Documentary

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A new trailer for the Katheryn Bigelow produced documentary, Cartel Land has arrived. Cartel Land won the Best Cinematography and Best Director awards for documentary at the Sundance Film Festival.

Matthew Heineman directs the documentary that gives its audience a street-level view at the Mexican cartels and the groups standing up to them.

The official synopsis reads:

With unprecedented access, CARTEL LAND is a riveting, on-the-ground look at the journeys of two modern-day vigilante groups and their shared enemy – the murderous Mexican drug cartels.

In the Mexican state of Michoacán, Dr. Jose Mireles, a small-town physician known as “El Doctor,” leads the Autodefensas, a citizen uprising against the violent Knights Templar drug cartel that has wreaked havoc on the region for years. Meanwhile, in Arizona’s Altar Valley – a narrow, 52-mile-long desert corridor known as Cocaine Alley – Tim “Nailer” Foley, an American veteran, heads a small paramilitary group called Arizona Border Recon, whose goal is to stop Mexico’s drug wars from seeping across our border.

Filmmaker Matthew Heineman embeds himself in the heart of darkness as Nailer, El Doctor, and the cartel each vie to bring their own brand of justice to a society where institutions have failed. CARTEL LAND is a chilling, visceral meditation on the breakdown of order and the blurry line between good and evil.

Cartel Land opens on July 10 in LA. Check out the trailer below:

Cartel-Land

vietnam

We watched the Vietnam war play out on television and the subsequent war narratives built by the media and politicians over the past few decades. So many films have been made about “America’s great failure,” which eventually transformed into the story of how badly the war destroyed the lives of soldiers coming home, not to mention the wreckage inflicted on Vietnam. And yet, most of us still see that war as a series of bad decisions by bad presidents — the one war America never wanted to repeat.  Now, here we are in the last days of Iraq, unable to pull out, our mission having failed spectacularly – Rory Kennedy’s film about the end of Vietnam is a glaring reminder that not only has it happened before but it’s likely to happen again.

Using extraordinary, rare archival footage, Kennedy focuses her documentary on how the war ended, how America left Vietnam and how desperately those who counted on America to win that war needed to escape when we lost. Refugees piled onto freighters in the middle of the ocean. Mothers and their babies jammed into helicopters and dropped onto ships – all in hopes of starting a new life in the United States.   The story here is not only about the brave refugees but about the American heroes who have mostly gone unrecognized in the years since.

By the time South Vietnam surrendered to North Vietnam it was all over but the shouting. The United States could not rescue any more refugees. Many of them were sent to re-education camps, or killed.  What is so remarkable about the film is that it plays like a suspense thriller. Kennedy features many witnesses to those events but it never feels like talking heads because there is so much real footage of events urgently unfolding it sometimes feels like you’re watching a narrative rather than a documentary.

One never feels lost or confused about what was going on, which is a testament to Kennedy’s skill in assembling all the material. One of the reasons most Americans don’t think much about Vietnam is that so conflicting spins have confused the issues about who or what we were fighting for and why it was considered such a failure. This film more than any other lays it out plainly, and profoundly.

Hollywood has taken us into Vietnam many times before – from Coming Home to Apocalypse Now to Platoon to Born on the 4th of July. We know this war through movies. We know it through movies about presidents. We know it because it is entangled in the Kennedy assassination by conspiracy theorists who believe Kennedy was going to stop the war, which was, according to Oliver Stone, one of the reasons he was killed.  But no one can say what Kennedy would have done or how the war would have ultimately played out. Last Days of Vietnam is not really about who was right or how badly Nixon escalated the bombings — it is about heroes who risked life and limb to get Vietnamese refugees out of a collapsing country.

Kennedy has a firm grasp of structure and story, leaving some of the film’s most shattering moments to occur near the end. It is a film that does what all stories about Vietnam should do – shame those who made the big decisions that ended hundreds of thousands of lives while honoring those who gave their lives for our country and for a cause they felt at the time was worth fighting for.

If it all sounds familiar that’s because Last Days of Vietnam eerily echoes what’s going on in Iraq right now. How we view those events, what we choose to pay attention to or ignore will ultimately define this history we’re living through. What little was filtered through the media back in the 70s is nothing like how little gets through to people now. The problem with 2014 is that so many people have become numbed and apathetic. At least in the 1970s some were still involved and motivated enough to protest the war in large numbers.

