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2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | 2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008

11 items from 2016

Beldocs: The Festival That Turns Expectations Upside Down

14 July 2016 6:51 AM, PDT | MUBI | See recent MUBI news »

The Great FortuneNot many festivals grant you the privilege of being personally welcomed by its director with a bottle of home-brewed liquor, not very many set that as their standard of hospitality: Beldocs, the Belgrade International Documentary Film Festival, is one of them. The composite beauty and disinterested generosity of the city and its people are the ideal environment for a festival genuinely close to its etymological roots, that of festivity, of an uplifting moment of reciprocal discovery and exchange. Big enough to explore, small enough to elaborate, Beldocs is what a festival is meant to be: a place where films are not only consumed but also convivially dissected. The size and schedule of the festival, but most crucially its comradery dimension, allow for the kind of space cinema needs in order to be cultivated, not only watched. The constitutive elements of the seventh art in Beldocs coexist organically side by side, »

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‘Documentary Now!’ Stands Out in the Emmys’ Variety Sketch Race

15 June 2016 9:46 AM, PDT | Indiewire | See recent Indiewire news »

Spliced together from interviews, establishing shots, and dramatic reenactments, its subjects’ homegrown aphorisms set against the forceful tinkling of the score, “The Eye Doesn’t Lie” might’ve been made by Errol Morris himself.

Inspired by “The Thin Blue Line,” the fourth episode of IFC’s inventive, erudite “Documentary Now!” — from the frenzied imaginations of director Rhys Thomas and “Saturday Night Live” alumni Fred Armisen, Bill Hader, and Seth Meyers — mimics the filmmaker’s work so precisely that it comes to resemble an X-ray, showing the bone structure of his distinctive style while (gently) poking fun at it. In this sense, to describe “Documentary Now!” as a parody is to undersell: It’s a wildly funny act of criticism, deconstructing the mechanics of nonfiction in an age defined by the slippage between “reality” and the real.

Starring Armisen and Hader in an ever-changing series of roles—in a pungent send-up of Vice Media, they even play three indistinguishable pairs of plaid-clad, ne’er-do-well correspondents on the trail of a Mexican drug kingpin — “Documentary Now!” is designed with an in-depth knowledge of the form, down to the title sequence. A clever nod to public television, replete with evolving logo, synthesized theme music, and Helen Mirren’s refined introductions, the homage to the likes of “Pov,” “Frontline,” and “Independent Lens” is telling. Though tough, at times, on the familiar tropes of Morris and the Maysles, the creators’ treatment of documentaries is affectionate; their approach is closer to Christopher Guest’s warm, playful comedies, from “Waiting for Guffman” to “For Your Consideration,” than to the sharp satire of “Drop Dead Gorgeous” or “Tanner ’88.”

This is born, it seems, of their interest in the power of nonfiction narratives, and in the process by which such stories take shape. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, “Documentary Now!” is lavish in its praise — Hader’s version of Little Edie Beale, in the series’ tribute to “Grey Gardens,” replicates several memorable moments in the film almost exactly — but it’s when the series turns toward exaggeration and hyperbole that its understanding of the form’s fakery is on fullest display. Against the “direct cinema” aesthetic of the Maysles, “Documentary Now!” depicts the siblings, here known as the Feins, eliciting performances from their subjects, searching the shadows of “Sandy Passage” for the most compelling variant of the truth. (It comes back to bite them, in a way that acknowledges the elements of Gothic horror in “Grey Gardens” by blowing the original to bits.)

Understanding documentaries as a set of narrative techniques, and not simply as a reflection of “the facts,” “Documentary Now!” is at its most astute in the first season’s “Kunuk Uncovered.” Based on 1988’s “Nanook Revisited,” itself an investigation of the stagecraft in Robert Flaherty’s 1922 silent, “Nanook of the North,” “Kunuk” renders explicit the series’ animating principle: “Was the first documentary a documentary at all,” the narrator intones, “or was it something else?” As William H. Sebastian (John Slattery) attempts to mold his subject, Pipilok (Armisen), into the “Eskimo” of his ethnocentric assumptions, mounting dog sledding and spear fishing scenes, he loses control of the project to its central figure. “Kunuk” becomes an artful farce, part Hollywood excess and part careful craft.

