THE BUSINESS OF BEING BORN (2008) – Documentary Retroview

THE BUSINESS OF BEING BORN (2008) – Documentary Retroview

In The Business of Being Born, director Abby Epstein and producer Ricki Lake focus our attention on the issue of childbearing practices in the United States in much the same way Michael Moore highlighted the American health care system in Sicko. Both Epstein and Lake play dramatic roles in investigating the way in which the medical establishment deals with birthing and showing midwifery as a viable alternative for women who wish to avoid invasive procedures. This is a subject of interest and concern to us all–whether or not childbearing happens to be on our personal agenda.

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Documentaries on the 2018 Awards Circuit – Critics Choice Documentary Awards

Documentaries on the 2018 Awards Circuit – Critics Choice Documentary Awards

The official announcement of nonfiction nominees for the Third Annual Critics Choice Documentary Awards (CCDA) kicks off this year’s race for nonfic recognition, and what a race it is. Throughout the year, documentary production and distribution have soared, making 2018 the year of trending nonfiction.

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Preview: Margaret Mead Film Festival 2018

Preview: Margaret Mead Film Festival 2018

Honoring the legendary anthropologist Margaret Mead, this year’s festival focuses on the theme “Resilience in Motion, documenting stories that celebrate individuals who are breaking new ground or breaking free despite challenging circumstances and sparking provocative conversations­—whether they’re about battling voter suppression in Cumberland County, North Carolina, or Nigerian school girls kidnapped by Boko Haram struggling to regain normalcy after their release from captivity, or transgender women in Tonga creating safe spaces for self-expression.

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Fork Films Picks 16 Documentaries for Funding

Fork Films Picks 16 Documentaries for Funding

Abigail Disney’s Fork Films is dividng $625,000 in grants among 16 new documentaries that align with the company’s dedication to promoting peacebuilding, human rights, and social justice. All are directed and or produced by women. Selected from 500 applicants, the chosen films address topics ranging from refugee and immigration stories, to incarceration, civil rights, disability rights and media depictions of transgender people, as well as other timely topics. The unprecedented number of applications indicates growing demand for nonfiction storytelling in this turbulent time. Fork Films is committed to supporting voices not prioritized in mainstream media, and has given out nearly $5,000,000 in grant and investments to more than 100 documentaries to date.

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Documentary Distribution 101: The Film Festival Effect

Documentary Distribution 101: The Film Festival Effect

Developing audiences for documentaries can be a daunting task. Successful documentary distribution depends on audience demand, on convincing audiences that they want to purchase a ticket for a nonfiction film rather than for a narrative feature, even the weekly blockbuster with the title hat has been inked indelibly on their psyche by big budget, aggressive and effective marketing. How does film festival exposure help documentaries to gain audience, and does a documentary’s success on the festival circuit translate into wider distribution?

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PLAYER HATING: A LOVE STORY (2012) — Documentary Retroview

PLAYER HATING: A LOVE STORY (2012) — Documentary Retroview

In Player Hating: A Love Story, filmmaker Maggie Hadleigh-West follows Jasun Wardlaw, the talented hip hop recording artist known as Half-a-Mill, as he and his crew of ‘thugs’ prepare to release his first big record album. Half-a-Mill is hoping that the album will be the kind of success that will catapult him out of Brooklyn, New York’s crime-riddled Atlantic Housing Project, where he’s faced tough — no, make that dire — living conditions since his childhood. He’s deeply in need of some form of relief. And so are his family and friends. In fact, so is the whole neighborhood.

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DARK MONEY — Documentary Review

DARK MONEY — Documentary Review

Kimberly Reed’s well-researched and compelling documentary is an explosive expose about the tremendous threat the influence of concealed corporate funding of political campaigns poses to the democratic process and the legitimacy of our elections. Dark Money is a political thriller, a cautionary tale that shows how independent candidates for public office are targeted and defeated by special interest groups hiding behind nonprofit organizations that are funded by wealthy and influential individuals and/or corporations — the Koch brothers, for example — who are basically buying elections and gaining the control necessary to guide the making future laws and to determine policies of the United States regarding everything from land use to diplomacy and alliances with foreign nations.

