Documentary Feature

Nearly 42 years to the day since the Stonewall Riots of June 27, 1969, New York State becomes the 6th and largest state to legalize gay marriage. Congratulations, New York! (and thanks to all the straight folks around the country helping celebrate by playing with their 4th of July fireworks already.), Stonewall Riots: The Beginning of the LGBT Movement

Stonewall Inn in New York City in 1969

(June 22, 2009 – Posted by Dayo Adiatu) This Sunday, June 28, will mark the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, the event largely regarded as a catalyst for the LGBT movement for civil rights in the United States. The riots inspired LGBT people throughout the country to organize in support of gay rights, and within two years after the riots, gay rights groups had been started in nearly every major city in the United States.

At the time, there were not many places where people could be openly gay. New York had laws prohibiting homosexuality in public, and private businesses and gay establishments were regularly raided and shut down.

In the early hours of June 28, 1969, a group of gay customers at a popular gay bar in Greenwich Village called the Stonewall Inn, who had grown angry at the harassment by police, took a stand and a riot broke out. As word spread throughout the city about the demonstration, the customers of the inn were soon joined by other gay men and women who started throwing objects at the policemen, shouting “gay power.”

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Pete Hammond interviews David Carr and the LA Times’ Jim Rainey

If Microsoft never saw the internet coming, and Google never saw Facebook coming, and Facebook never saw Twitter coming, it is chilling to imagine what newspaper publishers never saw coming: all of the above.  The movement towards “citizen journalism” coincided with the movement towards “reality TV,” as we find ourselves in an age of self-made stars, writers, bloggers, photographers, YouTube stars, chefs, and anything else you can imagine: it was, to a degree, a cultural mutiny, an insignificant revolution where the mob rose up and decided to take their entertainment into their own hands.

The reaction to this has been divisive.  Some just don’t want to know – as in, they don’t want to accept the reality of the shift. They disdain Facebook, Twitter and bloggers.  They don’t even turn on the television anymore.  They will hold steadfastly to what came before.  There are those who embrace the new, as monstrous and repulsive as it can sometimes be, while also being refreshing and visionary at times.  And there are those who actively try to attack so-called “new media.”  They will dismiss the way people communicate now as one grand “hall of mirrors,” where we massage our narcissism on a daily basis.  All of these reactions are fair.  We must try to understand how the world has changed.

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Featuring our lifelong pal, David Carr. Oscar doc race is already looking, once again, like the category featuring the best films of the year. It’s usually the doc race or the foreign language race, or the shorts. ¬†Very rarely is it the Best Picture category, although last year was not too shabby.

Oscar-nominated documentary Waste Land aired on PBS Independent Lens last Tuesday, but I didn’t notice the listing in time give a heads up. Luckily, Independent Lens re-broadcasts Sunday evening in many areas, so check your local schedule for another chance to catch it.

Filmed over nearly three years, Lucy Walker’s Waste Land follows renowned artist Vik Muniz as he journeys from his home base in Brooklyn to his home country of Brazil, and to Jardim Gramacho, the world’s largest garbage dump located on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro. There Muniz photographs an eclectic band of catadores — pickers of recyclable materials — and works with them to “paint” their portraits using garbage. The resulting collaboration with these inspiring characters provides profoundly moving evidence of the transformative power of art and its impact on the human spirit. Waste Land, will premiere on the Emmy® Award-winning PBS series Independent Lens, hosted by America Ferrera, on Tuesday, April 19, 2011 at 10 PM (check local listings).

Tomorrow night PBS American Experience will broadcast Stonewall Uprising. Trailer after the cut.

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To watch DisneyNature’s African Cats is to celebrate the roar of the female cat who not only is responsible for raising all cats, male and female, but also must protect her young and hunt for food. They rule. This documentary wisely focuses on two mother cats – a seductive, cunning cheetah named Sita and a devoted, strong lion named Layla and the daily struggles they face basically keeping their species running smoothly. The males? Well, they show up to eat the food the females have killed, they fight one another so that they can mate with the females and carry on their genetic lines, and they offer protection.¬† But there is no question who is the more powerful of the two – the girls have it hands, or paws, down. They are marvels. They are bad-ass.

African Cats is part tearjerker, part thrill ride, and part anthropomorphizing the big cats — Disneynature serves its line of films well by finding the dramas therein. Out there in nature, happy endings are few and far between – there are no real Prince Charmings, and food comes raw and bloody. Survival is hard core. To their credit, they never sugar coat it. They also don’t really make enemies out of the carnivores. The hyenas are given sort of a bad rap; after all, this is really about doing what it takes just to survive another year. But all in all, it’s a fair depiction. It’s an exceptional afternoon at the cinema, I’d say, far better than the usual swill they sell to kids.

