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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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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Movie Review: GOOD HAIR

Movie Review: GOOD HAIR

Chris Rock’s smart commentary on ‘good hair’ (ie straight hair) is hilarious and, alarming. Compelled by concerns about what his daughters will face in the future, he addresses the serious social, political and economic implications of the ‘good hair’ precept. Jeff Stilson perfectly captures Rock’s intent and delightfully subversive attitude. Good Hair rocks! Read the review

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Roger Donaldson Talks ‘Of Record’ Narratives: THE BANK JOB

Roger Donaldson Talks ‘Of Record’ Narratives: THE BANK JOB

Director Roger Donaldson’s The Bank Job (2008) is a truth-based narrative feature that raises interesting issues regarding film and the public record. The movie is based on a scandal-clad heist known as the “Walkie Talkie Robbery,” a daring caper that was front page news for four days. Then mention of it abruptly ceased. If we’re to believe the film, that was because the British government stifled coverage–because M5 had engineered the heist to recover sexually explicit photographs of Princess Margaret that Michael X, a political activist (and drug dealer), was using to blackmail authorities to not prosecute him. Case records are sealed for another 50 years. Is the film the real story or a construct?

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Movie Review: GIULIANI TIME

Movie Review: GIULIANI TIME

If you’re doing due diligence about possible presidential candidates, this is a good time to take a look at Giuliani Time (2005, Cinema Libre), an in depth look at the origins of the Republican politico who gained fame as New York’s number one hero following 9-ll, and who is now championing Donald Trump’s current bid to be our nation’s leader.

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INAUGURAL CRITICS’ CHOICE DOCUMENTARY AWARDS NOMINATIONS UNVEILED

INAUGURAL CRITICS’ CHOICE DOCUMENTARY AWARDS NOMINATIONS UNVEILED

The Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA) and the Broadcast Television Journalists Association (BTJA) have announced the nominees for the inaugural Critics’ Choice Documentary Awards. The winners will be presented their awards at a gala event on Thursday, November 3, 2016 at BRIC, in Brooklyn, New York. Here’s a list of the nominees. DISCLAIMER: I was a member of the nominating committee and am a BFCA voting member.

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Documentaries About the Holocaust and World War II

Documentaries About the Holocaust and World War II

As official records and personal stories about the Holocaust continue to come to light, documentaries serve as a vehicle for making them known to the public. There are documentaries that chronicle circumstances of horror and unfathomable human cruelty, of life in the ghettos and survival in the concentration camps. Others tell stories of Jewish resistance, of extraordinary courage and inspiration, of individuals who defied the Nazis and expresses their humanity through music and art. These documentaries are keeping knowledge of the holocaust alive, and will hopefully prevent a repeat of this devastating period in human history. Here, in alphabetical order, is a list of excellent documentaries that present important holocaust stories — stories that must be remembered.

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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 creator of the literary figure known as Jeremiah Terminator LeRoy (aka JT LeRoy), a literary sensation during the early 2000s, who turned out to be Laura Albert’s literary hoax.

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Movie Review: Bill Morrison’s THE MINER’S HYMNS

Movie Review: Bill Morrison’s THE MINER’S HYMNS

As a filmmaker, Morrison’s signature is the use of archival footage to create impressionistic, rather poetic portraits of bygone eras in different places. In The Miners’ Hymns, the place is County Durham in North East England, and the time frame is roughly from the middle of the 19th century to the 1990s, when operations ceased at the area’s collieries, and coal miners turned in their drills, pickaxes and shovels for jobs in service industries.

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Documentary Review: YOU’VE BEEN TRUMPED

Documentary Review: YOU’VE BEEN TRUMPED

As you may have assumed from its title, You’ve Been Trumped is about Donald Trump — or, more specifically, it’s about the environmental impact that is likely to result from the real estate mogul’s construction of a golf course complex along the scenic coast of Scotland, at the Menie Estate, near the village of Balmedie, just north of Aberdeen.