America’s involvement with Vietnam was long and deep. Whole families were built there and brought back here.  Watching Kennedy’s film one can’t help but marvel at how little anyone thinks about or cares about Communism now, sold to us as the greatest threat to American life back then. It has faded so dramatically into the rearview the word itself feels like a relic. But Kennedy’s film serves a living memorial to how irrational fear and defense of an empire in the hands of people who don’t know what they’re doing can lead to monumental tragedy.

Last Days of Vietnam ends up as a story about bravery more than anything else. In those last days the people who were willing to stick it out to help those left behind reveal the best humanity has to offer in war time. This is a film every American, as citizens of this empire, this democracy must see.

Last Days of Vietnam is one of the best films of 2014.

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LOS ANGELES, CA – The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences today announced that the field of Documentary Short Subject contenders for the 87th Academy Awards® has been narrowed to eight films, of which three to five will earn Oscar® nominations.

Voters from the Academy’s Documentary Branch viewed this year’s 58 eligible entries and submitted their ballots to PricewaterhouseCoopers for tabulation.

The eight films are listed below in alphabetical order by title, with their production companies:

“Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1,” Perry Films
“Joanna,” Wajda Studio
“Kehinde Wiley: An Economy of Grace,” Show of Force
“The Lion’s Mouth Opens,” Tree Tree Tree
“One Child,” New York University
“Our Curse,” Warsaw Film School
“The Reaper (La Parka),” Centro de Capacitación Cinematográfica
“White Earth,” Weary Traveler

The 87th Academy Awards nominations will be announced live on Thursday, January 15, 2015, at 5:30 a.m. PT in the Academy’s Samuel Goldwyn Theater.

The Oscars® will be held on Sunday, February 22, 2015, at the Dolby Theatre® at Hollywood & Highland Center® in Hollywood, and will be televised live by the ABC Television Network. The Oscar presentation also will be televised live in more than 225 countries and territories worldwide.

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I chatted with Jon Scheide about his upcoming documentary, Acts of Congress, which has just begun raising funds on Indiegogo.

Q: How did you get involved in the project?
I created it. It’s the evolution or distillation of my desire to make some sort of statement going back to the all the radical changes that have happened since 9/11. The Patriot Act, American abandoning diplomacy in Iraq and actually throwing the first punch, Citizen’s United, Voter Act and protection law changes, Wall Street breaking the economy, etc.
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triple-spy-hop

I know he’s famous for his writing in addition to his acting. I guess I never figured he was this good of a writer:

Blackfish could’ve easily been yet another monotonous “save the whales” documentary where they give us all the facts about the human-created plights of whales both in and out of captivity. Instead of preaching and using pretty but uninspired long-lens shots of whales frolicking peacefully in the ocean, the documentary, like so many successful action and crime movies, relies on visceral violence in the context of the age-old battle of man versus Mother Nature. This is amplified by the film’s main setting, an amusement park ostensibly designed for parents hoping to instill joyful memories in their young children. Is the severe trauma of a relative handful of impressionable kids worth the happiness of those who were spared what on the surface are lovely ballets of beast and human but under the waves and splashes are constructs of abuse and violence? When you fuck with animals, it’s inevitable that every once in a while the wild underbelly rises to the surface and someone is killed, and sometimes it’s in front of the children! In the age where there are so many choices for entertainment, it’s overwhelming (and one where, as far as I can tell, young children are more entertained by iPads than anything else), do we really need to be training animals for human amusement anymore? I am not here to answer that question, but it’s not going to do you any harm to ponder it and decide where you stand.

The Academy may or may not nominate Blackfish on January 16. That would be using their power wisely. They are not known for such things. The Act of Killing is still the frontrunner but Blackfish just need a nomination. Fingers crossed.

And the nominees are:

Ø A PLACE AT THE TABLE
Ø FAR OUT ISN’T FAR ENOUGH: THE TOMI UNGERER STORY
Ø LIFE ACCORDING TO SAM
Ø WE STEAL SECRETS: THE STORY OF WIKILEAKS
Ø WHICH WAY IS THE FRONT LINE FROM HERE? THE LIFE AND TIME OF TIM HETHERINGTON

The PGA traditionally does not line up with Oscar. Last year only two went on to be nommed for Oscar:

Last year’s nominees and winner:

Winner (also Oscar winner): Searching for Sugar Man (2012)
Other Nominees:
A People Uncounted (2011)
The Gatekeepers (2012)
The Island President (2011)
The Other Dream Team (2012)

cannes

At first I didn’t like the way this group of names was arranged on the risers of the red carpet stairway. But on second thought to see celebrity mingled with genius sums up much of what Cannes is all about.

