THE EXPERIMENTAL CITY — Review by Diane Carson

The Experimental City chronicles an inventive, futuristic venture. Athelstan Spilhaus is not well-known but should be. He can still teach our environmentally abusive and wasteful society a great deal, for he spearheaded an impressively progressive, inventive futuristic venture beginning in the 1960s. Spilhaus and a distinguished steering committee, including Buckminster Fuller, researched and proposed an experimental city of 250,000 residents to be built in northern Minnesota. Continue reading…

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THE WEEK IN WOMEN: Filmmaker Amy Scott talks HAL and Women in Hollywood — Brandy McDonnell interviews

amy scott hedshotAmy Scott was inspired to helm Hal, her first feature film, after reading Nick Dawson’s Being Hal Ashby: Life of a Hollywood Rebel. Chronicling the influential insider’s career, Scott’s documentary is an insightful chapter in Hollywood history. “It was a fascinating look at his life and his journey. And I just connected with Hal because he was an editor for a number of years, won an Oscar for editing ‘In the Heat of the Night.’ And he directed his first film when he was 40, and I thought, ‘Hmm, OK, it’s not too late,” Scott said. Continue reading on THE WEEK IN WOMEN.

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Summer Docs Watch: The Missing Honeybees — Documentary Retroview by Jennifer Merin

more than honey posterCommentaries posted across the internet report that as summer progresses across the nation, fields of clover coming to bloom sweeten the air with their delicate fragrance. But the web buzz is that the honeybees, usually attracted to pollinate the flowers, are in absentia this year, as they have been for several years past. Several extremely good documentaries that have been released during the past decade, have set off alarms about the missing honeybees by chronicling and explaining ‘colony collapse disorder,’ the phenomenon that threatens to put honeybees on the endangered species list, to upend the ecosystem and to disastrously disrupt our food supply. Continue reading…

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POPE FRANCIS: A MAN OF HIS WORD — Review by Martha K. Baker

In 2013, Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected Pope of the Roman Catholic Church. He was the first pope to take the name of Francis. He was also the first pope from the Americas, South America to be exact. He faces the camera in a biodoc dedicated to his life. Continue reading…

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WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR — Review by Diane Carson

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? celebrates the amazing Mister Rogers. It is wonderfully uplifting in those increasingly rare instances when we learn that a dear television star is, in fact, the persona he projects. Welcome, Mister Rogers, who, it turns out, not only embodies the amazing person hosting Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood but actually has supreme humility given the literally life-changing work he did. Continue reading…

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A LEAF OF FAITH — Review by Jennifer Merin

a leaf of faith posterIn A Leaf of Faith, filmmaker Chris Bell, best known for Bigger Stronger Faster about steroid ‘doping,’ pursues his ongoing concerns about drug issues by focusing on crippling, death dealing addiction to opioid painkillers. Having reached epidemic proportions, opioid dependecy — ranging from heroin addiction and overdose to synthetic opioid abuse while withdrawing from heroin and the prescription of opoids to relieve chronic pain — is currently among the top causes of death in the U.S. The stats are staggering. In his compelling investigation, Bell introduces and advocates for a possible solution — the use of Kratom as an alternative.
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BIG SONIA — Review by Diane Carson

Big Sonia captures the love and beauty of Holocaust survivor Sonia Warshawski. There are those who endure inconceivable challenges: refuges to the U.S. who arrive as survivors of nightmare wartime experiences, including loss of family members. The resiliency of these individuals is both admirable and astonishing. But few have Holocaust survivor Sonia Warshawski’s ability to communicate her astonishing life and fewer still her grace to inspire listeners to defy hate. Continue reading…

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RBG — Review by Diane Carson

RBG celebrates Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s amazing career and life. Twice in the documentary, Ruth Bader Ginsburg quotes nineteenth-century abolitionist and suffragette Sarah Grimké, “I ask no favor for my sex. All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks.” RBG’s decades of legal work is testament to her lifetime commitment to human dignity and equality. Continue reading…

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HITLER’S HOLLYWOOD — Review by Jennifer Merin

hitler's hollywood posterFilmmaker Rudiger Suchsland’s Hitler’s Hollywood is a compilation documentary that uses clips from films produced during the Nazi regime to show how the movies were used to indoctrinate the masses and influence their behavior. Subtitled German Cinema in the Age of Propaganda: 1933-45, the film is more analysis than homage, presenting a fascinating profile of how Nazi propagandist Josef Goebbels used cinema to creates positive stereotypes and present mythic illusions about current and historic events that influenced the zeitgeist. Continue reading on CINEMA CITIZEN

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MOVIE OF THE WEEK May 11, 2018: MOUNTAIN

motw logo 1-35The word “majestic” doesn’t do justice to the stunning visuals in Jennifer Peedom’s documentary “Mountain” — but it’s quite possible that no word is up to the task of capturing this film’s sweeping, monumental imagery. When combined with the gravitas of Willem Dafoe’s narration and the power of the Australian Chamber Orchestra’s score (composed by Richard Tognetti), the result is a movie that begs to be seen on the largest, highest-definition screen available. Continue reading…

