Saturday, February 14, 2009

Sundance Films: O'er the Land

Title: O'er the Land
Director: Deborah Stratman
Website: No website found
Potential Major Release Date: No known release date beyond Sundance

Summary: O'er the Land is Deborah Stratman's meditation on freedom and technological approaches to manifest destiny. She captures the marching-band battle cries of the country with a strong, controlled tone that proves its point but is extremely playful, too. Stratman documents the wild, wild worlds of gun shows, reenactments of famous battles, border disputes, and the organized frenzy of cheerleaders and motor homes (NetFlix)

Thoughts: I really don't know what to think of Stratman's latest Documentary, O'er the Land. Is it similar to Koyaanisqatsi? If it is, I'm all in. But I fear the surprising lack of media attention to this film bodes poorly. It's supposed to be short (IMDB says it's under an hour), which may be why it lacks major distribution pull. All this doesn't change the fact that there are just too many unknowns for me to trust in O'er the Land.

Sundance Films: 211: Anna

Title: 211: Anna
Director: Paolo Serbandini, Giovanna Massimetti
Website: No website found
Potential Major Release Date: No known release date beyond Sundance

Summary: Witness journalist Anna Politkovskaya's austere approach to covering stories such as the Chechen War and Beslan school hostage crisis. Politkovskaya's 2006 assassination earned her place no. 211 on the Russian Union of Journalists record of members killed in Russia since 1991, but her highly lauded work lives on in this documentary that features interviews with her children, spouse and newspaper colleagues (NetFlix).

Thoughts: Whether 211: Anna is ultimately good or not, I have to hand it to these two directors for finding easily one of the coolest and scariest stories I've ever heard. I also want to be on the marketing team for this picture. With no release date, trailer or promotional website, I'd have the perfect opportunity to go viral with this campaign. I'd start by putting some clips from the film on a bunch of blank DVDs and leave them in an old box at various film conventions with a sign that reads "the truth has its price." Then I'd follow that up with a website listing the names of all 211 journalists killed over in Russia since 1991. Not only would it get attention, it would also keep the Russian Mob from knowing I'm connected to the film- because I'm fairly certain they would love to "take care of" anyone associated with this documentary. I'm only half joking.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Sundance Films: Over the Hills and Far Away

Title: Over the Hills and Far Away
Director: Michel Orion Scott
Potential Major Release Date: No known release date beyond Sundance

Summary: When conventional therapies fail to help their autistic son, Rupert and Kristin Isaacson travel with Rowan to Mongolia in the hopes that a combination of traditional shamanic healing and horseback riding will benefit him. Director Michel O. Scott's documentary juxtaposes scenes of the family at home in Texas with their journey on horseback across the breathtaking Mongolian countryside in search of reindeer herders and a powerful shaman (NetFlix).

Thoughts: Though admittedly I was skeptical of this documentary when I first read the summary, after watching its rather lengthy trailer and checking out its website, I have to say, I’m a bit intrigued. It seems like more than just a search for a cure, its also a search for peace and acceptance. I’m not sure I can predict what will happen to Rowan by the end of the film, but I know I want to find out.

Sundance Films: Tibet in Song

Title: Tibet in Song
Director: Ngawang Choephel
Potential Major Release Date: No known release date beyond Sundance

Summary: Ngawang Choephel's documentary delves into the determination and fortitude of the Tibetan people to save their cultural identity of music in contemporary Tibet. Calling their centuries-old land "an ocean of music and dance," those who can still relate the meaning of this description fight to not let folklore die in the face of Chinese-sponsored pop culture. Choephel brings the struggle to light and features the beauty of his homeland's song (NetFlix).

Thoughts: I’m a huge fan of the premise behind Call+Response (a documentary that came out late last year) and right now I’m hoping Tibet in Song is cut from the exact same mold. Right now, despite what advocates want to believe, the Tibet issue is stagnant and boring. To be honest, the main stream public doesn’t care and I think even less people are emotionally drawn to help. The issue needs new life and Tibet in Song could provided that needed infusion. I’m skeptical, but hopeful.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Sundance Films: Thriller in Manila

Title: Thriller in Manila
Director: John Dower
Website: No website found
Potential Major Release Date: No known release date beyond Sundance

Summary: In the Philippines on Oct. 1, 1975, boxers and onetime friends Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier had their third and final showdown, which is at the center of this spirited documentary. Exploring both this notorious rivalry and the multifaceted racial politics of the era, director John Dower uses extensive archival footage and interviews with biographers and journalists to tell the story from Frazier's corner of the ring (NetFlix).

Thoughts: Any sports fan knows plenty about the exploits of Muhammad Ali and his opinions and phrases are well documented, so I guess its only fair to hear from one of the men who suffered under his boxing domination. And what better person to hear from then Joe Frazier, one of the greatest fighters of all time (think Karl Malone to Ali’s Michael Jordan). I’m a big fan of boxing documentaries done right, so I’m rooting for this one. I'm sorta surprised there isn't more buzz around this title too. Could be a bad sign...

