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Jennifer Merin

Documentaries

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Weekend Watching: On Library Shelves April 11-13, 2014

Saturday April 12, 2014

Always a good source for fine documentary fare, your local library's shelves are stacked with DVDs that you can borrow and watch for free!

Prominent on my neighborhood New York Public Library St. Agnes Branch this weekend are:

  • Buck -Directed by Cindy Meehl, the bio doc follows Buck Brannigan, otherwise known as 'the original horsewhisperer,' who trains testy horses and their intimidated owners how to ride in harmony. A great film for the seasonal change, when everyone's eager to get outdoors and ride!
  • Inside Job - Directed by Charles Ferguson, the film is an in depth investigation about the financial crisis of 2008, why it came about and its ongoing impact on the world's economies. An interesting watch while you prepare for this year's income tax filing deadline.
  • Racing Dreams - Directed by Marshall Curry, the film follows talented youngsters as they compete on the go-kart circuit, racing to kickstart their careers as NASCAR drivers Great for watching with kids.

Enjoy!

'Art of The Real' - New Series @ Lincoln Center Film Society Redefines 'Documentary'

Wednesday April 9, 2014

As always, the Film Society at Lincoln Center is ahead of the crowd...this time with a cutting edge program of nonfiction films.

The FSLC's new annual "Art of the Real" series is a nonfiction showcase founded on the most expansive possible view of documentary film.

The inaugural edition, set for April 11 - 26, features new work from around the world alongside retrospective selections by both known and unjustly forgotten filmmakers. Lofty!

According to FSLC's promotional material, the series "is a platform for filmmakers and artists who have given us a wider view of nonfiction cinema and at the same time brought the form full circle, back to its early, boundary-pushing days."

Curated by Dennis Lim and Rachel Rakes, this year's "The Art of the Real" will present 36 documentaries by an international roster of filmmakers who forge new approaches to production, use unusual storytelling techniques and inventive styles. Altogether, the films are deemed by the programmers to expand traditional definitions of documentary filmmaking -- whatever those definitions may be.

The only "Art of the Real" 2014 film I've seen thus far is Sweetgrass, which was one of my favorite documentaries of 2010. Actually, it might be one of my favorite documentaries of all time.

But I'd have to say that I find the film so engaging because it is -- as I see it -- pure observational cinema of the most traditional kind. It is beautifully filmed, clear in its intent, complete in its presentation of characters and story, without emotion-influencing music or mind-bending graphic embellishments. Whether you call its style traditional or experimental, it conveys the truth about its characters, their concerns and their way of life. It is a cinematic poem of reality. You can read my full review.

I guess that does make it rare and envelope-pushing. Maybe it's Sweetgrass that's the documentary that brings "the form full circle, back to its early, boundary-pushing days."

Actually, I think Sweetgrass has greater authenticity than many of those early documentaries --many of which were, as is widely known, staged -- at least in part.

Anyway, Sweetgrass is a must see, and this is a great opportunity to enjoy its magnificence on the big screen.

The "Art of the Real" series is particular interesting and cutting edge because by giving a platform to films representing a wide variety of documentary documentary styles and production approaches, it informs the general public that nonfiction filmmaking is not just one genre, but many, and it invites the general public to enter into a discussion that's currently hot and heavy within the documentary filmmaking community.

It will be very interesting to see how this particular selection of filmmakers establish their truths.

For the full program, and to order tickets, visit the FSLC Website.

(PHOTO: A still from 'Sweetgrass'.' Courtesy Cinema Guild.)

'My Neighbor, My Killer' Streams on MUBI to Mark the 20th Anniversary of The Rwandan Genocide

Monday April 7, 2014

Monday, April 7, 2014 marks the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide. On this day, memorials will be held in Kigali and elsewhere around the world to mourn the loss of humanity during the viciously inhumane rampage of killing in which militant Hutus that took the lives of 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus throughout Rwanda during a period of 100 days in 1994. This heinous period in the history of human civilization must never been forgotten.

