Blog Archives

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

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

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

The Dog

Bank robber John Wojtowicz

Bank robber John Wojtowicz

Al Pacino in "Dog Day Afternoon" (1975)

Al Pacino in “Dog Day Afternoon” (1975)

“The Dog” is one of the best documentaries I have seen in quite some time. The film covers everything you could possibly want to know about the famous (or should I say “infamous?”) “Dog Day Afternoon” bank robber, and hostage taker, John Wojtowicz, immortalized by Al Pacino in director Sidney Lumet’s brilliant, scorching, 1975 film “Dog Day Afternoon.” It is also a fascinating and highly entertaining documentary, to be enjoyed even if you have not seen “Dog Day Afternoon.”

However, if you love “Dog Day Afternoon” the way I do (and I’ve been a fan ever since seeing it at the age of 13 – my God, what were my parents thinking?) “The Dog” is a fascinating and compelling compendium of things we know, and many things we do not know, about the actual events that transpired before, during and long after that blistering hot afternoon of August 22, 1972, in Brooklyn, when two men held up a branch of the Chase Manhattan Bank.

Watching “The Dog,” it is very interesting to see how much of the story “Dog Day Afternoon” got right. I had the privilege of seeing Lumet speak on many occasions. He always said that the story telling emphasis in “Dog Day Afternoon” was on the fact that this event really happened. Read the rest of this entry

At DOC NYC – “The Children Next Door”

Filmmaker Doug Block

“The Children next Door” is one of the most striking short films at DOC NYC, the documentary film festival running from November 8-15 at IFC Center and the SVA Theatre.  The documentary was photographed and directed by Stuyvesant Town filmmaker Doug Block.  The 36-minute-long film is an intimate look at the Waldroup family, one that is recovering from a horrible act of violence committed by their father and husband, Brad Waldroup.

Doug, who has mined his own family relationships involving parents and children so successfully in his personal documentaries “51 Birch Street” (2005) and “The Kids Grow Up” (2009), now explores a darker aspect of family relationships.  In “The Children Next Door” he looks at a family disrupted by violence and attempting to heal.  Read the rest of this entry

Photographic Memory

Filmmaker Ross McElwee (on camera) charts the life of his son Adrian (seen here at age 10) in “Photographic Memory.”

Ross McElwee, one of my favorite documentary filmmakers (next to Stuyvesant  Town’s own Doug Block, of course), has returned to the screen with “Photographic Memory,” a personal documentary about the passage of time, how we capture it, the reliability of how we remember it and what it all may mean.

The passage of time has long been a theme of McElwee’s documentaries especially in such films as “Time Indefinite” (1993) and “Bright Leaves” (2003).  The latter is my favorite of McElwee’s work.  “Time Indefinite” (which I also like) deals with McElwee’s relationship with his father, a prominent surgeon.  Read the rest of this entry

How to Survive a Plague

AIDS activist Pete Staley in “How to Survive a Plague”

David France’s documentary “How to Survive a Plague” is a riveting and harrowing account of the formation, protests and achievements of the AIDS activist group ACT UP.  The group emerged in 1987, six years into the AIDS epidemic, as a response to the government’s lack of response to AIDS research and the glacially slow path to finding a cure.  ACT UP raised awareness about AIDS and forced it into the political conversation, prompting then presidential candidate Bill Clinton’s famous quote, “I feel your pain.”

  France, a journalist, and now first time filmmaker, began covering the AIDS crisis in its earliest months, before the crisis even had a name.  His first articles were published in the gay press.  France wrote the first stories about ACT UP for the “Village Voice” and was actually present, covering most of the events shown in the film as a journalist.  France explains, “Soon I was writing about them (ACT UP) for the daily papers, then ‘The New York Times,’ then ‘Newsweek.’  I was invested personally in their efforts as well.” Read the rest of this entry

The Kid with a Bike

Thomas Doret and Cecile de France in "The Kid with a Bike."

“The Kid with a Bike,” the new movie from Belgian filmmakers, and brothers, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne is simple and powerful.  It is efficiently made and rich in character.  The story never stops moving from its first frame to its last.  The film’s pacing matches that of its main character, eleven-year-old Cyril (newcomer Thomas Doret) who is in almost constant motion throughout.  The story never slows to provide exposition.  “The Kid with a Bike” starts in the middle of a scene and moves along from there, filling us in as it sees fit.  At the same time “The Kid with a Bike” goes in unexpected directions not necessarily providing easy resolutions to its protagonist’s situation, or predictable consequences for the actions that he undertakes. Read the rest of this entry

DOC NYC, November 2 – 10, Greenwich Village, “Girl with Black Balloons” and “Eames: the Architect and the Painter”

Bettina, the subject of "Girl with Black Balloons."

“DOC NYC,” the documentary film festival now in its second year in Greenwich Village, from November 2 – 10, is presenting several documentaries about artists working in a variety of art forms.  Two of these documentaries, “Girl with Black Balloons” and “Eames: the Architect and the Painter” focus on different kinds of artists.  One works alone and the other, actually two artists, worked as a pair.   The subject of “Girl” is known simply as Bettina, while the subject of “Eames” is the well known design couple, Charles and Ray Eames. Read the rest of this entry