WE ♥ DOCS
"This case is about exonerating our entire community." There's a brand new film from the director behind Ebert's Life Itself and the classic documentary Hoop Dreams. Steve James' latest documentary is titled Abacus: Small Enough to Jail, and it first premiered at the Toronto Film Festival and is playing at the New York Film Festival next. Abacus is about the Abacus Federal Savings Bank in Chinatown in New York City, which was one of the few banks labeled as "small enough to jail" during the mortgage crisis. They were targeted by the Manhattan District Attorney, despite that all the bigger banks were given free passes and government support. This doc examines how Abacus, a family-run bank, is fighting to stay alive and clear their name. This isn't a full trailer, but it is our first look - this seems to be another unique doc worth seeing.
"If I don't take a photograph, I've made a terrible mistake." Magnolia Pictures has debuted a trailer for a documentary titled Harry Benson: Shoot First, about the life and work of famed photographer Harry Benson. He gained notoriety in the 60s when he was assigned to shoot The Beatles during their inaugural trip to the United States in 1964. He has since gone on to photograph many famous musicians, politicians, and celebrities, and is still working today at age 86. There have been some superb docs about photographers recently (The Salt of the Earth, Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures, Smash His Camera, Finding Vivian Maier are the best of the bunch) and this looks like yet another fantastic profile of a talented artist. Enjoy.
Reality can be more bewildering than fiction. On the surface level, the documentary Kate Plays Christine is about an actress, Kate Lyn Sheil, researching a challenging role for an unnamed film project. Christine Chubbuck was a real news anchor who worked at Sarasota's WXLT-TV in 1974 and shocked viewers by shooting herself in the head live, on camera, taking her life. This moment became something of legend, then was largely forgotten but at times interest in the incident is renewed. The film's writer, director & editor Robert Greene quickly leaps between archival footage, behind-the-scenes snippets and a few dramatized recreations, forcing you to think, first, about what is fact and fiction and then, where the two should meet.
"We are on the map. And we will stay on the map! Not only in sports, but in everything!" That was the iconic line spoken by Israeli basketball player Tal Brody after his team won the European Championship in 1977. On the Map is a documentary that profiles the successful victory of the Israeli basketball team in the 1970s, an amazing feat that actually did help put Israel "on the map" - at least in sports history. This looks like it has glorious old school footage from the matches, as well as some great interviews with many of the players who are still alive today. Israeli figures from outside the sports world, including former ambassador Michael Oren, politician Yair Lapid and former refusenik Natan Sharansky, all recall what TV commentator Alex Giladi calls "the end of Israeli sport losing with honor." If you're into sports docs, check this out below.
Director Keith Maitland's Tower is a devastating documentary that reconstructs the darkest moment in the history of the University of Texas at Austin. The title refers to the 30-story tower at the center of campus from which more than a dozen people were murdered and more than 30 wounded by a former Marine armed with a small arsenal in 1966. Tower opens with the announcement of Charles Whitman's shooting by KTBC reporter Neal Spelce. The film traces the paths of multiple witnesses, with voice overs and on-camera interviews. These "interviews" start out as actors peering and chatting into the camera, then the historical events are re-enacted, and later some of them to become the actual witnesses sharing their emotions.
"We have their attention." Following Alex Gibney's fascinating investigative film Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, Magnolia has debuted an official trailer for a documentary titled My Scientology Movie, starring documentary "maverick" Louis Theroux, mostly seen in his own TV series from the UK. Theroux heads to Los Angeles and begins his own investigation into the Church of Scientology, encountering all kinds of wacky people and aggressive resistance. This one is a bit different than Going Clear in that it's a personal story about one guy hoping to get his own peek inside Scientology, but of course they won't let that happen. This definitely does look "entertaining", I'm just wondering if it reveals any new info on this "cult".
