“Garry Winogrand: All Things are Photographable” at Film Forum, September 19 – October 2 (Seth Shire).

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Photographer Garry Winogrand, in his younger days.

The new documentary, “Garry Winogrand: All Things are Photographable,” opens at Film Forum on September 19 and will continue its run until October 2.  Garry Winogrand (1928 – 1984) was a former journalist who became a street photographer and defined, or perhaps, re-defined what street photography could be.  I have heard it said that the greatest success also has the greatest number of failures.  For example, Babe Ruth held the record for the greatest number of home runs, but also held the record for the greatest number of strike outs.  In line with this reasoning is the astounding fact that Winogrand shot over a million rolls of 35 mm film with his Leica camera and, at that time of his death, actually left several thousand rolls still undeveloped.  Winogrand photographed whatever he came across in his attempt to capture the emotional complexities of people living their lives.  He looked for those raw moments that reveal who we are as human beings.  His search took him from New York City to Texas and Los Angeles.  Not every one of Winogrand’s pictures was a success, although a small percent, obviously were, or his work would not have received the critical acclaim that it has.  What was Winogrand looking for and could it have been somewhere in those undeveloped rolls of film?  Was taking the picture but never actually seeing it enough for him?

Director and editor Sasha Waters Freyer has put together a compelling mosaic of Winogrand’s life and career from a variety of sources:  video and audio interviews with Winogrand, a generous quantity of his photographs, modern day interviews with museum curators, photography editors, photographers and those who knew Winogrand and were influenced by his work.  There are also segments of 8mm home movie footage that Winogrand shot of people just being, something in which Winogrand was most interested – a worker at a deli counter, someone having a meal.  However, these types of portraits seem to have been more successful as stills.

The point is made that Winogrand was, quite possibly, the first “digital” photographer, although he certainly preceded digital photography.  Winogrand shot as freely with film as people do today with digital cameras.  How many pictures do we all have languishing on our phones waiting for some sort of permanent home?  One interviewee takes the digital analogy further by saying that Winogrand was the “harbinger of the selfie” even though his photographs were not of him, but were, in effect, “selfies” of those populating the world around him.  Author John Updike is quoted in the film : “We move from birth to death amid a crowd of others and the parade is love.”    Winogrand was an observer of that crowd and used it, and his camera, to deal with his own existential dilemnas – “Why am I here?  How do I fit in?”

I always enjoy documentaries about photographers –“Finding Vivian Maier” (2013), “Hondros” (2017) (both streaming on Netflix), “More Than the Rainbow” (2012), “Smash his Camera” (2010) and “Bill Cunningham: New York” (2010), to name some favorites.  While these films all concern very different types of photographers, the one thing that these photographers do have in common is that they are driven to document.  So, perhaps it is my own, very strong, interest in documentary filmmaking  that draws me to stories about those who strive to capture the world around them, one frame at a time.

Film Forum is located at 209 West Houston Street, west of Sixth Avenue.  For more information visit www.filmfourm.org.

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“Love, Cecil” (Seth Shire)

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June 27, 2018.  “Love Cecil” is the new, remarkably detailed and researched documentary, by director Lisa Immordino Vreeland, about the life and work of Cecil Beaton (1904 – 1980), an artist who was many things: photographer of Hollywood and British royalty, New York City street photographer, war photographer, fashion photographer, designer, theatre director, stage designer, insecure social climber, foppish dandy, writer, costume designer, seeker of style and glamour and a serious diarist (155 volumes).  Beaton was a three time Oscar winner, for Best Costume Designer for “Gigi” (1958), then won two more Oscars for Costume Design and Art Direction – Set Decoration for “My Fair lady” (1964).  He was a dedicated scrap book creator (77 volumes), friend of Garbo, a fan of Edwardian bravura, contributor to “Vogue” and “Life” magazines.  All of these melded into one point of view – that of Beaton, a talent in so many areas.  “It’s always Beaton’s look, Beaton’s touch,” one interviewee explains.

The result is “Love, Cecil,” a kaleidoscopic portrait of artistic talent tied to a man, an outsider to English high society who desired, and received, the company of what he called “Bright, Young Things” (mainly code for closeted, gay, upper class), of the then fashionable British society.  Beaton was never confident that he had been truly accepted into this upper class stratum, as he was not “to the manor born,” something which actually may have been a driving force for his art, in which he continually tried to prove himself.  Beaton was also gay at a time when homosexuality was against the law – another aspect of his life which made him feel like an outsider.  Beaton was a complex artist whose life itself was, perhaps, a performance of sorts. Read the rest of this entry

The Doctor From India (Wendy Moscow)

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June 1, 2018.  At a pace befitting its subject, the life of Ayurvedic practitioner Vasant Lad, the new documentary “The Doctor From India” unfolds like an extended meditation on holistic healing and the power of radical empathy. To those for whom finding sacred wisdom within oneself, living in balance with nature, and seeing holiness within every being seems like unbearable spiritual claptrap, seeing this lovely film by director Jeremy Frindel just might be a transformative experience.

