Movie Review: SAMI BLOOD

Movie Review:  SAMI BLOOD

Writer/Director Amanda Kernell’s first feature is a gripping  coming of age drama based on the real life experiences of her grandmother. Set in Sweden during the 1930s, at a time when Eugenics theories about ethnic superiority were trending, the narrative follows teenage Elle-Marje as she is plucked from her semi-nomadic family of traditional Sami reindeer herders in Lapland and sent to a Swedish boarding school to be assimilate into the predominant Swedish social structure and culture  – in which Samis were considered to be ethnically inferior and relegated to menial labor.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Movie Review: PARIS CAN WAIT

Movie Review: PARIS CAN WAIT

Paris Can Wait is a rich repast for Francophiles and foodies, and women who are hungry for more romance in their marriages. Writer/director Eleanor Coppola delivers her first feature at age 81 — a remarkable and inspiring achievement, especially since she does it so deliciously. Replete with with elegant character development, a superb cast and stunning cinematography, Paris Can Wait is a delightfully satisfying escape into a lifestyle that is for most of the world’s women pure fantasy. Take time to savor it.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Ai Weiwei Never Sorry – Movie Review – 2012

Ai Weiwei Never Sorry – Movie Review – 2012

Chinese artist Ai Weiwei is probably as well known for his protests against political repression in contemporary China as he is for his vastly variable works of art.

In Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, first time filmmaker Alison Klayman chronicles the daily life of the artist as he uses his work and his notoriety to draw attention to his grievances against the current Chinese government.

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Biographical Documentaries by Film Title – A to Z

Biographical Documentaries by Film Title – A to Z

Some biographical documentaries investigate the inner life or underbellies of their famous subjects, others are tribute films that present celebrities in a (sometimes artificial) glowing light. Here, in alphabetical order, is a list of some important documentaries about a wide range of celebrated personages — some contemporary and others historical, some famous and others infamous — whose biographies will fascinate and inspire you.

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Documentaries Watch List for Veteran’s Day

Documentaries Watch List for Veteran’s Day

On Veteran’s Day, as a way of showing respect for those who’ve returned home from war and their fallen comrades, take time to watch documentaries that tell true stories of combat veterans, and remind us that conflict resolution through peaceful negotiation is the better choice.
Here are my recommendations…

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Documentary Review: LIONESS

Documentary Review: LIONESS

Lioness, a documentary by filmmakers Meg McLagan and Daria Sommers, profiles a group of courageous women soldiers who were deployed to Iraq as support personnel–mechanics, cooks, and clerks–but found themselves in actual combat situations. Known as Team Lioness, they are the first generation of American women to return home as combat veterans, and their debriefing in this film is enlightening. Presented in cinema verite style, this must-see film is a gripping and heartrending look at how war effects soldiers. Read my review…

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Documentary Review: THE GOOD SOLDIER

Documentary Review: THE GOOD SOLDIER

The Good Soldier is a powerful documentary in which filmmakers Lexi Lovell and Michael Uys present a cadre of highly decorated soldiers who’d fought valiantly in America’s wars — World War II, Vietnam, the Gulf War and Iraq — and, in doing so, came to the conclusion that warfare is neither a righteous nor effective way to resolve differences of opinion, ideology and/or national interests. Read my review…

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Documentary Review: THE TILLMAN STORY

Documentary Review: THE TILLMAN STORY

Director Amir Bar Lev incorporates archival footage and photos gleaned from the Tillman family, the NFL and news media sources with on-camera interviews with family members, friends and fellow soldiers who witnessed Tillman’s death, to present a comprehensive, compelling and truthful narrative covering Pat Tillman’s extraordinary life and lasting legacy. The documentary affords viewers the joyful experience of getting to an American hero. But be advised, The Tillman Story is not a light-hearted fan-pandering biopic. Read my review…

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Documentary Review: THE END OF AMERICA

Documentary Review: THE END OF AMERICA

Based on Naomi Wolf’s eponymous book, The End Of America presents the ten step blueprint that Hitler and other dictators used to subvert democratic process and put an end to personal freedoms. It compares, step by step, events leading up to establishment of the Third Reich with what has happened in the United States in recent years. Directed by Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg, the documentary is convincing and alarming. It should be required viewing for anyone old enough to vote or join the army. Read my full review.

