An Annotated List of Documentaries Opening Theatrically in July, 2012
- Katy Perry: Part of Me - Directed by Dan Cutforth and Jane Lipsitz, this concert tour chronicle in 3D covers on stage spectacle and back stage dish, profiles Perry's career from church through failed attempts to current cash flow. Katy is everything to everyone, alternatively cute and sassy and sweet and sexy, saying that her bottom line is that she just wants 'to make everyone smile.' The film also delves into Perry's failed romance and marriage with pop comic Russell Brand -- from her point of view, of course. Perry initiated this production, paying several million dollars to have her concert tour filmed. She's expected to score on the finished film, which is expected to be this year's highest grossing documentary -- out-earning even the record-setting Justin Bieber: Never Say Never. If you're gaga for Katy Perry or a devotee of the pop scene, this documentary is a must see for you.
- Ballplayer: Pelotero - This sports documentary is a cinematic journey to the Dominican Republic, where talented young baseball players from impoverished homes compete for U.S. team contracts that will be their ticket to fame, fortune, and a professional career in the U.S.A. Filmmakers Ross Finkel, Trevor Martin and Jon Paley follow two likely recruits. They've been training since they were tots, but are coming up to their 16th birthdays, when they are eligible to sign contracts with teams, usually with hefty signing bonuses that can range from several hundreds of thousands of dollars to millions. The film shows the hopes, anxieties, moments of disappointment and those of triumph, the players train and prepare for their big day and go through negotiations. While revealing these players' particular stories, the filmmakers question why the people of the Dominican Republic are so obsessed with baseball, and why such a small country with a relatively small population can produce some 20 percent of professional baseball players under contract to U.S. major league teams. This film is a more sober look at a subject that was similarly explored in Jared Goodman's Road To The Big Leagues (2008), which actually provided more local ambience and color. If you're a baseball fan, the two films would make a good double bill. Read my full review.
- Deconstructing Dad: The Music, Machines and Mystery of Raymond Scott - Filmmaker Stan Warnow explores the life and work of his father, Raymond Scott (1908-1994), the American composer, bandleader, inventor, and electronic music pioneer best known for creating the signature music in Warner Bros.' Looney Tunes cartoons. The biographical documentary, which is filled with music and musical inventions as well as family lore, shows Scott to be a brilliant but emotionally remote man, a first generation American who is sensitive about his Jewish heritage and very eager to assimilate into mainstream culture. The film is clearly an expression of Warnow's need to better understand his maverick father, but it's also a fascinating chronicle about the development of popular music during the 20th century. The interviews with experts who've archived Scott's work and explain the extent of his influence are fascinating, as is the archival footage that shows Scott at the various stages of his long and prolific career. 2012 marks the 75th anniversary of Scott's music, so the film's July 13th release is particularly timely.
Family Portrait in Black and White - Canadian filmmaker Julia Ivanova's documentary takes us to a Ukrainian village, where Olga Nenya, a professional foster mother, single-handedly cares for 23 otherwise unwanted children. More than half of the kids are the progeny of Ukrainian women and African students who are in the country on temporary visas. The biracial kids are born into an environment of such horrific and alarmingly rampant racism that their birth mothers are afraid ot claim and care for them. While protecting and providing for them, Olga strictly disciplines the kids, insisting that they do their chores and abide by house rules -- which, of course, makes them quite rebellious. Their heightened family drama is genuinely gripping. And, the film is a truly troubling revelation about a problematic and ongoing social and political issue in the Ukraine. The film deservedly won the Best Canadian Feature Film award at the 2011 Hot Docs Festival.
- The Impostor - The story presented in this crime thriller of a documentary is so bizarre that if it were to be served up as a narrative feature, you'd probably reject it as unbelievable. Yet, this harrowing tale of a Texas family who were completely duped by a Moroccan man who claimed to be their son who'd disappeared several years before is all true. And, the authorities -- the F.B.I, U.S. Immigration Service and international investigative agencies were completely duped, too. How could such a thing happen? See the film. Directed by Bart Layton, it provides the answers -- where and when it can.