 

Ayurveda is an ancient Indian form of medicine that employs not only the rate but the movement and rhythm of a patient’s pulse as the primary means of diagnosis. The three pulse types – “vata”, “pitta” and “kapha” (correlated with energies/physiological functions in the body and in nature) must be in balance, according to this system, for the patient to be healthy. An Ayurvedic practitioner might suggest plant-based remedies as well as a change in one’s mental outlook and physical habits. But, says Dr. Lad, everyone must discover that inner spark of sacred knowledge of their own existence – the “I AM” that allows someone to realize who they are at the very core of their being. Then, self-healing is possible. Read the rest of this entry

“Heading Home: the Tale of Team Israel” – Premieres on May 29 at the JCC Manhattan (Seth Shire)

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Baseball, Jews in sports, “Mensch on a Bench,” yarmulkas, yeshiva students, cheer leaders, rabbis, pre-game Purim services at a stadium, anti-semitism, Israel and the Middle East conflict, all come together in “Heading Home: the Tale of Team Israel.”  Ironbound Films, a stellar documentary production company, hits a home run again (sorry, I couldn’t resist) with its latest documentary – a joyous, funny, heartfelt and compelling portrait with a host of great characters.  Even a documentary has to have great characters, and “Heading Home” delivers.

I will admit that despite being part of a Jewish, baseball loving family, I never developed an interest in baseball, or sports in general for that matter.  My thing is film.  Now, having said this, I think that there must be some genetic, Jewish/sports influence as I have always liked movies (narratives and documentaries) about sports and about Jewish issues.  To this end, “Heading Home: the Tale of Team Israel” fired for me, on all pistons, as I know it will for audiences of many different backgrounds.  This documentary’s themes of pride, culture and, most of all, identity, will cut across cultures and resonate with people of all ethnicities.

When it comes to baseball, the State of Israel may not be the first name to come to mind.  After all, there is the stereotype about Jews not being good at sports and, as we learn in this documentary, Israel has only one baseball field…in the entire country!

“Heading Home” is the story of 10 Jewish American baseball players (former big leaguers) who join a team to play for Israel in the World Baseball Classic (which consists of 16 baseball teams, each representing a different country) held every four years.  To play in the WBC, a player has to be a citizen of the country for which he is playing.  To be a citizen of Israel, one has to be Jewish, which means having, at a bare minimum, one Jewish grandparent.  As long as each of these players can provide the proof, they are within WBC rules.  A picture of a grandfather’s grave stone, marriage contracts in Hebrew and a father’s World War II dog tag, with the word “Jewish” embossed on it, come pouring in as evidence.  Despite this, the issue of whether this is just an American team supporting Israel is raised, at one point.

What the film is really about, though, is what happens to these Jewish American players as a result of playing for Israel.  Some of them are religious, others not so much.  However, Margo Sugarman, the team’s Assistant General Manager, explains that the emotional aspect of coming to Israel is “a whole new ball game.”  The documentary also explores how Jews playing baseball might positively affect how people view Jews and, as a result, break down anti-semitism.

Directors Seth Kramer, Daniel A. Miller and Jeremy Newberger have created a meticulous documentary that follows the team from its qualifying game (to get into the WBC) up to Team Israel’s final game (no spoilers here).  Their cameras are always in the right places at the right times.  Kramer, who also edited the film, keeps the story consistently interesting by balancing interviews with the players, managers and coaches intercut with game footage, media coverage, press conferences, background information, fan reactions and great “off the cuff” moments.  As pitcher Josh Zeid puts it, “No better stage. No better team.  It’s my favorite game in the world.  Why not play?”

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Tribeca Film Festival, April 18 – 28 features virtual reality (Wendy Moscow)

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Intrepid reporter Wendy Moscow tests out virtual reality at Tribeca Film Festival.

The history of the universe from the big bang until the present, and the plight of enslaved quarry workers in India are the subjects of just two of the virtual reality videos that can be experienced in the Virtual Reality Arcade at the Tribeca Film Festival this year. For those unfamiliar with this technology, “VR” provides the viewer with a mind-blowing opportunity to become immersed in a 360°, three dimensional world created by the VR maker. Utilizing a cell phone with gyroscopic capability mounted behind a pair of goggles plus headphones, the viewer can be transported to a crisis spot in another country or find herself in the middle of a dance performance or go on a
deep-sea dive to explore the ravages of climate change in Palau.

