JANE’S JOURNEY (2010) — Documentary Retroview

JANE’S JOURNEY (2010) — Documentary Retroview

In case you were enthralled by Jane, filmmaker Brett Morgan’s award-winning documentary profile of Jane Goodall, you’ll find more about the good doctor in Jane’s Journey, directed by German documentarian Lorenz Knauer and released in 2010. Goodall is world famous and deservedly beloved for her ongoing research about the chimpanzees of Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania, and for her ongoing nonprofit Roots and Shoots programs that bring education and eco-friendly enterprise to people in need around the world. She is a diminutive woman whose accomplishments are larger than life. In Jane’s Journey, Knauer chronicles Dr. Goodall’s personal evolution to become the iconic activist environmentalist she is today, and follows her on her tireless travels to help poor people by bringing hope and practical solutions into their lives.

Read More

NICKY’S FAMILY (2013) — Documentary Review

NICKY’S FAMILY (2013) — Documentary Review

Just before the outbreak of World War II, an unassuming English businessman named Nicholas Winton traveled to Czechoslovakia and witnessed conditions that compelled him to organize the transport of 669 Czech and Slovak children — many of them Jewish — from their homeland to the safety of England. With careful planning and tremendous courage, he rescued them from suffering and death at the hands of Nazi invaders who eventually killed many of the children’s parents, siblings and extended family members.

Read More

The Way Brothers — Chapman and Maclain — discuss WILD WILD COUNTRY and the Saga of Bhagwan’s Failed Utopia

The Way Brothers — Chapman and Maclain — discuss WILD WILD COUNTRY and the Saga of Bhagwan’s Failed Utopia

The Way Brothers’ six-part documentary chronicles the strange saga of self-proclaimed spiritual leader Baghwan, later known as Osho, and his devotees, as they created a Utopian community on a vast tract of rough terrain in rural Oregon during the 1980s.

Initially the gurus idealistic followers came from around the world to build an entire self-sustaining compound in which they lived and worked communally, often welcoming down-and-out vagrants to join them for a better life. But local government authorities, town folk and ranchers felt they were under siege from an invading army of free-thinkers who defied ‘normal’ social conventions – that they had sex in public places was a big complaint — and tried, in vain, to oust them from Wasco County. External pressures lead to internal confrontations and eventually the Utopia became a scene of chaos and crime.

The Way Brothers draw from an extraordinary cache of archival footage — much of it filmed secretly with hidden cameras placed within the compound — that reveals the daily life of devotees, as well as Baghwan/Osho’s erratic behavior, and the confrontational disposition of his right-hand secretary, Ma Anan Sheela, a woman who actually ran and monitored all aspects of the community.

Ma Anan Sheela, now living in Switzerland, expresses her take on the story extensively in on camera interviews that punctuate the archival footage, along with additional interviews with other key persons in the community and with local folk who have a lot to say about what they consider to have been a daunting ordeal. The fascinating film raises a lot of questions about cults, seekers of justice, and the American way. To hear the Way Brothers’ equally fascinating answers to my questions about the story and their filmmaking process, listen to my exclusive interview

Read More

LA CHANA — Documentary Review

LA   CHANA — Documentary Review

Capturing 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.

Read More

IDFA 2017: The Female Gaze is Gone

IDFA 2017: The Female Gaze is Gone

It’s hard not to appreciate what the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam, otherwise known as IDFA, has accomplished during the decades since it was co-founded by Ally Derks, who is rightly revered in the documentary film realm. But Ally Derks has moved on, and IDFA is changing its outlook. This year, the festival dropped its The Female Gaze program and is, apparently, no longer focusing on ongoing issues of gender parity faced by the international community of women filmmakers.

Read More

Claire Ferguson talks Storytelling, Trauma and Team Work in DESTINATION UNKNOWN

Claire Ferguson talks Storytelling, Trauma and Team Work in DESTINATION UNKNOWN

In Destination Unknown, British documentary filmmaker Claire Ferguson’s interviews with Holocaust survivors captures on film the most intimate and painful memories of traumas experienced in the Nazi death camps and the ongoing suffering they have caused throughout the victims’ lives. The survivors’ vivid descriptions are supported by archival footage. The combination of current testimony from surviving elders with images of what they lived through is absolutely devastating. Destination Unknown is an important addition to the canon of Holocaust films. Read what filmmaker Claire Ferguson has to say about making the film and the responsibilities of documentary filmmakers.

Read More

Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady on ONE OF US, the Evolution of Documentary Filmmaking and Partnering with Netflix

Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady on ONE OF US, the Evolution of Documentary Filmmaking and Partnering with Netflix

In 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.