Nor will it be, thanks in good measure to the work of filmmaker Anne Aghion, whose documentary, My Neighbor My Killer, brings awareness about the Rwandan genocide to audiences around the world. To mark the 20th anniversary of the ethnic killings, My Neighbor, My Killer will be available to stream worldwide on MUBI for 30 days beginning April 7.

In many ways, My Neighbor, My Killer sets standards for genocide documentaries. It has had unusual social and political impact in Rwanda and around the world, expecially in countries and among people who've experienced genocide For both its historic importance and its cinematic excellence, this documentary is a must see.

Read my full review, my commentary about the film's extraordinary impact and my exclusive interview with filmmaker Anne Aghion.

Celebrate Spring Things with Documentaries!

Sunday April 6, 2014

Spring break. Spring sports. Spring Gardening. Spring Fashion. Horse Racing. Anticipating the end of the school year. These springtime concerns are all the subjects of intriguing documentaries. Celebrate the change of seasons by watching the films on this curated list of documentaries about Spring things. Read more...

(PHOTO: Still from 'The First Saturday in May.' Courtesy of the Hennegan Brothers).

Documentaries About Sex, Sexuality, Love Relationships and Human Reproduction!

Sunday April 6, 2014
Just in time for Spring's awakening, an annotated list of documentaries about sex -- with a range of titles to interest everyone from viewers looking for romance on the Internet to those who face making a decision about whether they want to deliver their babies at home or in a hospital setting. These documentaries won't teach you everything you've always wanted to know but were afraid to ask, but they will set the framework for contemplation about human sexuality and to proactive discussion about the more specific subjects of sexual preferences, individual rights of choice, sexual consent and abuse, and sexual conduct in different parts of the world. Enough of a tease! Click here to see the curated list.

Review: 'Particle Fever'

Sunday March 16, 2014

Even if you think science isn't your thing, Particle Fever, Mark Levinson's documentary about the Large Hadron Collider and physicists' search for the elusive Higgs boson, will fascinate you.

Levinson, who is both a physicist and filmmaker, captures the drama inherent in an ongoing experiment designed to validate theories about how the universe was formed and how it is evolving.

Levinson's ability to illustrate what is invisible and his storytelling skills are awesome.

Read my full review.

PHOTO: 'Particle Fever' Postr Art. Courtesy Abramorama.

Documentary Festival in Budapest Debuts This Year

Sunday March 9, 2014

The newly established Budapest International Documentary Festival (BIDF) takes its place on the international documentaries calendar from September 25-28, 2014. It is the first international competition and platform in Hungary for creative national and international documentaries without thematic restriction.

The call for submissions will go out at the beginning of May and will close in mid-July. The festival is open for submission of short, mid length and feature length documentaries.

The festival programmers will put an emphasis on documentaries that deal with issues surrounding democracy, established relatively recently in the region.

In keeping with the Hungarian cinematic tradition, there will also be a focus on fine cinematography, and there will be an award for best cinematography. Additional, the festival's programming will explore the use of narrative storytelling techniques in documentary films.

The plan is for BIDF to be staged annually in September, with opening dates after the 20th of the month. The organizers intend to expand the festival to include a pitch forum and other industry events, as well as audience outreach programs.

Awards @ Salem Film Fest 2014

Sunday March 9, 2014

Consistent with the casual, filmmaker friendly atmosphere at Salem Film Fest, awards are presented throughout the festival, at screenings and panel discussions, instead of at a formal awards ceremony.

"We really like the surprise factor," says programmer Jeff Schmidt "The filmmakers don't suspect it's going to happen. They're at their screenings and are engaging with audiences in Q&As, and that's when we announce that they've won an award and present it to them. It's wonderful to see their delight, and to hear the audience who've just seen the film applaud them. It's a memorable moment for everyone. Of course, the audience award is the one exception. That's the last award that's presented and it's at the very end of the festival, after all the films have been seen and the audience votes tallied. So, award-wise, there's always something to look forward to.

This year, the Salem Film Fest Jury Award was given to Chimeras, directed by Mika Matilla from Finland. The film, about contemporary Chinese artists who are struggling to work in a country with a turbulent art scene and a system that doesn't exactly encourage freedom of expression. The film had its New England premier at Salem Film Fest.

