Category Archives: Documentary

School Life

School life

September 8, 2017.  I have to admit that I usually do not care for observational, cinema verite, style documentaries. The truth is that I want to be guided. I need title cards and/or a narrator to tell me where I am and what is going on. I want all characters to be identified. I also want to know what motivates them. Yes, even documentaries have characters…and the good ones have great characters. Mood and atmosphere are all well and nice…but I need a structured story – three acts if you please. Right or wrong, this is what I require for a documentary to hold my attention. My point of view on this may seem simplistic and reductive to some, as I am a film critic and, possibly, should be expected to have a wider range for film appreciation…but there it is.

Bearing all of this in mind, I have to ask myself, why then did I so enjoy “School Life”? “School Life” is an observational, “fly on the wall” documentary about a boarding school in Ireland. I know, from the film’s press notes, that the school is called Headfort and was founded in the 18th century. It is very much a story about teachers and students. Full disclosure, I too am a teacher, and so very much related to what this film depicts. Read the rest of this entry

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Trophy

Trophy Select 1Rhino Breeder John Hume.

September 8, 2017.  It is really interesting that I should see the new documentary “Trophy” after just having taken an education course in something called Creative Controversy. The class was about having students research different sides of a particular topic, debate these opposing sides in class, in teams of two against two, and then switch sides and argue the other point of view. Then the teams give up all advocacy, evaluate the arguments and decide which arguments are best.

Trophy” does this quite nicely. The film is a complex, at points heart breaking, documentary which manages, for the most part, the tricky balance of objectivity. This is not easy to do. Every documentary has a point of view, a position it wants to convey to the viewer. Staying objective is difficult, if not impossible. “Trophy” skillfully manages to present different points of view, largely without advocating for one over the other. As with all movies, viewers will bring their individual perspectives. This can lead to either latching onto the point of view with which they walked in, or, if they are really open minded, perhaps considering a point of view they had not had previously. Read the rest of this entry

“A Bridge Between Two Worlds ” (Wendy Moscow)

kew gardens festival of cinema

August 12, 2017.  Can one Canadian man’s vision bring relative prosperity to the poverty-ridden island of Flores, Indonesia? An inspiring story in discouraging times, “A Bridge Between Two Worlds,” is a documentary film that follows the innovative work of Quebeçois Gilles Raymond. Screened at the Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema before an appreciative audience, we see a man with no personal wealth of his own create an autonomous movement among agrarian villagers in Flores through micro-lending. Read the rest of this entry

“Off the Rails” at Kew Festival of Cinema (By Wendy Moscow)

kew gardens festival of cinema

August 11, 2017.  “Off the Rails,” a documentary feature shown at the Kew Gardens Film Festival, is an extraordinarily compelling film about a man with a compulsion. Darius McCollum, now in his 50’s, has been obsessed with the MTA subway and bus system since he was 15. Dubbed a “train in the neck” by a local reporter, he has been imprisoned 32 times, more than half his life, for impersonating train operators, bus drivers, and even a superintendent! But, the film asks, does McCollum’s Asperger’s Syndrome (which is characterized by an intense interest in one subject, often leading to obsessive behavior), exempt him from responsibility for his criminal acts? Is prison an appropriate punishment for someone with a neurological disability? Ironically, though the MTA refuses to hire him, because he “doesn’t follow the rules,” he seems to know the rules and the workings of the transit system better than just about anyone else. He is even called upon by the MTA, while in prison lock-down (!), to reveal possible vulnerabilities within the system. Read the rest of this entry

Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema (continued)

kew gardens festival of cinema

August 9, 2017. The ”Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema,” continues now through August 13. Film festivals remind me of the story of three blind people describing an elephant. The person at the pachyderm’s trunk describes it one way. The person at the tail has a different point of view. Still, the person in the middle has a completely different experience. Considering that the festival is presenting 150 films from 24 countries, over a 10 day period, everyone who goes will come away with a different point of view. Read the rest of this entry

Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema

kew gardens festival of cinema

August 9, 2017.  Presenting 150 films from 24 countries, the ”Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema,” the first ever film festival to be held in the borough of Queens, is now running through August 13. It is a veritable cornucopia of films which run the gamut from documentaries to narratives to experimental, feature length films and shorts. It is a varied collection which has something for every taste. This festival is a great way to see a lot of films in a short amount of time, but, most of all, it is about discovery.