These nature docs are necessary now more than ever, as children these days are coddled and “protected” from the truth about life as we attempt to extend their childhood innocence as long as possible. In my view, the sooner they wake up to the realities of nature, and of life in general, the better. African Cats, which opens tomorrow, is also donating to the African Wildlife Foundation.

Next year, DisneyNature will debut their next heart-tugger, Chimpanzee — which opens Earth Day 2012. Trailer after the cut.

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[notice]Banksy’s Livin’ the Dream[/notice]

When the dust settles of Oscars 2010, which is mercifully in eleven long days, what will remain the most interesting thing about the season isn’t that Roger Deakins might win his first Oscar, and it isn’t the final Toy Story movie finally winning an Oscar, and it isn’t Helena Bonham Carter finally winning an Oscar, or Colin Firth finally winning an Oscar, or The Social Network being shut out of the Oscars (be ready), it’s Banksy. ¬†Banksy has crashed the Oscars with what is the most hilarious Oscar prank ever pulled.

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AJ Schnack over at All These Wonderful Things makes a pretty good case urging the Academy (this never works) towards Exit Through the Gift Shop:

But if I had to vote, if I were a member of the Academy, I’d make my mark for Banksy and Jaimie D’Cruz’ landmark work in the nonfiction canon,¬†EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP.

When we talk about the history of the Academy’s documentary branch, the years are littered with major films that were never nominated for the feature Oscar. I was able to think of 12 from the last 25 years without breaking a sweat, most of which didn’t even make the shortlist:¬†THIN BLUE LINE,¬†ROGER & ME,¬†A BRIEF HISTORY OF TIME,¬†HEARTS OF DARKNESS,¬†CRUMB,¬†BROTHER’S KEEPER,¬†HOOP DREAMS,¬†AMERICAN MOVIE,¬†THE KID STAYS IN THE PICTURE,¬†TOUCHING THE VOID,¬†GRIZZLY MAN,¬†ANVIL! and there are, of course, so many more.

He continues:

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The New York Times is reporting that the big and powerful oil and gas companies have contacted Academy members urging them not to vote for the film:

“The filmmaker alternates between misstating and outright ignoring basic and verifiable facts related to the impact of these activities on the health and welfare of humans, wildlife and the environment,” said Lee Fuller, executive director of Energy in Depth (EID), in a¬†letter (pdf) today to the academy.

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Spalding Gray, performance artist, satirist, writer killed himself. Steven Soderbergh has made a doc about him called And Everything is Going Fine. As a fan of Gray’s, and Soderbergh’s, I could not be more excited about this.

Not among yesterday’s documentary nominees from the PGA, Waster Land is nevertheless on the Oscar Doc short list. Two top honors yesterday from the International Documentary Association keep it very much in play.

Earlier this year Waste Land won the Documentary World Cinema award at Sundance and earned two prizes at the Berlin Film Festival — the Panorama Audience Award and the Amnesty International Film Prize.

Waste Land

Woman Rebel

30 for 30

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Another Deadline exclusive ahead of the Academy announcement correction! This was not an exclusive by Deadline. The AMPAS has written me specifically to correct this. It was a standard press release, not given to any one site in particular. Everyone got it roughly at the same time but Deadline posted it first.

And the 15 are:

“Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer,” Alex Gibney, director (ES Productions LLC)
“Enemies of the People,” Rob Lemkin and Thet Sambath, directors (Old Street Films)
“Exit through the Gift Shop,” Banksy, director (Paranoid Pictures)
“Gasland,” Josh Fox, director (Gasland Productions, LLC)
“Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould,” Michele Hozer and Peter Raymont, directors (White Pine Pictures)
“Inside Job,” Charles Ferguson, director (Representational Pictures)
“The Lottery,” Madeleine Sackler, director (Great Curve Films)
“Precious Life,” Shlomi Eldar, director (Origami Productions)
“Quest for Honor,” Mary Ann Smothers Bruni, director (Smothers Bruni Productions)
“Restrepo,” Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger, directors (Outpost Films)
“This Way of Life,” Thomas Burstyn, director (Cloud South Films)
“The Tillman Story,” Amir Bar-Lev, director (Passion Pictures/Axis Films)
“Waiting for ‘Superman’”, Davis Guggenheim, director (Electric Kinney Films)
“Waste Land,” Lucy Walker, director (Almega Projects)
“William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe,” Emily Kunstler and Sarah Kunstler, directors (Disturbing the Universe LLC)

While Waiting for Superman is enjoying a lot of publicity, there is another documentary making the rounds worth paying attention to called The Lottery. It follows four families and their desire to simply get a good education for their children. Here is a clip:

Some review blurbs:

“A new documentary by a 27-year-old filmmaker could change the national debate about public education.”
– The Wall Street Journal

“This heartbreaking documentary offers an opinionated, powerful and potentially controversial take on the crisis of public education in the U.S.”
– New York Magazine Critics’ Pick

“‚ÄôThe Lottery‚Äô will do for charter schools what ‚ÄòAn Inconvenient Truth‚Äô did for the environment.”
– New York Daily News

Cinema Eye has just announced its doc nominees for the 2010 season. The audience choices fit what we’re all thinking of as the hot docs of the year more than the rest of the nods — that’s where you’ll find the more familiar titles, like Inside Job and Catfish.

