June 20, 2017. I can’t imagine how anyone, even someone opposed to marriage equality, could fail to be moved by the love story of Victor and Fernando, a gay couple who only want the same protections and societal affirmation that are afforded mixed-sex couples in their city of Mexicali, Mexico. The documentary “No Dress Code Required” follows their two year struggle in nerve-wracking, suspenseful detail, as the City Registry applies every possible tactic to thwart their marriage – from a fabricated bomb threat, to invented anomalies in their witnesses’ signatures, to health testing required of no one else, to shutting down City Hall. The Mexicali officials are abetted by religiously inspired protesters who carry signs invoking Jesus and decrying some imagined threat to family values. But with every roadblock, Fernando and Victor become more doggedly determined, their ten year relationship growing stronger, their commitment deeper. Read the rest of this entry
June 14, 2017. “The Apology” is one of many amazing documentary films that are being screened during the Human Rights Watch Film Festival.
When “The Apology” opens, we see a group of elderly Korean women at a protest demonstration in Tokyo, Japan, peacefully demanding that the Japanese government apologize to them for their abduction and imprisonment as military sexual slaves during World War II. Japanese businessmen walk past shouting, “Go home Korean whores,” and worse, as the camera focuses on the dignified faces of these long-suffering victims. Needless to say, the apology is not forthcoming. Read the rest of this entry
June 6, 2017. The 2017 Human Rights Watch Film Festival Film Festival, co-presented by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and IFC Center, will run from June 9-18. This will be the festival’s 28th edition.
John Biaggi, the festival’s creative director said, “In these trying times for human rights, this year’s festival lineup champions activism – from people demanding accountability and major reform in the US police and justice institutions, to Chinese workers battling an electronics giant’s unsafe working conditions, to Mayan women at the forefront of political accountability and change in Guatemala, to the remarkable work of digital activists in Brazil and Tibet. The festival highlights the outstanding work of activists at home and around the world, presenting a broad array of urgent human rights issues beyond those that command today’s headlines.” Read the rest of this entry
Faith is often defined as an unquestioning belief in something unseen – a deity, or perhaps an inexorable force that shapes the patterns of life. The documentary “Sacred,” directed by Thomas Lennon, immerses us in a multicultural world of rites, rituals and celebrations from a variety of faith traditions, all of which create meaning in times of of joy, struggle and sorrow.
The director functions as more of a curator in this film, interweaving segments from more than forty independent filmmakers, all of whom are part of the communities they are documenting. We are present at a bris (Jewish ritual circumcision), we see a young boy eagerly prepare to become a Buddhist monk, we witness an Indian coming of age ritual, as well as an Apache Sunrise Ceremony which signals a girl’s passage into womanhood. Threads of mystery, pain and unbelievable beauty connect these, and many of the other rituals, which are presented without judgement and little explanation. Read the rest of this entry
May 16, 2017. Last October I wrote an article about
“Abacus: Small Enough to Jail,” a documentary which was
shown as part of the New York Film Festival. While I
realize most readers might not have been able to
make it to the festival, how fortunate it is that this
excellent documentary will start a run at IFC Center
on Friday, May 19. Read the rest of this entry
May 8, 2017. Israeli writer and director Rama Burshtein’s new film, “The Wedding Plan,” opens on May 12. I saw “The Wedding Plan” as part of this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.
I went into “The Wedding Plan” with a lot of expectations, which sadly were not met. Burshtein’s previous film, “Fill the Void” (2012), is a real favorite of mine. In fact I use “Fill the Void” in the “Introduction to Sociology” classes that I teach at CUNY Queens College. I use it to illustrate ideas and concepts about social structure structure, social institutions and culture. Due to my teaching schedule, I see “Fill the Void” between six and seven times a year and never tire of it. Read the rest of this entry
Few of us have time, as we negotiate our busy lives, to consider our place in the cosmos, or speculate about the possibility of life on other worlds. When we humans, and the other beings with whom we share this living planet, flicker out of existence, who will be left to remember the cry of a child, the plaintive howl of a wolf, the intensity of an Indian raga, or the beautiful complexities of a Bach concerto?
The documentary “The Farthest” addresses this question by telling the remarkable story of the Voyager space missions, whose famous “Golden Records” are carrying our voices, our music, and the sounds of nature into the vastness of interstellar space as a means of preserving our legacy. Read the rest of this entry
“Flower” has a game cast anchored by a strong central performance by Erica Vandros, as Zoey Deutch, a rebellious adolescent from Hell. Interesting characters and moral conflicts abound, but ultimately the proceedings are wrapped up with a Deus Ex Machina ending which, although contrived, is actually quite disturbing, if one gives it some thought.
From left to right, Diane Keaton, Robert De Niro, Robert Duvall, Francis Ford Coppola, James Caan, Al Pacino and Talia Shire at the “Godfather Reunion” at Radio City Music Hall, as part of the Tribeca Film Festival, 2017
April 30, 2017. On Saturday, April 29, the Tribeca Film Festival presented an incredible historical event at Radio City Music Hall. “The Godfather” (1972) and “The Godfather: Part II” (1974) were screened, followed by a reunion Q & A with the films’ director Francis Ford Coppola, actors Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Robert Duvall, James Caan, Diane Keaton and Talia Shire (no relation, but I was thrilled to see my tickets next to hers at the “will call” window). The talk was moderated by movie director Taylor Hackford. The event began at 1:00 and went until about 9:30. Read the rest of this entry
April 26, 2017. Director Greg Kohs’ documentary “AlphaGo” is one of the best documentaries I have seen so far at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. It is a story of the ancient world meeting the modern and possibly having a very strong effect on the future.Go is an ancient Chinese board game which is described as contemplative, hypnotic and akin to having one’s hand on the third rail of the universe. The game is played with two participants who have a collection of black and white stone-like pieces (one player takes white, the other black). While I do not understand the intricacies of Go, this is not important here. The filmmaker does convey the overall gist of the game, which, simply put, is about capturing territory on the Go board. Including this bit of information is a very smart move on Koh’s part. This small, but crucial, explanation gave me what I needed to ride the narrative of this movie. I have always maintained that a good documentary should be able to take a subject in which I have little, or no, interest and make it compelling. In this regard, “AlphaGo” certainly delivers.Enter Google’s DeepMind Team which has been developing Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) and wants to put it to the test by having their Go software square off against Go world champion Lee Sedol, in South Korea. The idea is that A.I. could add to human intelligence, creating breakthroughs in the areas of art, medicine and science. The DeepMind team feels that this tournament, if their software is successful, will be a step toward reaching their objective.The makers of “AlphaGo” had an interesting problem which they have solved quite well. Film is a visual medium and Go is not the most visually interesting of games. It does not have recognizable game pieces (as in chess), or football players in colorful uniforms attempting to gain yardage. Kohs and his team get around this by intercutting the inevitable “human verses machine” face offs (five games) watched by millions online, with commentators analyzing the games as they happen, press conferences with Sedol and interviews with the DeepMind team. “AlphaGo” also raises fascinating philosophical questions as to what it means for humanity if a computer program can outthink a human? Is this just a matter of pride? Since A.I. is a human invention to begin with, could this contest really be a story of human verses human? Could machines cause humans to improve?“AlphaGo” is an engrossing, iconic, hi-tech, “John Henry” story. Henry, an African American folk hero, was a steel driver who famously competed against a steam powered steel driving machine, and won, but died in the process. “AlphaGo” is a philosophical, suspenseful and well paced story that wows us with the comp-lexities of what it means to “think,” be we humans or machines.