- Strong! - Julie Wyman's film follows Olympic weightlifter Cheryl Haworth as she faces the end of her career as an elite athlete, where her large stature was an asset, and prepares to enter mainstream society, which favors svelte women. Cheryl is a strongly appealing character, and there's tremendous power in her honesty. She's certainly a great role model for young women, and an inspiration for women with aspirations, regardless of their ages and sizes. Read my full review.
- The Queen of Versailles - We are not talking about Marie Antoinette! The title of this documentary refers to former beauty queen Jackie Siegel, now the third wife of Westgate Resorts founder David Siegel, aka the Time Share King. The Siegels live in the largest house in America, a more-than-McMansion they can no longer afford -- due to the nation's 2008 economic downturn. Shooting the Siegels before and after the crash, filmmaker Lauren Greenfield captures their reluctant lifestyle change. Even in their on camera interviews, they are greedy and crass in a way that is simultaneously shocking and amusing. Oh, well. Let them eat cake.
- Planet of Snail - South Korean director Yi Seung-jun's film is an exquistely sensitive presentation of the loving relationship between Young-Chan, a talented poet who cannot see or hear, and his wife, Soon-Ho, who is an unusually small and frail woman. The couple's communication is extraordinary. She uses finger braille to silently tap messages into his palm, he speaks his answers. As we follow them in their daily lives, we see that they are in perfect harmony, thoroughly happy and, together, are able to accomplish -- with no complaits and not much fuss -- whatever is necessary for their comfort and survival. In fact, their outlook is inspiringly joyous. The film is a beautifully realized celebration of their humanity and unity. Planet of Snail is deeply affecting and unforgettable. Winner of the top juried prize at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA) in 2011, it is a masterpiece of observational nonfiction filmmaking. A must see!
- Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry - First time filmmaker Alison Klayman chronicles the daily life of the internationally renown Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei, who's perhaps as famous for taking a strong stand against his repressive government as he is for continually expanding his creative style. As the leading man in this documentary, the charismatic Ai Weiwei proves himself to be extremely media savvy and extraordinarily entertaining. Klayman follows Ai Weiwei as he ventures from his him among his fellow citizens, into his studio and in confrontations with the cops. Her observational footage and on camera interviews allow us to witness how Ai Weiwei is laying his life on the line to advance civil rights in China, and how determined he is to keep the pressure on. If you're not familiar with Ai Weiwei's art and activism, you should be. And, this documentary is your best chance to get to know him, or get to know more about him. Read my full review.
- Big Boys Gone Bananas!* - In this gripping sequel to his 2009 documentary, Bananas!*, Swedish documentarian Fredrik Gertten defends himself and his project against Dole Corporation's efforts to undermine his credibility, prevent the film from being seen by audiences around the world, and distract the media and public from the essential message of the film -- that Dole has knowingly used hazardous pesticides at its banana plantations, thereby putting workers in its employment at risk. The sequel ends with a big win for the good guys. Read my full review.
- Searching For Sugar Man - During the early 1970s, the Detroit singer/songwriter named Rodriguez recorded Cold Fact, an album that never even made the charts in the U.S., but soared to the top of them in South Africa -- despite the fact that it was banned by the Apartheid regime that marked its lyrics as incendiary. Despite the album's popularity, little was known about the artist who recorded it, and rumors about him swarmed. Most agreed that he'd committed suicide due to depression about his failed career, but some said he'd torched himself on stage, others said he'd put a gun to his head. Bottom line: nobody knew for sure. Until two South Africans -- music buff and a journalist -- decided to find out what really happened to Rodriguez, the artist who'd been their superstar and had provided the soundtrack of their youth. This documentary is the result of their search. It's a fascinating story, a blend of mystery and music legend, that's beautifully presented by Swedish filmmaker Malik Bendjelloul. But to say anything more about the film -- other than 'you must see it' -- would spoil the film's engaging twists, turns and surprises. But, that said, you really must see it!
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