Pipilok first demands compensation, securing the managerial services of a local pimp, and then displaces Sebastian altogether, transforming into a tortured auteur. (At one point, he curses out the cast in his native tongue, a true diva of the directing chair.) His aesthetic innovations — recording sound, building sets, developing “point of view” and new forms of movement — are those, roughly speaking, of realism, and “Kunuk” is, in essence, a reminder that the style that doesn’t seem like a style is no less fabricated for convincing us otherwise. In “Documentary Now!” nonfiction is always “something else”: A performance, a manipulation, a construction, adjacent to “the real” but not a mirror image of it.

In fashioning a new short film for each installment—with the exception of the two-part “Gentle and Soft: The Story of the Blue Jean Committee” — the series is an outlier in the Emmys’ nascent Variety Sketch category. Last year’s inaugural field featured five nominees on the traditional “sketch” model, including “Saturday Night Live” and winner “Inside Amy Schumer,” and all, including the final season of the excellent “Key & Peele,” are among this year’s twenty eligible series (up from 17). But given the TV Academy’s tendency to settle into firm patterns, to the point that one might call them ruts, it would behoove voters to honor the heterodox, learned, distinctly non-topical comedy of “Documentary Now!” while the contours of the category are still in flux.

If there’s one aspect of the series we know Academy members can appreciate, it’s the brilliant impression: Schumer and Ryan McFaul were nominated last year for directing the dead solid perfect satire “12 Angry Men Inside Amy Schumer” as if inhabited by the spirit of Sidney Lumet, a feat “Documentary Now!” manages many times over, and in myriad registers. Its sketches succeed, in the end, because they’re not sketchy at all, but rather fully realized, remarkably savvy reconsiderations of their subject, which is the creative, sometimes-deceptive act of documentary filmmaking itself.

“The Eye Doesn’t Lie” recalls not only “The Thin Blue Line,” then, but also, by dint of its title, the filmmaker’s examination of visible evidence in “Standard Operating Procedure.” “The pictures spoke a thousand words,” as Army Special Agent Brent Pack says in the latter of photographs of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib, launching into the kind of Morris-esque paradox that IFC’s series so beautifully distills. “But unless you know what day and time they were taken, you wouldn’t know what story they were telling.” The eye does lie, of course, and the brilliant “Documentary Now!” is always catching it red-handed.

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- Matt Brennan

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[Montclair Review] Booger Red

11 May 2016 5:47 PM, PDT | The Film Stage | See recent The Film Stage news »

Employing an outsider to disarm subjects deep in Bubba Texas, Booger Red turns to writer/director/actor/provocateur Onur Tukel as its conduit into this world, asking the absurd questions at the heart of a scandal that involves swingers, foster parents and a “sex kindergarten.” Inspired by Michael Hall’s 2009 Texas Monthly article, director Berndt Mader (Five Time Champion) constructs his own documentary/narrative hybrid with Tukel as a reporter named Onur Tukel (although not as himself) in his most restrained role yet.

Playing an Austin-based investigate reporter, he’s dispatched to the small town of Mineola, Texas where the neighborhood swinger’s club is conveniently located across from the town’s newspaper. It’s here where the mysterious Booger Red apparently brought kids he trained in his “sex kindergarten” to perform — an allegation made by a profiteering set of foster parents.

Rather curiously, Mader has insisted many real players »

- John Fink

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The Naked Island

9 May 2016 6:08 PM, PDT | Trailers from Hell | See recent Trailers from Hell news »

Don't let your boss see this movie, it'll give them ideas. Writer-director Kaneto Shindo reduces the human drama to its basics, as an isolated family endures a backbreaking existence of dawn 'til dusk toil to eke out a living. It's a beautiful but humbling ode to adaptability and human resolve. And the show has no conventional dialogue. The Naked Island Blu-ray The Criterion Collection 811 1960 / B&W / 2:35 widescreen / 94 min. / Hadaka no shima / available through The Criterion Collection / Street Date May 17, 2016 / 39.95 Starring Nobuko Otowa, Taiji Tonoyama, Shinji Tanaka, Masanori Horimoto. Cinematography Kiyomi Kuroda Film Editor Toshio Enoki Original Music Hikaru Hayashi Produced by Eisaku Matsuura, Kaneto Shindo Written and Directed by Kaneto Shindo

