Documentaries in Theaters, August 2014 – Part One

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Documentaries about troubled youth in small town USA and throughout China, expressions of Iranian artists in exile, the inspiration of music and ‘playing it forward,’ and deep sea discoveries hit big screens between August 1 and 12. Check out the roster and for maximum non-fic cool, see them all!

August 1

rich hill posterRich Hill

Focusing on rural Missouri’s economically-challenged titular community of Rich Hill, the documentary delivers a stunning study of the lives and prospects of three boys coming of age in a small — and typical — town in heartland America. Documentarians Tracy Droz Tragos and Andrew Droz Palermo (they’re cousins) follow the adolescent Andrew, Harley and Appachey through their daily routines, showing the daunting struggles these everykid aspiration-filled teenagers face in their troubled and troubling social and economic circumstances. Neglected by their unemployed and impoverished parents, facing family instability and feeling all alone in a world rife with problems, these kids express hope and show amazing faith in the American dream and their own abilities to work hard to achieve it. You leave the theater really rooting for them and for their future success – and that of our presently distressed country. They are our future. We must help them to make it a better one. FYI, the film premiered at Sundance 2014, where it wan the Grand Jury Prize. It releases theatrically in NY on August 1, in LA on August 15 and expands to other cities on August 22.

August 6

web junkie posterWeb Junkie

In another investigation about troubled youth, filmmakers Hilla Medalia and Shosh Shlam delve into the subject of widespread Internet addiction in China and its impact on the lives of afflicted kids, their families and society. The filmmakers follow Chinese teenagers who are sent to Beijing’s Daxing Boot Camp, one of 400 rehab centers where kids addicted to “Electronic Heroin” (mostly boys) are given therapy to quell their compulsion for “World of Warcraft” and other games that have replaced reality – and social responsibility — in their daily lives. Internet addiction is an invasive phenomenon worldwide and while the film focuses on China, where the affliction is officially recognized as a psychological disorder and social issue — and treatment is often mandatory, especially for youngsters — the disturbing mindset and behavior exposed in the film are just as global as Game Boy. Kids who’ve become basically antisocial and dysfunctional, or are seen as such, need to be helped to regain balance in their lives, but are China’s extreme methods the best way? The film effectively raises that question and advocates for compassion.

August 8

fifi howls posterFifi Howls From Happiness

Fifi Howls From Happiness is Iranian filmmaker Mitra Farahani’s personal tribute to and biodoc about Iranian painter Bahman Mohassess. Both were artists in exile when the film was made. Farahani, living in Paris, discovered Mohassess residing in a hotel in Rome, where he’d settled after he left Iran in 2006, seeking a country where he could live freely. He’d stopped painting and was living quietly, out of the limelight. In protest to developments in Iran, he’d actually destroyed most of his work, but kept a small painting titled Fifi, which inspired the film’s title. In the documentary, much of which was shot in his hotel, Mohassess talks freely about himself, his memories and impressions of Iran, his work and gay lifestyle. He’s a great interview, a fascinating character and skilled storyteller whose perspectivae and witty remarks on art and Iran’s social and political history are thoroughly engaging. But the film is overly talky and may not capture the curiosity of audiences who aren’t already in the know about the artist who is known as the ‘Persian Picasso.’ That said, Mohassess died, at age 79, before the film was finished, and it is his legacy. So, respect!

August 12

keep on keepin posterKeep On Keepin’ On

In this wonderful music documentary, biopic and tribute film, Australian filmmaker Alan Hicks chronicles the mentorship and beautiful intergenerational friendship between iconic jazz trumpeter Clark Terry, at age of 89, and Justin Kauflin, the 23-year-old blind and ailing piano protege. Filmed over a four year time period, the documentary presents a purely inspirational ‘play it forward’ story, which is enriched by magnificent music and the always welcome presence of Quincy Jones as commentator. Must see. Must hear. Must pay attention to playing it forward!

August 12

deepsea poster artDeepsea Challenge 3D

Filmmakers John Bruno, Andrew Wight and Ray Quint are charged with documenting the deep sea exploits and explorations of James Cameron,the film director whose narrative films have reflected his interest in deep sea diving and who, as shown in this film, became the first person to travel solo to the deepest point on our planet. James Cameron’s “Deepsea Challenge 3D” tells the story of Cameron’s journey to fulfill his boyhood dream of becoming an explorer. The movie offers a unique insight into Cameron’s world as he makes that dream reality – and makes history – by becoming the first person to travel solo to the deepest point on the planet. Diving 13 times in his Deepsea Challenger submersible, Cameron gained valuable scientific data, collected numerous samples and specimens and identified 68 previously unknown species of underwater life forms. On March 26, 2012, the ongoing Challenger Expedition concluded with Cameron’s historic, solo dive to the Challenger Deep, a depth of 35,787 feet (almost seven miles) beneath the ocean’s surface, and the lowest known place on the planet. This mission to explore the unknown undoubtedly took tremendous dedication, commitment and courage. Documenting it was a splendid idea, and the film is worthwhile. But, it’s actually at its best when it focuses on the environment — where its 3D effects afford you the sensation of being there — rather than Cameron’s highly touted exploits. For a more satisfying viewing experience, concentrate on the fascinating discoveries and wonderful cinematography and respect Cameron’s commitment to the project and eschew his exhausting display of egotism.

Copyright Jennifer Merin
All rights reserved

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