A List of Documentaries Opening in Theaters During January, 2013
- 56 UP is the latest -- and seventh -- episode in filmmaker Michael Apted's remarkable UP Series, following the lives of fourteen British citizens, from the year 1963, when they were seven year old boys and girls living in very different circumstances in diverse regions of the United Kingdom, and just beginning their adventures through life. Checking in with his subjects at seven-year intervals, Apted kept his audiences updated on education opportunities, career moves and developing relationships. At age 56, new issues arrive, and everyone copes with them the best they can. For UP Series fans, 56 UP is a much anticipated visit with old friends who've over the years become like family. Those picking up the series with this episode will become quickly engaged with the clan, and want to see previous chapters, all of which are available on DVD. Opening theatrically in limited release. Read my full review.
- Happy People: A Year in the Taiga - With a co-director's credit for Werner Herzog, who wrote and reads the film's voice over narration, this Russian-made documentary takes audiences to a remote region of Siberia, where it chronicles the annual work cycle of extraordinarily self sufficient Siberian hunter-fishermen who live with their families in Bakhta, a tiny village on the banks of the Yenisei River which runs through the expansive Taiga, a huge tract of pristine Siberian wilderness. Bakhta is so remote and isolated that the only ways to get there are by helicopter or boat, and the latter is out of the question during most of the year, when the Yenisei is completely frozen over. The film shows how the traditional regional skills and crafts -- spearing fish, setting simple but infallible traps, making mosquito repellent from tree park and shaping perfect skis from tree trunks, among others -- that have been handed down from generation to generation are being lost as local elders die. The film is Werner Herzog's 94-minute version of the original four hour epic that was made by Russian filmmaker Dmitry Vasyukov, who receives credit as co-director on Happy People. The film presents its principal characters as idyllically Happy People, despite the hardships they face in their daily lives. Herzog's narration underscores the men's love for their self-reliant lifestyle, their work in nature and the freedom their lifestyle affords them. Nothing occurs during the year-long cycle covered by the film that shows what happens when the hearty lead characters or their families face what they and the audience) might consider to be a crisis -- an illness or potentially impairing injury, or not being able to gather enough food for survival, or what happens if they run out of essentials -- petrol, for example -- they they cannot get from the land. Of course, discarding two and a half hours of footage from the original film means a lot of reality has been lost. But if the shortened film were less idyllic and Walden-like, the truly inspiring fortitude and wisdom of these hearty folk would be acknowledged to an even greater -- and well deserved -- degree. The film opens theatrically on January 25, in limited release, with a wider roll out during February. Read my full review.
- Koch - Life in New York City is never boring, never entirely trouble-free. But that seems particularly true of the years from 1978 to 1989, during which three-term Mayor Ed Koch held sway in the Big Apple, revitalizing the city and stirring up a whole load of controversy. Neil Barsky's biodoc and tribute film covers the highlights and low moments of the Koch administration, including the settlement of a hugely inconveniencing transit strike and the heavily protested closure of Harlem's Sydenham Hospital. Koch was constantly in the news, so there is a lot of fascinating archival footage for the film, and Barsky makes excellent use of it to profile the public and private Koch. Love him or hate him, Koch still commands a lot of attention. This fine biodoc by Neil Barsky gives him his due, past and present. Opening in limited theatrical release in New York, and expanding to other markets in February, 2013. Read my full review