Category Archives: Documentary

“Big Sonia” at the Quad, NYC by Seth Shire

big-sonia

Sonia Warshawski, the subject of “Big Sonia.”

November 18, 2017.  For this past two weeks this blog has been devoted to documentaries presented as part of DOC NYC 2017.  Therefore, I can only call it a wonderful accident of timing that one of my favorite documentaries from DOC NYC 2016, and the one that has stayed with me the most over the past year, “Big Sonia,”  will open at the Quad Cinema on Friday, November 17.  “Big Sonia” is not only a fascinating documentary with a terrific main character in Sonia Warshawski (yes, even documentaries must have great characters) but a documentary that should be seen in light of our current political climate. In other words, those who forget history will repeat it.
Sonia Warshawski is an 89-year-old Holocaust survivor, who lives in Kansas City. She takes every opportunity to tell her story of survival.  She was in a series of concentration camps, from ages 13 – 19, starting in Poland in 1939. Sonia’s inspiration comes from having seen a modern day skinhead. She realized then that she had survived the Holocaust in order to tell others what had happened to her.

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“David Bowie – The Last Five Years,” at DOC NYC, by Wendy Moscow

 

David Bowie

November 8, 2017.  One of the most haunting images I’ve ever seen in a music video is David Bowie lying in a hospital bed, his eyes, swathed in surgical gauze, replaced by buttons. His arms rise upward, as if, Peter Pan-like, he could fly toward some Neverland in defiance of impending mortality. The song is called “Lazarus.” Bowie died on January 10th, 2016, two days after the video’s release.

Director Francis Whatley has crafted a remarkable documentary that celebrates the last five years of this electrifying singer-songwriter-actor’s career, during which some of his most brilliant work was produced. Read the rest of this entry

DOC NYC November 9 – 16, 2017 Wendy Moscow

the final year

From November 9th to the 16th, America’s largest documentary festival, DOC NYC, will be screening some of the most interesting and exciting documentary films of the year. In-depth celebrity portraits, explorations of family life, cutting-edge science and art, urban heroes and global struggles are just a few of the topics to be covered. Two of the films in the festival, “The Final Year” and “Soufra,” both feature capable, dynamic women, but here, the resemblance ends. Read the rest of this entry

The Departure – by Wendy Moscow

departure

October 13, 2017.  The beautifully shot and meditatively lyrical documentary, “The Departure,” asks the question that all of us have asked at some point in our lives, “What makes life worth living?” The pacing of the film is slow and contemplative, as befits the vocation of the protagonist, Tokyo native and Zen priest, Ittetsu Nemoto. The director, Lana Wilson, invites us into the life of this compassionate (and self-destructive) counselor to the suicidal who cannot emotionally separate himself from his clients, and is forced to consider the meaning of his own life when confronted with a life-threatening diagnosis at 44. Read the rest of this entry

“School Life” – by Seth Shire

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

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