MOVIE OF THE WEEK May 31, 2024: THE COMMANDANT’S SHADOW

At a time when some U.S. public schools are shutting down lesson plans that run the risk of making White American children feel bad about the country’s history of enslavement and oppression, The Commandant’s Shadow is an especially timely reminder of the dangers of willfully turning a blind eye to history. Daniela Volker’s documentary about coming to terms with both personal and societal legacies is a compelling addition to the catalog of films about World War II and the Holocaust.

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ROWDY GIRL – Review by April Neale

Blame Michael Pollan. Blame Eric Schlosser! Our sensibilities are heightened thanks to these two men of recent note, and our views toward food and animals—and how the two interact— are changing. A story about that change is beautifully rendered in the new doc, Rowdy Girl, a wonderfully concise look at one woman’s change of heart and diet after the dime dropped that she was hurting animals in a way she could not square anymore. She reads the Bible, believes in God, and has interpreted the text to support her newfound epiphany that Black Angus—especially one she named Rowdy Girl—and their place in this world as it relates to us has profoundly changed her life.

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THE COMMANDANT’S SHADOW – Review by Loren King

By focusing on the specific stories of several individuals, director Daniela Volker’s The Commandant’s Shadow explores universal issues about generational trauma related to the Holocaust. It’s a moving and profound journey that we take with the son, daughter, and grandson of notorious Auschwitz commander Rudolf Hoss, the Nazi responsible for the systematic murder of millions and the subject of Jonathan Glazer’s Oscar-winning film The Zone of Interest.

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SONGS OF THE EARTH – Review by Liz Braun

In sight and sound, Songs of Earth is remarkable. Filmmaker Mrgreth Olin makes it clear in a prologue that her film is a love letter to her parents and ancestors and to the land they love so much. But the film is also a gentle reminder that all things must pass. Given that her parents are no longer young, her father’s comments on time, grief and the inevitability of generations following one another set the tone for what follows. The film is not bittersweet, exactly, but it is unusually affecting, and perhaps more so for any viewer who is likewise no longer young.

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TAKING VENICE – Review by Valerie Kalfrin

Pitched as part heist film, part dissection of the machinations behind the year that an American painter won the top award at the world’s most influential art exhibition, the documentary Taking Venice proves most fascinating when it reveals how the U.S. government wanted to use art as Cold War propaganda. As someone notes here, art is not just about art but politics, reverberating throughout history. An epicenter for one such shock wave was 1964’s Venice Biennale, the year American Robert Rauschenberg won the top honor for painting to the surprise of and some disgust from the traditional art world. With previous winners including Henri Matisse, the accolades signified that the world’s arts center had shifted from Paris to New York City.

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LION SPY – Review by T. J. Callahan

Statistics estimate there are only 20,000 wild lions left in Africa. 25 African countries have no lions left. What’s happening to the king of beasts? That’s the question filmmaker Joni “Rogue” Rubin, a photographer and activist asked herself and she set out to find the answer. Her brutally honest documentary, Lion Spy, is the result. Born in South Africa, but living and working in Australia, Rubin returned to her birth country to go undercover to expose the big-game trophy hunting industry. Lion Spy is not an easy watch. One minute a giraffe is regally standing tall eating leaves from the top of a tree and the next minute he’s felled by a bullet and propped up for a photo. Rubin doesn’t “airbrush “ anything. It’s her mission to save the lions and other endangered creatures and the raw footage may be the spark for new legislation.

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ANY OTHER WAY: THE JACKIE SHANE STORY (Hot Docs 2024) – Review by Liz Braun

Forty years of living as a recluse nearly erased her legacy, but a new film about Jackie Shane should ensure that the legendary R&B singer is properly remembered. Shane, a transgender performer decades before gender identity was part of the lexicon, was born in Nashville and moved to Canada in 1959 — entering the country for a gig and never leaving. Shane eventually settled in Toronto and had a big presence in the club scene there. And she had a Top 40 hit in the 1960s: Any Other Way. In 1971, Shane vanished from the music scene. What became of this brave and talented performer is one of the mysteries solved in Any Other Way: The Jackie Shane Story..

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FAMILY TREE (Hot Docs 2024) – Review by Liz Braun

This is a gentle, engaging and instructive film about preserving land, preserving family and preserving ownership. Director Jennifer MacArthur pulls a viewer right into the heart of two African-American families and their day to day concerns as stewards of large tracts of forested land. Keeping their land properly is a huge undertaking with huge ramifications: forested land is key to the environment, removing carbon from the atmosphere and slowing the greenhouse effect and climate change.

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MOVIE OF THE WEEK May 3, 2024: CATCHING FIRE: THE STORY OF ANITA PALLENBERG

Blending frank interviews with a treasure trove of archival images and their subject’s own words, filmmakers Alexis Bloom and Svetlana Zill paint an incredibly intimate portrait of a 1960s and ’70s icon in Catching Fire: The Story of Anita Pallenberg. As a model, actress, mother, muse, and more, Pallenberg lived a life that was turned up to 11 as she became an integral part of the group surrounding the Rolling Stones in their heyday but was never anything less than her own woman.

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THE SHARP EDGE OF PEACE (Hot Docs 2024) – Review by Liz Braun

The Sharp Edge of Peace is an infuriating documentary about Afghanistan. The film concerns the attempts made by women leaders and others to restore women’s rights in Afghanistan via negotiations with the Taliban. It opens with footage of peace negotiator Fawzia Koofi in hospital, as she has just survived an assassination attempt. Koofi is one of four women chosen to be part of the Afghan government’s negotiating team as the country attempts to recover its footing after the withdrawal of U.S. and other foreign troops, and the rise of the Taliban.

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