WE ♥ DOCS
One of this year's must see documentaries is Citizenfour, directed by Laura Poitras, an inside look at the story of whistblower Edward Snowden. Poitras was contacted by Snowden early on and was right there with him, filming the entire event, as he leaked the information from Hong Kong about the NSA's spying program that stunned the world in May of 2013. Poitras has made two other provocative docs previously, The Oath and Flag Wars, and she's back with another one that is a bit more intimate, but still as powerful. I raved about Citizenfour after catching its premiere at the New York Film Festival, and I met up with Laura for an interview in New York City. What follows is a fascinating discussion about the power of storytelling.
"Vibrant, funny, and subversive." Remember all those movies you were obsessed with in high school? All those classic teenage comedies, coming-of-age dramas, telling stories of high school burn outs and maligned prom queens. Young filmmaker Charlie Lyne made a documentary called Beyond Clueless, presenting a "PhD on the history of high school cinema" featuring a "moody and evocative score" by the band Summer Camp, which can be heard briefly in the trailer. Our friends at Empire have unveiled the first poster and it caught our eye. For marketing made up entirely with their own material, no footage, this is excellent work. I'm very curious to check out the doc and many will likely feel the same after taking a look at the film below.
Pretty much every month, HBO has a great new documentary premiering, and one of them has already played at the New York Film Festival. Tales of the Grim Sleeper dives into the life and crimes of Lonnie Franklin Jr., a man arrested as the suspected murderer of a string of young black women. But what's really scary is that police seemed to ignore this ongoing murder case despite claiming a victory after 20 years of investigations. Director Nick Broomfield exposes the past of Franklin, from the friends who knew the killer, to those who lost someone to his vicious crimes, but he also exposes something else very horrifying.
"This film documents an event that has never taken place..." Chills. This documentary explores the idea of what would happen, and how we would respond, if aliens came to Earth. Titled The Visit, from filmmaker (not actor) Michael Madsen (of Into Eternity: A Film for the Future), the documentary is premiering at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival in January and it looks like a must see (it's definitely on my radar now). As explained by Sundance, utilizing "unprecedented access to" the United Nations' Office for Outer Space Affairs (such an office exists?), and "leading space scientists and space agencies," the doc wonders how we would respond and what might happen. I can't wait. "Our scenario begins with the arrival. Your arrival."
Time for the premieres! Every new year brings us another Sundance Film Festival and with only 45 days until Sundance 2015 kicks off on January 22nd, Sundance has officially announced more of their line-up following the In-Competition selection and Midnight & Spotlight last week, mainly the coveted Premieres category, 28 narrative features and docs, at the world's greatest, snowiest film festival in January. Here's where they have regulars Joe Swanberg (Happy Christmas), James Ponsoldt (The Spectacular Now), Jared Hess (Napoleon Dynamite) and plenty of great filmmakers. Plus - the docs this year, oh my! Full lists below.
We didn't get a feature-length film from Kathryn Bigelow this year, but the director of Zero Dark Thirty and Point Break still delivering a powerful little piece of filmmaking in the form of a documentary/PSA called Last Days, which focuses on the plight of elephants, and how the giant, majestic creatures are in danger of being wiped off the planet. Surely you've heard about endangered species and all that jazz before, and maybe it's gone in one ear and out the other, but maybe you should let the fact sink in that within 11 years, all of the elephants living in the wild could be extinct very soon. Watch this provocative PSA now!
These are the documentaries everyone needs to see; you must see them, they are worth your time. These are not the only documentaries that matter, but of course, nor are they the only good documentaries this year, but if you're looking for a list of some documentaries to start watching - well, start here, with any of these. This week, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences announced (list via Deadline/Variety) the "shortlist" of documentaries that made the cut from 134 eligible submissions down to just 15. From Roger Ebert to Alejandro Jodorowsky, from Edward Snowden to Sebastião Salgado, the selection this year is fantastic, and I'm glad that all of my favorites made the cut. Many of these are already out on VOD + DVD.
