Friday, January 30, 2009

Sundance Films: Crude

Title: Crude
Director: Joe Berlinger
Potential Major Release Date: Hitting the festival circuit, so check their website for details

Summary: Three years in the making, filmmaker Joe Berlinger's provocative documentary explores the ongoing battle waged by 30,000 indigenous Ecuadorans and their lawyers against Chevron for dumping billions of gallons of toxic oil waste into the Amazon. Berlinger examines the environmental catastrophe (known as the "Amazon Chernobyl") from all sides, ultimately focusing on the pursuit of justice in the 21st century (NetFlix).

Thoughts: From Metallica to international law; I'm not sure how director Joe Berlinger is going to handle this switch, but his previous work could make what appears to be heavy subject matter easier for audiences to swallow. Despite a slick little website, there is no viewable trailer that I'm aware of, so my interest is solely based off the concept and the director at the helm of this project. This is definitely a film that could easily sink or swim, watch the buzz on this one as it tours festivals worldwide.

Sundance Films: Kimjongilia

Title: Kimjongilia
Director: NC Heikin
Potential Major Release Date: No release date announced beyond Sundance

Summary: Marked by a long history of repression and information control, North Korea continues to scrupulously monitor the activities of its citizens. This exposé reveals daily life under a totalitarian regime as well as the stories of prison camp survivors. Filmmaker N.C. Heikin draws on her artistic sensibility as a dancer and performer to craft a stylish documentary that bears a surprising message of hope and inspiration (NetFlix).

Thoughts: The first ever 'teaser' trailer for a documentary I've ever seen brings mixed feelings. On one hand, the graphics and style could make an otherwise overly serious film appealing to the regular film viewer, but I'm not quite sure where Heikin plans to take his film. Judging from the summary, it appears to be a heavily stylized piece and if that's the case, I'm very intrigued. I just hope it doesn't disappoint. I'm definitely going to keep my eyes out for this one.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Sundance Films: It Might Get Loud

Title: It Might Get Loud
Director: Davis Guggenheim
Potential Major Release Date: No set release date, but Sony Pictures Classics owns the distributions rights, so expect it in theaters nationwide

Summary: Davis Guggenheim, creator of the Oscar-winning An Inconvenient Truth, directs this fascinating profile of three contemporary guitarists: Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin, U2's The Edge and Jack White of the White Stripes. Each talks about their creative process, technique and influences as cameras follow them to key locations in their own music history. A jam session featuring all three musicians is woven into their discussions (NetFlix).

Thoughts: Thank you Davis Guggenheim. Thank you for following up your great directorial work from An Inconvenient Truth with a documentary that truly caters to your style and strengths. If Guggenheim could make Al Gore at least moderately cool, imagine what he can do with the likes of Jack White, the Edge and Jimmy Page. I’m extremely excited for this documentary as I can’t imagine it being anything less then stellar.

Sundance Films: End of the Line

Title: End of the Line
Director: Rupert Murray
Website: No website provided
Potential Major Release Date: No release date announced beyond Sundance

Summary: Filmmaker Rupert Murray traverses the world exposing the devastating effects that overfishing with modern technology is having on fish stocks and the real solutions to solve the crisis. Combining alarming scientific testimony with under- and above-water footage, Murray creates a hard-to-ignore sketch of the state of the globe's oceanic ecosystems. This film is based on British environmental journalist Charles Clover's book (NetFlix).

Thoughts: I couldn’t find a website or a trailer for Rupert Murray’s eco-documentary so like a lot of the other films, my initial thoughts are quite limited. When I saw Murray was attached to the film, my interest was piqued, because, after all, I enjoyed Unknown White Male. But I’m not sure he is the right director for this type of documentary. I’d want a director whose handled more visually stunning/breathtaking work here. Like other eco-documentaries, my interest remains low until I see something to make it stand out.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Sundance Films: Burma VJ

Title: Burma VJ
Director: Anders Ostergaard
Website: No website provided
Potential Major Release Date: No set release date, but HBO purchased the TV rights for the film.

Summary: Filmmaker Anders Ostergaard's gripping documentary profiles the courageous efforts of a renegade band of Burmese reporters who -- in the face of a repressive regime and media censorship -- refuse to be silenced. Calling themselves the Democratic Voice of Burma (aka the Burma VJs), these fierce "video warriors" place themselves in peril as they smuggle footage documenting their government's abuses across the border -- and to the world at large (NetFlix).

Thoughts: Winner of the World Cinema Documentary Editing Award, Burma VJ already has a leg up on other Sundance documentaries after signing with a major distributor (HBO). Ostergaard’s film has the story and intensity to be successful, but I worried the stories of those who filmed this oppression takes a back seat to a ‘call to action’ agenda. I loved War Tapes (which is roughly the same film premise, in that a director edits amateur footage), so I hope it follows that successful outline. If so, it’ll definitely be a powerful piece you can’t miss.

Sundance Films: Earth Days

Title: Earth Days
Director: Robert Stone
Website: No website provided
Potential Major Release Date: No release date announced beyond Sundance

Summary: Robert Stone's absorbing documentary revisits that April day in 1970 when 20 million Americans participated in the first Earth Day, a far-reaching call to action that helped to forge the modern environmental movement. Amazing archival footage combines with in-depth profiles of nine key players in the movement to chart the growth of the public's understanding of the environmental crisis. The film premiered at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival.