Eight documentary shorts of which five will be selected – and they are:

“CaveDigger,” Karoffilms
“Facing Fear,” Jason Cohen Productions, LLC
“Jujitsu-ing Reality,” Sobini Films
“Karama Has No Walls,” Hot Spot Films
“The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life,” Reed Entertainment
“Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall,” Prison Terminal LLC
“Recollections,” notrac productions
“SLOMO,” Big Young Films and Runaway Films

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I don’t get why, in 2013, we are still allowing the practice of training and keeping whales for human entertainment. A new documentary is about to land that no one will want to see. But it is something essential, especially for younger audiences. The more intelligent the animal, the harder it is to keep them in captivity for entertainment or science. Chimps, elephants, whales and dolphins ought to be treated with higher regard for that reason.

Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Documentary

Malik Bendjelloul (Searching for Sugar Man)
Kirby Dick (The Invisible War)
David France (How to Survive a Plague)
Lauren Greenfield (The Queen of Versailles)
Alison Klayman (Ai Wei Wei: Never Sorry)

(thanks to Paddy at ScreenOnScreen)

LOS ANGELES, CA (November 30, 2012) – The Producers Guild of America (PGA) announced today the Documentary Motion Picture nominees that will advance in the voting process for the 24th Annual Producers Guild Awards.

The nominated films, listed below in alphabetical order, are:

  • A PEOPLE UNCOUNTED
  • THE GATEKEEPERS
  • THE ISLAND PRESIDENT
  • THE OTHER DREAM TEAM
  • SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN

All other nominations for the 2013 Producers Guild Award categories will be announced on January 3, 2013, along with the individual producers.

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The eight films are listed below in alphabetical order by title, with their production companies:
“The Education of Mohammad Hussein,” Loki Films
“Inocente,” Shine Global, Inc.
“Kings Point,” Kings Point Documentary, Inc.
“Mondays at Racine,” Cynthia Wade Productions
“Open Heart,” Urban Landscapes Inc.
“ParaÍso,” The Strangebird Company
“The Perfect Fit,” SDI Productions Ltd.
“Redemption,” Downtown Docs

From the Academy Award-nominated directors of Jesus Camp, Heidi Ewing & Rachel Grady, Detropia premiered September 7 and is showcased in select theaters across the country.

Detroit’s story has encapsulated the iconic narrative of America over the last century— the Great Migration of African Americans escaping Jim Crow; the rise of manufacturing and the middle class; the love affair with automobiles; the flowering of the American dream; and now . . . the collapse of the economy and the fading American mythos. With its vivid, painterly palette and haunting score, DETROPIA sculpts a dreamlike collage of a grand city teetering on the brink of dissolution. These soulful pragmatists and stalwart philosophers strive to make ends meet and make sense of it all, refusing to abandon hope or resistance. Their grit and pluck embody the spirit of the Motor City as it struggles to survive postindustrial America and begins to envision a radically different future.

The New Yorker’s David Denby says, “Detropia, a lyrical film about the destruction of a great American city, is the most moving documentary I’ve seen in years.”

It has its share of forlorn images the office buildings with empty eye sockets for windows; the idle, rotting factories with their fantastic networking of chutes, pipes, and stacks. Yet the filmmakers, Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing (who comes from Detroit), are so attuned to color and shape that they have made a beautiful film. We’re looking at new ruins, American ruins the remains of industrial ambition, a kind of impromptu graveyard of capitalism and the survivors, hanging on, exhibit a mix of awed mournfulness and good cheer. The city’s history is evoked by such chroniclers and guides as George McGregor, a warmly sympathetic union veteran; Crystal Starr, a young video blogger, who breaks into abandoned buildings and installs herself in offices now trashed and empty, as if she had worked there years ago; and Tommy Stephens, a former teacher, who warns of revolution if the middle class continues to be eviscerated. At the end, as young people move in to claim the cheap real estate, the movie hints at a fresh surge of capitalist ebullience and a possible revival.

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An investigative look at America’s war on drugs and its impact on the criminal justice system. Director Eugene Jarecki was Bill Maher’s first guest on Real Time tonight with a message that’s been obscured for decades: The so-called War on Drugs is effectively a War on Minorities, and the causalities of that war are predominantly young Black men

The House I Live In won the Grand Jury Prize for Documentary at Sundance 2012, and will open in limited release on October 5, 2012.