I have, so far, seen many films at the festival, but feel I have not even scratched the surface of what this unique and eclectic festival has to offer. Then again, that is what a film festival should be. While one cannot see everything, I will admit to being partial to documentaries. Read the rest of this entry

“Brillo Box 3c Off” (premiering August 7, on HBO)

Brillo box

July 30, 2017.  In the new documentary, “Brillo Box 3c Off,” filmmaker Lisanne Skyler has created a fascinating, playful, energetic, funny and highly enjoyable, multi-faceted, personal documentary about pop art in New York City in the 60s, her childhood, her parents and her family’s relationship to art, one piece of art in particular.

Ever since humans applied paint to cave walls some 40,000 years ago, people have debated the question, “What is art?” “Brillo Box 3c Off” addresses this question, as well as the ongoing controversy over who, or what, determines what art is worth. Skyler’s story revolves around pop artist Andy Warhol’s practice of re-creating the design of cardboard Brillo Boxes, in wood, and calling them art. In one of the film’s many archival interview clips, Warhol is asked why he doesn’t simply create art that is original instead of copying other’s works. Warhol, nonchalantly, and with easy candor, replies that it’s just easier to do. Warhol, notorious for his artistic appropriation, is probably best know for his paintings of Campbell’s Soup cans. To this end, one critic, upon attending one of Warhol’s shows quipped, “Is this an art gallery or Gristedes’ warehouse?” Read the rest of this entry

Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press

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July 19, 2017.  Although the “Human Rights Watch Film Festival” ended on June 18, I am still making my way through its many fine and important offerings.  The problem that can occur in writing about a film festival that has ended, is that I usually end up critiquing films that are not yet available to the public.  Fortunately, the documentary “Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press,” featured in the “Human Rights Watch Film Festival,” is already available on Netflix.  Netflix produced it, and more power to them for having done so!

 

“Nobody Speak” comes at a crucial time in our country’s history.  By now everyone has seen the re-purposed video, originally shot several years ago, of Donald Trump tackling someone to the floor as part of a World Wide Wrestling Federation stunt, during a wrestling match.  In the version “tweeted” by Trump this week, the CNN logo was superimposed over the face of the person being tackled.  Clearly the image symbolized that someone wealthy, and politically connected (Trump), could take down a media organization, a frightening thought, considering Trump’s railings against mainstream media.  This short clip, typical of the current level of antagonism toward the press at the highest levels of power, makes “Nobody Speak” even more relevant than it already was.

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She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry (By Guest Blogger, Wendy Moscow)

she's beautiful

As someone who came of age at the tail-end of the second wave of feminism, the documentary film “She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry” has a special resonance for me. Featuring interviews with women who were involved in the movement and stirring archival footage, often featuring those same women, the film takes us back to a time (not that long ago) when equal rights for women was a radical idea.

The antiwar, civil rights, and free speech movements were at their peak in the 1960’s and ‘70’s, but while the male activists formulated policy and held press conferences, the women found themselves relegated to sealing envelopes and making coffee. With an evolving understanding that female disempowerment is systemic and institutional, women within those movements began rising up to claim their rightful place alongside the men. For many of the men, though, this new liberation movement hit too close to home. In one scene, shocking by today’s more enlightened standards, Marilyn Webb bravely advocates for women’s equality before a gathering of hundreds of “New Left” men, only to be ridiculed, cat-called, shouted down, and even threatened with rape. Read the rest of this entry

The Reagan Show

reagan show 2

June 28, 2017.  As a sociology teacher of mass communication and popular culture, I especially enjoyed the new documentary, “The Reagan Show.” For those of us who lived through the Reagan presidency, the title alone should tell it all.

The Reagan Show” is a fascinating look at the Reagan years from the inside and the outside – the White House’s in- house media and the mainstream media. The story is told partly through archival footage shot by the White House TV production crew, dubbed “White House TV.” We see the expected flubs that were never shown – Ronald Reagan mispronouncing a name, Reagan saying something official to the camera and then making a humorous, off-camera remark, that negates what he just said. In addition to the in-house footage, there are interviews, commentaries and news footage of the time. It is also a primer on how media can be used to shape an image, to put it mildly. Read the rest of this entry