Time to rock out with Iggy! Magnolia Pictures has unveiled a trailer for the documentary Gimme Danger, about the rock band The Stooges, directed by legendary filmmaker Jim Jarmusch. This is the other big film that Jarmusch brought to the Cannes Film Festival this year - he premiered two, the other one being the fictional feature Paterson (one of my favorite films this year). Gimme Danger is a feature doc telling the story of The Stooges, a rock band from Michigan featuring Iggy Pop as the vocalist that launched with a concert in 1976. The doc tells a very extensive history of the band and features a bit of concert footage, as well as interviews and more. Cannes reviews state it's "an exciting testament to the survival power of the Stooges' music, reviled or ignored in its time, then rediscovered by the late 70s punk generation, and now widely celebrated as the work of – as Jarmusch claims at the start – 'the greatest rock and roll band ever.'"
"If you've gone as far as him, how do you challenge yourself?" Netflix has debuted an official trailer for the documentary Sky Ladder: The Art of Cai Guo-Qiang, profiling the life and work of Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang. As you will see in this trailer, his art is based around fireworks and explosives, and he was hired to arrange the fireworks at the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. His latest project is an attempt to build a "sky ladder" out of fireworks, which this documentary covers in addition to examining his life and influences. "If you're Cai Guo-Qiang, you continue to chase the ambitious dream that has eluded you for 20 years—Sky Ladder—a 1,650 foot ladder of fire climbing into the skies, connecting heaven and earth." This doc might be worth seeing just for all the stunning footage of his fireworks. Enjoy.
"We've known about this for decades… Paradise that has been degraded and destroyed. We're knowingly doing this. I just want to know how far we've gone, and if there's anything we can do to stop it." National Geographic has unveiled the first official trailer for the environmental documentary Before the Flood, produced by and starring Leonardo DiCaprio, directed by Fisher Stevens. A staunch environmentalist and activist, DiCaprio travels the world conducting interviews, meeting with heads of state, and exploring the various lands of the world to address the global crisis of climate change. The doc presents a look at how climate change affects our environment and what society can do prevent the demise of endangered species, ecosystems and native communities across the planet. We've seen many, many climate docs recently, but I hope one of these really grabs people and wakes them up, because we all need to change - and change now.
"Are you all ready?!" Netflix has unveiled a full-length trailer for the concert doc Justin Timberlake and The Tennessee Kids, profiling the latest tour from the famed musician/singer. Directed by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Jonathan Demme, the film follows Justin Timberlake as he performs on the road with his Tennessee Kids band and bevy of talented dancers. This looks like it might be crazy fun and will get you dancing in the aisles. The doc just premiered at the Toronto Film Festival earlier this month, and earned rave reviews from critics who were quick to point out that it's much better than your average concert doc. One glowing review states: "the sheer spectacle that Demme has captured will be almost impossible to fully appreciate when watched at home… but it's an exuberant thrill on the big screen." Certainly looks that way.
"Powerful, at times shocking, but also intensely human." Kino Lorber has debuted the official US trailer for an award-winning documentary called Fire at Sea, or Fuocoammare, from Italy about the migrant crisis affecting Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The doc won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival and has played at numerous other film festivals including Telluride, Toronto and New York (coming up). The film is set on an island off the coast of Italy called Lampedusa, one of the places many migrants and refugees crossing the Mediterranean by boat end up. Fire at Sea was also just selected by Italy as their official entry to the Academy Awards this year, a strong push for this doc to get even more attention. I recently had the chance to see it and wrote that it's a "slow burn, but builds to a bonfire." Highly recommended for doc fans.
"As long as nothing interrupts that serenity, then there's nothing more magical." Gravitas Ventures has debuted a trailer for a documentary titled Don't Look Down, profiling the early 1980's publicity stunt by Richard Branson in an attempt to bring attention to his newly launched Virgin Airlines. Branson decided to hop in a hot air balloon and fly across the Atlantic Ocean, something that has never been done before and is considered dangerous even by other experienced balloonists. "The real story of this incredible adventure has never been told, and using intimate interviews with Branson and the team, never seen before archive (including footage from inside the balloon, shot in real time)." It looks quite thrilling and fascinating. Enjoy.