Read More

JESUS CAMP (2006) — Documentary Review

JESUS CAMP (2006) — Documentary Review

Don’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.

Read More

GERMANS AND JEWS — Documentary Review

GERMANS AND JEWS — Documentary Review

Germans & Jews, a documentary by Janina Quint and Tal Recanati, looks at a contemporary cultural relationship between two groups of people with a devastating history. It compares current trends in personal identification, political expectations and social stereotyping to those which existed during the 1930s and 40s, as prelude and during the Nazi regime.

Read More

A Conversation with Yance Ford About STRONG ISLAND, Grief, Injustice and Wonderment

A Conversation with Yance Ford About STRONG ISLAND, Grief, Injustice and Wonderment

Yance Ford has been an influential member of the documentary film community for some years, working as a programmer for POV and commissioning the works of others. With Strong Island, he turns his smarts and skills to making in a highly personal documentary about the murder of his brother and the impact that heinous event had on his family. He sat down with me to discuss Strong Island, rage and grief, injustice and wonderment. Continue reading…

Read More

Last Train Home (2009) – Documentary Retroview

Last Train Home (2009) – Documentary Retroview

In what filmmaker Lixin Fan characterizes as the world’s largest human migration, some 130-million Chinese migrant workers leave their work-a-day lives in China’s cities to travel to their homes in the impoverished countryside to celebrate the New Year with their families. To show us their arduous and frustrating journey and reveal the impact their long-term absence has on their families, the filmmaker follows Chen Suqin and her husband Zhang Changhua, as they return from their factory jobs in Guangzhou to their family home, a rural farm, where they reunite with their two children, who’ve been left in the care of Chen’s mother.

Read More

Traces of The Trade: A Story From The Deep North (2008) – Documentary Retroview

Traces of The Trade: A Story From The Deep North (2008) – Documentary Retroview

Traces of The Trade: A Story From The Deep North is a deeply personal documentary made by seminarian-turned-filmmaker Katrina Browne, who sets out to investigate her forebears occupation as prominent New England slave traders and tries to identify what that fact of family history means to her living relatives and herself. The film is co-directed by Alla Kovgan and Jude Ray.

Read More

An Inconvenient Truth (2006) – Documentary Retroview

An Inconvenient Truth (2006) – Documentary Retroview

An Inconvenient Truth is basically a concert film, the genre that documents a performance. But, instead of seeing a rock star or stand up comedian belting music or one liners, we meet Al Gore, the former Vice President of the United States. Mr. Gore is presenting the slide show in which he delivers the down and dirty about global warming–the most pressing environmental issue of our time. Mr. Gore has given more than 1000 performances of his show around the world, but it is very important for more people to see it and get the global warming message–hence the film.

Read More

500 YEARS — Documentary Review

500 YEARS — Documentary Review

500 Years is the third  and final film in Pamela Yates‘ extraordinary three-film documentary series about the Mayan people’s ongoing struggle for equality and justice in Guatemala. With her politically-charged trilogy, The Resistance Saga, Yates has actually changed the course of history. 500 Years is the culmination of 35 years of filmmaker dedication to coverage of a pressing social and political issue. Stand alone or viewed with it’s companion films, it is a masterful example of how movies can make a difference. The film and its companion documentaries are must-sees for anyone who is interested in understanding current events and the role media can play in shaping them.

Read More

JESUS CAMP — Documentary Retroview (2006)

JESUS CAMP — Documentary Retroview (2006)

Jesus Camp is an extraordinary exposé about the well-organized Evangelical indoctrination of children in heartland America to become soldiers for Christ. An enlightening look at religious fanaticism in the United States, it serves as a cautionary tale about fundamentalist Christian recruitment and conditioning of preteens to prepare them to battle al-Qaeda, whose kids fast, bare arms and sacrifice themselves for Islam. A real life horror film, it is one of the most gripping, frightening movies of 2006 and a must-see documentary for anyone who values the Bill of Rights.

Read More

BLACKFISH – Documentary Retroview (2013)

BLACKFISH – Documentary Retroview (2013)

The blackfish referenced in this documentary’s title is actually named Tilikum. He is arguably the world’s best known killer whale, or orca, and he currently resides at SeaWorld in Orlando, Florida. Tilikum, who has been captive and on display at the theme park for more than two decades, is regularly featured in SeaWorld’s animal shows at Shamu Stadium. He is responsible for the deaths of three human beings, including Dawn Branceau, a highly skilled and experienced whale trainer who was one of the SeaWorld staffers working most closely with Tilikum until her death in February, 2010.

