Oscar History

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Entries in documentaries (296)


Doc Corner: The Awe and Wonder of 'The Farthest'

by Glenn Dunks

There is a reason that filmmakers keep going back to space. The very concept of an ever-expansive mass of significant nothingness can inspire the mind in infinite ways. But whereas for many, the immediate idea is to resort to fireballs, aliens and standard hero versus villain storylines, I find myself far more attracted to those who turn towards the stars with a sense of wonder and awe. It is perhaps why I respond so well to documentaries like Roman Kroitor and Colin Low’s Universe (the short that inspired Kubrick’s 2001), Al Reinert’s For All Mankind, and now Emer Reynolds’ The Farthest, one of the year's finest.

Celebrating the 40-year anniversary of NASA’s 1977 mission to send two Voyager satellites into space, this Irish documentary is a work of stunning beauty. A film that grapples with the concept of not just what this giant science experiment is, but what it means to us, to the Earth, and to the very idea of humanity. It’s also just a whole lot of wide-eyed fun, a scintillating journey through the galaxy that is as illuminating as it is exciting...

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Doc Corner: 'Whose Streets?'

It has been 25 years since the L.A. riots, an overflowing of racial unrest spurred on by the not guilty verdicts of the police officers charged in the beating of Rodney King. To mark the anniversary, there have been a number of documentaries about it including L.A. 92 and Burn, Motherf*cker, Burn! – unfortunately uncovered by The Film Experience due to access issues. It would be sad enough to watch Sabaah Folayan and co-director Damon Davis’ Whose Streets? in the shadow of that event; a sad indictment that in a quarter of century not much of anything has changed.

However, I sat down to watch this film last night, my digital screener playing in one tab of my internet browser while in another sits a news article about the Charlottesville protests, while in another is Twitter and in another Facebook, both flooded with angry, sad and hopeless words by friends and strangers (some call it a liberal leftist bubble, I call it an oasis) alike not entirely capable of reconciling the fact that actual Nazis have not just made a cultural comeback, but that they have done so with more political and police approval than the Black Lives Matter movement has ever been granted.

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Doc Corner: 'Machines'

Rahul Jain’s Machines is definitely a case of quality over quantity. At only 70 minutes long, you would hope it is. This often medatative experience is a glimpse inside the little-seen world of the Indian textile industry, albeit one that never hides the grim realities. It makes stunning use of Rodrigo Trejo Villanueva’s camera, which captures images of striking colour explosions juxtaposed against the soot and the decay of a factory in India’s Gujarat region where workers stave off sleep across 12-hour shifts for $3 a day.

Machines’ title referring to both the steel and metal machines that hum and rattle throughout the confined factory as well as the human machines who operate them, working like wind-up toys performing the same robotic, repetitive movements over and over and over again. We see the detail that goes into producing the fabrics that clothe one billion people including the almost rhythmic process of production where colours are produced by hand and patterns are printed with uniform sameness. The eye can’t look away from an endlessly watchable parade of shots in which reels and ribbons of fabrics of all colours (including one stunning shot of a marigold fabric that is so divine I gasped) are spun out of elaborate contraptions that we might associate more with a printing press for a newspaper.

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Doc Corner: Three Music Docs Cover A Century of American Culture

by Glenn Dunks

As Madonna once opined, music makes the people come together! There's literally centuries of the stuff to cover so it's little surprise we get a lot of documentaries on the subject - and we didn't even get to cover the four-hour Grateful Dead doc from earlier in the year, and who knows if we'll get to cover Chavela, Tokyo Idols, Give Me Future: Major Lazor in Cuba, G-Funk, The Go-Betweens: Right Here, Revolution of Sound: Tangerine Dream or any of the others that are fluttering around the festival and VOD circuit.

So this week rather than just covering one, I'm looking at three!


The history and influence of Native Americans in music is explored by director Catherine Bainbridge and co-director Alfonso Maiorana in Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World. Taking its name in part from Link Wray’s famed 1958 instrumental (the only of its kind to be banned), it is perhaps easy to align the films with other popular music history docs such as 20 Feet From Stardom and Waiting for Sugarman, but doing so only highlight this new feature’s shortcomings.

More Rumble + East Bay punk and the woman who made the sounds of '80s after the jump...

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Doc Corner: 'An Inconvenient Sequel' and 'Chasing Coral'

Davis Guggenheim’s An Inconvenient Truth was a brilliantly effective work of agitprop. It pushed Al Gore’s pet climate change cause into the cultural stratosphere and won two Academy Awards for the effort. Of course, one’s mileage with it as a good film or not likely depends on whether you consider good intentions as Oscar worthy. I personally don't care for the movie, and could easily list a dozen documentaries from 2006 worthier of the Oscar. Not the mention dozens of enviro-docs that are worthier of your time.

Still, despite this, I do not necessarily begrudge Guggenheim his Oscar (remember, Gore did not get a statue – something a right-wing commentator mistakes in the opening passages of this sequel). There is something to said about a film, documentary or not, that makes an audience feel and become as impassioned about as subject like this one did. It's just particularly frustrating with Truth given the inherently fascinating subject that inspires so many critical and scientific paths and which took the easiest and most pedestrian path.

Which brings us to a rare documentary sequel...

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Doc Corner: 'City of Ghosts'

Consider it the Spider-Man: Homecoming effect. One of the smartest things that director Matthew Heineman does in his film City of Ghosts is do away with any sort of Syrian primer for the audience. Far too many movies do not trust their audience to already know a thing or two about the subject at hand and in this documentary, ostensibly about the Syrian citizen journalist group Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently (RBSS), knows that we already have the basic gist of this conflict filed away and instead dives right into its story.

Like I said, it’s a smart move, and one that already marks this as an improvement over the director’s last film, the Oscar-nominated, but sloppy Cartel Land. Still, while it does indeed have a keener focus on the subject at hand, the frustrating elements of that earlier film nonetheless remain in Heineman’s repertoire.

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