Memorial Day has become a multipurpose holiday.
Yes, of course, when it began long ago -- shortly after the Civil War -- he holiday was clearly intended to be a day of remembrance of the war dead. And, ever since, it has been observed with somber ceremonies staged at monuments around the nation, commemorating America's fallen heroes.
But for many contemporary citizens these memorials take second place to the three day weekend celebrations and getaways that kick off each year's summer season.
That's okay. Everyone needs a bit of R&R from their daily stresses -- including the pressures of knowing that we're a nation currently engaged in multiple military actions.
But Memorial Day exists for a reason, and it's really important for us to remember what the holiday is really about.
The documentaries on my 2013 Memorial Day Documentaries List will raise your Memorial Day awareness by presenting you with riveting real life stories about fallen heroes and about how the horrors of war effect those who survive. Read on...
Check out this week's releases:
- Wine Women & Friends - Filmmaker Fiona Cunningham-Reid follows winemakers Carole LeBlanc and Jo Befort, a lesbian couple who moved to a village in the South of France and purchased a vineyard so they could pursue their passion for creating artisanal vintages. After six years of learning the intricacies of oenology, they're living their dream, creating superb wines which they sell to vineyard visitors and share with friends. This upbeat success story goes down smoothly. On DVD.
- Soldiers of Paint - As a pre-Memorial Day treat, see filmmaker Michael DeChant and Doug Gritzmacher's action-clad documentary about the annual epic re-enactment of D-Day, the June 6 Allied invasion of Normandy during World War II, by paintball enthusiasts. The event is staged in Oklahoma, on a 700-acre 'battlefield' owned by the grandson of a World War II veteran. Using real tanks and landing craft, about 5,000 paintballers participate -- some incoming from Germany. Impressive if you grove to war games. On DVD.
- Doin' It In The Park: Pick-Up Basketball - Filmmakers Bobbito Garcia and Kevin Couliau follow the pick up basketball circuit around New York City park courts, showing the skills of the terrific athletes and standout personalities who are regular players -- some of them good enough to compete with big name professionals who sometimes drop by to shoot hoops. The film tells a bunch of great personal stories and captures some truly amazing shots. Straight up. On big screens.
- Penguins 3D in IMAX - This David Attenborough wildlife documentary puts viewers in the middle of a vast penguin rookery on South Georgia Island, Antarctica, and gives an up close and personal view of penguin lifestyle. See how they court, mate for life, breed and rear their young, and protect them from predatory skuas. The photography of creatures and landscape is absolutely magnificent. For wildlife enthusiasts, this is a must. Releasing wide on IMAX.
- We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks - Filmmaker Alex Gibney focuses on Julien Assange, the controversial founder of Wikileaks, and his ascent to fame and influence. Theatrical, limited.
In Cape Spin: An American Power Struggle, filmmakers John Kirby and Robbie Gemmel focus on the high profile, high stakes controversy swirling around the hotly contested Cape Wind Project that proposes the construction of 130 wind turbines in Nantucket Sound, turning the scenic body of water into a wind farm.
The documentary is now playing in limited release. Read my full review.
(PHOTO: Concerned citizens stage a demonstration in 'Cape Spin: An American Power Struggle.' Courtesy Rebirth Productions).
See how a young environmental protester becomes a hero through coincidence and the miscarriage of justice. A fascinating and timely documentary. Read my full review of this fine documentary.
(PHOTO: A still of Tim DeChristopher in 'Bidder 70.' Courtesy First Run Features)
The 24th annual Human Rights Watch Film Festival, one of the world's most important themed film festivals, lights up the screens at New York City's Film Society of Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theater and the IFC Center from June 13 to 23, presenting a program of eighteen documentaries and two narrative features that cover issues of justice and call for social change.
The well-curated program opens with a June 13 benefit screening of Sebastian Junger's Which Way Is the Front Line From Here? The Life and Time of Tim Hetherington, the moving tribute to the acclaimed filmmaker who was killed while on assignment in the Middle East profile of photojournalist and filmmaker.
In all, eighteen superb documentaries are part of this year's program. To see the annotated list, Read on...
Kartemquin Films' annual Spring Showcase will preview four new and in progress documentaries, each at a different phase in the completion process, but due for release within the next eighteen months.
The screenings, held at the Gene Siskel Film Center of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago on May 19, at 5 pm, give documentary film-lovers a chance to preview Kartemquin's upcoming films, see post-screening panel discussions and meet the directors at a post-screening reception that concludes the evening.
This year's films include:
- Cooked - Directed by Judith Helfand - Cooked analyzes the 1995 heat wave in which 739 Chicago residents - most of them poor, elderly and African American - died over the course of one hot July week, to begin an exploration of community preparedness against the "unnatural" disaster of poverty.
- Mormon Movie - Directed by Xan Aranda - Inspired by Mormon educational films starring her mother during the 1960s, filmmaker Xan Aranda delves into the stories that informed her ancestors who pioneered the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, testing the cornerstones of her family's beliefs, and examining her reasons for leaving the faith sixteen years ago.
