WE ♥ DOCS
"We have nothing to lose but our turf!" Magnolia Pictures ("from the company that brought you I Am Not Your Negro") has debuted a teaser trailer for a new racism documentary titled Whose Streets?, examining the Ferguson uprising from the inside. The film originally premiered at the Sundance Film Festival this January to mostly rave reviews. Using footage from actual citizens in St. Louis, Missouri, and Ferguson, the film takes an "unflinching look" at the uprising, the protests, and the beginning of the Black Lives Matter movement. This seems very powerful, and very important for the times. And it also seems like it can be the kind of doc that will still be referenced 50 years from now. I also really love seeing docs that are made with footage from real people, who lived through this historic experience. Looking forward to seeing this myself.
"If that prosecution goes through, that bank is going to go out of business." PBS has released another new official trailer for the latest documentary from Hoop Dreams director Steve James, titled Abacus: Small Enough to Jail. This doc premiered at film festivals last fall and has been playing around the world at festivals ever since. Abacus tells the story of the Chinese immigrant Sung family, owners of Abacus Federal Savings of Chinatown, New York. They had to spend five years defending themselves and their bank's legacy when they became the only U.S. bank to face criminal charges in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. We've been following this doc since last year, and it will open in NYC starting this May, with a nationwide roll-out over the summer. This does look like an "exemplary piece of filmmaking", as is expected from Steve James.
"The most mysterious man in Gotham City wasn't in a mask and cape." Hulu has released an official trailer for a documentary titled Batman & Bill, which will premiere exclusively on Hulu starting early May. The documentary "unmasks" one of the greatest secrets in the comic industry - that Batman wasn't created by Bob Kane alone, it was primarily Bill Finger who created the iconic superhero. This seems like a fascinating doc with plenty to offer for comic book fans, including inside stories and excellent art from the early days of Batman. It's cool to see a doc like this that actually looks worth watching on Hulu. They've been collecting some of their own original docs recently, including a James Bond one called Becoming Bond. Take a look.
"Dorfman is uniquely fascinating… spending the entirety of a film with her is a rare pleasure." Neon has released an official trailer for the documentary The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman's Portrait Photography, the latest from veteran documentarian Errol Morris. The feature doc profiles the life of Elsa Dorfman, a "nice Jewish girl" photographer who fell in love with large scale portrait photography in the 1980s. She used to photograph all kinds of different people, including famous rock stars and poets, using a Polaroid Land 20×24 camera. Morris' film is a trip into her workplace (and life) to examine what it was like to work with this kind of "analog" medium. The title of "The B-Side" is a reference to the way Dorfman always took two pictures of her clients and kept the rejected one, which she refers to as the "B-Side". This looks wonderful.
"It's not about us. The dilemma is our children." Grasshopper Films has unveiled an official trailer for the acclaimed, award-winning documentary Last Men in Aleppo, taking us deep inside the war in Syria. The film profiles and follows three different founding members of the humanitarian group known as "The White Helmets" (official website), who have stayed behind in Aleppo while the city is still under siege in an effort to save lives. This trailer cuts right down to it, and is a heartrending, harrowing look at how bad the war in Syria has become, and what it's doing to that country. I missed this at Sundance, where it won the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize, but I'm planning to catch it as soon as it's released. This should be on your radar.
"She believed the city is not about buildings, the city is about people." Need a good doc to rile you up and inspire you to get out there and fight back? Try this one. Sundance Selects has debuted a trailer for a documentary titled Citizen Jane: Battle for the City, profiling the activism work of Jane Jacobs. Jacobs fought to save historic New York City during the ruthless redevelopment era of urban planner Robert Moses in the 1960s. The doc focuses on construction kingpin Robert Moses' plan to raze lower Manhattan to make way for a highway. This seems like the perfect doc for the times, showing how passionate activism can actually make a difference. This also reminds me of another great battle of wits doc - Best of Enemies, which I also highly recommend seeing. Citizen Jane opens in NYC later this week, then LA next week. Take a look.