, with a focus on the experiences of Nannie Jeter, a former employee of filmmaker Eugene ‘s family.

Ebert tweets the big news himself.

“Whoa! My memoir has been optioned for a doc by Steve James (“Hoop Dreams”) and Steven Zaillian, with Martin Scorsese as exec producer.”

In 1994, Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel placed Steve James documentary Hoop Dreams at #1 on both their Top 10 Lists. In 2009 Roger Ebert wrote:

Today, fifteen years after I first saw it, I believe “Hoop Dreams” is the great American documentary. No other documentary has ever touched me more deeply.

So what happened to Hoop Dreams at the Oscars that year? Maybe you know. I hadn’t heard this story before today.

Gene and I saw the film early. We were approached by a friend of ours, the Chicago publicist John Iltis, who didn’t ask us to see a screening, he told us this was a film we had to see. We believed him. We were the only people at the first screening outside Kartemquin. Iltis rented the original auditorium of the Film Center of the School of the Art Institute — which has become, fittingly, the new Siskel Center. When the movie was over we remained in our seats for a minute or two before speaking. Neither one of us had ever seen anything like it.

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Take a good long look at that sign. Those proportions are correct.

The poster for the “book” reveals what it’s really about. But some slick publicist helped them make the movie look classier, more ambiguous about its true intentions. Make no mistake, this is a hate-fueled piece of propaganda garbage and I get to say so because I’m a blogger. I’m not a critic and I’m not a journalist. But I would never be one of the critics on Rotten Tomatoes for that very reason. I don’t have the audacity to call myself a critic.

Since anyone can call themselves a critic now and get on Rotten Tomatoes I generally regard that website the way I do Yahoo movies and IMDb as a collection of public opinion. It is useful in that way. But it is not, in my opinion, as useful as other aggregate sites that use reviews from major publications to gauge critics consensus.  I prefer instead Metacritic, and Movie Review Query Engine  mainly because, as I’ve said and gotten said shit for, any any Tom, Dick or Harry Asshole with a blog can get their reviews on Rotten Tomatoes and there doesn’t seem to be any quality checking.

Not to say Metacritic doesn’t have its own faults; for instance, there are many legit critics who aren’t yet on Metacritic and to find their reviews I either have to go to Rotten Tomatoes or else do a Google search. But for the most part they uphold the notion that to be a critic is a high honor and not just anyone can or should be able to call themselves one.

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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.)

civilrights.org, 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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Somehow I missed this when NY Times’ media columnist and author David Carr tweeted this out — but here he is being interviewed by Aaron Sorkin, who wrote the best film of last year and won an Oscar for it.  It’s a great interview – that David Carr.  When he blew through the Oscar scene it was apparent from the start that there was never anyone like him to begin with and there never would be anyone like him again.   He always had one foot in and one foot out but the truth is, it does ruin a person’s enjoyment of film (although after 12 years I’ve discovered, suddenly, that it only ruins Oscar movies  – the ones that don’t enter the race manage to stay pure to me – which is why I go to Cannes every year, to cleanse the palate).

Carr is, of course, out front to help promote the film Page One, otherwise known as the New York Times doc.  This helps the film, but it also helps the Times, which is the real reason, I suspect, he’s doing it.

Here is an exchange between the two:

SORKIN: I have two more questions—the first one is a little easier, and the second one might not be so easy. In addition to the high-minded work that you do for the Times, you also covered the Golden Globes and the Oscars for The Carpetbagger, the paper’s awardsseason blog. Is that something that was fun for you?

CARR: I did that up until two years ago, and then I stopped doing it because I’m a movie lover. I’m the kind of guy who shows up on the day a film opens and sits in the third row with a big box of popcorn and expects it to be really great. But what I learned in the four years that I covered the Oscars is that many of the people that I had so much regard for—and, frankly, awe for in terms of what they were able to do with the tools of filmmaking—were in fact monsters in some ways and really not that great to be around. Of course, I did meet a lot of other people who were grand and wonderful, but the look behind the curtain was eroding my romance with American film. Going to the movies is a very important part of my life. You know, if you tell me you’re going to make a big, two-hour long story about the development of a social network, I’d say there’s no way that’s going to happen. But David Fincher got some schmuck—I forget the guy who wrote it—and made it riveting. And then you get Trent Reznor doing the music, and you’ve got these ra-ta-tat scenes in bars and courtrooms . . . It’s just, like, I don’t really want to know how those guys pulled it off, I just want to sit there and enjoy it.

 

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