Friday, November 21, 2014

Documentary releases

Every Friday we highlight a documentaries that are releasing in theaters. Now, documentaries don't have the financial backing that Hollywood blockbusters enjoy so release dates tend to be limited to a few cities or are based on a rolling system. For this reason, this article won't always be accurate to your specific city but it should give you an idea of what's out there. Now with that formality out of the way, onto the releases!

  • Summary: "Though culminating with the farewell concert the ban d played to thousands of adoring fans in their hometown of Sheffield, England, PULP is by no means a traditional concert film or rock doc. As much a testament to the band as it is to the city and inhabitants of Sheffield, PULP weaves exclusive concert footage with man-on-the-street interviews and dreamy staged sequences to paint a picture much larger, funnier, moving, and life-affirming than any music film of recent memory." (From official site)
  • Trailer: 

  • Summary: "Amir Bar-Lev’s documentary HAPPY VALLEY takes an unflinching look at an iconic American institution in the wake of unthinkable scandal. Nestled in the idyllic area known as Happy Valley lies the town of State College and the home of Penn State University. For over 40 years, Joe Paterno was the celebrated head coach of the school's storied football team. Lauded not only for his program's success on the field, but also for students’ achievements in the classroom, Paterno was a revered figure in a town where team loyalty approached nationalistic fervor. Then in November 2011 everything changed when longtime assistant coach Jerry Sandusky was charged with 40 counts of child sex abuse, setting off a firestorm of accusations about who failed to protect the children of Happy Valley. Filmed over the course of the year after Sandusky’s arrest as key players agreed to share their stories, HAPPY VALLEY deconstructs the story we think we know to uncover a much more complicated and tragic tale. Director Bar-Lev creates an indelible portrait of a wounded community and an engrossing investigation into the role big time college football played in both the crimes and their aftermath." (From official site)
  • Trailer: 

  • Summary: "There is more interest in food these days than ever, yet there is very little interest in the hands that pick it. Farmworkers who form the foundation of our fresh food industry are routinely abused and robbed of wages. In extreme cases they can be beaten, sexually harassed or even enslaved - all within the borders of the United States. Food Chains exposes the human cost in our food supply and the complicity of the supermarket industry. Supermarkets earn $4 trillion globally and have tremendous power over the agricultural system. Over the past 3 decades they have drained revenue from their supply chain leaving farmworkers in poverty and forced to work under subhuman conditions. Yet supermarkets take no responsibility for this." (From official site) 
  • Trailer: 

  • Summary: "MONK WITH A CAMERA chronicles the life and spiritual quest of Nicholas (Nicky) Vreeland, who for the past twenty-eight years has been a Tibetan Buddhist monk.  The son of a United States Ambassador, grandson of legendary Vogue editor Diana Vreeland, and a photographer by trade, Nicky left his privileged life behind to follow his true calling. He moved to India, cutting his ties with society, photography, and his pleasure-filled world, to live in a monastery with no running water or electricity. There he would spend the next 14 years studying to become a monk. Then in one of life’s beautiful twists, Nicky went back to the worldly pursuit of photography in order to help his fellow monks rebuild their monastery, one of the most important of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.  His journey from being a photographer to becoming a monk and, most recently, to being appointed as the abbot of the monastery he helped to rebuild, are the core of the story." (From official site)
  • Trailer: 

  • Summary: "January 2010: In the buckle of the Bible Belt, 10 churches burn to the ground in just over a month igniting the largest criminal investigation in East Texas history. No stone is left unturned and even Satan himself is considered a suspect in this gripping investigation of a community terrorized from the inside-out. Families are torn apart and communities of faith struggle with forgiveness and justice in this incredible true story." (From official site)
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  • Summary: "The Homestretch follows three homeless teens as they fight to stay in school, graduate, and build a future. Each of these smart, ambitious teenagers - Kasey, Anthony and Roque - will surprise, inspire, and challenge audiences to rethink stereotypes of homelessness as they work to complete their education while facing the trauma of being alone and abandoned at an early age. Through haunting images, intimate scenes, and first-person narratives, these teens take us on their journeys of struggle and triumph. As their stories unfold, the film connects us deeply with larger policy issues of juvenile justice, immigration, foster care, and LGBTQIA rights." (From official site)
  • Trailer:  The Homestretch (trailer) from spargel productions on Vimeo.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Become a documentary sponsor, help fund film on the first African American in the NBA

How often do you get to say you helped fund a movie? Admit it, the idea sounds appealing. Well, there are numerous project you could probably choose from but I want to highlight one project that just started accepting funding.

