Saturday, January 16, 2010

Theatrical Releases

Every Friday we update you all with the week's theatrical documentary releases. Now, this is not a perfect process as our beloved genre prefers the rolling/limited release schedule instead of a big nationwide or international-wide release. So apologies if a film isn't out in your area or if you are a filmmaker and we missed the boat on announcing your documentary's big day (if that is the case, please let us know and we'll correct the mistake).

Now, with that introduction out of the way, here's this weekend's releases with their current rating on the amazing website

A Room and a Half- (no rating provided) Joseph Brodsky, the Russian-Jewish-American poet, won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1987 and was made poet laureate of the U.S. in 1991. Given that he was expelled from the USSR in 1972, it’s not surprising that much of his writing deals with themes of exile, loss and memory. An imagined return to the parents he never saw again and his childhood home of St. Petersburg (“a city whose color was fossilized vodka”) is the essence of this wonderfully nostalgic, whimsical movie. Made by famed Russian animator Andrey Khrzhanovsky, A ROOM AND A HALF recalls the glory years of a much-loved child and the particular absurdities and indignities suffered by Jews under the Soviet regime in the ‘50s and ‘60s. The filmmaker’s light touch – his use of animation, stills, archival footage, and scripted, dramatic material – melds the sophisticated surrealism of Magritte with the folk mysticism of Chagall. (

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Documentary Director/Producer's Call for Help in Haiti

The great thing about documentaries is they can be a call to action when action is needed. With the recent earthquake in Haiti many activists are calling for support for the island-country, including director/producer Michael Skolnik who posted earlier today where people can donate:

"Today We Are All Haitian -

I have been to Haiti over 25 times. I have seen this beautiful country with its beautiful people through the lense of a video camera, when I co-directed with Rebecca Chaiklin a documentary about Wyclef Jean and his quest to bring peace to Haiti. I was filming a documentary on Russell Simmons and his journey to end the Rockefeller Drug Laws, when we first met Wyclef backstage at the Democratic National Convention in Boston in 2004. Haiti had recently endured the removal of democratically-elected President Jean Bertrande Aristide and was on the brink of civil war. To make matters worse, a major hurricane had hit the city of Gonaives and thousands had been killed. Wyclef wanted to return to Haiti (his first time since the Fugees MTV concert in 1997) to do a major peace concert. Backstage in Boston, he asked Rebecca and I if we would go with him and make a documentary. We had no idea what to expect, but we said yes.

The concert didn't happen right away because of the violence in the country, but what did get formed was a movement...a movement to bring hope back to the homeland of this Refugee...and the epicenter of that movement was Wyclef. And that movement is YELE HAITI. I watched over the course of five years, Yele Haiti become the most important non-profit on the island, doing tremendous work while at the same time raising international awareness about Haiti by bringing people like Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Petra Nemcova, Akon, Matt Damon and many others to the island.

When the earthquake hit yesterday, my heart sunk. When I saw the photos of the damage, tears strolled down my eyes. When I spoke to my friend in Haiti this morning and she uncontrollably couldn't stop screaming, "my friend is dead, my friend is dead," my mouth could move, but no words could come out. I am tired, I am weary, but I know that we must help Haiti. When I spoke with Wyclef last night he told me that the most important thing is to raise money for relief efforts. Every dollar counts, so if you have the means, YOU CAN DONATE $5 BY TEXTING YELE TO 501501. Wyclef is in Port-Au-Prince, accessing the situation first-hand, and is going to work immediately.

I have seen the work of Yele Haiti with my own eyes and your money could not be going to a better organization. Please donate!

Today we are all Haitian!"

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Trailer: House of Numbers

Though appearing to be a standard "how to save the world from HIV" documentary, House of Numbers might actually be destined to shatter the status quo. Honestly, we're still trying to wrap our heads around this one, so read the film's synopsis, check out the trailer (which is extremely well done) and do your best to see a film that may force a major medical reevaluation.

The synopsis:
"What is HIV? What is AIDS? What is being done to cure it? These questions sent Canadian filmmaker Brent Leung on a worldwide journey, from the highest echelons of the medical research establishment to the slums of South Africa, where death and disease are the order of the day. In this up-to-the-minute documentary, he observes that although AIDS has been front-page news for over 28 years, it is barely understood. Despite the great effort, time, and money spent, no cure is in sight.

"Born in 1980 (on the cusp of the epidemic), Leung reveals a research establishment in disarray, and health policy gone tragically off course. Gaining access to a remarkable array of the most prominent and influential figures in the field -- among them the co-discoverers of HIV, presidential advisors, Nobel laureates, and the Executive Director of UNAIDS, as well as survivors and activists -- his restrained approach yields surprising revelations and stunning contradictions.

"The HIV/AIDS story is being rewritten, and this is the first film to present the uncensored POVs of virtually all the major players -- in their own settings, in their own words. It rocks the foundation upon which all conventional wisdom regarding HIV/AIDS is based. If, as South African health advocate Pephsile Maseko remarks, "this is the beginning of a war...a war to reclaim our health," then House of Numbers could well be the opening salvo in the battle to bring sanity and clarity to an epidemic clearly gone awry."

Now head to the film's website for the trailer.

Monday, January 11, 2010

A Brief Guide to Documentaries at Sundance

The greatest independent festival of the year is nearly upon us (January 21-31) and the writers over at aren't letting it approach unnoticed. if you didn't know, Sundance doesn't just present great fictional works, but it also presents a slew of documentaries every year as well. So with that in mind, writer Eric Snider recently published an article on the top nine documentaries he's looking forward to. Why nine? Not really sure, but who cares!

If you are heading out to Park City, Utah for the festival, make sure to read his list or head to B-Side Entertainment to see which documentaries sound most intriguing.