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Documentaries Watch: Opening June 12 to 30, 2013

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June 12:
  • More Than Honey - Directed by Markus Imhoof - This in depth investigation of the current honeybee colony crisis uses extraordinary photography to take us inside man-made and naturally-formed hives, and show us the intricate social life of bees and their amazingly sophisticated means of communication. Chronicling the importance of honeybees throughout the history of human civilization, he film projects what the world would be like without them. It would be a devastating loss, irreparably impairing the cultivation of crops to nourish all species, including our own. That loss is apparently now a distinct possibility, as the use of pesticides, bad bee breeding practices and other factors contribute to the colony crisis that is rampaging around the world. The film also informs about the much-maligned 'African killer bees,' showing that these bees are a stronger breed that do nothing other than what bees are born to do -- pollinate plants and reproduce. They do not attack, but they do not tame easily, either. Experts speak out in favor of creating more natural conditions for honeybees, including allowing them to find their own variety of plants to pollinate, rather than being deployed from one area to another to pollinate the singular crop that's grown in the region. Other experts, the honeybee herders who haul the hives across the country, seem sincerely perplexed by the mysterious disappearance and deaths of hundreds of thousands of their wee earners, and can't seem to connect the dots between the symptoms of the colony crisis and it's causes. The film is an alarming call to action. If you don't become involved in an organized campaign to protect bees, you will, at least, never again swat at a bee with intent to kill. The film is fascinating. It's a must see.

June 14:

  • Storm Surfers 3D - Directed by Justin McMillan and Christopher Nelius - What the title of this surfing documentary doesn't tell you is that it is a character driven sports thriller that rides the personal stories of famed Australian surfers Tom Carroll and Ross Clarke-Jones. The sportsmen, who've been best friends for decades, team up to find and surf the world's BIGGEST waves -- those rising out of the stormy southern seas during the winter months from May to August, specifically of 2011. They're surfing where surfers have never surfed before, or rarely. They aren't always successful. We see them tossed from their boards and beaten up by the pounding sea. Even with an expert support crew at the ready to rescue them, they are clearly putting their lives in danger for the love of their sport. But that's where the good story telling kicks in. Both Carroll and Clarke-Jones, both approaching middle age, are grappling with the changes middle age brings to physical ability and mind set. The contrast in their approaches and concerns about their quest, and the divergence in how each surges forth for greater surfing glory makes this film more than a series of ultra-spectacularly filmed surfing feats and super-scary spills. The 3D cinematography is so effective that you might wind up feeling slightly queasy if you're prone to seasickness, but this thoroughly engaging film that chronicles a thrilling sportive life adventure will appeal to and satisfy viewers who don't follow or know much about the sport of surfing. Read my full review.
  • Twenty Feet From Stardom - Directed by Morgan Neville - Filmmaker Morgan Neville, who has successfully documented the lives of musicians and artists, focuses his lens on the careers of successful backup singers who've enhanced the performances of headliner artists, but who've never quite made it into the limelight themselves. They're the cream that's risen only half way, so to speak. Interviewed on camera, front man Bruce Springstein explains that it's a long and complicated walk from that backup spot to the front of the stage. That's certainly proven to be true for Merry Clayton, Lisa Fischer, Judith Hill and Darlene Love, the documentary's leading ladies. All are successful backup singers, highly respected by the stars whose performances they've enhanced -- including the likes of Bette Midler, Mick Jagger, Sheryl Crow and others who appear in the film praising the backups. But, as their stories unfold, we see the emotional and economic hardships imposed by a glamorous profession that is often frustrating and at times downright unrewarding. As expected, the music in the film is tops.

June 24:

  • Homegoings - Directed by Christine Turner - In this revealing documentary, filmmaker Christine Turner follows funeral director Isiah Owens as he presides over a number of African-American funeral services and burials -- or 'homegoings' -- at Owens Funeral Home, his family's well-patronized establishment in Harlem, New York. In the tradition of the African-American community, the 'homecomings' at Owens' place are elaborate, lavish dramatic events that give the deceased a good and rousing send off, and give their family and friends a chance to transform grief into celebration. Death is seen as a release from the hardships of life and the funeral services chronicled in the film are song-filled and somewhat teary testimonials to the deceased. Read my full review.

June 26:

  • Sing Me the Songs That Say I Love You: A Concert for Kate McGarrigle - Directed by Lian Lunson - The recording of the 2011 memorial concert for Kate McGarrigle, the beloved Quebecois songstress, is the foundation for this bio doc and tribute film. The concert was hosted by McGarrigle's children, Rufus and Martha Wainwright, who are key characters in the documentary. Also featured are headliners Norah Jones, EmmyLou Harris and others, who perform McGarrigle's best known, most popular songs. A particularly strong and memorable moment in the film is Rufus' moving performance of Candles, the beautiful song he wrote in memory of his mother.

June 28:

  • A Band Called Death - Directed by Mark Christopher Covino and Jeff Howlett - A documentary on the early 1970s pioneering punk rock trio "Death" -- Detroit born and bred brothers David, Bobby, and Dennis Hackney -- whose music and style pre-dated that of more famous punk bands like The Ramones and The Sex Pistols. The film chronicles "Death's" early history and struggle for success, and then skips forward to the present to look at their music's new wave of popularity. This narrative through line is similar to that presented in Searching For Sugar Man, about the life and career of Detroit musician Rodriquez. "Death" has been rediscovered, decades after the band disbanded. The filmmakers interview brothers Bobby and Dennis (unfortunately David, the real creative drive behind the band, died in 1982), and get comments from musicians Henry Rollins, Alice Cooper and others. Archival footage and family photos -- some of which are animated -- give cinematic texture to the film. All told, the film is an entertaining look at the music business, the ongoing longevity of talent and family.

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