Category Archives: Documentary

Abacus: Small Enough to Jail

       

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Thomas Sung, the subject of “Abacus: Small Enough to Jail.” Photo by Sean Lyness

        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

Big Sonia

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Sonia Warshawski, the subject of “Big Sonia.”

November 21, 2016.  DOC NYC concluded its run of incredible documentaries this past Thursday, November 17. Even though the festival has ended, I am still making my way through the screener links sent to me from the festival’s publicist. These screener links enable me to watch DOC NYC documentaries online, as opposed to having to attend screenings in person. While I am a big advocate of seeing films in theaters with, hopefully, respectful audience members who do not talk, or need to check their smart phones every five minutes, screener links fit nicely into my all too busy schedule.

Of the DOC NYC documentaries that I have seen so far, and about which I have written during the past two weeks, “Big Sonia” more than rises to the standards of this festival. It 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. Read the rest of this entry

The Anthropologist at Cinema Village November 11 – 17

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Anthropologist Susan Crate (center) and her daughter Katie in “The Anthropologist”

 November 9, 2016. “The Anthropologist,” one of the best documentaries from last year’s DOC NYC, will have its premiere at Cinema Village (22 East 12th Street) on Friday, November 11 and will continue playing at Cinema Village, daily, through November 17. Following the 7:15 pm screenings on Friday November 11 and Saturday November 12 the film’s three filmmakers (yes three!), Seth Kramer, Daniel A. Miller and Jeremy Newberger will conduct Q&A sessions with the audiences.

The Anthropologist” is an award winning documentary from Ironbound Films, a unique company which has produced some fascinating documentaries. Previous documentaries from Ironbound Films include the 2012 documentary “Evocateur: the Morton Downey, Jr. Movie” and “The Linguists” (2008).

The Anthropologist” follows anthropologist Susan Crate on her journeys, over a five year period, during which she visits regions which are threatened by global warming right now, as opposed to areas where global warming may be a problem with which to contend in the future. For example, Susan and Katie travel to Siberia where global warming has caused the permafrost to melt. The resulting water, from the melted permafrost, destroys the production of hay, which is needed to feed cows, an important source of food for the people who live there. Crate is accompanied by her, sometimes reluctant, daughter Katie (who ages from 14 to 18 over the course of the film). Read the rest of this entry

Abacus: Small Enough to Jail

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Thomas Sung, the subject of “Abacus: Small Enough to Jail.” Photo by Sean Lyness

October 01, 2016. “Abacus: Small Enough to Jail” is a gripping account of the, under reported, trial of the Abacus Federal Savings Bank, the only bank to have faced criminal charges in the wake of the 2008 financial crises. Even though much bigger banks participated in deliberate and massive mortgage fraud, no criminal indictments were every brought against them. They were bailed out by the tax payers because they were “too big to fail.” In other words, had they failed they would have wreaked havoc on the U.S. economy. So, they got a pass. Abacus, as the film’s title suggests, was small enough to pick on as the proxy for the much bigger banking corruption that was not, and apparently could not be, punished. Read the rest of this entry

Danny Says

unknown-3September 28, 2016. ”Danny Says” is an incredible document and an important chronicle of pop culture. The documentary is an entertaining and meticulously made rock and roll biography about rock manager and entrepeneur Danny Fields.

Beginning in 1966, Fields played a crucial role in music, managing groups such as MC5, the Ramones and the Stooges. Fields worked with and for Nico, Judy Collins, Iggy Pop, Jann Wenner, Lou Reed, the Doors, Velvet Underground, Nico, Modern Lovers and many others. In addition, Fields was also director of publicity at Elektra Records as well as having been a pioneer of the punk rock movement. Director Brendan Toller perhaps sums it up best when he says that, “Fields created a platform for the outsider to exist in the mainstream.” Read the rest of this entry

1971

1971July 2, 2016.  I was nicely surprised recently when I signed onto Netflix to discover that Netflix is now streaming a documentary called “1971.” I first saw “1971” at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2014, and have been trying to find it ever since.

1971” is a fascinating pre-cursor to the times in which we live. The US government spying on its citizens? Today, in the age of hi-tech leaks involving Julian Assange, Bradley Manning and Wikileaks, not to mention Edward Snowden, this question sounds like a story out of current headlines. However, as my late father would have said, “The more things change, the more they remain the same.” Read the rest of this entry

My Interview with Documentary Filmmaker Penny Lane

Photo credit: Albert Sanchez.