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Movie Review: CAMERAPERSON

Movie Review: CAMERAPERSON

Cameraperson “ is cinematographer Kirsten Johnson’s extraordinary meditative autobiographical retrospective of her decades-long career shooting documentaries. The film is not only a masterclass in documentary filmmaking, it’s a must see artistic masterpiece.

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Harvard Beats Yale 29-29 – Movie Review

Harvard Beats Yale 29-29 – Movie Review

Kevin Rafferty, filmmaker and Harvard grad, uses archival footage and interviews with team members to ‘replay’ the legendary football game in which the undefeated teams of Harvard and Yale battled it out for the 1968 season’s final victory. The film’s title, Harvard Beats Yale 29-29, may give away the results, but the football plays, commentaries and remembrances presented in this sports documentary are gripping–even if you’re not a football fan.

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Movie Review: RAFEA SOLAR MAMA

Movie Review: RAFEA SOLAR MAMA

It’s wonderful when filmmakers produce documentaries about social actions that better peoples’ lives. Such is the case with filmmakers Jahane Noujaim and Mona Eldaief’s extraordinary Rafea Solar Mama, which chronicles the transformation of a woman who felt she had no future into a self-confident, independent citizen with the means to support herself and her family. The film doesn’t cure all the ills in Rafea’s life, nor does it resolve all the issues that she and other women in her community face, but it strongly suggests that there are proactive ways to make a difference for the better.

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Margot Benacerraf on ARAYA, Documentaries and the Sun as a Protagonist

Margot Benacerraf on ARAYA, Documentaries and the Sun as a Protagonist

Milestone Films’ restoration of Margot Benacerraf’s Araya coincided with the 50th anniversary of the film’s premier at Cannes Film Festival, where it shared the International Critics Prize with Alain Resnais’s Hiroshima, Mon Amour. Despite the win, Araya didn’t receive widespread distribution. Nevertheless, director Margot Benacerraf, now in her 80s, is a legendary figure in world cinema. Although she’s made few films, her work is compared to that of Robert Flaherty, Luchino Visconti and other master filmmakers.

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Casting By… – Documentary Review

Casting By… – Documentary Review

Casting Director Marion Dougherty didn’t invent Al Pacino or Bette Midler, but she certainly was very influential in the shaping of their careers. Pacino and Midler, and many other actors who’ve risen to super star status. Pacino, Midler and a long list of other movie stars and leading directors, including Martin Scorsese, Robert Redford, Woody Allen and Clint Eastwood appear in filmmaker Tom Donahue’s Casting By… to tell how Dougherty contributed to their success and to thank her for her invaluable input. Praise for Dougherty comes from a who’s who of Hollywood honchos. But, amid all of the headliners, Dougherty herself is actually cast as the central character in Casting By….

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Review: Jessica Yu’s PROTAGONIST

Review: Jessica Yu’s PROTAGONIST

Jessica Yu’s Protagonist is the sort of unusual documentary that tempts critics to try to show that they are smarter than the director–smarter not so much about the depth of their knowledge of the subject at hand, but about the lofty scholarly rightness of their own sense of cinematic form. The film is quite challenging–even heady–in its complexity, in its density of information and its innovate style.

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Andrew Morgan on THE TRUE COST, Fast Fashion and Making Films That Matter (Exclusive, Unedited Audio Interview)

Andrew Morgan on THE TRUE COST, Fast Fashion and Making Films That Matter (Exclusive, Unedited Audio Interview)

In this exclusive and unedited audio interview, Andrew Morgan discusses his eye-opening documentary, The True Cost, about how ‘fast fashion’ – you know, those stylish little frocks that H&M and other branded purveyors sell by the millions for $9.99 each — impacts our global economy, shatters local cultures, causes political unrest and poses a serious threat to the environment. Surprise: H&M is just about on a par with Monsanto in its sacrifice of human well-being for the sake of profit. Read on and listen to the interview.

