WE ♥ DOCS
"I also see how difficult it must be for you to survive…" A trailer is out for an intriguing film titled Thy Kingdom Come, which is premiering at the SXSW Film Festival in March. How many remember Terrence Malick's 2012 film To the Wonder, with all the twirling? Thy Kingdom Come is a 43-minute doc film created during the making of that film, with all original and stand-alone work. In 2010, photojournalist Eugene Richards was hired by Malick to go to the town Bartlesville, Oklahoma with Javier Bardem (who plays a priest in the film) and meet some of the local residents. Some knew who he was, others didn't. "Absolutely no one cared, in the end, who he was, except that he was there to listen." Small visual segments of this film appear in Malick's film, but it's still something unique. This screens alongside Malick's VR project Together.
One of the best documentaries I've seen playing at film festivals this year is titled Matangi/Maya/M.I.A., a subversive profile of the controversial, badass, outspoken musician/activist known as "M.I.A." In real life, her full name is Maya Arulpragasam, and she's originally from Sri Lanka, an island off the southern coast of India. At first glance, this seems like a film that is another music documentary about a pop star and her rise to fame and fortune and glory. But it's anything but that. It's actually a much more personal, intimate story of a young woman who wants to bring attention to and raise awareness about very dire problems in the world, and injustices, and do so using the power of the microphone. But what if no one took her seriously? That's what this film is really about. And it's an eye-opening, alarming, invigorating documentary to watch.
"You want to share it with as many people as possible." Abramorama has debuted the trailer for a music documentary titled What We Started, focusing on the EDM (or Electronic Dance Music) scene. I confess I am a huge EDM fan and have been listening for many years. This doc attempts to be a definitive look at the scene and the music and the people behind it all. The documentary features heavy-weight electronic dance music artists, including the infamous young new DJ, Martin Garrix, the legendary Carl Cox, as well as appearances by Erick Morillo, Moby, David Guetta, Afrojack, Paul Oakenfold, Seth Troxler, and DJ Tiesto. There are multiple cameos from musical superstars, including Usher and Ed Sheeran, who help exemplify the power and reach that electronic dance music has over mainstream music genres. This really looks damn good, seems to be a comprehensive examination of the entire culture. I'm looking forward to checking it out.
"Feedback screenings are essential to get out of your headspace." One of my very favorite films of the 2018 Sundance Film Festival was a documentary titled Minding the Gap, made by filmmaker Bing Liu. It won over audiences and critics, and picked up the U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Filmmaking at the end of the festival. Minding the Gap follows three skater kids from a small town called Rockford, Illinois as they grow up and become adults and start to realize who they really are and how they were raised. It's quite a moving, powerful, remarkably aware film about American society and masculinity, and the struggle of breaking free from the world you were raised in, and much more. I made it my mission to meet filmmaker Bing Liu, and shake his hand, and talk to him about making this film. Bing's the real deal.
"It's worth waiting a whole day just to eat this ramen." FilmBuff has released the trailer for a delectable documentary titled Ramen Heads from Japan, profiling five of the finest Japanese ramen chefs and their techniques. If you love ramen, you have to see this. If you don't know what ramen really is, you have to see this. If you love good food, you have to see this. Koki Shigeno's Ramen Heads is a fascinating culinary film about what makes ramen so great, and how dedicated to their craft these various chefs are. "As a chef maybe you need to be more of a ramen head than your customers. You need to make the soup so good that people never get tired of it, even if they eat it every day." I caught this at IDFA and it's an okay doc, felt more like a film best for train/bus trips than the cinema, but it will make you love ramen even more. Get a taste below.
"An urgent, often corrosive look at America's past and present." Grasshopper Films recently released this official trailer for a highly acclaimed documentary titled Did You Wonder Who Fired the Gun?, made by filmmaker Travis Wilkerson examining his own family history. This premiered at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, and also played at the New York Film Festival, with a limited release coming later this month. Set in Alabama, the film is about the filmmaker's great-grandfather, who murdered a black man in 1946 and got away with it. So he decides to look back at what happened, a personal reckoning with family, murder, and the corrosive racial tensions that have carried from past to present. This trailer doesn't reveal too much, but it does give you an idea of the look and feel of the film, which seems to have a unique highly-saturated tone.