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Julie Cohen and Betsy West Talk RBG — Interview by Nell Minow

Julie Cohen and Betsy West

Julie Cohen and Betsy West

Shakespeare could have been writing about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg when he said, “Though she be but little, she is fierce!” When she was a law professor in the 1970’s, Justice Ginsburg helped design the strategy and argued the Supreme Court cases that were as critical to defining the rights of women under the Constitution as the Brown v. Board of Education case was for defining the rights of racial minorities. She was appointed to the Supreme Court by President Bill Clinton and now, at age 85, the tiny, opera-loving Supreme Court Justice who proudly wears a lacy collar when she dissents from the majority decision has become an unexpected popular icon, lovingly mocked by Kate McKinnon on “Saturday Night Live” and nicknamed “Notorious RBG.” A new documentary called “RBG,” directed by Betsy West and Julie Cohen, is AWFJ’s Movie of the Week (#MOTW). In an interview, Cohen and West spoke about the film’s production and the impact of RBG — both the person and the documentary. Continue reading…

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MOVIE OF THE WEEK May 4, 2018: RBG

motw logo 1-35As the saying goes, not all superheroes wear capes. In fact, some might even be clad in black robes and lace collars. That’s the emotional takeaway from Julie Cohen and Betsy West’s excellent documentary “RBG,” which tells the story of iconic Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Tracing her life from childhood through the present, the film both humanizes Ginsburg and cements exactly why she’s so beloved by those who are passionate about women’s rights and gender equality. Continue reading…

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Talking RBG with Katie, age 8 — Interview by Betsy Bozdech

rbg poster 2Girls growing up in a world full of “She Persisted” T-shirts, Hilary Clinton bumper stickers, and books like Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls and Rad Women from A-Z may already know the name Ruth Bader Ginsburg. But they’re guaranteed to learn a lot more about “The Notorious RBG” from Julie Cohen and Betsy West’s energizing documentary RBG. I had the privilege of watching it with my 8-year-old daughter (who recognized some of the archival photos from her beloved copy of I Dissent) and talking about the film with her afterward. Continue reading…

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CORMAN’S WORLD: EXPLOITS OF A HOLLYWOOD REBEL (2011) — Documentary Retroview by Jennifer Merin

corman posterIf you have any interest in Hollywood history and love Tinsel Town lore, this comprehensive biodoc about the life and career of Roger Corman, the legendary ‘King of B-movies,’ will entertain and fascinate you — even if you’re not a big fan of the B-movie genre. Roger Corman, now in his 80s, and his wife and career-long producing partner, Julie Corman, rank high on the list of the world’s most prolific movie makers. They’ve produced and released as many as nine feature films during the course of one year, and only very few of their projects have failed to turn a profit at the box office. Continue reading on CINEMA CITIZEN.

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RBG – Review by Cate Marquis

RBG POSTERThis documentary gives us the low-down on this brilliant but reserved attorney who is having an unlikely turn as a cultural darling. The documentary RBG starts out with clips of Republican or politically-conservative men reviling Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg as if she were the devil incarnate. For these right-leaning white men, she may well be just that, or at least their worst nightmare, a characterization the small but mighty RBG might embrace, or maybe even relish. Continue reading…

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Chapman and Maclain Way talk WILD WILD COUNTRY, Bhagwan and Ma Anan Sheela — Jennifer Merin interviews

wild wild country posterThe Way Brothers’ six-part documentary, Wild Wild Country, chronicles the strange saga of self-proclaimed spiritual leader Bhagwan and his devotees, as they created a self-sustaining Utopian community in rural Oregon during the 1980s. Resenting their presence, local citizens and authorities pressured them to leave. Confrontations intensified, resulting in chaos and crime. Wild Wild Country is comprised of previously unseen archival footage shot inside the compound during the community’s heyday, intercut with on camera commentaries by surviving devotees and townees. The series is fascinating. So are the Brothers Way, who discuss making the documentary and their own conclusions about what this slice of history implies for American lifestyle and justice. Listen to my interview on CINEMA CITIZEN.