As follows:


Directed by Janus Metz
Produced by Sara Stockmann and Ronnie Fridthjof

Directed by Banksy
Produced by Jaimie D’Cruz

Directed by Lixin Fan
Produced by Mila Aung-Thwin and Daniel Cross

Directed by Jeff Malmberg
Produced by Jeff Malmberg, Tom Putnam, Matt Radecki, Chris Shellen and Kevin Walsh

Directed and Produced by Laura Poitras

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Indiewire is reporting that Inside Job, Charles Ferguson’s Wall Street expose, and one of the best films of 2010, is already doing well at the box office already, joining the ranks of Waiting for Superman and Catfish as the year’s biggest money makers in the doc category.

Meanwhile, Forbes’ Magazine’s Robert Lenzer wrote a few days back:

Larry Summers. Tim Geithner, Bob Rubin, Hank Paulson, Alan Greenspan, Ben Bernanke refused to make voluntary appearances in the documentary film on Wall Street’s collapse, which gets my vote for the Oscar documentary. Sadly, documentary film makers don’t have subpoena power. These Masters of the Universe were skewered anyway by a film that is a gripping, must-see narrative of the financial meltdown. Good on Sony Classic for giving the filmmakers total control over their product. The purity of the film’s narrative is impressive.

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First saw this via Craig Kennedy of Living In Cinema – but it’s everywhere now:

Exit Through the Gift Shop gets a little attention from The Simpsons.

inside job

New York Film Festival impressions by
Brian Whisenant

I used to play a game with myself years ago…trying to not only figure out which 5 films would be nominated for Best Picture, but also trying to see them all before the nominations were announced. I remember incredibly well the first year I accomplished that. It was 2003 when I saw “Gangs of New York” the night before the nominations were announced. It was a bit of torture going in because I assumed it would be terrible and no one was sure it would actually make the top 5. Well, I probably commented many times on this very site how much I was surprised that I liked it. Afterwards I went to what was one of the oldest bars in NYC with my best friend, and we talked out all the possibilities. After we got a bit tipsy debating everything from “The Pianist” to “Far From Heaven” she said that I should take this Oscar watching deadline to the next level. After a few years, I did. In 2006, I made the pact to see every film (including shorts and docs) that was nominated before the awards were announced. Keep in mind this is way before I became “press,” so this was still quite a feat.

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It’s certainly not easy to promote a film about this subject as it’s not an easy one. But there is just something about the Tillman family that is compelling to watch — and yeah, their good looks are certainly part of it. I feel like it’s one of the best films of 2010, so I hope it gets the attention it deserves. Tillman’s brother Richard appeared on Bill Maher’s Real Time to discuss the film. The clip is after the cut.

The Tillman Story is a documentary made about the short life and horrible death of Pat Tillman. If you don’t know the story of Tillman already, and even if you think the know, the movie will still reveal a lot more information about it. Basically, though, it’s the story of how Tillman gave up his football contract to go fight in Iraq and Afghanistan. He came from a military family and was a stand-up guy anyway – so he felt it is his duty to go fight in a war he thought was necessary. Things changed quickly for Tillman after he went over there, though, and even before he was killed by friendly fire he had already become disillusioned with how the war propaganda machine was going. Tillman was being positioned as an American hero already. Tillman was killed by friendly fire, American soldiers on our side. But it was covered up and made to look like Tillman had died “fighting for our country.” He was used by the politicians on both sides, really, until his mother (and family) decided to find out just what happened to Tillman. He had decided not to have a military burial, for instance, because he didn’t want his death to be used as a publicity tool. Unfortunately for the family, the truth was never, and has never been, fully recovered. The details of that day are still in question. He was shot within fairly close range by trigger happy soldiers who were either freaked out or blind to what they were shooting at. Friendly fire is common in war, but the cover-up here was what caused Tillman’s family to get suspicious.

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While the documentary Catfish might be getting the most attention right now, the documentary Waiting for Superman is out there changing the world, or trying to. Davis Guggenheim (Oscar winning director of An Inconvenient Truth) and the filmmakers have two powerful allies — Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey. Both came together on yesterday’s show, as Oprah enjoys her final year on television.

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