Category Archives: Uncategorized
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
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.
November 30, 2016. This past Sunday, with the holiday weekend allowing me a break from my normal Sunday college teaching obligations, I finally made my way to Film Forum, Jr. Film Forum, Jr. is a film series for kids and their families which plays every Sunday at 11:00 am at Film Forum. The idea is to introduce a new generation to films, not necessarily what might be termed “kids” films, but great movies that kids would like. The program has a reduced admission price of eight-dollars per ticket.
The idea behind Film Forum, Jr. is a very important one to me, as a teacher. While I use movies extensively in my college sociology classes, I also use films in my work as a substitute teacher in the public schools. I show movies to students as young as Pre-K and as old as fifth grade – my preferred teaching range. I find that kids can use their intuitive intelligence to understand and appreciate so called “grown-up” films. Read the rest of this entry
November 30, 2016. On Sunday, November 27 Film Forum presented a program called “A Thousand Cuts,” based on the book “A Thousand Cuts: the bizarre underground world of collectors and dealers who saved the movies,” by authors Dennis Bartok and Jeff Joseph. The program consisted of rare film clips saved from oblivion by film collectors who found their footage in attics, closets, the trash and other out of the way places. When I use the term “film collectors” I am not simply referring to people who collect movies on DVD. “Film collectors” are a sub-culture whose members collect actual film.
The personalities featured in the featured clips included Alfred Hitchcock, Lena Horne, Ann Miller, the Marx Brothers, Humphrey Bogart, Audrey Hepburn, Al Jolson, Greta Garbo and others. The program was put together by co-author and collector Jeff Joseph, who presented the clips, spoke about them and took questions from the audience. Read the rest of this entry
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