Documentary Feature

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Bruce Springsteen – “The Promise: The Making of ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town'” Sneak Peek from Columbia Records on Vimeo.

The Toronto Film Festival goers will get a look at the Springsteen doc in a few weeks. On November 16, Bruce and the E. Street Band will release the long-awaited boxed set from the Darkness on the Edge of Town era. Songs include, “Someday (We’ll Be Together),” “The Brokenhearted,” “Save My Love,” “Ain’t Good Enough For You,” “It’s A Shame,” and “The Little Things (My Baby Does).

Be still my beating heart. ¬†But it’s not as though this is the kind of doc the Academy goes for. It might not be “important” enough.

Full press release (courtesy of ONTD) after the jump.

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Sasha’s impressions of Inside Job on May 17, from Cannes.

Thanks to reader A.J. who alerted us to this Slash Film post.

One thing we can be thankful for, whether the general population is paying attention or not, is that we here in America have activist documentaries that not only bring awareness to complex issues but also help to promote change. ¬†One such film is Waiting for Superman, which takes a close look at our failing public school system. ¬†It’s a controversial issue, of course, and teachers find themselves increasingly difficult working conditions – facing an apathetic generation of kids, low pay, etc. ¬†In the meantime, we have a grim future ahead if things continue the way they have been.

What do our schools need? ¬†Money, of course. ¬†Now, Donorschoose.org will donate $5 gift cards to every person pledges to see the film by September 15th. ¬†The gift cards will be used to fulfill requests made by public teachers throughout the country who post classroom project needs on DonorsChoose.org. ¬†Having been involved in fundraising for public schools I can tell you, this has the potential to be a godsend. ¬†On the other hand, will our dullard nation actually do something about it? ¬†Like spend an hour and a half watching this movie? ¬†Hopefully the answer will be yes. ¬†For me it’s a no-brainer.

If the pledges reach 40,000, the film will get an additional boost with OfficeMax and their “A Day Made Better” program. ¬†¬†To help build awareness of the new film, OfficeMax will now boost the annual award to include 40 additional deserving U.S. teachers.

For more information about the movie, or to take the pledge go to http://www.WaitingForSuperman.com
To join the conversation visit us on Facebook at http://www.Facebook.com/WaitingForSuperman
What does your school need? Tell us by Tweeting #MySchoolNeeds at http://www.Twitter.com/WaitingSuperman

Spread the word. ¬†It’s either that or I’m going to post non-stop Mel Gibson stories until the Oscar nominations are announced. ¬†Just kidding.

It’s sort of ironic that two movies dealing with the threat of nuclear war came out this weekend: Salt and Countdown to Zero.

Salt deals with it in a comic book fashion, a great escape from the heat of summer. Salt is great because it has Angelina Jolie in one of her best action performances making our world safe for democracy. You got to love Hollywood’s answer: send in the winsome beauty to kick Russian ass.

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In what they are calling a rare move, the Government Accountability Project is backing and promoting Lucy Walker’s upcoming doc, Countdown to Zero, says The Whistleblower:

The Government Accountability Project has a long, storied history of working with whistleblowers within the nuclear industry to bring public awareness to the most serious of safety threats.  With that in mind, GAP is partnering with other public interest organizations to raise awareness about an important new film. Countdown to Zero is a documentary about the escalating global nuclear arms crisis, making clear that the nuclear threat is very real – and not a bygone issue that died with the Cold War.

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EXCLUSIVE first look at the terrific stranglehold poster for Unauthorized: The Harvey Weinstein Project.

Barry Avrich, a Canadian filmmaker and marketing executive perhaps best known as the writer and director of ‚ÄúThe Last Mogul,‚Äù a no-holds-barred 2005 documentary about the entertainment kingpin Lew R. Wasserman, has lined up backing for a similar portrait of Mr. Weinstein, the Miramax Films co-founder who currently oversees the Weinstein Company with his brother, Bob… As part of the effort, he has circulated a six-page proposal that describes his planned picture as ‚Äúa powerful, uncensored account of a brilliant, feared, charming and yet loathsome character.‚Äù

Perhaps hyperbolically, the proposal declares: “There are those that say making a documentary film on Harvey Weinstein is career suicide or, in fact, personally dangerous. Others have warned me that Harvey will never allow the film to get distribution.”

…Mr. Avrich said he intended not a ‚Äúhatchet job‚Äù but a balanced portrait that would capture the ‚Äúpassion, character and old Hollywood style‚Äù that the Weinstein brothers have brought to their film ventures. (NYTimes)

All These Wonderful Things’ AJ Schnack makes a pretty good case that it is very likely that the five Oscar docs are already “out there.” ¬†Says Schnack:

In the past five years, only one film – last year’s¬†THE MOST DANGEROUS MAN IN AMERICA: DANIEL ELLSBERG AND THE PENTAGON PAPERS – wasn’t screened by this point in the year and went on to be nominated for the Best Documentary Oscar.

So, chances are,¬†we’ve already seen this year’s five nominees.