- The Homestretch - Directed by Anne de Mareand Kirsten Kelly - This is the story of adolescents who are homeless, and struggling to remain in high school so that they can get an education and better their lives. The stats are staggering. Each year, over 1.6 million young people find themselves homeless, many without parental support. The film focuses on Chicago, where there are almost 17,000 homeless students registered in the public school system. Their hardship is shocking.
- American Arab - Directed by Usama Alshaibi - The filmmaker shares his personal experiences of racism in post-9/11 America. Introducing us to other people living as Arabs in the U.S., the film sparks a frank conversation about identity and perception, and argues for giving people "the space to be complicated."
This exciting documentaries event sells out fast, so order tickets now. And, if you're not in Chicago, put these films on your radar, so you can head for theaters to see them when they are released.
Thanks and congrats are in order for Jon Alpert and Keiko Tsuno and their DCTV staff for taking another step -- and a huge one at that -- to advance the cause of documentary films and filmmakers in New York City.
The DCTV team broke ground today for a new, state-of-the-art cinema that will screen documentaries only, and has already been accepted by the notably stringent Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences as a qualifying venue for nonfiction films seeking Oscars consideration.
The new theater is yet another phase in the very successful re-purposing and transformation of what was -- and, we're going back some 40, here, to when Tsuno and Alpert first took possession, birthed and nested their fledgling DCTV (Downtown Community TV) project -- an abandoned and ramshackle -- albeit an architectural marvel -- fire station on Lafayette Street, a stone's throw from NYC's courthouses.
Under Tsuno and Alpert's watchful eyes, the building's interior has been redesigned to accommodate filmmakers with editing suites, conference rooms, classrooms and screening facilities -- the latter of which is scheduled for a huge upgrade, which begins with the groundbreaking ceremonies held May 7, 2013.
At the groundbreaking ceremonies, celebrated docmakers Michael Moore, Morgan Spurlock, Lucy Walker and others joined NYC officials in underscoring the importance of making truth-telling documentaries accessible to audiences in theaters. The filmmakers will serve as the theater's curatorial advisers.
The opening date for DCTV's new documentaries-only theater has not yet been announced, but hopefully its arrival will mark the beginning of a trend!
(PHOTO: Michael Moore, Jon Alpert and Morgan Spurlock at DCTV theater groundbreaking)
The Games For Change Festival, aka G4C, provides key networking opportunities for documentaries filmmakers who are interested in exploring the transmedia approach to enhancing the exposure and impact of their nonfiction films through development of interactive games based on their films and/or apps for mobile devices that allow film followers to track the evolution of the film's subject or otherwise interact with a community that's grown around the film.
G4C is really a terrific opportunity for filmmakers because it draws top games developers who focus on creating interactive digital programs that identify social issues -- including concerns about social justice, the environment, political corruption and the economic crisis, among other subjects -- and educate digital game players about ways in which their actions can have a positive impact. Their goals match up with those of many nonfiction filmmakers with stories that end themselves to transmedia expressions.
C4C celebrates its tenth anniversary this year from June 17 to 19 at the New World Stages on West 50th Street in New York City.
This year, the festival presents an expanded program of lectures, panel discussions, workshop sessions and demonstrations of recently released games. There will be mini-keynote speeches (30 minutes each) delivered by games industry thought leaders, including award-winning game designers Brenda Romero and Jesse Schell, and editor and journalist Leigh Alexander.
The festival's list of Guest Curators includes:
- Babycastles: In addition to curating a Games for Change Hall of Fame (showcasing their take on the best games for social impact of the last decade), they will invite participants to create their own game arcades on-site using stuffed animals, lo-fi tools, and technology
- Hide&Seek: Following their successful Kickstarter campaign for Tiny Games, a smartphone app that puts hundreds of real-world games in your pocket, the studio is creating a special installation of Tiny Games for Change. They'll also give a talk on the design principles behind the studio's commitment to real-world play and hold a workshop for participants to make their own Tiny Games for social impact in real time.
- Global Game Jam: Earlier this year, the Global Game Jam introduced a new diversifier called Big Picture to challenge participants to make games with a positive social impact in just 48 hours. Some of the best of the 300 games resulting from that challenge will be displayed at the festival
- Tribeca Film Institute: This special Tribeca Hacks presentation will cater to filmmakers and other creative content makers in a hands-on game design workshop led by game designer Nicholas Fortugno.
The festival will also feature a public design competition, which will award a cash prize of up to $35,000 to one team with the most innovative proposal to create a safe sex awareness game for the teen website, SexEtc.org. The deadline to submit ideas is May 17th. Three finalists will present their pitches during the festival in front of potential funders, a juried panel and festival attendees.
This year, C4G inaugurates its Marketplace to facilitate networking with publishers, developers and service providers who work at the forefront of games for change and learning.
For more information about G4C and to inquire about participation in its programs, visit the Games For Change Website.
Rooftop Films, the nonprofit organization that screens independently produced documentaries and narrative features in unusual, outdoor venues around New York City, plans to stage even grander and more imaginative events this summer than it has in past years. With screenings scheduled on rooftops, in parks and on a barge, the series will take audiences to some out-of-the-way places for unique movie viewing experiences. It's going to be a fun summer for Rooftop Film fans! For a list of films and venues, and other details, read on...