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

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.

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

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.

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

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.

Read More

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.

Read More

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…

Read More