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Foxcatcher: Carrell's fake schnoz and affected speaking voice could be VERY problematic over the course of a feature film, but this is a terrific teaser and Tatum in a singlet assuages many other concerns. This is a big yes too.❞ - Roark

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Entries in documentaries (81)


NYFF: 'Manakamana' and 'Costa da Morte'

The New York Film Festival (Sept. 27-Oct 14) is in its last few days; here's Glenn's thoughts on Manakamana and Costa de Morte.

I admire the NYFF’s commitment to what they deem the “avant-garde”. Extensive programming in this sidebar make it a rarity amongst modern high profile festivals. NYFF features no “midnight madness” section for horror, and comedies were few and far between, but if you’re interested in movies that the general public consider “boring” and “strange” then NYFF is for you. I unfortunately did not get to catch more than a very small sampling, but what I did manage to see was enticing and illuminating.

Two of these that make a compelling double feature are Manakamana and Costa da Morte? Both are very sparingly shot examinations of a natural landscape that has likely never seen before by most western audiences. The former, isn't actually a part from the avant-garde showcase, although it really ought to be, comes from the Sensory Ethnography Lab, responsible for such daring and captivating cinema as Sweetgrass and this year’s Leviathan. From directors Stephanie Spay and Pacho Velez, Manakamana lacks the immediate gut-punch reaction that those other two had. It works more or less like an omnibus film, featuring eleven mini-films taken from within the cablecars that take worshippers to the titular mountaintop temple.

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Documentaries: Officially Too Much of a Good Thing?

Glenn here. After decades of trying to attain the same critical and cultural awareness as feature films, it appears documentaries are now suffering from a case of too much of a good thing. We’re in a day and age where documentaries are so common that it’s impossible for the Academy’s documentary branch to keep up. Apparently 151 docos have been submitted - an average of three a week! - for this year’s Oscars and just like Diane Keaton, something’s gotta give. 

Last year the Academy set up a secret online forum of sorts for documentary branchmembers so they could post recommendations of titles to help whittle down the number of contenders. “Nobody’s recommended that anthopological documentary about North Atlantic fishermen? Fine, I’ll just watch Blackfish.” I like the idea in concept, but Leviathan was highly acclaimed so what then? Admittedly, it would be nice if they devised a year-round system that didn't require voters to watch a glut of 150 films in just a few months. It certainly can't be doing the films any favours. And yet they’ve fought hard for docos to get cinema releases and to have a prominent place at the Oscars and in the general discussion of film so, really, maybe they shouldn’t be complaining?

I can’t imagine this year’s mystery Oscar forum ignoring the likes of Sarah Polley's Stories We Tell (already shipped to voters), Gabriela Cowperthwaite's Blackfish, music docos like Morgan Neville's Twenty Feet from Stardom (the year's highest grossing non-comedy/pop concert doc) and Greg Camalier's Muscle Shoals, Joshua Oppenheimer's controversial The Act of Killing, Teller's Tim's Vermeer, American Promise by Joe Brewster and Michele Stephenson (reviewed at NYFF), Martha Shane & Lana Wilson's After Tiller, Alex Gibney's The Armstrong Lie, Eroll Morris' The Unknown Known, Rick Rowley's Dirty Wars, Zachary Heinzerling's Cutie and the Boxer and Roger Ross Williams' God Loves Uganda to name a bunch. It is too much to ask they check out the four-hour At Berkeley? See how great this category is nowadays? This branch has the exact opposite problem to the animated film category!

It's easy to assume certain titles they won't pay attention to at all, but which audiences should be adviced to seek out. They're rarely attracted to cinematic figure fronted docs like Sophie Huber's Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction, Jeffrey Schwarz's I Am Divine or Rodney Ascher's Room 237 about Stanley Kubrick's The Shining.. Nor do they care for the many niche fashion docos that are released every year like Matthew Miele's Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf's or Fabien Constant's Mademoiselle C. How about festival hits, the eligibility of which remains in limbo with us until a formal list is announced. There's Stephen Silha, Eric Slade & Dawn Logsdon's Big Joy: The Adventures of James Broughton, Jehane Noujaim's The Sqaure (reviewed at NYFF) and Rathy Panh's astonishing The Missing Picture, which will also compete for Cambodia in the foreign language category. 

