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180 reviews in total 
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DamNation (2014)
6 out of 9 people found the following review useful:
A Very Interesting Film on the Problems caused by Damns, 13 March 2014

Damnation was very well-received in its world premiere at Austin's SXSW Film Festival. The film is a thoughtful, well-supported argument to significantly reduce the thousands of damns in the U.S. This issue has been almost invisible as part of the wider environmental debate and certainly deserves more discussion. I was surprised that this movement has begun to have some success despite being quite low-profile in much of the media. Some parts of the film seemed a little overly idealistic in terms of the argument that preservation of salmon runs and fish species could justify the elimination valuable hydroelectric resources. The overall argument about preserving natural beauty also seemed a little unrealistic in terms of adaptation to modernity. Still the filmmakers made a solid case that some damns had outlived their usefulness. The historical part of the film was very interesting since it is an economic transformation that is rarely discussed. The interviews and the photography were really well-done and they managed to throw in some interesting characters and some humor.

The film had far more depth than the other film about river preservation, Yakona, which also ran at SXSW. While similar politically, the two films were dramatically different in terms of style. Yakona was a wordless meditation without any real substance. . Damnation was well-filmed very informative and detailed and, in the end, makes a rational case rather than emotional one for its point-of-view. I hope the film gets some distribution, because it is an issue that deserves more serious political discussion.

1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
A Humanizing Reflection on Issues of Migration in Cyprus, 12 March 2014

Evaporating Borders was reasonably well-received in its North American premiere at the SXSW Film Festival. The film was an attempt to examine the complex issues of migration in the complex cauldron that is the island nation of Cyprus. The film moves slowly through a series of vignettes of various migrants on the island. The director, Iva Radivojevic, a Bosnian immigrant herself, attempts to present the stories in a somewhat poetic manner, but it comes off as somewhat muddled, confusing and a bit disjointed. Rather than relying on a single narrative or speaking with experts who can clarify the history, the law, and the politics, the director relies on the stories and the images to speak for themselves. This technique presents a very human narrative, but one that feels a bit incomplete. The film does manage to highlight the dangerous trend of fascist anti-immigrant groups that is growing in Cyprus – as in many other parts of Europe and U.S. – but doesn't really clarify their influence or power within the political structure in Cyprus. While the film draws an important humanizing spotlight to a country that is often ignored, but it seems to leave a murky incomplete picture. There is no real effort to offer specific policy solutions to the problems that the film raises. The film feels like it is a good first effort by a student director, but one that still needs considerably more editing and reworking to be a fully complete project.

Manny (2014/I)
13 out of 15 people found the following review useful:
An Interesting Biopic about a Boxer with much Greater Ambitions, 12 March 2014

Manny appeared to be well-received in its world premiere at the SXSW Film Festival. The film is certainly informative for those of us who haven't followed Manny Pacquiao's multi-faceted career carefully. His story of his rise from a hut in an obscure Philippine village to international superstar is a truly impressive rags-to-riches tale. He has managed to successfully leverage his boxing career to move into other arenas including acting, music, religion, product endorsement and most intriguingly now politics. His determination and hard work are extremely impressive as he has risen to become a transcendent figure in the Philippines. The film has a bit too much footage of too many fights and lacks in-depth analysis of who the man behind the fighter really is. The film often strays from documentary into hagiography so that it doesn't feel like a truly objective presentation. It comes off more like an extended campaign biography for his future political career as his boxing career is winding down. Some of the metaphors such as Manny as a "fighter" who fought for the pride of his country and now will fight for the people of the Philippines feel a bit forced. It is difficult to tell if his recent focus on his faith reflects a genuine transformation away from his past sinful ways - drinking and womanizing - or a political tool to enhance his future political career. The film remains informative and entertaining, but needs to be taken with several grains of salt.