He then tosses out a few titles most likely, The Oath, Enemies of the People, Last Train Home, A Film Unfinished, Gasland (but is it eligible?), Inside Job, The Tillman Story.  But then counters those titles with the more high profile ones that rarely break through, Oceans, Babies, Exit Through the Gift Shop and Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work.

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With a current score of 86 on metacritic, Restrepo is right behind Toy Story 3 and Winter’s Bone in the top tier of most acclaimed movies of the year. WSJ‘s Joe Morgenstern gives the film it’s highest rating among a dozen other unanimously positive reviews:

In one sense “Restrepo” is timeless. The subjects of this superb documentary, by Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger, are the men called doughboys in World War I, dogfaces in World War II and grunts in Vietnam‚Äîin other words, American soldiers who were fighting wars on the ground long before the phrase “on the ground” became a media clich√©. In another sense the film could not be more timely, since the setting is the Korengal Valley of Afghanistan, one of that nation’s most dangerous areas…

“Restrepo” teaches without preaching or taking a position on the wisdom of the Afghanistan war. As you listen to the men, and watch them on their perilous patrols, you learn that they’ve been forced to make the best of severely limited resources. Far from constituting an overwhelming force, they’re underequipped, chronically exhausted, dangerously isolated and haunted by their losses. (A few months ago U.S. troops withdrew from the valley after suffering 50 combat fatalities.) “Hearts and minds,” one of them murmurs. “Yeah,” another replies wryly, “we’ll take their hearts and we’ll take their minds.” This movie will stir your heart and open your mind. It’s a group portrait of practicing patriots.

Along with 8: The Mormon Proposition, which opened last weekend, and last year’s Outrage, Stonewall Uprising is part of an important wave of gay activist documentaries seeming to crest in the wake of Gus Van Sant’s Oscar-winner, Milk. As a straightforward history lesson about the genesis of the modern gay rights movement, it ought to be the least controversial and least provocative of the three. Hasn’t the once hot-button concept of equality cooled down enough to safely touch more than 40 years after the Stonewall riots? Don’t count on it. June 27th marks the 41st Anniversary of the milestone Greenich Village incident, and though we’ve come a long way, there’s still plenty of archaic thinking out there. Poster after the cut.

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Destined to be one of the most important documentaries of the year, The Tillman Story would already be compelling enough on the merits of its own tragic subject matter. The movie expands in significance when the misguided actions, horrific mistakes, media myth-making, and clumsy attempts at ass-covering deception in the highest levels of government unfold as a calamitous metaphor for the entire Iraq debacle itself.

After an appreciative reception at Sundance, The Tillman Story was picked up by The Weinstein Compnay for distribution and opens in theaters August 20. Two variations of the poster after the cut.

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[UPDATE: Director Josh Fox is Jon Stewart’s guest on The Daily Show tonight and part of the segment involves the natural gas industry’s smear campaign to try to discredit GasLand.]

Sasha gave us a preview of GasLand a few weeks ago, featuring excerpts from an NPR interview with the film’s director, Josh Fox. The provocative documentary airs tonight on HBO at 9 p.m. on the east and west coasts, 8 p.m. Central. The NPR post stirred up a lively discussion, so I hope we can show some of the same interest in actually soaking up a few facts to back up our rhetoric.

There will be dozens of other chances to see GasLand over the next several weeks. I think this link will take you to a full schedule of future air dates. Check out the trailer after the cut.

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One of the most lauded docs at Sundance was Gasland, director Josh Fox’s look at how natural gas companies are using a really dangerous method of extracting natural gas called “fracking,” short for hydraulic fracturing, given the okay by the Bush/Cheney administration, who ran our country into the ground for eight years while the media was still reeling from Monica Lewinsky and 9/11. ¬†Fox spoke recently with Fresh Air’s Terry Gross on the impact of this type of process:

“Hydraulic fracturing is a process of injecting, at incredibly high pressure, a huge volume of water ‚Äî they use between 2 and 7 million gallons of water per frack to fracture the rock formation. It’s called unconventional gas drilling. It fractures that rock apart and gets at all of the tiny bubbles of the gas that are sort of infused in that rock. In order to do that, they inject [these] million gallons of fluid down the wellbore that breaks apart the rock. It causes a kind of mini-earthquake under very intense pressure. What seems to be happening is that’s liberating gas and other volatile, organic compounds. … The volatile organics are released along with the gas. Sometimes they’re used as part of the compounds. The fracking fluid creates this. You’re releasing volatile organics, which are carcinogenic, and that is traveling, somehow ‚Äî along with the methane ‚Äî getting into peoples’ water supply so that it’s flammable.”

Will anyone listen or care? ¬†Many bizarre methods of persuasion have been used to convince landowners to become “leased.” ¬†The fallout from this is not yet known. ¬†Most of the people who are leased have signed non-disclosure agreements, which means “you don’t talk.”

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There has been much buzz for the Joan Rivers doc – and almost everyone who praises it, does so almost begrudgingly, like they couldn’t believe they would actually like a documentary revealing someone who is already practically over-exposed.¬† Somehow, though, the doc manages to say much about Rivers that hasn’t yet been said, mainly what a hard worker she is. Of course, the Oscar doc branch is notoriously prickly. One never knows what they will choose, usually not the popular documentaries.

