Brandon's Sundance 2010 Reviews: Documentary Edition Pt 2
by Brandon Lee Tenney
January 29, 2010
And we're back. It's time for part two of my documentary round-up (read part one here). When I attend a film fest, I often gravitate towards the documentaries being screened rather than narrative features. Of course, I see tons of narratives, but I do my best to keep a high ratio of docs on my schedule for the reason that I already see tons of narrative stories during the year anyway. It's very rare for any documentary to see a wide release. For some really spectacular docs, they never even get a limited release. At film festivals, though, there are always a good amount of docs to choose from. This is especially true for at Sundance.
Pretend what you're reading right now is a voice over (preferably read by Morgan Freeman) and that there's a blank text document with a blinking cursor pulsing on screen. We slowly push in, Ken Burns-style, and…
12th & Delaware
It was impossible for me to enter this film with an objective mind. When it comes to a film from directors Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing, this self-professed pig-headedness is a familiar feeling. Grady and Ewing's last documentary, Jesus Camp, was nominated for an Academy Award. It's also one of the most terrifying films I've ever seen. This film, 12th & Delaware, isn't quite as scary, though it is maddening. Blood-boilingly so. The film takes place in Florida at the intersection of 12th & Delaware where an abortion clinic and a pro-life pregnancy care center stand on opposite sides of the street. The film is, as you might guess, about the abortion debate. Though, as is their style, it tackles the issue with grace, objectivity, and poise.
It's really quite incredible that the film is as objective as it is. I'm a resolved atheist and unwaveringly pro-choice, but the film doesn't simply preach (to either side). It states the facts. It demands you listen. And I listened. The sheer access that the filmmakers attained (able to shoot in and around the pregnancy care center, even while in session) is astounding. In all honesty, I feel that someone who is pro-life would be able to see the film as a fair, even admirable portrayal of the cause. Which is the complete opposite of how I walked away from the film. To me, the film is all about choice. Not pro-life, and certainly not pro-abortion (is anyone pro-abortion?!), but pro-choice.
Brandon's Sundance Rating: 8.5 out of 10
Exit Through the Gift Shop
You may have seen this film referred to on Twitter as, simply, "The Banksy Doc." While that's true -- Banksy, the infamous, sought-after, illusive, extremely talented street artist did direct the film, his first foray into the medium -- the film is not about Banksy. It's about Thierry Guetta, otherwise known as Mr. Brainwash. Thierry, a man who was obsessively compelled to film everything, became even more obsessed with the booming street art movement. To keep in the street artists' good graces, he said he would turn the footage into a documentary. He said he was a filmmaker. He wasn't. Banksy grows to trust Thierry with his most intimate artwork, studio locations, and, most notably, his identity. And then Banksy learns Thierry has no idea how to make a film -- so Banksy decides to make a film about Thierry instead of vice-versa. Banksy then encourages Thierry to pursue street art. And that's when the story really begins.
Though Banksy may say he had no idea as to the heights Mr. Brainwash, Thierry's street art moniker, would ascend to, he did know he had given Mr. Brainwash the wings with which to fly. Banksy's socially and politically conscious art is too aware, its commentary too poignant for him to not have seen the potential to lampoon the art world through Thierry. Perhaps even from Thierry and his first meeting. No, definitely. In the film, Banksy often states his art is not about the money even though it's now worth millions. He then made a documentary about an artist whose art is all about the money and the art community turned it into being all about the art. The same people -- the hipster doofuses -- who enjoy laughing at Exit Through the Gift Shop, at Thierry and his fans, are the same people to be fooled by Mr. Brainwash in the first place. Banksy is indicting the art collector community and hipster trend gobblers. And he's able to pull it off with humor and magnanimity.
Brandon's Sundance Rating: 9 out of 10
Louis C.K.: Hilarious
The misanthropic, self-deprecating comedian Louis C.K. is -- even if he wouldn't appreciate being called so -- hilarious. What is ostensibly a comedy concert film, Hilarious is an outstanding display of the comedians story-telling prowess. His dark, often inappropriate humor -- the kind that made me laugh, then cringe, then laugh harder -- is unlike anything out there. It's often funny because it's true, but more often it's hilarious because it's too true. It's eighty-or-so blissfully funny minutes of comedy black magic.
Brandon's Sundance Rating: 9.5 out of 10