Sundance Films: Rough Aunties

Title: Rough Aunties
Director: Kim Longinotto
Potential Major Release Date: Hitting the Film Festival circuit

Summary: Filmmaker Kim Longinotto profiles Jackie, Mildred, Eureka, Sdudla and Thuli -- five remarkable women who staff Bobbi Bear, a South African nonprofit organization that helps sexually abused children and mobilizes the community to fight abuse. Longinotto follows the diverse group of advocates as they meet with families, work with the authorities to make arrests, and counsel victims, using teddy bears to help children tell their heartbreaking stories (NetFlix).

Thoughts: My first thought, after reading the title, was to add the words “gone wild” after it. I then fantasized about a film combining elements of Cops, Girls Gone Wild and Golden Girls. Well, by fantasized I mean, I laughed really hard. But, my fictional, award-winning documentary is not the focus of this article, Kim Longinotto’s less exploitive work is. And I gotta say, judging from the film’s website, this could be good. It obviously touches on a serious subject, but in a way that will most likely make audiences laugh as much as they cry. I’m definitely intrigued.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Sundance Films: Quest for Honor

Title: Quest for Honor
Director: Mary Ann Smothers Bruni
Website: No website found
Potential Major Release Date: No known release date beyond Sundance

Summary: Photographer, author and activist Mary Ann Bruni exposes the brutal epidemic of "honor killings" in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, where more than 12,000 teenage girls accused of damaging their families' reputations have been murdered by relatives. Working with the Women's Media and Education Center, a local humanitarian organization, Bruni interviews men involved in the killings, many of whom demonstrate nothing but contempt for the victims (Netflix).

Thoughts: Though the film’s title suggests “made for Lifetime TV movie,” I’m surprisingly intrigued by Bruni’s documentary. Mainly, the notion that she was able to get on camera interviews with men who participated or encouraged honor killings. If its presented from an angle of intrigue and looking into the minds eye of this (well, sad and sick) cultural practice, I’m all for it. But I fear its just another heavy handed subject piece.

Sundance Films: Good Hair

Title: Good Hair
Director: Jeff Stilson
Website: No website found
Potential Major Release Date: No known release date beyond Sundance

Summary: Rendered speechless by his daughter's question -- "Daddy, how come I don't have good hair?" -- comedian Chris Rock embarks on a quest to understand African American hair culture in director Jeff Stilson's insightful, entertaining documentary. From salons to scientific labs, Rock travels the globe to explore the business of black hair. Rock also hears candid personal stories and gets advice from Raven-Symoné, Maya Angelou and other celebrities (NetFlix).

Thoughts: Why is there no website or trailer or release date for this? Anything Chris Rock works on should instantly have a major distributor attached. In other words, this sounds like one of his standup joke turned into a documentary- which is a very good thing. Rock is known for opinions that are both hilarious and also insightful and as long as director Jeff Stilson stays out of the way this has to be a success.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Sundance Films: Art & Copy

Title: Art & Copy
Director: Doug Pray
Potential Major Release Date: No known release date beyond Sundance

Summary: Explore the fascinating and sometimes mysterious world of advertising with this compelling documentary from filmmaker Doug Pray that features a host of interviews with some of the biggest names in the business. Meet the talented minds who created taglines forever embedded in the American psyche, including "Just Do It," "Where's the Beef?" and "Got Milk?" Hal Riney, Ed Rollins and many others share their insights (NetFlix).

Thoughts: This is the number one documentary I'm looking forward to this year. Doug Pray is easily one of the best, most creative directors out there. He not only captures his subjects, he creates films that embody them. Yes, Art & Copy is about advertising and it clearly won't win an award because the story won't 'impact the world' but seriously, this just looks like great film. I'm already claiming this as my favorite of 2009, so all you other documentaries better bring you're a-game.

Sundance Films: The Queen and I

Title: The Queen and I
Director: Nahid Persson Sarvestani
Website: No website found
Potential Major Release Date: No known release date beyond Sundance

Summary: Nahid Persson Sarvestani's thought-provoking documentary about her friendship with Queen Farah, the wife of the Shah of Iran, demonstrates how even those at most odds -- politically, idealistically -- can find middle ground and understanding. As a child, Nahid was poor, so when the queen unprecedentedly answers questions about the shah's repressive principles, the conversation is both political and personal, leaving Nahid's objectivity shaken (NetFlix).

Thoughts: I'm not sure how I feel about this film, though it certainly sounds intriguing. Most filmmakers want to put their subjects on edge, pushing them to the extreme in order to see what truth they uncover about the human condition. Director Nahid Persson Sarvestani (an Iranian-Swedish filmmaker) takes it a step further, pushing herself to the extreme while confronting a symbol of the very things she attacks in previous works: Queen Farah, the wife of the Shah of Iran. The film sounds surprisingly noncombative and I'm sure Sarvestani followers won't be happy with this change of heart, but it's a risk she's willing to take.