This year's Michael Sullivan FRONTLINE Award for Journalism in a Documentary Film was presented to The Exhibition, directed by Vancouver-based filmmaker Damon Vignale. The documentary covers a controversial exhibit of well-known artist Pamela Masik's massive paintings of women who were slain over decades by a serial killer. The paintings present images of the women's suffering and some of the victims' families opposed the exhibit, while others though it memorialized their loved ones. The film had its East Coast premier at the festival.

The Alliance of Women Film Journalists presented the AWFJ EDA Award for Best Female-Directed Film to A Fragile Trust, directed by San Francisco-based filmmaker Samantha Grant, about the scandal surrounding plagiarist Jason Blair and his work at the New York Times, and its implications for contemporary journalism. The film had its New England premier at Salem Film Fest.

Additionally, an AWFJ EDA Award Special Mention for Storytelling and Impact was given to Powerless, directed by Deepti Kakkar and Farad Mustafa, a character-driven documentary about the critical shortage of electricity in the Northern Indian city of Kanpur, and how it impacts the local culture, economy and politics. This was the film's New England premier.

Other awards for cinematography and editing and short subject will be presented later in the festival, which continues through March 13.

More information about Salem Film Fest, this year's program of films and the awards can be found at the festival's Website.

(PHOTO: Salem Film Fest 2014. Courtesy Salem Film Fest)

(DISCLOSURE: I served as a juror at this year's Salem Film Fest, and am president of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, which partnered with Salem Film Fest to present the EDA Award for Best Female-Directed Film)

A Good Watch for Mardi Gras!

Tuesday March 4, 2014

If you can't get to New Orleans for Mardi Gras, or secretly hate crowds, take your celebratory joy in watching Tchoupitoulas, a wonderful documentary in which three young New Orleans lads experience all the wonders and mysteries of a first night out on the town in the Crescent City. Read my full review.

(PHOTO: 'Tchoupitoulas' Poster Art. Courtesy Oscilloscope Pictures)

Salem Film Fest 2014 is On The Horizon

Monday March 3, 2014

Salem Film Fest is arguably one of the nation's finest documentaries-only film festivals, with an emphasis on presenting a program of fine and varied nonfiction films to a devoted (and growing) regional audience. consistently excellent programming of films, a manageable schedule, inventive panel discussions and friendly filmmaker meet ups.

The 2014 festival, taking place from March 6 to 13, kicks off with an opening night screening of A Fragile Trust, followed by a Q&A with director Samantha Grant.

This year's program is choc-a-bloc with superb films covering a wide variety of subjects and representing diverse origins. From India comes Powerless, directed by Deepti Kakkar and Fahad Mustafa, about how local people deal with an insufficient supply of electricity, and Kiss The Water, made in Scotland and directed by Eric Steel, profiles the woman who makes the word's most coveted fishing flies. The Galapagos Affair, directed by Dayna Goldfine and Dan Geller, is about the lingering murder mystery that shrouds the Island of Floreana, while Lukas Korver's The Medicine Game looks at the game of lacrosse as a traditional expression of the Onondaga Nation's beliefs and follows one family's goals regarding the popular sport. Cozette Russell's Brookford Almanac follows New Hampshire family farmers who are striving to maintain their land and preserve their traditional farming life, and Suzan Beraza's Uranium Drive-In shows how citizens in a small Colorado town are divided in their opinion about whether a the opening of a uranium processing plant will help their flagging economy or negatively impact their health and way of life.

Panel discussions include a forum with local filmmakers talking about documentary making in Massachusetts, an exploration of how documentary filmmakers, build trust in their subjects and how nonfiction filmmakers deal with the possibility that their work might change the realities and circumstances they're documenting.

For the full program, visit Salem Film Festival's Official Website. .

(PHOTO: Salem Film Fest logo. Courtesy Salem Film Fest).

DISCLOSURE: The Alliance of Women Film Journalists, of which I am president, presents EDA Awards annually at Salem Film Fest, and I am scheduled to moderate filmmaker panels at this year's festival.)

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