2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
A Moving Personal Tribute to a Struggling West Virginia Family, 12 March 2014

Surviving Cliffside was very well-received at its World Premiere at the SXSW Film Festival in Austin, Texas. It is a very personal film in which director Jon Matthews profiles his cousin E.J. and his family in a small rural West Virginia town of Cliffside where he himself grew up. The film is an intimate portrait of a family struggling with health issues, drug addiction and still finding a way to muddle through. The parents are trying their best to give their 2 young daughters opportunities that they never had through competition in beauty pageants. This is the type of rare film that shows what life is like in the forgotten parts of America that have been left behind by deindustrialization and corporate abuse. Jobs in this town were once linked Union Carbide, but after they left the town its inhabitants were left to struggle with all of the plagues of poverty – lack of education, widespread drug use, cancer clusters linked to chemical contamination. Recently, this same area was affected by a chemical spill that made the water too dangerous to drink. In 1960, the Kennedy campaign came to West Virginia and promised to save Appalachia from poverty, but somehow all the efforts of War on Poverty haven't done much to transform West Virginia. The good people of West Virginia deserve better. This is an eloquent film about life in this area and I hope that it gets some distribution so that more people can connect to these very much forgotten Americans in a small part of this vast country.

Vessel (2014/II)
6 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
An Important Film about the International Aspects of the Abortion Issue, 10 March 2014

The Vessel was well-received in its world premiere at Austin's SXSW Film Festival. There is a huge media and public focus in the United States in general and in recently here in Texas in particular on the issue of abortion. However, there is rarely much attention – at least in this country - paid to the international aspects of the issue of anti- abortion laws in laws in other parts of the world. The Vessel focuses on the work of the Dutch-chartered Women on the Waves ship which sails to various countries with anti-abortion laws and performs off-shore abortions outside of the international 12-mile territorial limit. While the number of abortions that they perform is a drop in the bucket, their efforts often manage to stir up controversy and draw political attention to their cause.

The film covers an extended period of time dating back to their founding in 2001 and includes footage from Ireland, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Ecuador and Tanzania. They manage to pull on the audience's emotional heartstrings by sharing letters from women seeking abortions. In general the film is solidly filmed and the women interviewed are articulate ambassadors for their cause. Some of the rhetoric does become a little repetitive. The film also comes off as a bit one-sided as the filmmakers present their subject's opponents as close-minded extremists. They also seem unwilling to seriously engage any frames of reference on the issue other than their own of seeing abortion purely as a human right. They don't want to discuss the serious religious concerns that their opponents have. In one sequence, the activists proudly mock their opponents by hanging their abortion banner from a statue of the Virgin in Ecuador. The offensiveness of this tactic doesn't seem to occur to the either the activists or the film makers. Thus the film makers really seem to cross the line from documentary filmmakers to political advocates. Still the film is an important one that brings attention to some under discussed elements of what is truly a global – and not just an American – issue.

2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
An Important and Fascinating Documentary on Preserving Agricultural Biodiversity, 10 March 2014

Seeds of Time was well-received at SXSW Film Festival where it managed to shine a bright light on an under discussed element of the climate change debate. How do we preserve and protect the diversity of our food supply against the encroaching dangers posed by the disruptive weather patterns to our supply of food? How do we make sure that there are enough varieties of potatoes and rice, etc. to resist the threats of pestilence and drought as the climate changes around the world? An almost invisible effort has been made to preserve these seeds in seed banks around the world with a "vault" inside a mountain in Norway. These efforts are crucial to the future of the planet and yet they are severely underfunded. The film is told through the eyes of agricultural scientist Cary Fowler who puts a human face on the issue through his worldwide efforts on this issue. Seeds of Time is beautifully filmed with natural photography from across the US, Russia, Peru, Norway and numerous other locations. Food security is at the heart of the survival of the planet and this is a vitally important issue for us all to learn about. I hope that this documentary gains a wide audience.

Joe (2013/I)
75 out of 97 people found the following review useful:
Dark, Brooding Portrait of Rural life in the American South, 9 March 2014

Joe was well-received in its American premiere at Austin's SXSW Film Festival. David Gordon Green's film, based on Larry Brown's novel, was filmed locally in the Austin-area. The film is dark, brooding, intense and most of all depressing. The story about a local lumber foreman – Joe - who tries to rescue a 15-year-old drifter with an abusive alcoholic father is violent and disturbing and one knows from the start that there is no way for it to really end well. I found the film a little too dark and a little too slow as it moves to what seems like an inevitable bitter end. I think it could use some editing to speed the pace a bit. The acting by Nicholas Cage as the foreman and young Tye Sheridan – fresh off of his success in Mud alongside Matthew McConaughey – are excellent. In a way, it reverses the characters in Mud where Tye Sheridan's character is trying to rescue the older man; in Joe, the situation is the other way around. The film is hard to watch at times and difficult to call enjoyable, but the story is still powerful. It is difficult to imagine that such a dark film will attain much cinematic success. Green often casts locals in his film. In a sad, but perhaps appropriate corollary, the Green cast a local homeless man, Gary Poulter, to play the important role of the alcoholic father. Poulter died on the streets of Austin two months after the end of the filming. It is a powerful film, but I doubt I will ever want to watch it again.