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KING CORN (2007) — Documentary Retroview

KING CORN (2007) — Documentary Retroview

If you believe you are what you eat, you’ll no doubt be shocked to learn that you’re mostly corn. Aaron Woolf’s documentary reveals that most Americans eat mostly food products derived from or containing corn. In King Corn, Woolf follows young eco-activists Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis–who met and became investigative cohorts while undergrads at Yale–as they plant and harvest an acre’s worth of corn, and then to trace their crop as it is processed into the food products that nurture the increasingly obese and unhealthy–and always hungry–American population.

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MORE THAN HONEY (2013) – Documentary Review

MORE THAN HONEY (2013) – Documentary Review

More Than Honey is a phenomenally well-researched and thorough study of bees and their complex influence on human civilization, and an in depth investigation of the honeybee colony collapse disorder, a current crisis that some experts say threatens the extinction of honeybees, which would have a potentially devastating impact on human civilization. Without honeybees and their effective cross pollination of plants, there would be no crops, no harvest, nothing for humans or other species to eat.

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QUEEN OF THE SUN: THE ENDANGERED WORLD OF BEES (2010) — Documentary Review

QUEEN OF THE SUN: THE ENDANGERED WORLD OF BEES  (2010) — Documentary Review

Queen of the Sun is an in depth study about bees and their importance to Earth’s sustainability. It delves into the history of beekeeping and investigates the causes, implications and impending impact of the colony collapse disorder, which is currently reaching epidemic proportions.

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BIGGER STRONGER FASTER (2008) – Documentary Retroview

BIGGER STRONGER FASTER (2008) – Documentary Retroview

Chris Bell uses his personal story as a platform for consideration of doping in America. The film shows that famous hunks like Hulk Hogan, Sly Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger were dopers, and shows that the use of steroids is not only addictive, but also dangerous to both health and reputation.

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A FILM UNFINISHED (2010) — Documentary Retroview

A FILM UNFINISHED (2010) — Documentary Retroview

Yael Hersonski’s A Film Unfinished is a remarkable holocaust documentary comprised primarily of previously unedited historic footage that was shot by Nazi filmmakers, ostensibly chronicling daily life in the infamous Warsaw Ghetto during World War II. Most of the footage — 60 minutes of silent images — was discovered in East German archives, long after WWII ended. It was generally considered to be historic record — albeit from the Nazi perspective — of life within the walled district (read that as prison) where German authorities and their Polish sympathizers forced Jews to await their fate.

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HITLER’S HOLLYWOOD — Documentary Review

HITLER’S HOLLYWOOD — Documentary Review

Filmmaker Rudiger Suchsland’s Hitler’s Hollywood is a compilation documentary that uses clips from films produced during the Nazi regime to show how the movies were used to indoctrinate the masses and influence their behavior. Subtitled German Cinema in the Age of Propaganda: 1933-45, the film is more analysis than homage, presenting a fascinating profile of the Nazi period of German history that creates positive stereotypes and presents mythic illusions about current and historic events.

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DREAMS OF A LIFE (2012) — Documentary Retroview

DREAMS OF A LIFE (2012) — Documentary Retroview

Dreams of a Life is the story of Joyce Carol Vincent, a 40-something woman whose decomposed corpse was discovered in a North London bedsit in 2003, but only when and because authorities broke in to evict her for nonpayment of rent. She’d been dead for three years and nobody had missed her, nobody had asked after her, nobody had noticed the mail piling up at the door.

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CORMAN’S WORLD: EXPLOITS OF A HOLLYWOOD REBEL (2011) — Documentary Retroview

CORMAN’S WORLD: EXPLOITS OF A HOLLYWOOD REBEL (2011) — Documentary Retroview

If you have any interest in Hollywood history and love Tinsel Town lore, this comprehensive biodoc about the life and career of Roger Corman will entertain and fascinate you — even if you’re not a big fan of the B-movie genre. Expect to see Hollywood’s A-List of stars who attribute their success to the legendary ‘King of B-movies.’ pay tribute to Corman, now in his 80s.

