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Entries in Doc Corner (163)

Wednesday
Oct092019

Doc Corner: Chinese Rappers, Wildfires, Queer History and More in These 8 Documentary Shorts

By Glenn Dunks

Short films, whether they be documentary or fiction, are a curious form. What may work in a feature-length film may not work in a short and vice versa, and this can make critiquing them a sometimes tricky prospect. To sit down and watch one often means to set aside the sort of internal critical devices we may use for a feature-length film, typically eschewing the things we may normally look for in films.

By their very nature, we don’t get to spend enough time in their ephemeral worlds but I do not care for short films that feel like truncated version of larger stories. They don’t necessarily have to tell an entire story, but they have to feel like a completed thought, mood, or idea.

Some of the short documentaries that I have been watching have been just that, others less so.

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Wednesday
Oct022019

Doc Corner: Asif Kapadia's 'Diego Maradona'

By Glenn Dunks

It is a case of diminishing returns for British director Asif Kapadia and the latest of his video tape collages, Diego Maradona. As one of the few dissenting voices to his Oscar-winning Amy – more on ethical grounds than technical – but an admirer of his earlier Senna, this portrait of the superstar Argentinian footballer never reaches the narrative heights of either. While Ayrton Senna and Amy Winehouse proved fascinating subjects in their own ways outside of whatever one thinks of Kapadia’s grave-robbing approach to their personal lives, the athletic hero at the center here is simply far less interesting and is not well served by this style of filmmaking.

As seen in Kapadia’s film, Diego Maradona’s life is something of a selfish downfall rather than a tragic response to fame or the inevitable culmination of a career of risk like his other subjects. By the time his career flamed out in a cloud of cocaine, extra-marital affairs and larrikin boozing, he had well and truly shown the world that he was one of – if not the – greatest footballer to ever live (I personally wouldn’t know more than five players off of the top of my head, but even I had heard of his feats with a soccer ball). Yet despite the dramatic highs and lows, his story as told on screen here is frustrating.

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Wednesday
Sep252019

Doc Corner: 'Don't Be Nice'

By Glenn Dunks

Youthful enthusiasm can get you a long way and that is something that Don’t Be Nice has in spades. First-time director Max Powers injects his own vigour and excitement into this story of slam poets in preparation for the national championships (yes, they exist). He does this through captivating editing (he was formerly a documentary editor) and some well-used vignettes, styled after music videos. But ultimately the success of this debut comes down to its subjects - they all have a spark on camera as well as in their words and Powers gives them all the star treatment at some point across Don't Be Nice's zippy 95-minute runtime.

The doc's title comes from the idea that in slam poetry, one mustn’t be nice, but be necessary. Say what you mean and don’t lighten it up for those who don’t want to hear it...

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Wednesday
Sep182019

Doc Corner: Musical Chairs with Linda, Miles, Aretha and... Bros

By Glenn Dunks

It’s that time of the year where we play musical chairs and look at some of the music documentaries that have come along because there are just too many. Not all that much connects this batch of musicians – other than I am a fan of them to a degree, I suppose – but watching the films and there is a surprising spread of style and form. Surprising, also, because the artist that comes out on top is the most unexpected of them all.

The most informal, yet ultimately least satisfying of the batch is Linda Ronstadt: Sound of My Voice. It is somewhat disappointing that Oscar-winning filmmakers Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman (The Celluloid Closet) decided on such a rudimentary structure considering their subject was somebody who repeatedly coloured outside of the lines of the artform.

But any film about somebody as talented and interesting as Ronstadt, there is always going to be much enjoyment even if it is assembled rather blandly.

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Wednesday
Sep112019

Doc Corner: 'American Factory' has Oscar in its sight

By Glenn Dunks

Because not everybody can be in Toronto or Venice, there are still plenty of great movies to watch!

American Factory is a film that hovers over the precipice of tragedy for its entire runtime. Its subjects exist in a state of perpetual uncertainty, never sure about whether they have a future or if the rug is going to be pulled out from under them yet - again. They are all workers from the Moraine Assembly Plant, once owned by General Motors, in Dayton, Ohio, that closed down during the recession, but which has since been purchased by Chinese company Fuyao to begin operation producing glass for (cars that America no longer seems to make).

Directors Steve Bognar and Julie Reichert return to the location of their Oscar-nominated short documentary The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant. That film, which charted the factory’s production of its final automobile, filmed its subjects predominantly from inside cars as they arrive at work or in bars as they mulled over their futures. American Factory, then, is a major step up from a production stand-point, but offers just as humane a portrait of people struggling to find their place in a changing world. A world that is rapidly moving away from the old ideas of the “American Dream”.

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Wednesday
Sep042019

Doc Corner: 'Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles'

By Glenn Dunks

Music documentaries are a dime-a-dozen these days, and musicals have been a Hollywood staple for as long as there has been sound to go alongside the flickering images of movies. But it hadn’t really dawned on me until I watched Max Lewkowicz’s Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles that documentaries about Broadway shows are surprisingly rare.

Among this rare subgenre The Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened will probably find a lasting cultural place thanks to Richard Linklaker’s latest long-form cinematic folly of Merrily We Roll Along. It's a surprise that Show Business: The Road to Broadway has not already become a staple thanks to its amazing line-up of big Broadway hitters. There are also shows like  Every Little Step, The Heat is On: The Making of Miss Saigon and Life After Tomorrow, which offer a glimpse back stage to what it is like to put on a Broadway show. But I can’t actually recall a documentary that took a single show like Lewkowicz does with Fiddler on The Roof and examine it all the way from its inception through to its lasting legacy. Perhaps it will inspire some more – I certainly hope so, for A Miracle of Miracles is a delight of a documentary that educated me and made me into a bigger fan of the show...

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