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Entries in documentaries (245)

Tuesday
Oct112016

Doc Corner: American Crime Stories in 'Tower' and 'The Witness' 

Consider this: half a century ago, among the first people in the modern history to be shot and killed by a mass gunman at an American school included a pregnant woman and her unborn baby, a Latino teenage delivery boy, and a father of six. These people and fourteen more were all victims of Charles Whitman who, after murdering his mother and his wife, took a collection of rifles and ammunition to the 27th floor of the main tower building at the University of Texas in Austin and for 96 minutes fired at anybody who moved on the ground below.

Now, consider this: after 49 years of guns being banned on campus, the state of Texas’ 2015 “open carry” laws mean anybody just like Whitman could walk onto the same space today that once saw so much blood spilled and who could argue? It seems absolutely baffling that the cite of what it known as America’s first mass school shooting is now going backwards in time along with the rest of the state (and the country?). How quickly some forget the people they pay lip service towards wanting to protect.

So it is appropriate then that Tower should come along to try and remind us of the tragedies of before and, however indirectly, the absurdities of today...

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Thursday
Oct062016

NYFF: Uncle Howard & Brillo Box (3 ¢ off)

Here's Jason reporting from NYFF on two docs that deal with a younger generation being affected and influenced by the art dealings of their elders.

It seems like every other gay person that I meet has a gay aunt or uncle who informed their childhood in some way - I never did; the closest I got was a friend of my mother's who was whispered about as a weird bachelor type, but he was out of her life before I was born. But you remember such things, small weird whispers as they are, when they're your singular life-line to a big world actually existing out there where you can figure your own stuff out. 

I don't know or care if director Aaron Brookner is gay himself but you get the same sensation from watching Uncle Howard, his new documentary on his uncle, a film-maker who died at the age of 34 from AIDS - the thirst to eat up all he can about this fabulous person who lived a fabulous life in the margins of his own, and what that was like for him... 

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Tuesday
Oct042016

Doc Corner: Netflix's Big Oscar Push

A flurry of documentaries are having their premieres on Netflix and in their own way serve as glowing examples of the positives and the negatives of the streaming platform. Netflix made an impression very early in their life as original content providers; the Academy’s documentary branch has already warmed to their productions and acquisitions. They deserved the statue for The Square in 2012 (losing to music doc 20 Feet from Stardom), and proved their keen eye (and deep pockets) were no fluke with subsequent nominations for Virunga (losing to Citizenfour), What Happened Miss Simone?, and Winter on Fire (both losing to music doc Amy) 

This year it’s entirely feasible to imagine an Oscar line-up with five Netflix titles. I can't imagine the doc branch ever letting that happen, but they have the product and it’s looking entirely possible they could finally win in a memorable and game-changing first. But what about the films themselves: Into the Inferno, Amanda Knox, and Audrie & Daisie?

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Wednesday
Sep282016

NYFF - Abacus: Small Enough to Jail

Here's Jason reporting from the New York Film Festival with the latest doc from the director of Hoop Dreams.

At first Abacus: Small Enough to Fail plays like a game of chicken that director Steve James is playing with our sympathies - Bankers, the premiere villains of the 21st century, who might as well come with their own lightning strike and accompanying thunder-crack on the soundtrack, are here our Heroes. You'd be forgiven for spending the first act or so asking yourself, as the drama unfolds - am I really sympathizing with these people?

And James doesn't mess around, aiming straight for our sentimental jugulars...

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Tuesday
Sep272016

Doc Corner: Two Films Highlight the Outrageous and the Tragic of North Korea

Films about North Korea have an unfair advantage. The country is one of such baffling oddness that films told about it are often either tragic or outrageous, two extremes that make for memorable viewing. On the other hand, the nature of North Korea’s political situation means few films are indeed made about it. Titles like Solrun Hoaas’ Pyongyang Diaries in which the Australian filmmaker ventured to a North Korean film festival and gave us a glimpse of what it means to be a traveller in this land of fake smiles and concrete, and the giddy delight of Anna Broinowski’s Aim High in Creation in which she travels to North Korea to learn how to make propaganda films from the makers themselves.

This year we can add two more entertaining docs. Both are full of surprises that beggar belief at seemingly every turn: The Lovers and the Despot and Under the Sun

The former from directors Ross Adam and Robert Cannan is the most accessible of the pair; an espionage documentary about husband and wife filmmakers who were kidnapped by North Korea and forced to make movies for the country’s dictator leader before their brazen escape from the clutches of Kim Jong-il. Yeah, I know!

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Tuesday
Sep272016

Ava DuVernay's "The 13th" Gets A Trailer

NYFF is about to officially kick off this Friday, and one of the festival's biggest question marks is Ava DuVernay's documentary The 13th. The opening night selection explores our current prison-for-profit system's exploitation of African Americans and its ties to the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery except under terms of punishment for crimes. The festival was something of a surprise opener for the fest (and rare doc to do so) and here is our first glimpse of what DuVernay has in store for us:

Expect an expansive and passionate timely critique from one of out most vital filmmakers. What's more is that you won't have to wait much time past its debut to see it if you're not lucky enough to attend - Netflix will make the film available to stream October 7 as well as giving it a limited theatrical run. Netflix has had some luck breaking through in the Documentary Feature race at the Oscars, so we'll also be waiting to see if DuVernay's added cache could make it a contender this year.

Tuesday
Sep202016

Doc Corner: Nick Cave and The Beatles Show Mixed Musical Results

Thankfully for us, Nick Cave is not a musician who is easily distilled into a formula blueprint. He isn’t an artist who is easy to pigeonhole and that means anybody who attempts to make a film about him is forced to think outside of the box. Consider 20,000 Days on Earth in which Cave celebrated his 20,000th day of living by driving around with friends like Kylie Minogue and Ray Winstone. That film, partly fictionalized, was only two years ago so if it feels somewhat excessive to have another Nick Cave documentary so soon then the circumstances around Cave’s life since then mean a lot has changed since his 20,000th day on Earth that has dramatically altered him.

One More Time with Feeling is directed by Cave’s friend Andrew Dominik who Cave had worked with on The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Like that film, this is another wholly singular film, the pairing of the two proving to bear the most unique of fruits. Initial sequences suggest that this is going to be a slog of a documentary, the pairing of famous director not known for documentary filmmaking and a famous subject who many filmmakers might just feel the need to point a camera at and shoot and feel as if their work is done.

That is blessedly not the case.

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