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JANE’S JOURNEY (2010) — Documentary Retroview

JANE’S JOURNEY (2010) — Documentary Retroview

In case you were enthralled by Jane, filmmaker Brett Morgan’s award-winning documentary profile of Jane Goodall, you’ll find more about the good doctor in Jane’s Journey, directed by German documentarian Lorenz Knauer and released in 2010. Goodall is world famous and deservedly beloved for her ongoing research about the chimpanzees of Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania, and for her ongoing nonprofit Roots and Shoots programs that bring education and eco-friendly enterprise to people in need around the world. She is a diminutive woman whose accomplishments are larger than life. In Jane’s Journey, Knauer chronicles Dr. Goodall’s personal evolution to become the iconic activist environmentalist she is today, and follows her on her tireless travels to help poor people by bringing hope and practical solutions into their lives.

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NICKY’S FAMILY (2013) — Documentary Review

NICKY’S FAMILY (2013) — Documentary Review

Just before the outbreak of World War II, an unassuming English businessman named Nicholas Winton traveled to Czechoslovakia and witnessed conditions that compelled him to organize the transport of 669 Czech and Slovak children — many of them Jewish — from their homeland to the safety of England. With careful planning and tremendous courage, he rescued them from suffering and death at the hands of Nazi invaders who eventually killed many of the children’s parents, siblings and extended family members.

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The Way Brothers — Chapman and Maclain — discuss WILD WILD COUNTRY and the Saga of Bhagwan’s Failed Utopia

The Way Brothers — Chapman and Maclain — discuss WILD WILD COUNTRY and the Saga of Bhagwan’s Failed Utopia

The Way Brothers’ six-part documentary chronicles the strange saga of self-proclaimed spiritual leader Baghwan, later known as Osho, and his devotees, as they created a Utopian community on a vast tract of rough terrain in rural Oregon during the 1980s.

Initially the gurus idealistic followers came from around the world to build an entire self-sustaining compound in which they lived and worked communally, often welcoming down-and-out vagrants to join them for a better life. But local government authorities, town folk and ranchers felt they were under siege from an invading army of free-thinkers who defied ‘normal’ social conventions – that they had sex in public places was a big complaint — and tried, in vain, to oust them from Wasco County. External pressures lead to internal confrontations and eventually the Utopia became a scene of chaos and crime.

The Way Brothers draw from an extraordinary cache of archival footage — much of it filmed secretly with hidden cameras placed within the compound — that reveals the daily life of devotees, as well as Baghwan/Osho’s erratic behavior, and the confrontational disposition of his right-hand secretary, Ma Anan Sheela, a woman who actually ran and monitored all aspects of the community.

Ma Anan Sheela, now living in Switzerland, expresses her take on the story extensively in on camera interviews that punctuate the archival footage, along with additional interviews with other key persons in the community and with local folk who have a lot to say about what they consider to have been a daunting ordeal. The fascinating film raises a lot of questions about cults, seekers of justice, and the American way. To hear the Way Brothers’ equally fascinating answers to my questions about the story and their filmmaking process, listen to my exclusive interview

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LA CHANA — Documentary Review

LA   CHANA — Documentary Review

Capturing all of the passion and personal expression that permeates flamenco and illuminates the dance form’s most engaging performers, Lucija Stojevic’s La Chana profiles the career and artistry of Antonia Santiago Amador, the hugely popular flamenco goddess revered by dance afficiandos for her force of nature spirit and extraordinary footwork. The great La Chana’s career peaked during the late 1960s, just before she inexplicably shunned her celebrity and mysteriously vanished from the dance world.

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IDFA 2017: The Female Gaze is Gone

IDFA 2017: The Female Gaze is Gone

It’s hard not to appreciate what the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam, otherwise known as IDFA, has accomplished during the decades since it was co-founded by Ally Derks, who is rightly revered in the documentary film realm. But Ally Derks has moved on, and IDFA is changing its outlook. This year, the festival dropped its The Female Gaze program and is, apparently, no longer focusing on ongoing issues of gender parity faced by the international community of women filmmakers.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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