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Entries in documentaries (263)

Tuesday
Jun202017

New to Netflix: Heymann Brothers Double Bill

by Seán McGovern.

Filmmaker brothers Tomer (director) and Barack (producer) Heymann have two documentaries available on Netflix. Mr. Gaga (newly arrived) and (in time for Pride) Who's Gonna Love Me Now?. Though quite different films, Israeli brothers have a distinct knack for getting to the center of their subjects. 

Mr. Gaga details the life and artistry of Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin, whose voice is just as deep and intense as the work he creates. Staged reconstructions of his work, interviews and reels of footage from his youth bring him to the screen. (Sidebar: Am I the only one who thinks it's amazingly coincidental when documantary subjects have years of home movies?). Docs about dance can often be high in concept but distancing, but Tomer Heymann captures the otherworldliness of the dancer, as well as issues of cultural censorship and the impact of loss. And there's lots of cute Israeli boys dancing. Let's be honest.

Who's Gonna Love Me Now? (available in the USA on Netflix and to rent on the BFI Player in the UK) is truly moving. And while you may be wary about having all the emotions watching, it's a perfect heartwarmer for any queer person who has made their friends their family. After being expelled from his kibbutz aged 21, Saar moved to London where he lived for the next twenty years. But his sexuality and his HIV diagnosis are not things his family know or can understand. The Heymann brothers choose to focus so succinctly on Saar's experience that you have to remind yourself that this is merely a story about someone trying to live his life. Bolstered by the love and support he receives from the London Gay Men's Chorus, Saar makes some changes.

Whatever your experiences of being your true self to your family, there's a universality in remembering that it's not you who changes, but the people around you who must. There are tears. But there are also camp choral classics. It's beautiful.

Tuesday
Jun202017

Pride Month Doc Corner: 'Whitney: Can I Be Me'

This month for Pride Month we're looking at four documentaries that tackle LGBTIQ themes. This week it is Whitney: Can I Be Me, the latest in a long line of musical documentaries.

There is no need to introduce Whitney Houston; we all know her and her songs. I also have no doubt that people reading this know her story of soaring talent and troubled downfall due to drugs. Hers was an arc that is rooted in the blueprint of great cinematic tragedies, a story that we have seen play out plenty of times before (in life as well as in in the movies), that it would be easy to roll our eyes at how cliched it was if it weren’t so painfully true.

If it feels somewhat curious then that director Nick Broomfield has turned his documentary eye to her story then that’s because it is. Unlike his earlier music doco Kurt & Courtney (or even his pair of Aileen Wuornos docs in which he takes an antagonistic role with his subject), there isn't an antagonist to go after. Whitney: Can I Be Me’s central conflict is predominantly between Whitney and herself. The title, “Can I Be Me”, was a phrase used often by Whitney – at times in the backstage footage, her team are even seen joking about it – as a means of apologising for being herself rather than the perfect pop creation crafted by Clive Davis and her mother.

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Tuesday
Jun132017

Pride Month Doc Corner: 'Political Animals'

We are continuing this Pride Month series of documentaries about queer issues. After last week's look at the life of Armistead Maupin, we detour into politics with Political Animals.

It’s just a matter of fact that men are the predominant voice of cinematic history. This is hardly surprising given that men are the predominant voice of history in general, but this of course means that the stories of women make up a frustratingly small portion of those told on the silver screen (even if we may curate our own viewing experiences to counteract this). The same can sadly be said about queer cinema where films about LGBTIQ women and by women (gay or otherwise) are without a doubt outnumbered by those by and about men.

It’s wonderful then to see Political Animals, a film that seeks to take a side-step away from the more famous names of gay politicians and activists like Harvey Milk, Larry Kramer, Cleve Jones and Barney Frank and focuses on the openly gay women from the halls of American politics. In particular, four women from California whose long and exhausting efforts in the face of bigotry across generations (although, quite telling, almost exclusively from older white men) slowly yet surely chipped away at government homophobia.

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Wednesday
Jun072017

Soundtracking: "Best Worst Thing..."

Soundtracking is our newest wekly series, with Chris Feil talking music in the movies! The Tony Awards are this weekend, so here is a documentary on a Broadway flop...

Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened charts the making and failing of Stephen Sondheim / Hal Prince collaboration Merrily We Roll Along. The musical charts the decades-spanning friendship of three showbiz types, but told in reverse and with teenagers playing the roles. It was high concept and it was a notorious bomb - but with one brilliant and emotionally involving score.

If you’re unfamiliar with the musical and its complicated backwards plotting, Best Worst Thing does a pretty snappy job of quickly explaining the show’s concept before focusing on the cast left out in the cold by Merrily’s failure. What sounds rather niche for a documentary subject is actually quite moving and emotionally accessible, and still touches on some hefty themes. The film, directed by original cast member Lonny Price, is personal but not cloying. It’s a documentary about the hard truths of growing up into a world that isn’t all you were promised, - and it consistently finds deeper context for the music.

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Tuesday
Jun062017

Pride Month Doc Corner: 'The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin'

For pride month, we're looking at a new queer-themed documentary each week beginning with The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin, which continues to play festivals around America.

“I’d like to tell you about the first time I had sex.”

This is a like spoken by the one and only Armistead Maupin in Jennifer M. Kroot’s documentary The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin. It’s spoken by him as he sits in a relaxed chair on a plainly adorned stage in front of a crowd of predominantly gay men. It garners a laugh from those in the audience there (as well as presumably the audience at home; I did), but it’s a moment that is quite indicative of the film around it.

Kroot’s film is not one that is shy about sex. It couldn’t possibly be. To do so would be to deny the essence of what made Maupin such an important figure in both literary and queer history. Sex was an important part of him and his work. To hear it spoken of with such ease in this documentary is a relief – and that’s before even getting to the part where he details where and how he met his future husband, a moment that adds a wonderful dash of gay modern reality to a story so rooted in the allure of 1970s gay life.

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Tuesday
May232017

Doc Corner: Awards Hopefuls 'Abacus' and 'Last Men in Aleppo'

by Glenn Dunks

First off, apologies for the sporadic columns over the last two months. My day job for this time period has been behind the scenes of a film festival and there’s something about working 14 hours a day that just makes coming home and doing more writing somewhat less alluring? As a soft apology, here is a look at two films. They have next to nothing in common other than that we may see their names pop up here or there come award season.

The first is Steve James’ Abacus: Small Enough to Jail, a film about an institution – the Abacus Federal Savings Bank of Chinatown, not even one of the top 2000 banks in the country if I saw the stats correctly – that became the only American bank to be criminally indicted in the wake of the financial sector crisis of 2008. The modesty of its subjects, both corporate and human, clearly rubbed off on James who has crafted a standardly assembled yet no less enthralling documentary about what is now a particularly peculiar footnote in the history of American law...

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