"The cheapest way to survive is to subsist entirely on appetizers. If you're luck enough to get access to free parties throughout the day…" We've been covering the Sundance Film Festival for 11 years, and I adore the festival, but it's not always the most inviting place especially if you don't have proper access. This year, Vimeo hired "self-described 'struggling' Staff Picked documentarian" John Wilson to make a video about his experience at the festival - without any access. Suffice it to say, he makes an amusing doc that mocks the festival and the absurdity of everything, yet also finds the good in it. "Wandering up and down Main Street, remarking on the blend of commercialism and exclusivity, he paints a pretty pallid picture of festival life and the forces that dominate it." It's worth watching for a good life and a totally different look at Sundance.
"Where you're making art, and you're making life, and it feels like anything is possible." Now this might be something worth watching. An official trailer has debuted for a film titled Flames, a "docu-art hybrid" that was filmed over five years. The story follows a couple, filmmakers/artists Zefrey Throwell & Josephine Decker, who documented their own romance over the course of these five years. It's apparently a very real romance and real story, but doesn't end well. The two "simmer in the white hot apocalypse of first love until the throw of a dart finds them on a spontaneous trip to the Maldives and cracks open the question -- is their love true or just a performance?" Even after breaking up, the two of them still came together to finish this film and present it as a remarkable inside look at real romance, including the bad side of what can happen.
"We makin' music with our bodies!" Fox Searchlight has revealed the first official trailer for an outstanding documentary titled Step, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival this year where it received rave reviews from critics and audiences. The film follows a few different teenage women at a special high school in Baltimore, Maryland who are part of the prestigious step dance program. The school is designed to help them get into college, many of them being the first in their family to attend, and it shows how step dancing is a way for them to come together and focus on what maters - expressing themselves creatively. I caught this film at Sundance and really, really loved it. It's exciting, and energetic, and inspiring, and moving, with just the right balance of heart and honesty. I will be strongly supporting it throughout this year. See below.
Showtime has debuted an official trailer for the new documentary made by Laura Poitras, who won the Academy Award a few years back for her doc CitizenFour about Edward Snowden. Risk follows a different whistleblower, the infamous Julian Assange, who founded WikiLeaks and has gotten himself in all kinds of trouble over the last few years. Similar to CitizenFour, this doc follows Assange very closely, with Poitras taking us on an intimate journey into the life of Assange and the situations he has put himself in. The film already premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in Director's Fortnight last year as a work-in-progress titled Asylum. I saw the film there and was not a big fan, it's nowhere near as good as CitizenFour, and I much prefer the other Assange doc titled We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks made by Alex Gibney. But after the election of Trump, she seems to have added much more footage and given this doc an entirely new focus.
"It's the once, only chance to make the dead live again." Kino Lorber has released an official trailer for the documentary titled Obit., about the lives and work of obituary writers. The description explains that this is supposedly the first ever doc about obituary writers, which is likely true. However, it makes me think of the film The Last Word, which is not a doc but an indie comedy about an obituary writer (played by Amanda Seyfried). From the description: "Going beyond the byline and into the minds of those chronicling life after death on the freshly inked front lines of history, the film invites some of the most essential questions we ask ourselves about life, memory, and the inevitable passage of time. What do we choose to remember? What never dies?" This already played at doc festivals all over and opens in very limited theaters later this month.
"He was always a director, acting was just a way to get there." Spike has premiered a trailer for their new feature-length documentary titled I Am Heath Ledger, examining the short, tragic, yet still triumphant, joyous life of Australian actor Heath Ledger. Today (April 4th) is also Ledger's birthday, he would've been 38; he died from accidental intoxication of drugs in early 2008. Despite his tragic death, Ledger's legacy still remains strong and all of his cinematic work will live on to prove his talent. This looks like an intimate and heartfelt inside look at his life, with tons of home video footage and interviews with friends and the people he worked with. Even folks who aren't the biggest fans of Ledger may find something meaningful in this doc.