ever has.

This is basically a far too long roundabout way of getting to Kimberly Reed, the director of the fantastic 2008 documentary Prodigal Sons. That film’s autobiographical nature wherein Reed documented her small town high school reunion having since transitioned only to then be simultaneously confronted by the realization that her adopted brother is the biological grandson of Hollywood royalty was perhaps suggesting that film wasn’t always the direction she wanted to take her career. Yet it was an exceptionally good movie, and one that deserved to breed a wider voice for Reed and issues of transgender (six years later and it has finally reached the mainstream). For what it’s worth, I only cottoned on to to Prodigal Sons after having read about on The Film Experience.

While I am unaware of what Reed has been doing in the intervening years, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that she was one of the names behind As One, an intimate chamber opera that played this past weekend at BAM in Brooklyn. Many artists will find any means necessary to tell the stories that are inside them and whether Reed had a hard go of it getting a second film off the ground or not, the emergence of her point of view in any creative outlet is something to cherish.

More after the jump...

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'Common Threads', and Oscar's History with LGBT Documentaries

Today is Wear It Purple Day, which asks people to simply wear the color purple in support of LGBT equality. It's appropriate then that we continue our celebration of 1989 today with a look at that year's Oscar winner for Best Documentary. Glenn is joined in a conversation by friend of The Film Experience and doco-expert Daniel Walber, writer for Nonfics and Film School Rejects.

Glenn: Daniel, thank you for joining us. While I would obviously love to hear your thoughts on the film, I think I would be just as interested to hear about how well you think Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt sits amongst Oscar's documentary history. So few films about gay issues have even been nominated, yet alone won (the only other winner of its kind is The Times of Harvey Milk, also by Rob Epstein), but does Common Threads hold up as a winner? And furthermore, given just one year later they ignored Paris is Burning, does it strike you as just a case of voters simply going for a subject matter that they felt was Important and Worthy rather than any genuine interest in LGBT issues?

Daniel: That's a fascinating question. I'm not sure a movie with the precise scope and loose style of Paris Is Burning would have appealed to the Academy no matter what it was about. They didn't go for Grey Gardens either. Common Threads was definitely helped by the gravity and capital-I Importance of its subject, but I also think it holds up well as a film. Epstein knows what he’s doing, and this one has just as powerful an emotional arc as Harvey Milk. The device of zooming in on panels of the quilt to introduce stories feels a tad schlocky at first, particularly with the Bobby McFerrin music underneath, but it wasn’t long before I was won over by its genuine affection and understanding for its subjects. Perhaps there’s some consternation that it beat For All Mankind [for the Oscar], which I know still has a great reputation (I haven’t seen it), but I do think Common Threads deserved the attention.

How to Survive a Plague, The Celluloid Closet and Film vs TV after the jump.

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I went to a ball.

I got a trophy.

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