Friday, January 22, 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

Soundtrack for a Revolution- (80 % rating) Soundtrack for a Revolution tells the story of the American civil rights movement through its powerful music -the freedom songs protesters sang on picket lines, in mass meetings, in paddy wagons, and in jail cells as they fought for justice and equality. Soundtrack for a Revolution celebrates the vitality of this music; a vibrant blend of heart-wrenching interviews, dramatic images, and thrilling contemporary performances. The film features new performances of the freedom songs by top artists, including John Legend, Joss Stone, Wyclef Jean, and The Roots; riveting archival footage; and interviews with civil rights foot soldiers and leaders, including Congressman John Lewis, Harry Belafonte, Julian Bond, and Ambassador Andrew Young. (

Pop Star on Ice- (14% rating) Pop Star on Ice is an unprecedented behind-the-scenes portrait of outspoken Olympian and three-time US Figure Skating National Champion Johnny Weir. When Johnny fails to win a medal at the 2006 Winter Olympics, the media turns on him and he feels the backlash. Love him or hate him, Johnny is one of the most talented skaters of all time, but talent alone does not make a champion. Johnny’s complicated relationship with his longtime coach Priscilla Hill and his struggle to reach the top of the sport takes us from small town Delaware – his training home – to competitions, shopping sprees, fashion shows and personal appearances around the world. The inspiration for Jon Heder’s character in the box office smash Blades of Glory, Johnny seeks to balance his larger-than-life persona with the constraints of his sport. Pop Star on Ice uncovers the graceful, athletic, cut-throat and melodramatic sport of figure skating through the prism of its most controversial athlete as he tries to fulfill his potential on the world stage.(

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Sundance Films: Bhutto

Title: Bhutto
Director: Jessica Hernández, Johnny O'Hara

Summary: As the first woman to lead an Islamic nation, former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's life story unfolds like a tale of Shakespearean dimensions. Educated at Harvard and Oxford, Bhutto evolved from pampered princess to polarizing politician battling tradition and terrorism in the most dangerous country on Earth. Her father, the first democratically elected president of Pakistan, chose Benazir over his eldest son to carry his political mantle. Accused of rampant corruption, imprisoned, then exiled abroad, Bhutto was called back in 2007 as her country’s only hope for democracy. When she was struck down by an assassin, her untimely death sent shock waves throughout the world, transforming Bhutto from political messiah to a martyr in the eyes of the common people. With exclusive interviews from the Bhutto family and never-before-seen footage, filmmakers Jessica Hernandez and Johnny O'Hara have crafted a sweeping epic of a transcendent, yet polarizing, figure whose legacy will be debated for years to come (Sundance).

Thoughts: Biographies of major political figures, especially controversial ones, rarely find wide support, or critical success. So this is cause for concern if you are looking forward to this film. So, depending on the direction this documentary takes, Bhutto could be a great addition to historically based films or it could be a sappy, simplified portrayal of an important figure in modern history. I’m skeptical at the moment, but Sundance usually avoids selecting films with such potential faults- so that may help its cause.

Sundance Films: 12th & Delaware

Title: 12th & Delaware
Director: Rachel Grady, Heidi Ewing
Website: no individual site, but click here for Sundance page

Summary: On an unassuming corner in Fort Pierce, Florida, it’s easy to miss the insidious war that’s raging. But on each side of 12th and Delaware, soldiers stand locked in a passionate battle. On one side of the street sits an abortion clinic. On the other, a pro-life outfit often mistaken for the clinic it seeks to shut down (Sundance). Using skillful cinema-vérité observation that allows us to draw our own conclusions, Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing, the directors of Jesus Camp, expose the molten core of America’s most intractable conflict. As the pro-life volunteers paint a terrifying portrait of abortion to their clients, across the street, the staff members at the clinic fear for their doctors' lives and fiercely protect the right of their clients to choose. Shot in the year when abortion provider Dr. George Tiller was murdered in his church, the film makes these fears palpable. Meanwhile, women in need become pawns in a vicious ideological war with no end in sight.

Thoughts: The abortion debate is one of the most fiercely divided issues in the United States. Because emotions run so strong, this seemingly neutral film could help attract swarms of avid viewers from both sides looking to hear more about the debate or gather verbal ammunition for their cause. Either way, Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing will undoubtedly have a pretty good theatrical run. The major concern with this film is that while it expresses a desire to remain neutral, the two directors’ previous work (Jesus Camp) was accused by some of being less than unbiased. Will their latest film suffer the same fate?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Trailer: Off and Running

There are few coming of age stories in the documentary genre. There are usually several factors working against such real life tales, but the main issues center around a teenager's willingness (or rather, lack there of) to be filmed and to open up emotionally during their search for identity and independence.

But there is a film that might succeed in unearthing this story for the documentary genre and with a flair that is anything but normal. Nicole Opper's Off and Running focuses on Avery, an African American girl adopted by two white, Jewish lesbians. A budding track star on the verge of a college scholarship, Avery wonders about her African American roots and begins a complicated exploration of race, identity and family.

If the story itself doesn't sound engrossing, then the trailer for Off and Running will certainly grab your attention. Expect a review for this film shortly as the DocFilm Online staff is too excited to wait long for this one.

Head to the film's website to watch the trailer and find out when it will be released in your area.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Spielberg produces World Trade Center documentary series

An interesting announcement was unveiled this weekend by the Discovery network: Oscar-winning director Steven Spielberg will produce a documentary series on the rebuilding of New York's World Trade Center.

Titled Rebuilding Ground Zero, the TV series will air on the Science Channel sometime in 2011. Obviously it's a impressive the little watched Science Channel was able to pull off such a great addition, and could be a testament to the direction the Discovery network wants to take the series.

New York mayor Michael Bloomberg said Spielberg's involvement ensures "the story will be brought to life for people around the world for generations to come."

Spielberg will also bring his penchant for hi-tech visuals as the the series will use 3D, time-lapse cameras, computer modelling techniques and other methods to chart the construction of One World Trade Center.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Cove wins Critics' Choice Awards

The Cove might have become the front runner for the Oscars after winning multiple honors this past weekend at the Critics' Choice Awards and Cinema Eye Awards. Though awards for documentaries are less predictable than for nonfiction films, the Cove's sweep this past weekend is a huge boost to its chances for the Golden Statue.

Louie Psihoyos’ documentary won best the best documentary feature at the Critics' Choice Awards, beating out films like Anvil, Capitalism: A Love Story, Food Inc and Michael Jackson’s This Is It .

The Cove also won in three categories at the Cinema Eye Awards, including best film, production and cinematography. The Cinema Eye Awards focus entirely on nonfiction filmmaking.

Food Inc hasn't received the same recognition so far, but is still considered a strong contender for the Oscars, as well as Burma VJ, which won two honors at the Cinema Eye show this weekend. Will these recent awards mean anything to the Grand Daddy show (The Academy Awards), who knows? But it's worth debating.

Post your thoughts below and let people know how you feel!