Friday, March 26, 2010

Doc News Round Up

So this week's theatrical releases were quite few in number (only one?!?) so I felt the need to give you all a quick look at what's going on in the documentary world.

First up, for you political junkies Sarah Palin will star in a new eight part documentary series about Alaska. The bright and shining face of the state (was that Emory student who died in the wood's the previous face of Alaska?) has been shopping the project around to major networks before Discovery Communications (owns the Discovery Channel, TLC, etc) bought the rights. According to Peter Liguori, Discovery’s chief operating officer, the series (titled Sarah Palin’s Alaska) promises to "reveal Alaska’s powerful beauty as it has never been filmed, and as told by one of the state’s proudest daughters."

In a totally different news direction, HBO's Hard Knocks NFL training camp documentary has selected the New York Jets for its five-week series. It will be the fourth consecutive season Hard Knocks has profiled a team during training camp: the Chiefs (2007), Cowboys (2008) and Bengals (2009) were previously showcased. If you're a Jets fan or just interested in what running a lot in the hot sun looks like, tune into HBO in August.

In the "receiving positive buzz from local reviews" showcase, Sweetgrass (directed by Ilisa Barbash and Lucien Castaing-Taylor) appears to be garnering quite the praise from critics. Personally, this is a surprise considering it's a film about sheep herding in Montana and carries precisely zero narration, but clearly there's something enchantingly beautiful with this documentary. If you get a chance, be sure to check it out!

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

Dancing Across Borders – (33% rating) A new feature documentary which chronicles the intimate and triumphant story of Sokvannara Sar who was discovered by Anne Bass on a trip to Angkor Wat, Cambodia, in 2000 and brought to the ballet stage in America. A longtime patron of dance in the U.S., Bass arranged for Sy to visit New York and audition for the prestigious School of the American Ballet (SAB). What unfolds in Dancing Across Borders is a tentative negotiation between Sy and the world of American ballet and culture—from the serene countryside of Southeast Asia to the halls of SAB, to the stage of the Pacific Northwest Ballet in Seattle. The film follows Sy’s unusual development as a dancer and offers a remarkable behind-the-scenes look into the world of American ballet. At its heart, Dancing Across Borders is an extraordinary story of growth, adaptation, and belonging as well as of the development of talent and the mastery of an art form.(

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Trailer: An Inconvenient Tax

So April 15th is near and as an American I'm struggling through my taxes to make sure I don't, you know, get thrown in jail for tax evasion. While taking a break I found a trailer for the upcoming documentary An Inconvenient Tax.

Now, I know what you're thinking, the Flat Tax people are at it again. But political documentaries are a chance for groups to argue their beliefs and as long as they do it coherently and (because I'm a child) entertainingly, I'm all for it. Plus, how often do you get to see both Noam Chomsky and Neal Boortz agree on something?

Admittedly, a film about the tax code sounds quite boring so it'll be interesting to see how director Christopher Marshall can pull it off. Then again, Marshall's previous documentary explored the phenomenon of PEZ collecting, so I'm gonna give him a shot. Plus, in a move of sheer marketing genius, An Inconvenient Tax will premier nationwide on April 15th- the day taxes are due (Note: I actually chuckled when I saw this).

Head on over to to see a trailer and learn more about the film. And don't be afraid to post your comments about the upcoming film below!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Hot Docs lineup announced!

Hot Docs, Canada's very own documentary film festival, is North America's largest documentary festival running for 11 days and presenting over 170 films. I hate to use the cliche "this is the Mecca..." for anything, but by golly this is the Mecca for documentary film lovers!

Now, I originally wanted to list every film screening at Hot Docs, but I figured most of you would lose interest about 25 summaries in (trust me, I would). Thankfully, the festival has a special category featuring the premier documentaries for this year (appropriately titled "Special Presentations"), so I'll just wet your appetite with this list and if you want to learn more, head to (Note: all summaries are from the Hot Docs website.)

Hot Docs runs from April 29 - May 9 in the fabulous city of Toronto. Tickets and passes are available so book now!

12th & Delaware - In Fort Pierce, Florida, a pro-life centre opens up directly across from an abortion clinic, igniting America’s most uncompromising war in unexpected ways. 12th & Delaware delivers unprecedented access to behind the frontlines and to the women caught in the crossfire.

And Everything Is Going Fine - Meticulously crafted entirely from archive footage, Oscar-winner Steven Soderbergh’s And Everything is Going Fine is a poignant final monologue for his long-time friend and collaborator, the late theatre artist and master storyteller Spalding Gray.

Babies - A visually stunning and joyful chronicle of the lives of four of the world’s newest human inhabitants - in Mongolia, Namibia, San Francisco, and Tokyo - from first breath to first steps, on a journey at once universal and amazingly original.

Bhutto - Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s remarkable life and last days are exquisitely unraveled in this epic biographic documentary. Featuring exclusive interviews with the Bhutto family, this riveting portrait is as bold as the controversial figure herself.

Budrus - Through peaceful protest and skillful leadership, one man heroically struggles for 10 months to protect his small Palestinian village from being arbitrarily divided by an Israeli-built barrier in this gripping and inspirational tale.