Thoughts: Sigh. Another year, another environmentalist documentary. I’ll be honest, I’m writing this off unless I hear or see something unique that it'll bring to the table. Unfortunately, there is no trailer and judging by the plot summary it doesn’t sound like a clever film. I’ve been wrong before, but at the moment, my interest level is quite low. Sorry tree huggers.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Sundance Films: Big River Man

Title: Big River Man
Director: John Maringouin
Potential Major Release Date: No release date announced beyond Sundance

Summary: To underscore the effects of pollution, Slovenian endurance swimmer Martin Strel attempts to conquer the Amazon, Mississippi, Danube and Yangtze Rivers. In his 50s and not possessing a typical athletic build, Strel's hazardous 3,375-mile, 66-day expedition brings him face-to-face with numerous barriers, including water predators and toxic contamination. John Maringouin directs while Strel's son narrates this physical -- and mental -- thrill ride (NetFlix).

Thoughts: Any movie that tries to get a 50-year old man to go toe to toe with Michael Phelps or Mark Spitz is bound to be enjoyable. Of course, it also doesn’t hurt that said film won the World Cinema Cinematography Award for Documentaries at Sundance and was also nominated for the Grand Jury Prize. Unfortunately, I was unable to find a trailer for this film, which bummed me out because it sounds like with a little marketing help, this could be a successful little documentary.

Sundance Films: The Cove

Title: The Cove
Director: Louie Psihoyos
Potential Major Release Date: No release date announced beyond Sundance

Summary: This riveting documentary (winner of the Audience Award at Sundance) follows a group of animal activists to a scenic cove in Taijii, Japan, where they use surveillance equipment to capture footage of a secretive and heavily guarded operation run by the world's largest supplier of dolphins. As the daring group risks their lives to expose the horrifying truths behind the capture of dolphins for the lucrative tourist industry, they also uncover an environmental catastrophe (NetFlix).

Thoughts: I read the summary for The Cove and at first was sorta skeptical- it just didn’t seem all that interesting and if its one thing I’ve learned, animal lovers don’t make compelling films (sorry, its just my point of view). But, after watching the trailer, I have to admit, I may adjust my opinion. The Cove looks like a suspenseful work, showing how being an animal lover doesn’t mean you shy away from danger. If I had to summarize my expectations for The Cove, I’d say I'm hoping it's Free Willy meets Mission Impossible. And I gotta admit, I am compelled to see that combination.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Sundance Films: Boy Interrupted

Title: Boy Interrupted
Director: Dana Perry
Website: No website provided
Potential Major Release Date: No release date announced beyond Sundance

Summary: Boy Interrupted is a film that raises questions. It asks how a young boy can end his life at the tender age of 15. It struggles to find answers about what kind of family he had and the life he led. By its very nature, it is a naked display of its filmmaker's personal life at its most revealing and perhaps disturbing. How can a mother, we may ask, make a film about the death of her son?

Thoughts: I was unable to find a trailer or website for Boy Interrupted- beyond the brief synopsis on the Sundance website and on Dana Perry's website- but that doesn't stop me from saying this could be a work in the same vein as The Bridge. The story is Director Dana Perry's attempt to come to terms with her 15 year old son's suicide. It's one thing to film someone coping with grief and something totally different (and truly remarkable) for the director to film their own struggles with pain. Even without seeing a single frame, I can safely say this looks to be an extremely powerful piece.

Sundance Films: Afghan Star

Title: Afghan Star
Director: Havana Marking
Potential Major Release Date: No release date announced beyond Sundance

Summary: After 30 years of war and Taliban rule, pop Idol has come to Afghanistan. Millions are watching the TV series 'Afghan Star' and voting for their favorite singers by mobile phone. For many this is their first encounter with democracy. This timely film follows the dramatic stories of four contestants as they risk all to become the nation's favorite singer. But will they attain the freedom they hope for in this vulnerable and traditional nation?

Thoughts: A great idea for a documentary but after reading the synopsis and watching the trailer online, I'm a bit skeptical. Don't get me wrong, the story looks like one that should have been covered by several filmmakers (it's that good), but because there are a few very compelling storylines that could be followed I wonder if Director Havana Marking has bit off more than she can chew. But then again, my fears have generally been squashed by great storylines and this could easily fit the mold. So head over the film's website and check it out for yourself.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Sundance Comes to a Close

It's January 25. And that- sadly- means The Sundance Film Festival closes another chapter on it's annual festival. Of course, the great thing about Sundance is that it acts as a launching point for many films that otherwise would go unnoticed by big budget Hollywood companies. This premise holds especially true for documentary filmmakers using the venue to promote their respective works.

In honor of this film launching tradition, Documentary Film Online will highlight each and every documentary screened in Park City, Utah this year. For the next 2-3 weeks we'll break down two documentaries a day; highlighting the storyline, the director's known credentials, possible release dates and links to the film's website. So, starting tomorrow, check out the news page daily to get your post-Sundance fill.

But to tease you, here's some opening remarks. First, off the bat, two films I can't wait to see: Ondi Timoner's We Live in Public and Doug Pray's Art & Copy. Both director's hold a special place in my heart for their recent work and, especially in Timoner's case, for practically diving into a sea of footage and uncovering wonderful storylines.

I'm also curious to see Tom DiCillo's When You're Strange (about the Doors), Natalia Almada's El General (Almada is the great-granddaughter of Mexico's controversial president Plutarco Elías Calles), Paul Salzman's Prom Night in Mississippi (How will a Canadian portray the deep south?) and Giovanna Massimetti's 211: Anna (documenting how over 200 Russian journalists have been assassinated since 1991 sounds like some scary subject matter).

There are countless others, but why list them all? The point is, it appears this year's crop of documentaries looks to be truly special. So check back tomorrow and join me in investigating which ones are worth seeing and why.