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Entries in Doc Corner (155)

Wednesday
Aug142019

Doc Corner: 'What You Gonna Do When the World's on Fire?'

By Glenn Dunks

The streets of New Orleans are the setting for US-based Italian-born Roberto Minervini’s latest examination of the American south. If nothing else, his newest documentary sports the year’s best title. It’s a title that asks a question that many of us have probably asked ourselves, from seats of privilege. 

The title actually comes from a slave-era spiritual, which only further highlights the tragic ways that African Americans have been inflicted by the force of racism across all of its forms for centuries. The contemporary age of Trump is sadly not unique and so there is a particular irony to be found in the answer to the titular question. For many the answer is whatever they need to do to get by. Whether that be protest, go to work, trawl the streets for teenage kicks, or rehearse for Mardi Gras. For most without the agency of privilege, when the world is on fire it’s just a struggle to not get burnt...

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Wednesday
Aug072019

Doc Corner: 'One Child Nation' is an Oscar Frontrunner

By Glenn Dunks

When introducing One Child Nation at a recent screening at the Sydney Film Festival, co-director Zhang Lynn noted that all of the Chinese crew were of the generation born to the nation’s one child policy. For both Lynn and her directing partner Nanfu Wang, this searing documentary is clearly more than just an examination of their homeland’s shameful history, but a personal exorcism of sorts. A cleansing for themselves and their subjects, many of whom Wang and Zhang force to confront the demons that have haunted them for decades.

With just two films to her credit about China, Wang has become an important name in the documenting of contemporary Chinese society...

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Wednesday
Jul312019

Doc Corner: 'Honeyland'

By Glenn Dunks

You know a movie is going to give you something when within the first two minutes, it makes you bolt upright and exclaim “Oh wow!” to an empty room. The eyes pop and the eyebrows raise as you marvel at the sheer unexpectedness of what is on screen. In Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov’s Honeyland, the image in question is that of an aging beekeeper straddling precariously along a cliff-face to a hive hidden among the rocks. Surrounded by grey and brown, Hatidze Mutatova (who I assume is in her 50s?) reveals a wedge of golden honeycomb. The gold in the rocks.

It’s a startling way to open a film from a purely logistical standpoint. It’s also a visual that really clues the viewer into its subject's tenacity and sheer force of nature abilities as a cultivator and protector of bees – an animal, after all, that is vital to the existence on Earth of everyone from those of us in major metropolises to those, like Hatidze, in isolated, wind-swept, mountainous regions of Macedonia...

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Wednesday
Jul242019

Doc Corner: Oscar-nominated 'Streetwise' and its 35-years-later sequel

By Glenn Dunks

For a film about teenagers living rough, squatting in dilapidated and abandoned hotels or homeless on the streets, there is a remarkable amount of poetic beauty in Streetwise. The work of director Martin Bell (American Heart) was born out of a Life exposé called “Streets of the Lost” by his photographer wife (also noted as a film still photographer) Mary Ellen Mark and journalist Cheryl McCall and it is the latter pair’s continued relationship with the runaway teenagers who populate its intimate yet sprawling narrative that was so essential to Bell being given the remarkable access that Streetwise offers.

Originally released in 1984 and now restored for its 35th anniversary, Bell’s documentary was nominated for an Academy Award. And it probably would have won, too, had it not been for The Times of Harvey Milk. So not quite as egregious of a loss as I had assumed as I sat stunned through the end credits of the 35th anniversary restoration. Re-released in tandem with a belated sequel, Tiny: The Life of Erin Blackwell that is also directed by Bell, the power of Streetwise remains with its all too relevant story of teenagers on the streets of Seattle known at the time as the most liveable city in the world...

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Wednesday
Jul172019

Doc Corner: 50th Anniversary of the moon landing inspires multiple documentaries

By Glenn Dunks

It’s amazing to think that there can still be so much previously unseen footage from the biggest television event in history, and yet here we are at the 50th anniversary of the moon landing with a bus-load of new documentaries claiming new takes, new interviews and, yes, new footage. Don’t ask me what exactly is new to us, though. I watched three such films within days of each other and I, at times, felt like I was going nuts: the subject of one is a talking head in another who happens to be in different footage in the other movie, which is probably just a different angle to footage a few feet to the left in the first movie!

And on top of that, if you’ve watched even just one or two other works about the American space program – whether that be documentaries like For All Mankind, or dramatic features like Apollo 13 – then you will already be familiar with a lot, not to mention the moon landing itself. It’s exhausting. I even saw another moon landing documentary on the tele while I was at the gym the other night. And then there is the six-hour PBS documentary that I, quite frankly, just don’t know if I have the patience for after this triple-play. The three films I have watched all do have something in them that is ultimately worth the time. Especially if you’re in a particularly lunar mood on this landmark date. The best of the three, the most cinematic and effectively rousing, is Todd Douglas Williams’ Apollo 11

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Thursday
Jul112019

Doc Corner: Hitting the High Seas with ‘Maiden’ and ‘The Raft’

By Glenn Dunks

Did anybody see that Colin Firth movie about the amateur sailor who attempted to circumnavigate the world and failed miserably. It was called The Mercy, and while I never watched it, I did think of it as I watched Maiden. This is a film with such a remarkable true story that I couldn’t believe nobody had made a film out of it already but they had made The Mercy. Although I suppose one shouldn’t expect more: a movie about a male failure will almost always get made before that of a female success. But now we have Maiden, which puts a full stop at the end of that and seeks to settle a few more filmmaking blindspots with its oft-exhilarating telling of Tracy Edwards, a 24-year-old rebel who in 1989 became the skipper of the first ever female crew to compete in the Whitbread Round the World boat race.

Bless whoever invented the 16mm camera because anybody whose worth having a documentary about them apparently had one of them handy all the damn time...

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