 

If you go, I’d recommend “The Hidden,” created by Lindsay Branham in collaboration with the International Justice Mission and Oculus VR for Good. The potential for VR to inform people about a human rights debacle and inspire them to take action is embodied by this shocking, heartbreaking but hopeful VR documentary. We meet a family (one of many) doing forced labor in a South Indian rock quarry. As they tell their story, we have the option of looking at them as they speak or turning around in a circle to see the bleakness of the environment in which they live. Ostensibly working off a debt of only $70, their indenture becomes slavery as they are never paid and interest accrues. Because of the work of IJM, many of these enslaved people (there are millions more) are released. The VR technology enables you to feel as if you are in the room with them as, one by one, they approach the camera to speak to us. There’s an immediacy that inspires empathy, and, in fact, I quickly wrote postcards (which were provided,cleverly enough) to my senators after the viewing.
“Spheres: Pale Blue Dot” is also a must-see. Eliza McNatt has created an exquisitely beautiful journey through time and space. We viscerally experience the beginnings of our universe through the consolidation of gas clouds into stars and planets, and, finally, our own solar system. Two hand controls, when pointed at celestial bodies, allow us to hear the music of the spheres. After experiencing the spectacular illusion of flying at high speed over the rings of Saturn we end up at our own Earth, and are warned that if we destroy her, there will be no one left to hear that music.
The Virtual Reality Arcade will be available through the end of the festival on April 29.  For more information visit http://www.tribecafilm.com

Tribeca Film Festival 2018, April 18 – 28 “Bathtubs Over Broadway” (Seth Shire)

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April 22, 2018. The April 21 premiere screening of director, producer and editor Dava Whisenant’s new documentary “Bathtubs Over Broadway” was outrageous, electric and exciting.  It was a hilarious, joyous and heartfelt event about a sub-culture and a piece of entertainment history about which almost nothing was known…that is until now. Read the rest of this entry

Tribeca Film Festival 2018, April 18 – 28 “Jellyfish” and “United Skates” (Wendy Moscow)

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The Tribeca Film Festival is in full swing, and with the incredible variety of films and other media to choose from – narratives, documentaries, and “immersive” presentations (virtual reality), it’s hard to know where to begin.

The films “Jellyfish” and “United Skates,” though very different (the first is a narrative from the U.K., the latter a documentary made in the U.S.), are surprisingly linked by their ability to address contemporary issues of alienation, oppression and empowerment honestly and unflinchingly. Read the rest of this entry

Tribeca Film Festival 2018, April 18 – 28 “Howard” (Seth Shire)

Howard Ashman

April 22, 2018. “Howard” is a detailed and absorbing documentary about the life and work of Howard Ashman. Ashman was the lyricist behind Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast,” “Aladin” and “The Little Mermaid.” He frequently collaborated with Alan Menken. “Howard” shows us that Ashman was far more than a lyricist. He was also a director and writer. Sadly, Ashman died of complications from AIDS in 1991 at the age of 40.

Howard” depicts Ashman as a relentless perfectionist who knew what his vision was and strove to achieve it. Ashman’s work was ground breaking. His music brought a Broadway musical quality to animation – witness the many long running Broadway adaptations of Disney’s animated feature films. Read the rest of this entry

Tribeca Film Festival 2018, April 18 – 29 “Tanzania Transit” (Seth Shire)

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April 22, 2018. Class, gender, Jesus, Red Bull and a will to survive, might be the best terms to describe “Tanzania Transit,” an incisive documentary, by director Jeroen van Velzen, about travelers on a train crossing Tanzania. This is a very well edited film that depicts the train as a self contained world in which an unusual collection of passengers, just three people out of many on the train, tell their stories. Read the rest of this entry

Tribeca Film Festival 2018, April 18 – 28 “The Man Who Stole Banksy” (Seth Shire)

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April 22, 2018. In the college sociology classes which I teach we talk about something called an “objective reality.” An “objective reality” is the thing that just is without adding any meaning to it. How people interpret an “objective reality” is called the “social construction of reality.” I would be hard pressed to think of better examples of “objective realities” and the “social constructions of reality” put to them than those portrayed in the documentary “The Man Who Stole Banksy.”

The film actually has two “objective realities.” The first is the large, highly controversial, wall that Israel built, which has attracted international attention. To the Israeli’s the wall represents security. To the Palestinians the wall represents repression. Entering into this debate about the meaning of the wall is the secretive and controversial artist Banksy, someone who, apparently, no one has ever seen. His identity is a mystery. Read the rest of this entry