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Writer-director Kaneto Shindo started his own production company in the 1950s earning critical attention but not great success with pictures on topical themes -- the legacy of Hiroshima, the story of the fishing trawler irradiated by a hydrogen blast. »

- Glenn Erickson

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The Reality of ‘The Southerner’ and Absurdity of ‘Death by Hanging’

24 March 2016 12:33 PM, PDT | The Film Stage | See recent The Film Stage news »

As a supplement to our Recommended Discs weekly feature, Peter Labuza regularly highlights notable recent home-video releases with expanded reviews. See this week’s selections below.

After a decade of the Dust Bowl destroying crops while rich land owners exploited every little farmer there was, making a film that naively bought into the American dream would seem foolish for any filmmaker. But Jean Renoir could only see hope in the plains, having fled his home to exchange the dreams of Fascism for the dreams of celluloid. While Renoir struggled in Hollywood during the war period, his break came as he went north to Millerton Lake to make The Southerner in 1945. The resulting film follows doe-eyed Zachary Scott, exuding his common-day presence, as Sam Tucker. Tucker, gullible for the promises that hard work means a better life, moves his family from a proto-Days of Heaven cotton-picking existence to a farm of one’s own, »

- Peter Labuza

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‘Asfixia,’ ‘Lake,’ ‘Mariachis’ Win Big at Guadalajara Co-Pro Meet

9 March 2016 2:50 AM, PST | Variety - Film News | See recent Variety - Film News news »

Guadalajara – Mexico’s ‘Asfixia,’ Chile’s ‘Another Lake,’ and Mexico’s “I’m No Longer Here” and “Mariachis” win big at the 2016 Guadalajara Fest’s Co-Pro Meeting, scoring two prizes a piece, while ‘Lake,’ ‘Ballroom’ and ‘Julio’s Night,’ all first features, snagged coveted Argos Prizes, implying Pesos3 million ($164,000) a shot in co-pro coin, a world for many Latin American productions.

A love story between two outsiders, an Albino ex-con and hypochondriac, picking up on director Kenya Marquez’s interest in what she calls “a lack of resignation before loss,” seen in her Morelia hit and Miami Fest winner “Expiry Date,” “Asfixia” won lab and film development service prizes from Mexico City’s Estudios Churubusco and equipment hire from Mexico’s Equipment & Film Design (Efd).

Chilean actress-turned-director Francisca Silva’s “Another Lake,” about a young teen whose repressive medic father attributes her wild adolescence to a personality disorder, took an award from the U. »

- John Hopewell

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‘Journey,’ ‘Family,’ ‘Future’ Among Projects at 12th Guadalajara Co-Pro Meeting

6 March 2016 8:37 AM, PST | Variety - Film News | See recent Variety - Film News news »

Guadalajara, Mexico – “The Extraordinary Journey of Celeste Garcia,” Arturo Infante’s arresting sci-fi allegory for Cuba’s current state, joins “Unknown Family,” a project from Alex Garcia’s Itaca Films and “The Man From the Future,” produced by Chile’s high-flying Giancarlo Nasi, in the 30-project lineup at the Guadalajara’s Fest’s 12th Co-Production Meeting.

The Mexican fest’s centerpiece industry event – for its size; prize money: Pesos 11.9 million ($650,000) in sponsors’ services or equipment; and attending producers – the Co-Pro Meeting runs March 6-8. Argos Cine’s offer to co-produce three 12th Gdl Co-Production Meeting winners, investing $164,000 a shot, has greatly goosed prize money.

