February 28, 2019. An eco-fable with a strong female hero, a dash of magical realism and unexpected humor, “Woman at War” is a morality tale that asks important questions about what it means to violate the law in the name of a deeply felt higher purpose. A mild-mannered choral director by day, and a green warrior by, well, also day, Halla loves the mountains of rural Iceland where she lives. Her almost miraculous attempts (though she does have an amazing skill set) to sabotage the new aluminum smelting plant that she fears will despoil her mountains and contribute to global warming are inspired by Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela (whose pictures have pride of place in her house). Like them, she takes the pursuit of justice into her own hands, regardless of the legal consequences (though she strives mightily to remain anonymous). Read the rest of this entry
February 11, 2019. On February 21, IFC Center, as part of its “Pure Non Fiction” series, will present a 20th anniversary screening of documentary filmmaker Doug Block’s 1999 documentary “Home Page.” Two decades after its release, “Home Page” is a fascinating time capsule about the early days of the internet.
I recently had the pleasure of discussing “Home Page” with Doug. Doug, along with his wife Marjorie, daughter Lucy (all three of whom are in the film) and “Home Page” main subject Justin Hall, will participate in a post screening Q&A. Read the rest of this entry
A still from “Kirikou and the Sorceress”
February 11, 2019. French animators have produced some of the most vibrant, beautiful, historically rich and uninhibited animated films of any country in the world. The second annual Animation First Festival at the French Institute Alliance Française, which took place during the final weekend in January, did not disappoint, offering up classics and new works to delight and amaze even the most jaded filmgoer.
I was only able to attend Friday night, but was lucky enough to see the opening night feature, “Kirikou and the Sorceress,” directed by Michel Ocelot. The film, whose 20th anniversary was being celebrated, is credited with sparking a renaissance in French animation, resulting in the extraordinary outpouring of creativity we see today. A gorgeous and immersive interpretation of West African folktales that Ocelot heard as a child growing up in Guinea, “Kirikou…” is a humanist fable that uses its often amusing cast of characters to explore why people are the way they are. A lively score by Senegalese singer/composer Youssou N’Dour brings an added dimension of cultural authenticity to the village life portrayed in the film. Read the rest of this entry
January 12, 2019. The thought-provoking and ambitious film “What is Democracy?” opens with a provocative quote from Plato: “Nothing is beautiful without struggle.” I’m not sure if he was referring specifically to democracy, but in this philosophical and political journey by director Astra Taylor, scholars, activists and historians grapple with the ways in which this idea of “rule by the people” has been implemented, exploited, and striven toward (imperfectly) over time and place. She asks these contemporary thinkers, in particular, about the relevance of the (Western) democratic project for us today – some 2400 years after its birth in Ancient Greece. Read the rest of this entry
November 12, 2018. The DOC NYC film festival (which continues through Thursday) presents an incredible variety of documentary films on many topics, from politics, to art, to social movements, to technology, to peace and justice, to nature, to biography. The following remarkable film encompasses four of these categories.
A meticulous work of art in its own right, the documentary “Takumi: The 60,000 Hour Story of Human Craft” profiles four artisans in Japan who exemplify the idea that honing one’s craft takes thousands of hours (some might say 60,000) of learning, practice and struggle. Those who do it well become an embodiment of their art – a “takumi.” Read the rest of this entry
November 12, 2018. Separation of church and state, sub-cultures, counter cultures, dissidents, over- crowding, violence, water quality, excess traffic, what’s right for a community and the right to exist all come to a head in director Jesse Sweet’s riveting new documentary, “City of Joel.” This is one of the best documentaries I have seen, so far, at this year’s DOCNYC film festival, running now through November 18. Read the rest of this entry
People following their passions inhabit many of the documentaries featured in this year’s DOC NYC Film Festival, which will take place November 8th to15th. In the film “The Cat Rescuers,” we follow four individuals who have taken on the insurmountable task of attempting to alleviate the suffering of the approximately 100,000 feral cats eking out an existence on the streets of Brooklyn. Their indefatigable determination often wreaks havoc with their personal lives, but is also a source of great joy and satisfaction. Directors Rob Fruchtman and Steven Lawrence have clearly fallen in love with these people and their mission, and impart a clear message to the viewer – that no cat deserves a life of hell on our city streets, and those who struggle every day to make a difference deserve our respect and gratitude. Read the rest of this entry
DOC NYC, America’s largest documentary festival will run from November 8-15 at the IFC Center in Greenwich Village (323 6th Avenue) and Chelsea’s SVA Theatre (333 West 23rd Street) and Cinepolis Chelsea (260 West 23rd Street). The 2018 festival includes 135 feature-length documentaries among over 300 films and events overall. Included are 42 world premieres and 17 U.S. or North American premieres, with more than 500 doc makers and special guests expected in person to present their films or participate on panels.
As I have said before in this blog, the best parts of any film festival are the documentaries. So, with a film festival consisting of nothing but documentaries, I am excited! I am also over whelmed by the share number of films. Believe me, I want to see all of them. So far, my writing partner, Wendy Moscow, and I have been fortunate enough to screen some of the films in advance…that is when our day jobs do not get in the way. We will be posting now and throughout the festival.
Please visit DOCNYC.NET for information on films and events.
Director Maxim Pozdorovkin’s “The Truth about Killer Robots” is set in a chilling, dystopian world. When I use the word “dystopian” I understand it to mean a futuristic world in which things have gone terribly wrong – think George Orwell’s “1984.” Two things which make “The Truth about Killer Robots” so disturbing is that it is a documentary and it takes place now, in a dystopian present. Robots killing humans, automation taking away “human” jobs, a robot girlfriend to make up for the lack of women in Japan, a sign in a factory depicting a human figure that has a slash through it, self-driving cars and a lack of human interaction among people, due to technology, all play parts in this disturbing mosaic that takes place in Germany, Japan, China and the United States. This is an intelligent and well constructed documentary covering the advancement of technology and how this effects workers. Read the rest of this entry
Hal Linden and Ryan Ochoa in “The Samuel Project”
October 14, 2018. “The Samuel Project” certainly has its heart in the right place, but unfortunately has trouble in the execution of its story. Eli, a high school student (charmingly played by Ryan Ochoa) wants to make an animated documentary about his grandfather’s early life in Nazi Germany. The film is a project for Eli’s media class. The grandfather, the eponymous Samuel, is played by Hal Linden. It was nice to see Linden (best known for the TV sitcom “Barney Miller,” 1975 – 1982) back acting. Read the rest of this entry