Category Archives: Documentary
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
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?”
December 8, 2017. As a film critic who writes primarily about documentaries this may sound sacrilegious, but, I don’t usually care for “fly on the wall,” verite style, documentaries. I am referring to documentaries that will show a situation and then leave it up to the viewer to interpret it. I gravitate toward documentaries that have stories, points of view and interesting subjects that make me care about something or someone. Call me shallow, but I want to be guided through a film. That having been said, I am a bit amazed, and, at the same time, quite gratified, that I truly enjoyed, and was very intrigued by, the new, verite style documentary “Quest.” Read the rest of this entry
December 2, 2017. There’s no lack of documentaries about Jane Goodall and her lifelong work studying the wild chimpanzees of Gombe National Park in Tanzania – but the latest one, simply called “Jane,” is astonishing in its depth, beauty and insight. Drawing from 140 hours of never-before-seen footage shot by Hugo Van Lawick for National Geographic, a contemporary interview with Dr. Goodall, and narration created from an audio recording of an earlier memoir, director Brett Morgen offers the viewer an immersive experience that the previous documentaries cannot match. Joshua Paul Johnson (Assistant Supervising Sound Editor), sound designers Odin Benitez and Peter Staubli plus a crew of six (!) re-recording mixers have much to do with this. Read the rest of this entry
December 2, 2017. Multiple marriages, frequency hopping, scandals, dehydrated Coca Cola, nudity, a villa in Aspen, drug addiction, guided missiles, GPS, wi-fi, Bluetooth and one of the most iconic and beautiful actresses in Hollywood, from the 1930’s to the 1950’s, all come together in director Alexandra Dean’s fascinating new documentary, “Bombshell: the Hedy Lamarr Story.” Dean has created a kaleidoscopic portrait of Lamarr, both as a drop dead gorgeous movie star and as an important inventor, whose work was the basis for guided missiles during World War II, wi-fi, Bluetooth technology, GPS and secure military communications to this day. Who knew? Read the rest of this entry
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
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
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
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