WE ♥ DOCS
Plenty of films from the 2015 Sundance Film Festival got picked up for release sometime this year or next, but one documentary that's still waiting to get distribution is The Russian Woodpecker. The film takes a look at what caused the 1986 nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl in Ukraine, exposing that there might be more to the disaster than initially thought. The film is named after the Duga, a gigantic radio-transmitter wall that produces a wood-tapping sound not unlike that of the woodpecker. We missed this one at the festival, so we can't speak to its greatness, but it won a Grand Jury Prize, so it must be good. Watch below!
While movie theaters continue to refuse to book films that strike deals for releases on Netflix the same day a film hits theaters, that's not stopping production companies from teaming up with the streaming service for future endeavors. Today, Netflix announced a multi-year first look deal with Leonardo DiCaprio and his Appian Way production banner for documentary projects that will stream exclusively on the streaming service. The aim of DiCaprio as a producer or executive producer of these projects is to mix philanthropy with filmmaking and create projects with topical, provocative environmental and conservation themes.
"A photographer is literally somebody drawing with light. A man writing & rewriting the world with light & shadows." I love this documentary, it's so utterly beautiful and awe-inspiring. The Salt of the Earth is a documentary by Wim Wenders exploring the life & work of legendary Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado, co-directed by his son Juliano Ribeiro Salgado. No doubt you've seen some of Sebastião's photos, many of which are featured in this doc. It's a mesmerizing look at a man who documented humanity in such a remarkably honest and intimate way, and the doc becomes something else when it focuses on how much he (Sebastião) loves this planet we are destroying. It was nominated for an Academy Award this year.
"How can that possibly be a success?" This looks great! Coming out of Sundance this year were a number of outstanding documentaries (our 7 favorites here), including this one, which picked up the Audience Award in the World Cinema Documentary category. Dark Horse is a documentary about a small Welsh town that decides to adopt and breed a racehorse even though they don't have much money. Lo and behold it goes on to become a huge success, and this is the story of that horse and the town. This is one film we didn't get to see, but heard nothing but amazing things about during the festival. This first trailer definitely gives us a glimpse at just how crowdpleasing and inspiring it is, and I'm looking forward to seeing it sooner than later.
We've talked about the awesome shot-for-shot remake of Raiders of the Lost Ark that was attempted by a group of 12-year old kids back in 1982 before. The film became a cult sensation when it was screened in Austin, Texas, and now the story of how the film came to be is coming to the big screen with a documentary called Raiders! premiering at SXSW next month. In addition to looking back at the making of the film with childhood friends Eric Zala and Chris Strompolos, it also chronicles their attempt to shoot the final scene they could never pull off: the infamous Flying Wing scene where the shirtless Nazi strongman is cut up by the circling plane's propeller while fighting Indy. This looks like one hell of a cool story. Watch now!
After debuting at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival last month, Taxi to the Dark Side director Alex Gibney is bringing his latest documentary to HBO. The film is called Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, and as you have probably surmised, it profiles the controversial religion and Church of Scientology that counts several A-list celebrities amongst its members. Now a teaser trailer has arrived to give us a taste of the investigation we can expect when the film hits cable next month. I've heard that it doesn't dig much deeper beyond Lawrence Wright's book on which it's based, but it still sounds informative.
In a small amount of time, director Nicolas Winding Refn has made a name for himself as a unique auteur filmmaker, building up an impressive fanbase of cinephiles. Refn found himself in the spotlight after the success of Drive starring Ryan Gosling, and if you've ever wondered what it's like being a filmmaker working on your next project after such success, then you'll want to check out this documentary My Life Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, directed and shot by Refn's wife Liv Corfixen. The film follows Refn as he works on Only God Forgives up through its debut at Cannes, and a trailer has surfaced. Watch!