Casino Jack and the United States of Money - Oscar-winning director Alex Gibney delivers a powerful essay on the dysfunctional processes of the U.S. political system, told through the scandalous story of lobbyist-turned-convicted-fraudster Jack Abramoff.

Enemies of the People - On his 10-year journey to reveal the truth about the Cambodian genocide, journalist Thet Sambath attempts to come to terms with the loss of his family by befriending Pol Pot’s enigmatic lieutenant in this Sundance prize winner.

Farewell - Through stunning archival footage and intimate journal entries, Lady Grace Drummond-Hay’s exhilarating yet tumultuous journey around the world is recreated, revealing her experiences as the only female passenger on board the 1929 maiden voyage of the Graf Zeppelin.

Joan Rivers - A Piece Of Work - Can we talk? Joan Rivers may be the butt of as many jokes as she tells. Outrageously funny and brutally honest, like the raunchy comedienne herself, this all-access exposé peels back her nipped 'n tucked public mask with surprising results.

Kings of Pastry - Sixteen top chefs, three intense days, and one chance at France’s top pastry honour the Meilleur Ouvrier de France. Frosting flies as documentary legends D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus serve up this epic battle for sweet victory. Bon appétit!

Neighbors - Architecture, history, and a diverse cast of international characters star in this stunningly shot journey through the once-opulent homes and abandoned gardens of Cairo's bygone colonial elite, creating a powerful allegory of contemporary Egypt.

Nénette - A captivating study of an enigmatic animal and our relationship to her, Nénette asks us what we can learn from an orangutan, and what she can teach us about ourselves.

RUSH: Beyond The Lighted Stage - Canada's greatest rock band, the revered and iconic Rush, get the musical bio they deserve: a hard-driving, immensely engaging, heavy on the hits chronicle of the world's most popular cult band.

Secrets of the Tribe - Academic bickering has never been as luridly scandalous as between the anthropologists studying the Yanomami, an isolated tribe in the Amazon basin. Jaw-dropping ethical breaches leave generational scars on the world's last "pure" society.

Seltzer Works - In the early 1900s, thousands of seltzer deliverymen criss-crossed the nation, schlepping heavy glass bottles of fizzy water to millions of thirsty customers. The siphon machines at Gomberg Seltzer Works don’t turn like they used to, but third-generation seltzer filler Kenny Gomberg is fending off the supermarket seltzer takeover, honouring the simple drink’s place in history.

Space Tourists - This Sundance award winner deftly probes the new space race - space tourism - and all its ramifications for those on left on the ground as it follows an American woman’s $20-million trip aboard a Russian rocket.

Teenage Paparazzo - Who better to expose the world of the paparazzi and star-worship than a celebrity? Actor Adrian Grenier turns the camera onto 13-year-old shooter Austin Visschedyk, and stalks famous friends Alec Baldwin, Matt Damon and Paris Hilton.

The Kids Grow Up - Doug Block focuses his lens on his only child Lucy, now 17, as she leaves home for college in this tender, funny, and endearing exploration of the complexities of modern-day parenting and the hardship of letting go.

The Rainbow Warriors of Waiheke Island - A pioneering group of Greenpeace activists, the crew of the famous ship The Rainbow Warrior, form a community on Waiheke Island, New Zealand. Best described as a "rest home for burnt-out greenies", the friends revisit their legacy of protest.

Time’s Up - For Jan Peters and Marie-Catherine Theiler, looming deadlines, extended to-do lists, and buzzing cell phones form the pressure cooker that is their modern urban life. Upon news of Marie-Catherine’s pregnancy, the two decide it’s time to slow down. Time’s Up is their “experiment in time management.” Seeking out experts from physicists to yoga instructors, they examine with wit and irony the indefinable concept of time.

Waste Land - Already a multiple award winner on the fest circuit, Lucy Walker's transcendent doc follows artist Vik Muniz and his work with pickers of recyclable materials in Brazil’s Jardim Gramacho, the world's largest landfill site.

Monday, March 22, 2010

BBC/Discovery Channel's Life

A few years back the Discovery Channel and BBC teamed up to present one of the most visually impressive series on our planet ever witnessed. I don't need to go into detail about the amazing scope of Planet Earth, but I want you all to remember that great series.

Why? Because the two mega-giants of nature documentaries are at it again with their latest series titled Life. Call it a sequel, call it a a reexamining, heck call it a the second course in one of the best visual feasts ever created! Two of the 11 episodes aired Sunday night (at least here in the states) on the Discovery Channel, and will have one episode airing every Sunday night until April 18th (where they'll slam three episodes into one big nature night).

The series is narrated by Oprah Winfrey and appears to counter the Planet Earth series by dissecting our planet based on biology, not geography, and by providing a more intimate, ground level view of things.

If you have cable/satellite, I really shouldn't be twisting your arm to watch these, so I'm not gonna bother with you. To those of you who don't have cable (or satellite) you better have your system installed by the end of this week, because I haven't heard much chatter of this one hitting the online world anytime soon.