LUTHER: NEVER TOO MUCH (Sundance FF 2024) – Review by Leslie Combemale

Even after the popular Brit-crime TV show Luther, starring Idris Elba, aired, the moniker LUTHER meant only one thing. To this day, the name virtuosic singer/producer/songwriter Luther, Luther Vandross that is, belongs to a rare group of stars that the world knows using even just one name. Now documentarian Dawn Porter, who is responsible for award-winning films Bobby Kennedy for President, John Lewis: Good Trouble, and The Lady Bird Diaries, tells the story of Vandross’s formative early years, his career, and his adult life, in Luther: Never Too Much. A colossal talent lost before his time when he died of complications from a stroke and heart trouble at 52, the performer deserves every moment he and his genius is remembered onscreen.

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Sundance FF 2024: Ten Female-Directed Documentaries on our Watch List – Leslie Combemale Reports

Although female directors usually find a much more hospitable home in documentary filmmaking, it’s still an incredibly challenging field. Fortunately Sundance is one festival in which female helmed and female focused documentaries are given a voice. A full 50% of documentaries being shown in the US Documentary Competition were directed by one or more filmmakers who identify as a woman, and even more impressive, 60% were directed by one or more who identify as a person of color. Six of the 9 films in the World Documentary Competition were directed by one or more artists who identify as women. We perused the list of premieres so our readership can get as excited as we are about what’s coming to Sundance. Five out of 10 are available to watch digitally during the fest, so buy your tickets now!

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THE LADY BIRD DIARIES (Middleburg FF 2023) – Review by Leslie Combemale

You may or may not know that when you’re driving the highways of America, you can thank Lady Bird Johnson for those pretty wildflowers in the median strip. What else, though, do we know about Lady Bird? Director/producer Dawn Porter wants to give us a fuller picture of President Johnson’s enigmatic First Lady. Based on the biography Lady Bird Johnson: Hiding in Plain Sight, the film utilizes the 123 hours of audio diaries Claudia “Lady Bird” Johnson left behind after her death. The film utilizes the 123 hours of audio diaries Claudia “Lady Bird” Johnson left behind after her death. Unbelievably, those recordings chronicle some of the most tumultuous times in US history, and Lady Bird Diaries plays them against footage and photographs of the time. Audiences hear the woman’s perspective on some truly momentous American events, in her own voice and with her own words.

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WEEK IN WOMEN: Dawn Porter directs Cirque du Soleil documentary – Brandy McDonnell reports

Director Dawn Porter is joining forces with MGM Television to produce a feature documentary about Cirque du Soleil as the live entertainment company makes a comeback after the COVID-19 pandemic forced it to shutter operations and declare bankruptcy. The documentary will provide a behind-the-scenes look at Cirque du Soleil’s resurgence after the most difficult period in the global circus’ history.

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RISE AGAIN: TULSA AND THE RED SUMMER – Review by Pamela Powell

Dawn Porter’s Rise Again, feeling as much like a mystery as an historical documentary, educates us and empowers us with awareness and understanding. History should not repeat itself and we must learn from it. Porter’s film is a pointed example of this perspective.

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THE WAY I SEE IT – Review by Martha K Baker

Long before Pete Souza became the Official White House photographer for President Barak Obama, he served in the same capacity for President Ronald Reagan. The two jobs and the two Presidents were very different. Souza responded in kind. For Pres. Obama, Souza had top-secret clearance plus total access to the President.

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THE WAY I SEE IT – Review by Brandy McDonnell

Featuring interviews with Souza’s family, former cohorts in both administrations and historians, the film, like its subject, argues fiercely that Trump lacks the character, empathy and leadership for the role of president, warning voters that the president is a real person and that choosing one as a means to the end results in Americans getting the kind of bad leaders they deserve.

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JOHN LEWIS: GOOD TROUBLE – Brandy McDonnell reviews

Serving his 17th term as a member of Congress, the Georgia Democrat, 80, has spent more than six decades fighting for equality for Black Americans, from marching with Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, Alabama, where he was badly injured by police officers, to getting on the bus as one of the original “Freedom Riders” who protested against segregation in transportation.

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MOVIE OF THE WEEK July 17, 2020: JOHN LEWIS – GOOD TROUBLE

“It’s because of you, John.” That was the short, powerful note that President Barack Obama wrote to Congressman John Lewis on Obama’s first inauguration day, and director Dawn Porter’s moving documentary John Lewis: Good Trouble shows us exactly how right the president was. The film chronicles the highs and lows of Lewis’ life and career, set into the political and historical context of the 1960s to the present day.

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