"The First to Do It" is a documentary about Earl Lloyd, who has agreed to let Coodie Simmons and Chike Ozah make a movie about his life. And what a life! According to their funding page at, Mr Lloyd became "the first African American to ever play in the NBA. [He also went] on to become the NBA’s first full time head coach, the NBA’s first African American to ever receive an equipment sponsorship and the first African American to win an NBA national title."

As an NBA fan, I'm honestly disappointed in myself for not really knowing much about Earl Lloyd and the legacy he has left. I guess I'll be one of the first people in line to see this film. Of course, I should probably make a donation first.

Directors Coodie Simmons and Chike Ozah's last documentary ("Benji") focused on Chicago high school sports legend Ben Wilson which ended up on ESPN's popular '30 for 30' series. So if you are worried this is a good idea that might be placed in the wrong hands, think again. These are two guys who are relatively new, but can definitely hold their own.

But don't take my word for, check out their funding page and learn more about them, their project and how to get involved.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

"The Homestretch" Trailer

The trailer for "The Homestretch" has been out for awhile but the film is just now getting into the thick of it's limited theatrical run, so I figure now is as good a time as any to highlight this potentially excellent documentary.

Watching the trailer for Anne De Mare and Kirsten Kelly's film immediately brings to mind one of many Steve James' documentaries. Besides it being set in Chicago and produced by Kartemquin Films, the similarity that really jumps out is using personal stories to reflect on larger themes. "The Homestretch" (much like "Hoop Dreams" or "Life Itself") really settles in with its subjects, letting their lives play out over time.

The Homestretch (trailer) from spargel productions on Vimeo.

According to their film's website: "'The Homestretch' follows three homeless teens as they fight to stay in school, graduate, and build a future. Each of these smart, ambitious teenagers - Roque, Kasey and Anthony - will surprise, inspire, and challenge audiences to rethink stereotypes of homelessness as they work to complete their education while facing the trauma of being alone and abandoned at an early age."

I've got to admit, I'm kind of excited about this documentary and while it's not planning to play in my city at this time, it looks like they are offering numerous options for audiences around the world to take part. So it won't be difficult to see the stories De Mare and Kelly have fleshed out.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Documentary short shows the joy of being a "stuffmaker"

Documentary shorts never get the attention they deserve. There are, frankly, just too many of them out there that it's too hard to keep up with them all. But, every once in a while, it's important to highlight some interesting work.

Bas Berkout's short on the artist Mac Premo popped up on Huffington Post today, and while it's not necessarily life changing, it's certainly a worthy testament to quality film making. The movie is only three and a half minutes but introduces audiences to two cool artists: director Bas Berkout and "stuffmaker" Mac Premo.

If you're a budding documentarian, or just a lover of quality film production, trust me, you won't be disappointed by what you see.

Mac Premo from Bas Berkhout on Vimeo.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

"Monk with a Camera" trailer

It's not often you can say "check out this monk's photographs!" But that's not the only unique twist to the upcoming documentary "Monk with a Camera."

Directors Tina Mascara and Guido Santi (who last collaborated on 2007's "Chris & Don: A Love Story") follow Nicholas Vreeland who left a privileged life to become a Tibetan Buddhist monk more than 40 years ago. Vreeland is the grandson of Vogue editor Diana Vreeland, so the word "privileged" is an apt description of his earlier life.  Though he tried to give up his love of photography during his time away from Western culture, it was this gift that he could never shake that helped his fellow monks rebuild their monastery.

Vreeland's story doesn't end there. According to the film's website, "The Dalai Lama appointed Nicholas as Abbot of the monastery, making him the first Westerner in Tibetan Buddhist history to attain such a highly regarded position."

Mascara and Santi's film currently has a significantly limited theatrical release, but I'm expecting this documentary to gain some appeal and branch out to other cities in the near future. In the meantime, check out the trailer and appreciate one man's crazy life trajectory:

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Documentary will feature footage from the comet probe Philae

According to, the European Space Agency isn't the only group celebrating the successful comet landing by the Philae probe. Moonlake Entertainment has announced that their soon to be released documentary "In Space" will feature footage from the ground breaking Rosetta mission- including the landing and its 10-year journey to get there.

Of course, the film isn't just about one single mission. In fact, it's quite encompassing! According to the director's site: "'In Space' shows 50 years of Space Exploration of ESA and NASA, where we are today and where we aim to go." Though, I'm sure Philae's recent success can ensure more focus will be paid to the Rosetta mission.