Boyhood (2014/I)
10 out of 18 people found the following review useful:
A Unique Texas Theatrical Treat from the Genius of Richar Linklater., 9 March 2014

Richard Linklater delivered a near masterpiece which was warmly received by a very enthusiastic audience in the Texas premiere of Boyhood at Austin's SXSW Film Festival. Linklater has done something that may have never been done before in a dramatic feature. He filmed the same fictional characters with the same actors (including 2 children) over the course of 12 years. The technical feet of maintain continuity while filming over such an extended period of time is remarkable and tribute to Linklater's genius. The film presents a fascinating and nuanced picture of how people grow and evolve over time. It is a story of the difficulties that we all face in growing up. The film is both universal and deeply ingrained with Linklater's own Texas roots. It is a very personal story as his daughter plays one of the 2 children. The audience was enthralled as they experienced the lifetimes of the characters especially young Mason played by Ellar Coltraine. In some ways it was difficult to tell where the line between the actors and the characters they played for so long began and ended. We see as the boy becomes a man and struggles with all of the challenges that that entails in the modern world. This is a unique film that has stretched the normal boundaries of the medium.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
A Powerful Human Story about an Amazing Baseball Pitcher, 8 March 2014

No, No: A Dockumentary was extremely enthusiastically received at its Texas premiere at the Paramount Theater at the SXSW Film Festival. The film is a remarkable portrait of a baseball pitcher Dock Ellis who played in the major leagues from 1968-1979, mostly with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Dock refused to conform to the norms of his time and instead became a leader of his team who was not afraid to challenge racial barriers and stereotypes. Like most first-rate sports documentaries, No, No is about much more than just sports. In a time of social change, Dock challenged those around him in an era when African-American baseball players were expected to conform; Dock did anything but conform.

The film begins with the most famous element of his career that he once pitched a no-hitter while high on LSD, but it uses this antidote to explore his much more complex story. Instead of painting Dock in black-and-white terms as either a hero or a villain the film draws out the complex picture of deeply flawed and complex human. He excelled athletically despite his long-term addiction which wreaked havoc in his personal life. Yet, when he finally gets clean he excels as a drug counselor and motivational speaker trying to prevent others from repeating his own mistakes. The editing and storytelling is compelling and audience often convulsed with laughter upon hearing Dock's friends recall his often absurd antics as a player and a person. By the end, you feel like you know Dock with all of his flaws and all his humanity.

27 out of 42 people found the following review useful:
A Powerful Human Story about a Remarkable Controversial Legal Case, 8 March 2014

The Case Against 8 was very well-received at its showing at Austin's SXSW Film Festival. This film presents a powerful human portrait of the individuals involved in fighting the legal case that led to the successful legal case that legalized same-sex marriage in CA. The film provides a detailed step-by-step examination of the case and provides considerable human insight into both the unusual legal team that fought the case and the lead plaintiffs who undertook the case. The film brings their heroic struggle to life. It also provides an excellent example of how to present a legal documentary for a non-expert audience with equal parts law and humanity.

However, like so many political documentaries the film is one- sided in its presentation. It sometimes mocks the other side's arguments so that one wonders how they were not laughed out of court. Although some of their adversary's views are presented, it does not really allow an articulate presentation of the other side's case. The film does not really give any screen time to advocates for Proposition 8. Nor does it seem to take seriously the argument that Proposition 8 was supported by a majority of the state's population in a popular vote. In this sense, the film seems to cross the foggy line between documentary film making and political advocacy film making. While I agree with the filmmakers in their opposition to Proposition 8, I don't believe they present an objective multi-dimensional picture of a complex and controversial issue. I wish they had found a way to present a fairer and more complete picture of both sides in what still remains a hotly contested issue. Despite these flaws, the film still remains a powerful portrait of some very important aspects of the complex debate over same-sex marriage.

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