The NY Times’ Manohla Dargis on the doc:

Smartly, the filmmakers take on Ms. Rivers’s own looks from the start, opening the movie with shots of her bare face — a shut naked eye, a thin line of mouth — as someone else greases it with makeup. It’s only after she’s put on this face that all these pieces come together in startling close-up. It’s a nice metaphor for the effort it takes to assemble the product known as Joan Rivers, but the bluntness of the images and her gaze are disconcerting. Is she daring us to look, or begging? It’s hard to know, and the filmmakers, who resist putting her on the couch, aren’t saying. In the end, all you really know is that when she stands on the stage, it’s as if she had tapped right into her id. It’s a gusher.

About.com’s Jennifer Merin writes:

The documentary is clearly a tribute to Joan Rivers and all she’s accomplished. Rich with Rivers’ trademark wit and razzle dazzle, the film is sure to entertain. But, while the filmmakers present a rush of amusing one-liners and a chain of interesting events in Rivers’ life to, they also gently guide you to contemplate the value of celebrity and our celebrity culture.

As seen in their previous films — including The Devil Came On Horseback, about a military advisor who feel compelled to take a stand against the genocide in Darfur, and The Trials of Darryl Hunt, about a wrongly convicted man who spent 20 years in prison for a murder he did not commit — Stern and Sundburg have a rare talent for defining and presenting their central characters. As a character, Joan Rivers demands their skills, and they do their subject proud. Very proud.

This weekend the San Francisco Chronicle caught up with a documentary Sasha first wrote about from Cannes.

“Inside Job” couldn’t be more prescient. Started just 19 months ago, the film is a searing examination of the financial crisis of 2007-10 and its catastrophic ramifications, not just for Americans but the world. The crisis spawned the loss of $20 trillion in investments and millions of jobs, and led to the worst recession since the Great Depression, the fall of global financial markets and perhaps the collapse of countries themselves.

This is a story that most people run from because the mind-numbing complexities of such political malfeasance, and conflicts of interest and outright criminal complicity are enough to explode the brain of a Nobel Prize-winning mathematician, let alone someone who is trying to figure out the fine print on their mortgage or canceled credit card. Ferguson’s artistry is that he is able to plot a path through financial arcana that was set up to ensnare even the most nimble-minded financiers and criminal investigators.

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Valerie Plame and Jordan’s Queen Noor are on hand in Cannes helping promote Countdown to Zero. Hoping to spearhead a movement to reduce nuclear weapons to absolute zero, the producers of An Inconvenient Truth are mounting an effort to raise global awareness of the issue as they did with climate change in their Oscar-winning film 4 years ago.

(AFP) A terrifying study of the nuclear threat was launched at the Cannes film festival on Sunday, in a heavyweight campaign documentary showing how terrorists can get hold of atomic weapons.

The Cold War may be long over but “Countdown to Zero” — from the producers behind Nobel Prize winner Al Gore’s climate change polemic “An Inconvenient Truth” — warns that nuclear bombs are easier to come by than ever.

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Charles Ferguson is one of the self-appointed truth-tellers – someone whose mission it is in life to bring information to the general public. And what information it is this time around with Inside Job, the story of the most disgraceful case of corruption amid trusted American financial institutions ever perpetrated against the public.
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For a nation that proudly declared it would leave no child behind, America continues to do so at alarming rates. Despite increased spending and politicians’ promises, our buckling public—education system, once the best in the world, routinely forsakes the education of millions of children. Oscar®—winning filmmaker Davis Guggenheim (AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH) reminds us that education “statistics” have names: Anthony, Francisco, Bianca, Daisy, and Emily, whose stories make up the engrossing foundation of WAITING FOR “SUPERMAN.” As he follows a handful of promising kids through a system that inhibits, rather than encourages, academic growth, Guggenheim undertakes an exhaustive review of public education, surveying “drop—out factories” and “academic sinkholes,” methodically dissecting the system and its seemingly intractable problems. However, embracing the belief that good teachers make good schools, Guggenheim offers hope by exploring innovative approaches taken by education reformers and charter schools that have—in reshaping the culture—refused to leave their students behind.

A new doc will tell the story of the famed whistleblower, Harry Markopolos who recognized criminal activity a decade before Bernie Madoff’s cover was blown. The film is based on the New York Times bestseller, No One Would Listen: A True Financial Thriller and is directed and produced by Jeff Prosserman. It is executive produced by Jeff Sackman, Randy Manis and Anton Nadler.

The film is in production and will be released this fall. It goes without saying that not only were hundreds of regular folks robbed of their life’s savings, but many of the very same film professionals who vote on film awards have likewise been stripped of funds.

The doc will promises exclusive access and never-before-seen interviews with Markopolos and his team of investigators hunting down Madoff’s Ponzi scheme. What continues to baffle is why the SEC was never held accountable for ignoring Markopolos’ repeated warnings.

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