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Documentaries Watch: May 1-10, 2013

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A Preview of Documentaries Releasing from May 1 through May 10, 2013

May 1:

  • Manhunt - Directed by Greg Barker - Broadcast periodically on HBO throughout the month of May on HBO and HBO2, Manhunt fills in a lot of the details about how the CIA tracked Osama bin Laden to his hideaway in Abbotabad, and the company's successful mission to assassinate the terrorist. Interviews with CIA agents and a rich collection of archival footage make this film invaluable. Read my full review.

May 3:

  • Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf's - Directed by Matthew Miele - Scatter My Ashes At Bergdorf's is all about the toney emporium that epitomizes American consumerism at its most elaborate and conspicuous level. Like the store, the film is populated by iconic fashion designers and fashinistas, by bona fide clothes horses who proclaim that their lives would not be as satisfying without the opportunity to buy at Bergdorf's and by people who boost themselves into the leagues of major dressers by buying beyond their means and loving every minute of it. The film is lively and entertaining, filled with some great store lore and introducing several loyal employees who've become Bergdorf icons. Especially entertaining is Betty, Bergdorf's legendary (and witty) personal shopper, whose comments are priceless. The film is a good ad to the roster of recently released fashion documentaries, including September Issue and Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has To Travel, among others. Opening theatrically in limited release. Read my full review.
  • Released - Directed by Philip F. Messina - Based on a play that wat performed in theaters and prison environments, Released features four ex-cons who've been in and out of jail, but have turned their lives around -- thanks in large measure to the public service work done by the Fortune Society, a nonprofit that provides halfway housing and other support for recently released inmates, and helps them transition from jail into society at large. The four former cons -- Vilma Ortiz Donovan, Kenneth Harrigan, Casmiro Torres and Angel Ramos -- describe brutal childhood experiences that pushed them into criminal behavior and drug addition that landed them in jail time and again. Now, having escaped the cycle of recidivism that captures many -- if not most -- inmates, they are determined to help others to become members of New York's law abiding community. When they perform in prisons, their message of hope and inspiration has tremendous impact on inmates, some of whom praise the players in on camera interviews in the documentary. The play's storytelling style, which is mirrored in the film, is reminiscent of the collectively written theater pieces staged by social action organizations and theraputic groups during the late 1960s and 1970s. This seems like a good time for a revival of theatrical therapy and social mission, and Released fits the bill. The documentary opens theatrically in limited release in New York, then rolls out to other markets nationwide.
  • Aroused - Directed by Deborah Anderson - Inn her first feature film, Deborah Anderson documents the creation of coffee table book of photography that features America's sixteen top female porn stars. Aroused features on camera interviews with the gals -- the names Belladonna, Asphyxia Noir, Ash Hollywood, Alexis Texas and others will be familiar to some -- who share their close up and personal thoughts and feelings about porn and how it impacts their lives. Mostly they say they love their work and can't imagine doing anything different for a living. There are beautifully composed shots of their coffee table book stills and some not-so-stills. The film opens theatrically in limited release.
  • The Iceman - Directed by Ariel Vromen - This truth-based narrative feature is a dramatic profile of Richard Kuklinski, the notorious contract killer who worked for the mob, murdering more than 100 people. All the while, he had a stable and happy family life with a wife and daughters who apparently had no idea of what he really did for a living and were shocked by his arrest in 1986. There have been three television documentaries made about Kuklinski: The Iceman Interviews (2003), The Iceman Confesses: Secrets of a Mafia Hitman (2001) and The Iceman Tapes: Conversations with a Killer (1992). Narrative and documentaries reveal a gruesome personality, the product of a deeply dysfunctional home. Check out the documentaries to see how well Michael Shannon's portrayal of Kuklinski matches up with the murderer himself. It would be a great double bill, too, with El Sicario: Room 154. The Iceman opens theatrically in limited release.

May 10

  • Stories We Tell - Directed by Sarah Polley - In Stories We Tell, acclaimed Canadian actress and director Sarah Polley documents her own search to find out the truth about her parentage, trying to disentangle rumors that the gentleman she's known as dad for her whole life isn't actually her biological father, and that she is the offspring of an illicit affair that her mother, an actress, had with an actor with whom she was working. With rare self-awareness, sophistication, objectivity and humor, Polley records her research efforts, interviews people who might have the answers to her deeply personal questions, finds her biological father, learns his story and forms a relationship with him. This stunning, must-see autobiographical documentary will surely make you a fan of Polley's work, if her narrative features, Away From Her and Take This Waltz, and her work as an actress in numerous films have not already done so. Opening theatrically in limited release in New York, expanding to other markets on May 17.
  • Venus and Serena - Directed by Maiken Baird and Michelle Major - The Williams sisters have been winning tennis tournaments since they were tots, and they've have dominated the courts of professional women's tennis for more than a decade, outlasting their expected career lives as elite tennis players. This documentary shows their career highs and lows, and focuses especially on the year 2011, which a particularly rough one for both Venus and Serena. Venus was suffering from an autoimmune disease that drained her energy, while Serena's life was at risk because of a pulmonary embolism. Filmmakers Maiken Baird and Michelle Major had unprecedented access to Venus and Serena while making ths biodoc, and the film shows not only how they changed the game of tennis, had a strong impact on style and lifestyle and inspired fans, but also how the sisters have overcome professional rivalry to support each other through their struggles. And excellent sports documentary. Opening in theaters in Los Angeles in limited release, and expanding to additional markets on May 17.
  • The Second Meeting - Directed by Zeljko Mirkovic - In this true tale of reconciliation, two career military men who were members of opposing forces in the Kosovo War of 1999 meet up and become friends. They are Zoltan Dani, the former commander of a Yugoslav anti-aircraft rocket unit, and Dale Zelko, an American Air Force pilot whose F117 'stealth' bomber was shot down in Serbia by Dani during a NATO fly over mission. Years after the incident occurred and the war ended, Dani's son convinced his father that the two men whose lives had crossed in such an impactful way should meet. Dani sent a letter of invitation to visit, and Zelko said he'd come. The documentary records their meeting at Dani's home, sharing their different perspectives on world events, and becoming friends. It's clear that their first encounter had a strong influence on how they decided to spend the rest of their lives. They have both retired from the military and clearly see this documentary as a call for reconciliation and peace. Opening in limited theatrical release in New York.

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