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LA CHANA — Review by Jennifer Merin

la chana posterCapturing all of the passion and personal expression that permeates flamenco and illuminates the dance form’s most engaging performers, Lucija Stojevic’s La Chana profiles the career and artistry of Antonia Santiago Amador, the hugely popular flamenco goddess revered by dance afficiandos for her force of nature spirit and extraordinary footwork. The great La Chana’s career peaked during the late 1960s, just before she inexplicably shunned her celebrity and mysteriously vanished from the dance world. Continue reading…

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MOVIE OF THE WEEK, March 16, 2018: IN THE LAND OF POMEGRANATES

motw logo 1-35Anyone who’s ever wondered why the possibility of peace in the Middle East seems permanently out of reach should watch “In the Land of Pomegranates,” Hava Kohav Beller’s thoughtful, thought-provoking documentary about the bitter Palestinian/Jewish conflict. Beller, an octogenarian who previously earned an Oscar nomination for 1991′s “The Restless Conscience: Resistance to Hitler Within Germany 1933-1945,” spent more than a decade making this new film, and her patience pays off. Continue reading…

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MOVIE OF THE WEEK December 15: THE RAPE OF RECY TAYLOR

motw logo 1-35Using the horrific 1944 gang rape of a black woman by white men as a jumping-off point to examine systemic issues of race, class, and power in the United States, Nancy Buirski’s documentary “The Rape of Recy Taylor” is stirring and powerful. Like many other 2017 films, including “Detroit,” “Mudbound,” “Strong Island,” and more, “Recy Taylor” makes it abundantly clear that the complicated history and politics of race and gender are more relevant — and frustrating — than ever. Continue reading…

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THE RAPE OF RECY TAYLOR — Review by Cate Marquis

recy taylor posterNancy Biurski’s timely documentary tells a personal story, of one woman’s brutal rape in 1944 rural Alabama, but then ties her individual experience to the larger themes of history, racism, sexism, white supremacy and patriarchy, in compelling and often surprising ways. Inspired in part by the book “At The Dark End Of The Street: Black Women, Rape and Resistance – a New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power” by Danielle L. McGuire, director Nancy Biurski skillfully blends the various elements into a documentary that is fascinating, informative and moving. Continue reading…

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MOVIE OF THE WEEK November 21: BOMBSHELL – THE HEDY LAMARR STORY

motw logo 1-35“Bombshell” is the perfect title for a documentary about Hedy Lamarr. Not only was Lamarr a renowned Hollywood screen siren (aka a “bombshell”), but she also helped invent signal-hopping radio-based technology that was used to guide Allied torpedoes (literal bombshells) during World War II, a system whose DNA can be seen in the Bluetooth and WiFi systems we all rely on today. Continue reading…

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Guest Post: Filmmaker Chanda Chevannes on Making UNFRACTURED, Activism and Refusing to ‘Play the Part’ (Exclusive)

chandra head smallOn a chilly November evening in 2014, I was sitting in a rental car outside the county jail in Watkins Glen, New York. My video camera was turned on, and resting in my lap. I had already set my white balance, exposure, and focal length. And since I had nothing to do but sit in the dark parking lot and wait, a steady stream of thoughts began to run through my mind. Or, more accurately, one thought raced around in there: Why am I doing this to myself? In the four years it took me to make my new feature documentary, I asked myself that question over and over again. Continue Reading on THE FEMALE GAZE.

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KEDI — Review by Maitland McDonagh

kedi psterIn much of the world, stray and feral felines are considered nuisances at best and outright pests at worst. But not in Istanbul, argues Turkish-born, US-based filmmaker Ceyda Torun, whose Kedi (odd how much the word sounds like “kitty”) documents the lives of street cats whose beat—one that spans millennia–is the city’s busting waterfront district, where shopkeepers and residents alike have settled into a symbiotic relationship with the sweet-faced little predators who help keep the rodent population down while happily accepting handouts. And Torun’s roving camera, often set at cat’s-eye level, gives their lives a dynamic energy that’s as enthralling as any footage of marquee-hogging elephants or lions: The woman who suggests that they’re “like aliens” isn’t entirely wrong—those pretty little eyes aren’t filled with worshipful warmth. Continue reading…

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Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady talk ONE OF US and Partnering with Netflix — Jennifer Merin interviews

grady ewing 3In One of Us, filmmakers Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady investigate the unique lifestyle of Brooklyn’s Hassidic community. Presented in Ewing and Grady’s signature style, the highly dramatic stories of two men and a woman who want to leave the community reveal a complex and arcane culture that exists right in our midst, but is largely unknown to outsiders. Ewing and Grady talk about making One of Us and changes in documentary filmmaking during the 15-year span of their partnership. Continue reading on CINEMA CITIZEN.

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JESUS CAMP — Documentary Retroview by Jennifer Merin

Jesus Camp posterDon’t mistake Jesus Camp for Godspell! Even though it’s not a thriller, Jesus Camp is a truly terrifying film. It is, in fact, a purely observational documentary, one that serves as a galvanizing cautionary revelation about Evangelical indoctrination of children in heartland America. Framed by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s resignation and confirmation of ultraconservative Samuel Alito as her successor, we witness home-schooled preteens, Levi (12), Rachael (9) and Victoria (10) delivered by their Evangelical parents unto Bible camp at Devil’s Lake, ND, where Pentecostal Children’s Minister Becky Fischer ‘hooks them up’ (her words) with Jesus. Continue reading…

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