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Michelle Pfeiffer and Grease 2

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Entries in Doc Corner (52)

Tuesday
Mar282017

Doc Corner: Meet the Girls of 'All This Panic'

“It’s just one of those things when you expect something to be amazing and perfect and it’s not.”

Those words are spoken by 16-year-old Lena in Jenny Gage’s gorgeous slice of life documentary, All This Panic, as she describes the feeling of liking a boy who didn’t like her back. Never mind that, though; aren’t they a perfect encapsulation of the teenage existence more generally? Lena is just one of a handful of teenage female subjects that Gage and her cinematographer husband Tom Betterton stumble upon in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn; the experiences of whom make up this exquisite debut feature.

Lena, socially forward but with a struggling family life, is joined by sisters Ginger and Dusty, Gage and Betterton’s neighbours, the elder of which has little concept of where she wants her life to go and confesses to being “petrified of getting old”; Sage, a rare African American student at a prestigious Manhattan school whose outspoken attitude is coupled with an internal battle between her class status and her face; and Olivia, who confides to the camera about her sexuality before she ever would her parents.

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Tuesday
Mar212017

Doc Corner: The Confined Spaces of 'Solitary'

by Glenn Dunks

Solitary could have gone in many different directions. Filmed over a year inside the supermax solitary confinement prison of Red Onion, Virginia, all sorts of independent narratives that are weaved throughout could have made for their own captivating feature. There are the guards, disturbed by what they see, and the death of the region’s prime coal mining industry that brought them to this line of work. There are the crimes of the prisoners, most of them violent, some of them not so. And then there is, like Ava DuVernay’s (broader, superior) Oscar-nominated 13th, the system itself that is obviously damaged and flawed at its very core.

It's nice, but also a little frustrating, then that director Kristi Jacobson (known best for 2012’s A Place at the Table) chose something far less sensational by focusing on the concept of nature versus nurture. Nice because that feels rare in film, but frustrating because it doesn't make the most of its unique access while doing so...

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Tuesday
Mar142017

New Directors / New Films: Strong Island

New Directors / New Films which runs March 15th through the 26th is a festival of emerging international filmmakers here in NYC each year. We'll be covering a few titles including this unravelling of a Long Island murder in Glenn's weekly documentary spotlight.

Strong Island

“There’s one place that all the people with the greatest potential are gathered. One place. And that’s the graveyard. People ask me all the time: what kind of stories do you want to tell, Viola? And I say exhume those bodies – exhume those stories.”

I thought of these words from Viola Davis’ Academy Awards speech last week while writing about the ABC queer rights miniseries When We Rise; thinking of all the men and women lost over the years to AIDS and what they could have done and who they could have been. I did not expect to be thinking of them yet again so quickly, but here we are. I thought of Viola’s words while watching Strong Island because exhume is exactly what first-time filmmaker Yance Ford has done with this film about the death of his older, 19-year-old brother, William, at the hands of a white man who the courts sort little interest in seeking justice for.

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Tuesday
Mar072017

Doc Corner: 'Contemporary Color'

Jonathan Demme’s Stop Making Sense is such an extraordinary piece of cinema that it is only natural that it casts a long shadow. That 1984 concert documentary of Talking Heads stuck in my mind a lot while watching Contemporary Color from directors Bill and Turner Ross. Not just because both films feature David Byrne as the primary artistic force behind them, but because they each suffuse music with performance with personality with theatricality. They both strive for an almost heightened sense of spirituality out of the creation of art. It’s just a shame that in the case of the Ross brothers' film, it just comes across as sloppy.

The film documents the performance of a special one-off performance at the Barclay Centre in Brooklyn. Spearheaded by Byrne and his newfound obsession with color guarding – a sort of synchronised swimming, but on land, and with way more prop rifles; Byrne describes them as “sophisticated folk art” – the event finds him inviting ten color guard teams and have them perform for a stadium audience alongside musical guests who wrote original songs as soundtracks. Songs, it must be said, that mostly sound like discarded album tracks and demos lifted out of storage and dusted off like it’s Woody Allen’s Irrational Man screenplay.

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Tuesday
Feb212017

Doc Corner: The Istanbul Cats of 'Kedi'

In many ways, it’s only natural that a film like Kedi should come along. The internet loves cats, of course. Even if the internet doesn’t necessarily deserve cats. And a documentary about cats is a no-brainer of a concept (we’ll pretend Lil Bub & Friendz doesn’t exist because it is terrible). The real surprise then isn’t that Kedi exists, but that it quietly subverts any lazy reading that people would no doubt all too easily assign to it. Yes, it is the movie about street cats of Istanbul, but that’s just a hook for audiences whose attentions are being torn this way and that. The truth is that Ceyda Torun’s elegant and enchanting Kedi is so much more.

Even if it was just about the cats – what cats they are! In what can only be described as a particularly unique set of casting, Torun’s film shuffles across the city with vignettes about a collection of individual moggies, following them around as they roam the streets, finding food, fighting, hunting, battling for attention from humans who aren’t so much owners as casual caretakers, and thieving fish from markets and ports.

But, as I said, Kedi is much less interested in just being a film about cats. Rather it is a film that uses cats as a platform to dive into the history of a city, its people, its culture, and questioning what our relationship with cats says about us.

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Tuesday
Feb142017

Doc Corner: Ranking the Documentary Short Nominees from Least to Most Depressing

The annual joke is that the Best Documentary Short category is routinely the most depressing, miserable, down-right soul-crushing category of any given list of Oscar nominees. Often it is for very good reason: last year’s subjects included the Ebola plague, capital punishment, honor killings and the Holocaust. This years’ nominees are perhaps a little bit lighter if just for the slim offerings of a happy ending offered up by a few. Nevertheless, we’re going to rank them from least to most depressing because I just watched the movie about end-of-life termination and I need some levity.

With four of the nominees widely available online as well as through the Oscar Nominated Shorts packages currently in limited release and on iTunes, there’s no reason to not have seen them before Oscar night!

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Tuesday
Feb072017

Doc Corner: 'Oklahoma City' As Relevant as Ever

Like many of the best documentaries, Barak Goodman’s Oklahoma City isn’t just about one thing. In fact, despite its title exclusively and definitively referencing the bombing of a federal building – the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil until 9/11 – Goodman’s compelling and ultimately very chilling and concerning film is about a larger swathe of domestic terrorism, detailing how the events of April 19 1995 were the inevitable culmination of an out-of-control spiral of white nationalism and anti-government revolt.

Despite the enormity of the event, the events of Oklahoma City have not been detailed on screen very often. For what reason that is, I’m not sure, but that absence of films (non-fiction or otherwise) would already be enough to allow this Sundance-premiering film extra weight and deserved attention. But in a depressing coincidence, and the reason Goodman’s film is as relevant 22 years later as it is, the wait to make a film has allowed the circumstances of the day, elements of the case that may have been forgotten or lost amid the debris, to hold a greater significance.

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