Do you love film scores? Do you love listening to soundtracks all day? Is John Williams or Ennio Morricone or Danny Elfman or Hans Zimmer your favorite musician? If you answered yes to any of those questions, this is a documentary for you. Longtime readers will know that I am a huge fan of scores myself, and I love discovering new work and enjoying old favorites. There's a brand new documentary called SCORE: A Film Music Documentary that just launched a Kickstarter page to get the final bit of funding it needs to finish up. We've been pitched on this one via email as well, and it honestly sounds like the kind of doc that we'll be excited to see once they're ready to premiere it. Until then, it needs our (financial) support to be completed.
As someone who isn't the biggest sports guy, the fascination with the sport of boxing is a mystery to me. But at the same time, I've enjoyed many a boxing drama, from Rocky to The Fighter. But for those who have an interest in boxing, there's a new documentary on the way called Champs, which profiles heavyweight championship boxers like Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield and Bernard Hopkins. Helped along by interviews with boxing fans and pop culture figures like Mark Wahlberg, Denzel Washington, Ron Howard, Spike Lee and more, this looks like something accessible for even the most clueless sports fan, and actually looks at the darker side of the sport, exploiting these athletes for their skills. Watch below!
As upset as many are that The LEGO Movie didn't get an Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Film, and it also lost the Golden Globe, fans of animation should still be happy that a film like DreamWorks Animation's How to Train Your Dragon 2 is still getting plenty of love during awards season. It's a rare worthy sequel that is just as good, if not maybe a little better, than its predecessor with a story that still has a lot of heart, beautiful visuals and a fantastic adventure. And if you're interested in really diving in to how the film was made, a stellar, well-crafted one-hour documentary on the film's production is online. Watch!
This is a huge year for "Saturday Night Live." Coming up this weekend we have the live 40th anniversary special airing the evening of Sunday, February 15th, and it will be chock full of cast members, all-star hosts and of course clips from the late night sketch series' long run on the air. And now we'll get an in-depth look at the history of "SNL" in the form of a new documentary called Live from New York!, and it's just been announced as the opening night film of the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City on Wednesday, April 15th. This comes after James Franco's behind the scenes look at "SNL" debuted on Hulu last year.
Play life more beautifully. This is a documentary that I hope a few people take an interest in, because it's such a heartwarming and inspiring profile of a humble man. Seymour: An Introduction is a wonderful documentary directed by Ethan Hawke profiling piano player and teacher Seymour Bernstein, who gave up fame after a successful concert tour and has dedicated his life to teaching the wonder of music. As hinted at in the title, the doc is an introduction to Mr. Bernstein, giving audiences a glimpse at who he is and how inspiring he is. I first saw this film at the Telluride Film Festival and wrote this in my review: "Music is love, love is music. All I want to do is put on some Schubert, Bach and/or Beethoven and stare up at the stars…"
"He was entirely alien, and hopefully people aren't aware of how he's being operated." This is an exciting year for Star Wars, with a brand new trilogy and the characters we all grew up with. One of everyone's favorite characters is Jabba the Hutt, and we all know he was an impressive puppet creation designed by Phil Tippett, but how exactly did he work? Well, Jabba required three puppeteers inside and three others operating various parts, from the smoke to his breathing. The man behind some fantastic "filmumentaries", Jamie Benning, has put together a new video called Slimy Piece of Worm-Ridden Filth - Life Inside Jabba the Hutt (love this title) and it's an excellent 20-min short doc on the operation of Jabba. Dive in.
The 2015 Sundance Film Festival has finally come to an end and to put a wrap on things and finalize our nearly two weeks of coverage, it's time to present our Best of the Fest. We're doing things a bit different this year and presenting combined favorites between Ethan and I (since we loved so many of the same movies). Instead of one big list, like year's past, we're splitting up our favorites between the best 7 Feature Films we saw and the best 7 Documentaries we saw. We obviously couldn't see every film playing, but did catch over 40 between us and felt like these films below deserve to be highlighted for standing out over the others. As our final recap of Sundance 2015, which has now concluded, we present our 7 favorite documentaries.