Two-thirds of its 30 projects are potential first features, among them, notably, “Rosa Maria,” from Colombia’s Diego Vivanco, scribe of “El Paramo” and “Alias Maria,” plus domestic repression drama “Another Lake” from Chile’s Francisca Silva, and the intriguing “My Favorite Birthday,” from Mexico’s Agustín Tapia Muñoz

More surprisingly, »

- John Hopewell

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12 Mind-Blowing Documentaries With 100% On Rotten Tomatoes

1 March 2016 12:24 AM, PST | Obsessed with Film | See recent Obsessed with Film news »

Icarus Films

While many still view the documentary as the ugly stepsister of the glamorous feature picture, the truth is that non-fiction has played an important part in the development of film, being just about as old as the art itself. The term itself was coined some 90 years ago by young Scottish academic John Grierson during his review of Robert Flaherty’s 1926 ethnographic piece Moana, a film funded by Paramount Pictures that aimed to document the traditional lives of the Polynesians.

Pioneer Soviet filmmaker Dziga Vertov developed the genre further with his experimental work in the late 20s and beyond, though the documentary would be taken in a different direction entirely during the 1930s and 40s, used as a war-time tool rather than a means of education or entertainment. It wasn’t until the 1960s that a new generation of young filmmakers in the Us and Europe took steps to »

- Phil Archbold

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Rotterdam 2016. Acting Out

1 February 2016 7:01 AM, PST | MUBI | See recent MUBI news »

The major retrospective of the 2016 International Film Festival Rotterdam is dedicated to the Barcelona school of filmmaking in the 1960s and 1970s, with Catalonian master Pere Portabella’s body of work—and his new film—serving as a figurehead. Nearly completely unknown in the United States—where critic Jonathan Rosenbaum has been a beacon of support and revelation—insomuch as Portabella is known in the film community it is for his film Vampir-Cuadecuc, which hijacks the production of Christopher Lee and Jesús Franco’s Count Dracula (1970) for its own ends and exhilaratingly exposes this documentarian’s acute analysis of and play with the subject of his films. (I will note here that Mubi has shown a great deal of Portabella’s work in the past, including this 1970 horror film.) This is hardly a lone accomplishment; in 1961 he helped produce Luis Buñuel's masterpiece Viridiana, and the director has been a strident voice in documentary, »

- Daniel Kasman

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NYC Weekend Watch: ‘Koyaanisqatsi,’ ‘The Shining’ Remix, Agnès Varda, Coen Brothers & More

28 January 2016 8:28 PM, PST | The Film Stage | See recent The Film Stage news »

Since any New York cinephile has a nearly suffocating wealth of theatrical options, we figured it’d be best to compile some of the more worthwhile repertory showings into one handy list. Displayed below are a few of the city’s most reliable theaters and links to screenings of their weekend offerings — films you’re not likely to see in a theater again anytime soon, and many of which are, also, on 35mm. If you have a chance to attend any of these, we’re of the mind that it’s time extremely well-spent.

Museum of the Moving Image

Koyaanisqatsi kicks off “See It Big! Documentary” on Friday. Saturday brings the follow-up, Powaqqatsi, as well as Robert Flaherty‘s Louisiana Story. Close out Reggio’s trilogy with a Sunday screening of Naqoyatsi.

Labyrinth screens on Sunday, but is currently listed as being sold-out.


You’ve probably heard about The »

- Nick Newman

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Documentary and Faux-Documentary at First Look 2016

15 January 2016 1:41 PM, PST | MUBI | See recent MUBI news »

FrancofoniaIt seems slightly off-kilter to term a film by Alexander Sokurov, everyone’s favorite Slavophile modernist, a “mash-up.”  Yet Francofonia, which opened the Museum of the Moving Image’s fifth annual First Look festival, brings to mind an idiosyncratic synthesis of motifs derived from Godard’s Histoire(s) du cinéma and Volker Schlöndorff’s Diplomacy. With more than a passing resemblance to the ever-popular fiction/non-fiction hybrid film, Sokurov’s rambling meditation on the aesthetic imperatives of authoritarianism was an appropriate choice to open a festival that specializes in experimental hybridism. New work by such disparate filmmakers as Dominic Gagnon, Léa Rinaldi, and Louis Skorecki traverses generic boundaries—even though, for seasoned festival audiences, this sort of genre-bending is now more of a routine occurrence than a transgressive event. First Look’s desire to showcase subversive hybridity was evident in Quebecois filmmaker Dominic Gagnon’s double bill—Pieces and Love »

- Richard Porton

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2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | 2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008

11 items from 2016

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