"In Space" is directed by Hannes Michael Schalle, whose background is more in composing musical scores but has knocked out five documentaries in the past four years. I won't lie, I kind of like the idea of a composer helming a movie about space- it almost guarantees the film will have some beautiful moments.

With a 2014 release date, we won't have to wait long to see this potentially amazing documentary.

Monday, November 10, 2014

DOC NYC starts this weekend

It has been awhile so we'll try to ease back into this whole "daily news" thing. And what better way to begin then to preview DOC NYC. The festival begins this Thursday and runs for a full week and if you live in New York you should go celebrate this rising star in the film festival world.

It's only four years old but it's already the largest documentary festival in the US and is a Academy-qualifying festival. Per DOC NYC’s website:  "[The] winning short film will qualify for consideration in the Documentary Short Subject category of the Annual Academy Awards without the standard theatrical run, provided the film otherwise complies with the Academy rules."

Now if you're still not convinced that you should attend at least one of the 150+ screenings (or if you already purchased a pass but can't figure out what to see), The Huffington Post has created a quick guide of the 16 "must watch" documentaries to see at this year's festival. It's chock full of summaries, screen times and trailers so it's a handy guide for those unsure of what to see.

Of course, you could always branch out on your own and scan the schedule yourself- in which case, God speed.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Robert Redford talks documentaries

The Sundance Film Festival is just days away from kicking off and while I hope you don't forget to keep an eye out for our in depth preview of the documentaries of the festival, I'm sure most of you are already pining for any possible nugget coming out of Park City, Utah.

Luckily for you, The festival's founder, Robert Redford, took time last week to talk to NPR about Sundance and why he's committed to featuring documentaries. I've got to hand it to the man, while his festival has become quite mainstream (in terms of popularity), it still remains true to independent filmmakers (particularly documentaries) and has really become a great launching pad for films that would have otherwise gone unnoticed.

Head on over to NPR's website to catch the interview and see why Sundance has become the greatest thing for documentaries since... well... affordable cameras.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Oscars to tighten rules for documentaries

In case you missed today's major news, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences says it will start requiring a review from The New York Times or The Los Angeles Times for a film to qualify for its documentary feature category. The new rule will be officially announced later this week and will take effect for the 2013 awards.

This is a major blow to documentary fans hoping to see the Oscars move in a more populist direction. Count this site as one of those bemoaning this change as it also will only serve to allow the rich to get richer. Most documentaries don't get a review unless there's a big name or big budget behind it- or if it gains just the right type of buzz to lure a critic into a screening.

Admittedly, the rule change was probably necessary for the Academy's small (in comparison to other Oscar groups) documentary award staff. With cheaper equipment, a growing cult fan base and groups willing to help push films through the current rule process, the number of submissions for the category have been rising quickly. A staff already stretched thin had to find a way to curtail their ever growing work load.

The rule will also eliminate the complex and stifling rating system used to select the Oscar documentary nominees. The main change is allowing the committee to see screeners of films instead of forcing them to see films only in theaters - a major bonus for small budget films that can only afford to play in theaters for a week or two. Still, these small budget films need to get reviewed before this change even matters.

Ultimately, the rule changes will hurt many filmmakers looking for validation from the Oscars. The documentary industry is not a lucrative place to work unless you manage to make a name for yourself and even a nomination to the Oscars is a big deal (see Morgan Spurlock). So, for the time being, it seems small, independent filmmakers won't have much of a shot at cracking the tighter rules unless these two papers designate a critic specifically to documentaries - which is highly unlikely as they are struggling to keep pace with the changing climate of media news.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Louder Than a Bomb premiers Thursday, 9pm

Yes, it’s a new year, but I’m assuming the new work week has already left you stuck in the same old rut. Well, luckily for you there’s always a new movie to help lift your spirits and inspire change. If you need a good pick me up story that’s not your standard sappy Hollywood affair, look no further than Louder Than A Bomb.

Directed by Greg Jacobs & Jon Siskel, this documentary follows four schools preparing for the annual Louder Than A Bomb poetry slam competition. After watching an advanced screening, I couldn’t agree more with the film’s summary: “This is not ‘high school poetry’ as we often think of it. This is language as a joyful release, irrepressibly talented teenagers obsessed with making words dance.”

If you need more details, head to the film's official site. Otherwise, make sure to set your schedules now so you don’t miss out on a documentary that will help you kick the year off right.

Louder Than a Bomb premiers Thursday, January 5 at 9pm (Eastern Time) on the Oprah Winfrey Network- and don’t hate on OWN, they have got an excellent line up of documentaries this year.