Photo credit: Albert Sanchez. Courtesy of Cartuna.

June 20, 2016.  Documentary filmmaker Penny Lane’s new film “NUTS!” will have its U.S. Theatrical Premiere at Film Forum starting on Wednesday, June 22. J.R. Brinkley, the subject of “NUTS!” was a Kansas doctor who came to fame, in the 1920s and 1930s, for his claim that he had cured impotence by surgically implanting goat testicles into impotent men. Brinkley also became a media figure through newspapers and as well as the new medium of radio.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Lane about “NUTS!” Our conversation mainly concerned the nature of “truth” (both in the life of her subject, J.R. Brinkley, as well as in her documentary) and the role of media in interpreting that which we see as fact. Read the rest of this entry

The Witness

June 1, 2016.  More than 50 years ago, the murder of Kew Gardens resident Kitty Genovese captured the public’s imagination. The murder became a strong symbol of urban apathy when it was reported that 38 neighbors witnessed (either by seeing or hearing) the attack and murder, from their apartments, and did nothing. The media, led by no less an authority than “The New York Times,” reported that no one called the police or came to Kitty’s aid. In fact, I first learned about the murder of Kitty Genovese via a 1975 made for television movie provocatively entitled “Death Scream,” featuring a “who’s who” of popular 1970s actors.

When Kitty Genovese was murdered, late at night, on a Queens street, on March 13, 1964, I was about a month shy of my second birthday. Obviously I was not old enough for the event to have had a personal impact on me. Over the years though, I, like most, came to know the name Kitty Genovese and what it symbolized. Now, having seen “The Witness,” I realize that I have had only a very surface awareness of the incident.Unknown-5 Read the rest of this entry

Unlocking the Cage

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May 24, 2016.  As a professor of sociology, I was intrigued by the new documentary “Unlocking the Cage.” The film, by famed husband and wife documentary filmmaking team DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus (“The War Room,” among many others), is a compelling and fascinating portrait of animal rights lawyer Steven Wise who advocates for the freedom of cognitively advanced animals, in the case of this film, chimpanzees.

In my sociology classes, we talk about the term “cultural relativism,” which means looking at a culture from its own point of view. The opposite of “cultural relativism” is “ethnocentrism,” which means using one’s own culture as a yard stick against which to measure other cultures. “Ethnocentrism,” on the positive side, can re-affirm a culture’s values, but, on the negative side, it can lead to prejudice and discrimination. Of course, whenever I am discussing these, and other sociological terms, with my students, I have always assumed that we are talking about human cultures. “Unlocking the Cage” has given me a whole new perspective. As Wise points out, “Are you human? You have rights. If you’re not a human, you don’t, and we’re saying that’s wrong.” “They are autonomous creatures. They should be able to live autonomous lives.” This is “cultural relativism” on a whole new level.

Read the rest of this entry

DOC NYC Presents “The Anthropologist”

Lloyd Kaufman, Daniel Miller, Jeremy Newberger and Seth Kramer

Daniel Miller, Jeremy Newberger and Seth Kramer of Ironbound Films pose with Troma Entertainment president Lloyd Kaufman (left, wearing bow tie).

November 8, 2015. DOC NYC, America’s largest documentary film festival, runs from November 12 – 19 at IFC Center (323 6th Avenue), Chelsea’s SVA Theatre (333 West 23rd Street) and Bow Tie Chelsea Cinemas (260 West 23rd Street). The 2015 edition of DOC NYC will include 104 feature length documentaries. More than 200 documentary filmmakers are expected, in person, to present their films. Special guests will include Hillary Rodham Clinton and Martin Scorsese.

On Friday, November 13 the documentary “The Anthropologist” will have its premiere screening at DOC NYC. The screening will take place at the SVA Theatre at 9:30 pm.

The Anthropologist” is the latest documentary made by Ironbound Films, a unique company which has produced some fascinating documentaries. Ironbound Films boasts no less than three directors – Seth Kramer, Daniel A. Miller and Jeremy Newberger – all of whom work on the company’s movies. Previous Ironbound documentaries include the 2012 documentary “Evocateur: the Morton Downey, Jr. Movie” (available on Netflix) and “The Linguists” (2008). Read the rest of this entry