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Entries in documentaries (133)

Thursday
Nov132014

Foreign Submission Review: Panama's "Invasion"

Here's Jose to look at the first Oscar submission ever from Panama. They sent a documentary.



On the early morning of December 20, 1989, the United States invaded Panama. Under code-name Operation Just Cause, the US deposed de-facto leader Manuel Noriega and president-elect Guillermo Endara was sworn into office. Setting a precedent of inexplicable, unjustified foreign invasions under the command of presidents named George Bush, the Panama intervention was notorious for its lack of transparency; while US officials set the casualties tally at 500, local records report up to 7,000 civilians and soldiers who were never heard of again. Even more interesting is the fact that the invasion is simply something people don’t talk about anymore.

[More...]

Click to read more ...

Thursday
Nov132014

AFI Fest: 'Tales of the Grim Sleeper' and the Politics of Telling Other People's Stories

Margaret reporting from the AFI Fest...

The new documentary Tales of the Grim Sleeper, on the long list of eligible Oscar doc titles, screened for the first time in Los Angeles not ten miles from the scene of the brutal crimes it addresses. The feature investigates a serial murderer and his staggering number of victims over two decades in a close-knit South L.A. community-- and these are not the kind of crimes that "could have happened anywhere." Visited on an already underserved and overlooked neighborhood, the killings targeted upwards of one hundred black women, many prostitutes and drug users, whose lives the police disregarded so entirely that for years the crimes were designated by the LAPD as NHI-- No Human Involved. 

The entry point for the film is an investigation of Lonnie Franklin, Jr., the suspect in custody who is still awaiting trial, but as the documentary picks apart layers of the case it instead becomes a scathing indictment of a broken justice system.

Director Nick Broomfield, a white British man whose background gives him little in common with the subjects of his narrative, has significant advantages in accessing and broadcasting this story. A pioneer in the self-reflexive documentary style that has since been employed by Michael Moore and Morgan Spurlock, he inserts himself into the narrative just enough be transparent about his outsider relationship to the community, and his platform as an affluent white filmmaker.

Thankfully, Broomfield doesn't seem to labor under the impression that it's his story to tell. For his Q&A after the AFI Fest screening, he brought up Pam Brooks, who makes invaluable contributions to the movie as a neighborhood guide and storyteller, and Margaret Prescod, tireless spokesperson for the Black Coalition Fighting Back Serial Murders. Broomfield deftly redirected audience questions about the victims, miscarriage of justice, and the apartheid in L.A. to Margaret and Pam. 

Lonnie Franklin's public defender, a minor presence in the documentary who came off as a sloppy, hapless suit, emerged from the audience to make a tone-deaf bid to co-opt the Q&A, talking over Margaret and Pam and offering unsolicited advice. This tasteless move only served to underline the film's point about invisibilization of the affected community, and the importance of supporting their voices.

Someone in the audience asked, "What can we do?" Nick Broomfield deferred again to Margaret Prescod. "This film should be shown all over this city. Make sure people see it. Make sure city officials see it. How many black women died, were murdered? We're still waiting to find out. It took a British filmmaker to come here and tell this story... We are not done here."

So, what can we do? We can think about who gets to tell these stories, and try to listen and respect the people who are telling their own.

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 

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