After making a surprise appearance on the big screen at the conclusion of This is The End last year, the once thriving boy band Backstreet Boys will return to theaters with a feature length documentary called Backstreet Boys: Show ‘Em What You’re Made Of. The film has been picked up by Gravitas Ventures for release in theaters and on VOD on January 30th, 2015. The documentary follows two years in the lives of the singing group's members: Nick Carter, Howie Dorough, Brian Littrell, AJ McLean and Kevin Richardson. The group rose to fame in 1996 as the first big boy band, beating *NSYNC to teenage fandom.
"'Amazed' and 'excited' would be good words when you came across new work by Ralph [McQuarrie]." With Star Wars on everyone's mind, there's no better time than now to feature these five segments of a mini-documentary about concept artist Ralph McQuarrie. McQuarrie's work on the Star Wars series is iconic, representing much of the look and feel of the world that was later translated into celluloid by George Lucas and his crew. There's a feature-length doc about McQuarrie in the works already, but in the meantime Lucasfilm (via Gizmodo) has posted separate 7-minute segments, featuring interviews with Lucas' crew. As a solid recap of the man who imagined the sci-fi world we all love, this is quite engaging/fascinating to watch.
"As for me, I'm done making movies." Here's something to make you smile. GKids has released an official US trailer for The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness, a documentary about legendary animation house Studio Ghibli in Japan. From director Mami Sunada, the doc provides an unprecedented inside look at the inner workings of Ghibli and the daily life of animator Hayao Miyazaki, who has officially retired from making features. I've seen this documentary and it's absolutely wonderful, I was refreshed and felt so happy by the end. There's a certain magic to Studio Ghibli and they capture some of that, then again I just could go on spending days watching footage of Miyazaki-san smile and laugh. This doc is a real gem - don't miss it.
We first wrote about this documentary a few months ago, originally posting a video of Banksy showcasing his own work, not actually a trailer. HBO has, finally, launched a trailer for the documentary Banksy Does New York that they're airing in November. It'll actually be available starting this Friday via the HBO GO app, so if this captures your attention there isn't too long of a wait to see it. The trailer shows a doc that seems to be indeed based on "user-generated footage", with pop up tweets and videos, but there's not much to it. I honestly was expecting to see more, especially with Banksy putting together a three minute trailer. Maybe more will come, then again I want to watch this doc right now anyway. More on Banksy's NY show.
We're still waiting to see when the latest film from director Spike Lee, a non-traditional vampire flick called Da Sweet Blood of Jesus, will hit theaters, but there's still plenty of work the filmmaker has done that you can see right now. Lee directed the stand-up specials Katt Williams: Priceless and Jerrod Carmichael: Love at the Store (both are available on HBO right now), and he was also behind the camera for a great little documentary short called I Throw Like a Girl. The 16-minute doc focuses on Mo'ne Davis, a 13-year old Little League pitcher who made waves at the Little League World Series this past summer. She's awesome.
Earlier this year, we heard rumblings that Martin Scorsese might be working on a film about legendary punk rock band The Ramones, but there's yet to be any official confirmation that will happen. However, another iconic rock band will have Scorsese's attention as THR reports he is executive producing a documentary about the psychedelic rock group The Grateful Dead. The documentary will arrive just in time for the 50th anniversary of the band once led by the late Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir, and it will cover the entire career of the beloved band. Sounds like the ultimate must-see for the Deadheads out there.
"We thought of it as: man the tool-maker vs man the artist." If you're looking for a short film that makes you think, don't miss this one. Nate Silver's blog FiveThirtyEight has premiered the full short film The Man vs. The Machine, directed by legendary producer & filmmaker Frank Marshall of Kennedy/Marshall, telling the story of chess champion Garry Kasparov battling IBM's computer Deep Blue. The short explores the setup behind why this challenge was presented to begin with and the implications of the outcome, which most thought might go the other direction. Knowing that machines are more powerful than humans, does it really make a difference? Maybe not. Find out more in the fascinating short doc The Man vs. The Machine.