I could go on and on. These were just the high profile titles. Then there are the small titles that inevitably weasel their way into the category based on the strength of their filmmaking. Remember the Weinstein’s won for Undefeated despite it making little impact at the box office. Are you looking forward to this year's documentary race? I think it's always going to be exciting when there are so many high profile, high quality efforts. I expect the critics prizes are going to go fairly evenly between Stories We Tell and The Act of Killing, but what are your favourites of 2013 so far?

Furthermore, the Academy have announced the eight documentary shorts that will compete at next year's awards. They are:

  • CaveDigger, Karoffilms
  • Facing Fear, Jason Cohen Productions, LLC
  • Jujitsu-ing Reality, Sobini Films
  • Karama Has No Walls, Hot Spot Films
  • The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life, Reed Entertainment
  • Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall, Prison Terminal LLC
  • Recollections, notrac productions
  • SLOMO, Big Young Films and Runaway Films

Any eagle-eyed readers seen either of them?


NYFF: A Dog Day of a Documentary in 'The Dog'

NYFF moves into its final week Here's Glenn on The Dog.

Whether you watched Dog Day Afternoon for the first time or the tenth when The Film Experience’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” series featured it one year ago, you can surely attest to it being one helluva movie. I recently caught it on the big screen and, boy, does it slay audiences. It’s always refreshing to see a film go over so well from a genre that looks comparatively tame compared to modern day equivalents. Shots remain unedited for minutes and yet the action and the tension are palpable.

Now, even if you’ve never seen Sidney Lumet’s 1975 masterpiece then it’s still hard to deny that the true life story was seemingly made for movies...

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NYFF: An Education with 'At Berkeley' and 'American Promise'

51st New York Film Festival (Sep 27-Oct 14). Here's Glenn discussing At Berkeley and American Promise.

As an Australian living in America I have had to watch quite a few movies set in US schools. Frivolous comedies or hard-hitting dramas and everything in between and I still find a lot of it entirely baffling. At this year’s NYFF I have been able to get a couple of very comprehensive looks at the system thanks to doco legend Frederick Wiseman’s At Berkeley and American Promise from husband and wife filmmaking team Joe Brewster and Michele Stephenson. Together they provide an illuminating look at the American education system from kindergarten right on through to college. As they should since together they total a gargantuan six hours!

The 83-year-old Wiseman isn’t exactly shy of long runtimes, but even compared to the recent 134-minute Crazy Horse and 159-minute La Danse his latest is quite an effort.

At a smidgen over four hours, At Berkeley is certainly comprehensive...

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NYFF Must-See: "The Square"

TFE's 51st New York Film Festival (Sep 27-Oct 14) continues with Jose discussing The Square.


Jehane Noujaim's The Square is one of those rare movies that provoke physical reactions in their audiences. Watching it in a pretty much packed room, it was strange to listen to gasps, "ohmygod"s and clenching teeth in the darkness. All of these reactions were caused by brutal images of torture and violence in which we see regular people being deprived of their freedom, their dignity and even their lives. Noujaim's documentary is a chronicle of the occupation of Tahrir Square in Cairo as seen through the eyes of key players of the revolution including a young idealist, a member of the controversial Muslim Brotherhood, a folk singer and actor Khalid Abdalla (The Kite Runner, United 93).

The filmmaker takes us through the most significant moments of the uprising and we see how with the people's sheer will and persistence three regimes are overthrown within less than a year. Noujaim cleverly structures the film so that more than being a journalistic piece, it also works as a seamless drama. "As long as there's a camera the revolution will continue" says one of the main character and we see some of the characters change political positions, suffer horribly at the hands of the military and even become enemies of sorts once they discover what might be the film's most shattering revelation: that in the end it's always the people fighting each other.

Having grown up in one of the few countries in the American continent where coups still occur, The Square hit perhaps a little too close to home; where I ought to have been inspired, I was sadly reminded that democratic changes often take decades to finalize. The film as such is a rousing call to action that ought to intimidate totalitarian regimes by simply reminding them that people will fight for what they believe in.  For me personally, it was a bittersweet experience that lifted my spirit, brought it back down and then sent me home complete pissed off. This is what political cinema should be about, right?

The Square won the Audience Awards at the Sundance and Toronto Film Festivals. It plays exclusively on 10/03 and it's a true must-see.  

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