HBO has unveiled the trailer for a documentary titled Andre the Giant, profiling the life and career of professional wrestler André Roussimoff, who gained notoriety in the 1980s as "Andre the Giant". This HBO Sports documentary, made by "30 for 30" filmmaker Jason Hehir, is an "ambitious, wide-ranging film" that explores Andre's upbringing in France, and his celebrated wrestling career in the WWE. Many may recall that Andre the Giant also played Fezzik in the comedy The Princess Bride, which was one of his few movie roles along with Micki + Maude and an uncredited appearance in Conan the Destroyer. Born in 1946, André was diagnosed with acromegaly (and gigantism) in his twenties, and passed away in 1993 at the age of 46. This covers the good and the bad of his life, and it looks like a fascinating film about a unique human being.
"They have to do everything correctly 100% of the time." Aw, puppies!! An official trailer has debuted for a film titled Pick of the Litter, a documentary about puppies. No, really. The film is actually about the process of choosing the right dog to be trained as a Guide Dog for the blind. I feel like there have been films made about this before (a few from Japan perhaps) but why not another one? Everyone loves dogs! At least I do. The documentary, from filmmakers Don Hardy Jr. & Dana Nachman, follows dogs as they are trained for two years. It also spends time with the Guide Dog community and introduces us to some of the people who end up getting these dogs as their companion and best friend. This actually looks adorable, of course, and I'm curious to see it. This is premiering at the Slamdance Film Festival this month, surprisingly enough.
"If you don't pay, you stay here." Dogwoof has debuted the full UK trailer for an exceptional documentary titled Makala, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival last year and also played at the Toronto & London Film Festivals. I saw this in London and loved it, writing a rave review, hoping that I could convince a few people to check it out. Made by French filmmaker Emmanuel Gras, Makala follows one man from Congo (aka Democratic Republic of the Congo) who makes charcoal on his own then carries it on a bike to a nearby city to sell. As I said in my review: "it is one of the most engaging looks at humanity you can find on screen all year." It's a visceral, eye-opening experience following one man, that's the power of great cinema.
"I know how to communicate ideas - that's really why I win." A trailer has debuted for a documentary titled Science Fair, premiering at the Sundance Film Festival - which kicks off today in Park City, Utah. As the title indicates, this is a doc about going to the big "science fair" - specifically the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (or Intel ISEF). The film profiles nine different high school students from all around the world who must "navigate rivalries, setbacks, and hormones on their quest to win the international science fair. Only one can be named 'Best in Fair.'" This looks like a very fun, inspiring, enjoyable look at the world of science fairs. It reminds me of October Sky, one of my favorite films involving a science fair. I'm most interested to see the kids from foreign countries who make it in, seems like that's the bigger challenge.
"The only time I feel on top of the world is when I'm fighting." IFC Films has debuted the official trailer for a documentary titled The Cage Fighter, which premiered at the True/False Film Festival last year. This docu-drama from director Jeff Unay plays like a feature film with a narrative following the real-life story of a fighter named Joe Carman. Joe is a blue-collar family man who breaks the promise he made years ago to never fight again. Now forty years old, with a wife and four children who need him, he risks everything – his marriage, his family, his health – to go back into the fighting cage and come to terms with his past. Carman stars, and the film's "cast" (if you can call it that) includes Norinda Reed, Clayton Hoy, Callie Carman, Delanee Carman, Kira Carman, Mia Carman, and Vernon Beach. This is a helluva trailer, damn. A promising look at a powerful, personal film about the demons that drive a man to push himself to the limit.
Back to Sundance we go for another year of discovery. What's on the line-up this year? Out of the 110+ films showing at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, I've chosen 10 that I'm looking forward to seeing the most. To keep things well balanced, I've chosen 5 feature films and 5 documentaries from the line-up. There are so many films playing at the fest, and so many I'll end up seeing (30+), that this is a quick list to get everyone acquainted with some of the work premiering in 2018 (I just want to go see everything). There are new films from great filmmakers like Desiree Akhavan and Reed Morano, and docs about Robin Williams and Fred Rogers, and many other films. You never know what will good or bad, but here's my first few picks for 2018.