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Critics Choice Documentary Awards 2016

Critics Choice Documentary Awards 2016

As proof positive of the trending interest in nonfiction film, the first-ever Critics Choice Documentary Awards (CCDA) were presented on November 3, 2016, at a gala event attended by leading documentary filmmakers, distributors and film critics. Presented by the BFCA and BTJA, the critics organizations behind the annual Critics Choice Movie Awards (to be presented on December 11), the documentary awards covered nonfiction films with theatrical releases and those shown on television or via online streaming. Read more…

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Documentary Review: SURVIVING PROGRESS

Documentary Review: SURVIVING PROGRESS

Based on Ronald Wright’s insightful nonfiction book, A Short History of Progress, this compelling thesis documentary presents convincing arguments that technology if not used appropriately and in moderation can lead to adverse conditions and the collapse of civilization — if not the actual demise of humankind. Surviving Progress leads us to examine the notion that progress is, indeed, progress — that is to say helpful to humankind. In our age of increasingly rapid technological advances, this discussion is timely. It is, indeed, a vital necessity. Read my full review.

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Documentary Review: JIMMY CARTER MAN FROM PLAINS (2007)

Documentary Review: JIMMY CARTER MAN FROM PLAINS (2007)

Before director Jonathan Demme signed on to helm a documentary about Jimmy Carter, he negotiated two important points: he would have unlimited access to the former president and he would have final cut of the film. As a result, Demme has produced an unusually intimate, insightful and revealing tribute to an exceptional elder statesman who, now in his 80s, continues to work tirelessly for peace. Demme chose to make the structural spine of his Jimmy Carter tribute the former president’s nationwide tour to publicize his 21st book, Palestine Peace Not Apartheid, in which he lays out his controversial opinion regarding Israeli behavior towards the Palestinian people. Basically, while rebuking Palestinians for provocation and violence towards Israelis, the book effectively faults Israel for encircling Palestinian territories with walls that create ghetto-like imprisonment for the people who live in them. Read my review>>

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Documentary Review: EL SICARIO: ROOM 164

Documentary Review: EL SICARIO: ROOM 164

Gianfranco Rosi’s gripping documentary is about the life and career of a former Mexican hit man who, while working for a Mexican drug cartel, murdered and tortured hundreds of people at the behest of his bosses. El Sicario (hit man) is the film’s sole protagonist. He appears as the only witness to his life in crime, and he is shot (with a camera, of course) at only one location, Room 164, a rather standard room in a motel that’s located we know not where. But, it is in this very room that the sicario, in days past, tortured and dispatched his victims. Read my review

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Documentary Review: OCTOBER COUNTRY

Documentary Review: OCTOBER COUNTRY

Taking place during the year from one Halloween and the next, October Country is the haunting tale of co-director Donal Mosher’s immediate family — at least of those who still reside in rural Mohawk Valley, New York, the Mosher clan’s ancestral turf. They are a collection of complex, emotionally compelling individuals who are trapped in an intergenerational cycle of spousal and child abuse, teenage pregnancy, drug abuse, debilitating depression and other syndromes that haunt them like ghosts. Released in 2010, it’s no available on DVD. Read my review…

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Movie Review – AUTHOR: THE JT LEROY STORY

Movie Review – AUTHOR: THE JT LEROY STORY

Author: The JT LeRoy Story delves into the curiously confusing story of Laura Albert, the controversial (and secret) creator of the literary figure known as Jeremiah Terminator LeRoy (aka JT LeRoy) and the writer of JT’s fan-gathering and cult-creating novels Sarah (2000) and The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things (2001). Read my review…

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