Read More

Born to Be Wild — Documentary Retroview (2011)

Born to Be Wild — Documentary Retroview (2011)

Born To Be Wild invites you to go on a remarkable adventure into the wilds of Kenya and Borneo to visit animal ‘orphanages’ at which baby elephants and orangutans whose parents have died — most often at the hands of poachers — are cared for by two women, Daphne Sheldrick and Birute Galdikas, respectfully, who’ve dedicated their lives to raising the infants and returning them to the wild.

Read More

MOVING MIDWAY — Documentary RetroView (2008)

MOVING MIDWAY — Documentary RetroView (2008)

Godfrey Cheshire, a noted and highly acclaimed film critic, uses his cinematic smarts and sensibility to good effect in Moving Midway, his first feature documentary about the relocation of his ancestral home, an antebellum North Carolina plantation named Midway, from its original location, now rapidly being encroached upon by Raleigh’s urban sprawl, to a more secluded and peaceful spot, still on family property, several miles away. The film is a fascinating study of family, location and changing times in the South.

Read More

Human Rights Film Festival 2017: Feminist Programming

Human Rights Film Festival 2017: Feminist Programming

The 28th Human Rights Watch Film Festival (June 9-18, 2017) presents topical and provocative feature documentaries that showcase courageous resilience in challenging times. In an era of global advances by far-right forces into the political mainstream, assaults on the free press, and the rise of “citizen journalism,” festival organizers hope that the films in this year’s program can serve as inspiration and motivation for the audience, from seasoned activists to those searching for a role in local and global movements. Ten of the 21 programmed documentary feature films are directed by women.

Read More

Granito: How To Nail A Dictator – Documentary Retroview (2011)

Granito: How To Nail A Dictator – Documentary Retroview (2011)

Granito: How to Nail A Dictator chronicles efforts to bring Guatemalan dictator and military commander José Efraín Ríos Montt to trial in an international court of law for genocide in that country. Director Pamela Yates and Producer Paco de Onis not only cover case preparation by prosecutors based in Spain, also provides extremely important evidence in the form of archival footage Yates shot of military actions when she was embedded with the guerrillas fighting against Rios Montt’s rule for her previous film, When the Mountains Tremble.

Read More

Documentary Review: CASTING JONBENET

Documentary Review:  CASTING JONBENET

Casting JonBenet is a deeply disturbing documentary that delves into the still unsolved murder mystery in the case of JonBenet Ramsey, and how the story of the six-year old beauty pageant queen whose short life was apparently filled with abuse has impacted America’s psyche. Rather than representing the circumstances surrounding the actual murder or attempting to solve the mystery, filmmaker Kitty Green uses an usual point of departure to plumb public opinion about what a happened on the night of the murder and who did what to whom.

Read More

MR UNTOUCHABLE (2007) — RetroReview by Jennifer Merin

MR UNTOUCHABLE (2007) — RetroReview by Jennifer Merin

He was the ultimate Harlem gangster. The New York Times Magazine dubbed Leroy “Nicky” Barnes Mr. Untouchable, and he lived large on the millions of dollars he made as head honcho in Harlem’s heroin trade. It was a business he ran ruthlessly, until 1977, when he was arrested, turned State’s evidence and disappeared into the witness protection program.

Read More

PAGE ONE: INSIDE THE NEW YORK TIMES (2011) — RetroView by Jennifer Merin

PAGE ONE: INSIDE THE NEW YORK TIMES (2011) — RetroView by Jennifer Merin

All The News That’s Fit To Print? The New York Times continues to be the nation’s newspaper of record, although news gathering and publishing are undergoing rapid transformations, and the New York Times has had to cut its staff for economic reasons. The film looks at how the New York Times is handling the rise of new media, and considers what will become of the newspaper in the future.

Read More

THE FENCE – Documentary RetroView (2010)

THE FENCE – Documentary RetroView (2010)

Do We Want or Need a Fence Along the US-Mexico Border? In 2008, the US government decided to build a 700-mile long fence along the 2000-mile border with Mexico. Intended to block terrorists and illegal immigrants from entering the country, the fence was built by 19 construction companies, 350 engineers, thousands of construction workers using tens of thousands of tons of metal — at a cost of $3-billion. Filmmaker Rory Kennedy uses statistics, archival and new footage, interviews with experts and humorous commentary to investigate the project’s impact and question its value, effectiveness and ethics.

Read More

American: The Bill Hicks Story – Movie Review – 2011

American: The Bill Hicks Story – Movie Review – 2011

Bill Hicks, the famed American comedian and musician who died of cancer in 1994 at age 32, lives on in this documentary that uses archival footage of his childhood and his funny and irreverent stand up routines, as well as animated family photos and interviews with friends and colleagues to chronicle the comedian’s life and career.

Read More