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Thomas Vinterberg on FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD, Dogme and Feminism (Exclusive Audio Interview)

Thomas Vinterberg on FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD, Dogme and Feminism (Exclusive Audio Interview)

In this exclusive audio interview, Vinterberg talks about FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD, cinematic truth beyond dogme, feminism and the importance of devotion. Jennifer Merin interviews — while, due to YouTube’s odd posting protocols, birds fly across a lake, their caws, cries and comments silenced by a mute button. To listen to the interview, click here

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Best Documentary Hybrids – A Curated List

Best Documentary Hybrids – A Curated List

Although documentarians claim to represent truth in filmmaking and narrative moviemakers tout their ability to entertain and transform through fantasy, the line between truth and fiction in filmmaking is — and always has been — blurry. This is a list of hybrid documentaries in which narrative filmmaking techniques — reenactments, special effects, animation and other such elements — are used effectively to deliver story elements essential to conveying the film’s subject and theme. Collectively these outstanding films illustrate the many ways in which narrative filmmaking techniques can be used in documentary filmmaking without compromising the genre’s standards of authenticity, transparency and journalistic ethics.

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Movie Review: THE COVE

Movie Review: THE COVE

This Oscar-winning animal rights documentary plays like a thriller thanks to the dramatic use of infra red night vision photography and other cinematic effects that authentically represent actual events as protagonist Richard O’Barry campaigns to save dolphins from the annual hunt and slaughter taking place in Taiji, Japan. The film’s mission and position are substantiated with ample verite coverage of International Whaling Commission conferences, and on camera testimony from animal experts and politicians.

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Movie Review – BLESSED IS THE MATCH: THE LIFE AND DEATH OF HANNAH SENESH

Movie Review – BLESSED IS THE MATCH: THE LIFE AND DEATH OF HANNAH SENESH

Blessed Is The Match – The Life and Death of Hannah Senesh is the heartbreaking World War II story of a young Jewish women, Hannah Senesh, who emigrated from Hungary to Palestine, but later tried to sneak back to her home country in a valiant attempt to save Jewis–including her mother–from death at the hands of Hungarian Nazis. Filmmaker Roberta Grossman creates a truly moving memorial to Hannah by using archival footage, photographs and reenactments that show us how her comfortable well-to-do childhood changed with the death of her father and increasing influence of fascism in Hungary. Hannah was joyful and courageous, a gifted poet and diarist. Her death is a Holocaust tragedy.

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Movie Review: THE ARBOR

Movie Review: THE ARBOR

In her first documentary feature, London-based artist Clio Bernard experiments with nonfiction form, using actors to lip sync to audio-only recordings of interviews she’d made with playwright Andrea Dunbar’s surviving family and the circle of acquaintances who knew her and shared her difficult circumstances in ‘The Arbor,’ a tough working poor ‘estate’ neighborhood of Bradford in the North of England. The effect of the perfect lip syncing is eerie, especially since the entire film was shot on location in Bradford, at the very places frequented by Dunbar and her circle.

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Sharon Greytak and ARCHAEOLOGY OF A WOMAN

Sharon Greytak and ARCHAEOLOGY OF A WOMAN

During our chat about Archeology of A Women, indie filmmaker Sharon Greytak brought up the idea that films can ‘out’ social issues, secrets and taboos. That idea intrigues and appeals to me. I find that most of the films I find most interesting — be narratives of a dramatic or documentary nature — do actually ‘out’ issues, either by introducing them to public awareness or exploring them in such a way that audiences are forced to reevaluate, rethink what they know about them. Archeology of A Woman is, in fact, such a film.

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Roger Donaldson’s Take On Reality – An Interview About Truth-Based Narratives

Roger Donaldson’s Take On Reality – An Interview About Truth-Based Narratives

Narrative features about true events always raise questions about authenticity in film. With many truth based narratives, available news stories and other documents about the actual events may help audiences to separate the film’s fiction from fact, and to know where characters have been added or axed to enhance the story, the caper, the thrill – the entertainment value. Roger Donaldson — who’s directed documentaries and truth-based narratives, as well as films of pure fiction (such as The November Man, currently in theaters) – takes the ‘of record’ aspect of his work seriously. My interview with Donaldson focused on the truth-based The Bank Job (2008) and how the story was researched and interpreted.

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