DOC NYC November 10 – 17

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In my experience the best parts of any film festival are the documentaries. Stick with the documentaries, as opposed to the narrative films, and you will almost always see something great. This is not to take anything away from fiction filmmakers, but at film festivals the documentaries dominate. So, how fortunate we are that DOC NYC is right in our area.

DOC NYC, America’s largest documentary film festival will run from November 10 – 17 at IFC Center (323 6th Avenue), Chelsea’s SVA Theatre (333 West 23rd Street) and Cinepolis Chelsea (260 West 23rd Street). The 2016 edition of DOC NYC will include 111 feature length documentaries, 102 shorts and will showcase over 250 films and events. More than 300 documentary filmmakers and special guests are expected to be in attendance. 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

RIP Gene Wilder (1933-2016)

Don’t Blink – Robert Frank (at Film Forum)

Robert Frank in DON’T BLINK – ROBERT FRANK, directed by Laura Israel. Photo by Lisa Rinzler. Courtesy of Grasshopper Film.

Robert Frank, still taking pictures at 91. Photo by Lisa Rinzler. Courtesy of Grasshopper Film.

July 10, 2016.  In this day and age in which people are constantly documenting themselves and putting their pictures, writings and videos out for the world to see, it is interesting to take a look back at the work of photographer Robert Frank. Frank is known for documenting the lives of ordinary Americans through his stills and filmmaking. The new documentary, “Don’t Blink – Robert Frank” opens at Film Forum on Wednesday, July 13.

The last time Film Forum showed a documentary about Frank was in 2009. The film was called “An American Journey,” by French filmmaker Philippe Seclier. The premise for that documentary is that Seclier retraced parts of the cross country car trip that Frank took across America, in the mid-1950s, during which Frank photographed people representing all levels of American society. The trip resulted in Frank’s iconic book of photographs “The Americans” (1959). My criticism of “An American Journey” was that it was missing a very obvious and crucial element – namely, Frank himself. 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

“Blood Simple” (1984) at Film Forum

Frances McDormand in "Blood Simple," at Film Forum, July 1 - 14.

Frances McDormand in “Blood Simple,” at Film Forum, July 1 – 14.

June 27, 2016.  From July 1 – 14 Film Forum will present a 4K restoration of the Coen Brothers’ tremendous 1984 debut film, “Blood Simple.” (“4K” is a high definition video format that is the current standard for film restoration. Simply put, it’s a really great copy of the movie, just as good, if not better, than when the film was released on actual film).

Often, when I attend Coen Brothers’ movies (brother Joel directs, brother Ethan produces, both write the screenplays), I feel as if there is a joke that everyone in the audience is in on…except for me. Fellow audience members seem to laugh at things which I just don’t get, or, if I do get them, I don’t find them to be funny. Maybe I’m just not “hip” enough (or maybe my fellow audience members are just acting “hip” since they are at a Coen Brothers’ movie and feel the need to act like a “hip, indy” type of audience). That having been said, maybe there is hope for me after all, because I really like “Blood Simple.” In fact, I will go so far as to say that “Blood Simple” is the Coen Brothers’ best film (“Big Lebowski” fans may start sending me their “hate” emails now). 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

NUTS!

John Brinkley has an idea… Animation Still. Artist: Drew Chris

John Brinkley has an idea… Animation Still. Artist: Drew Christie. Courtesy of Cartuna.

June 19, 2016. A wealthy man with no political experience running for office? A charlatan who defrauds his clients? A stolen election? No, this is not a story about current events, or even recent history. It is the story of J.R. Brinkley, who came to prominence in the America of the 1920s and 1930s, as told by documentary filmmaker Penny Lane (“Our Nixon” 2013), in her new film, “NUTS!”

“NUTS!” is a funny, dramatic, engaging, intelligent and “off the wall” film which takes the documentary form in new and interesting directions. For me, as a college sociology teacher of mass media and popular culture, I found “NUTS!” to be a fascinating tale of a media personality. Read the rest of this entry