documentary

Get your Sundance premieres right here: From Spike Lee to Bruce Willis and Lizzie Olsen to Ice-T

Get your Sundance premieres right here: From Spike Lee to Bruce Willis and Lizzie Olsen to Ice-T

Sundance Institute announced today the films selected to screen in the out-of-competition Premieres and Documentary Premieres sections of the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. The Festival will be held January 19 through 29 in Park City, Salt Lake City, Ogden and Sundance, Utah. The complete list of films is available at www.sundance.org/festival.

BAG IT: when plastics get personal

BAG IT: when plastics get personal

Bag It Intro from Suzan Beraza on Vimeo.

After watching the trailer above, you may well have already characterized BAG IT as another activist documentary that does that Micheal Moore thing of setting an “everyman” out on a journey of exploration, learning and that final “ah ha” moment. And to some degree, you’d be right. Jeb Berrier (the face of the film) describes himself as an “average American,” one who doesn’t give a lot of thought to the impact of his consumption choices. You may think “Okay, I know where this is going,” and again, you’d be half right.

While director Suzan Beraza does follow in Berrier’s footsteps much like a Moore or a Morgan Spurlock follow in their own, she allows room for the journey to take whatever twists and turns come up…

BUNDLED, BURIED & BEHIND CLOSED DOORS: short doc about the physical landscape of the Internet

BUNDLED, BURIED & BEHIND CLOSED DOORS: short doc about the physical landscape of the Internet

Bundled, Buried & Behind Closed Doors from Ben Mendelsohn on Vimeo.

I guess Senator Ted Stevens really was onto something when he described the Internet as a series of tubes. Ben Mendelsohn created this masterful short documentary, BUNDLED, BURIED & BEHIND CLOSED DOORS, that pulls back the curtains to give us a fascinating look at the actual, physical infrastructure of the digital “cloud” that we increasingly inhabit (and which permits the existence of lolcats). “He takes us inside 60 Hudson Street in New York City, a nondescript building that houses one of the major nodes of the Internet on the east coast.” I’ve walked by this building many times throughout my eight years in NYC (Can I call myself a New Yorker yet?) – probably even while writing a tweet – but without realizing I was passing the main hub that makes this whole Twitter thing possible.

Gandhi's KUMARE and other documentary tricks

Gandhi's KUMARE and other documentary tricks

On the heels of CATFISH and I’M NOT THERE comes Vikram Gandhi’s KUMARÉ, the SXSW Audience Award winner that should be showing up in theatres sometime this Spring. The director calls it “compassionate rule-breaking,” and his exploration of spirituality definitely breaks the rule of disclosure. A dozen or so people are hoodwinked into becoming spiritual disciples of someone they believe to be an Indian guru, but who’s really just a 30-something Columbia grad in India making his first film – that, and he happens to be named Gandhi.

Weekly movie trailer roundup: Harry Potter's not over yet

Weekly movie trailer roundup: Harry Potter's not over yet

Because the books are so beloved, the movies so successful and the fans still reeling in post-Potter malaise, Warner Bros. is releasing one final (and this is really it guys, for real, I swear) look back with the real behind-the-scenes story, the true making-of, the 48-minute documentary only available on the DVD purchased at Target, WHEN HARRY LEFT HOGWARTS.

THE RHYTHM OF RUTLEDGE: a tiny town attracts big thinkers

THE RHYTHM OF RUTLEDGE: a tiny town attracts big thinkers

You can certainly be forgiven if you’ve never heard of Rutledge, Missouri. The Mennonite town of about a hundred people is miles from anything resembling a major highway, and surrounded by thousands of acres of farmland in Northeastern Missouri (though it’s kind of famous for its flea market, I hear). Despite being tucked away in a pretty conservative part of the state, you might call Rutledge the hub of a (relatively) quiet revolution: three alternative communities, all with an ecological bent, have been founded (and are running just fine) within 1-2 miles of the town in the last 40 years…

Remembering activist Wangari Maathai through film

Remembering activist Wangari Maathai through film

It’s been a tough couple of months for heroes of the environmental and sustainability movements. Sustainable business pioneer Ray Anderson passed away from cancer in August, and now Wangari Maathai, Kenyan Nobel peace prize laureate and founder of the Green Belt Movement has also lost her own battle with the disease. Described as “a force of nature” by the executive director of the United Nations’ environmental program, Maathai recognized connections between environmental degradation, poverty and women’s rights in her home country, and she aimed to address all of these issues through one of the simplest of acts: planting trees.

How to improve documentaries – here's the truth

How to improve documentaries – here's the truth

Audiences have become obsessed with filmed tellings of the truth, even if they’re not always all that truthful, but there are some familiar traps documentaries fall into that remove luster from the genre and threaten to make them more like schlockumentaries.

To avoid these pitfalls in the future, I propose the following doc-ing guidelines:

A UFO "Welcome Center" in South Carolina

A UFO "Welcome Center" in South Carolina

Hopeful cloud-gazers will love the strange new documentary by Michael and Morgan Livingston, WELCOME TO PLANET EARTH. The film, which clocks in just under ten minutes, tells the peculiar tale of Jody Pendarvis, a self-proclaimed “alien ambassador” who maintains an enormous UFO Welcome Center on his front lawn in Bowman, South Carolina. Pendarvis clarifies his mission to the crew during the film’s opening shots, in case they’d somehow missed the giant, wooden spaceship behind them. “I welcome people from other planets – not this one, k?”

The rest of the film follows Pendarvis through a tour of his spaceship, from the Command Center – an amalgam of plastic lawn chairs, christmas lights and old TV monitors – to the Lookout, a circular room on the top level with a porthole window in the ceiling. “This used to be a bedroom, where the aliens could come and stay and sleep,” Pendarvis explains. “This is an air bed so they can just blow it up and be comfortable.”

5 reasons why WHO KILLED THE ELECTRIC CAR? still matters

5 reasons why WHO KILLED THE ELECTRIC CAR? still matters

If you’ve taken a look at the schedule for The Green programming this month (and the rest of what’s on Sundance Channel this week), this Sunday’s showing of WHO KILLED THE ELECTRIC CAR? may have caught your attention – and even had you scratching your head a bit. After all, aren’t electrified vehicles now alive and well? The Nissan LEAF (a fully electric car) and the Chevy Volt (a plug-in hybrid with a 40 mile all-electric range) are getting lots of attention, and boutique automakers like Tesla are still plugging away (so to speak). Gearheads are converting their own cars to electricity and even offering the service to others. And director Chris Paine’s next film is called REVENGE OF THE ELECTRIC CAR. Doesn’t all of this prove that this five-year-old documentary is already dated?

Best of Kickstarter, 9/12: THE HAPPY FILM

Best of Kickstarter, 9/12: THE HAPPY FILM

We’re starting off the week with a new Kickstarter projects so good we’re not including any others. What am I talking about, you ask? What’s this Best of Kickstarter thing we’ve been blogging about every Monday? Well, it seems like everyone is pitching their idea to Kickstarter. We think that’s great, but with great power comes great responsibility, and while the 23-person Kickstarter team does their best to filter out the winning projects from the thousands and thousands of proposals they receive, there are still hundreds of thousands of new projects that launch each week. That’s a lot of ways to spend your hard-earned five bucks. Too many ways, actually. How can one person sort through it all? Relax, we’ll do it all for you.
Okay, so remember when I told you about Stefan Sagmeister’s latest project, THE HAPPY FILM? Of course you do (just nod politely to validate me)! And remember when I said you should contribute, so you went to the website and looked around all confused because you couldn’t find the ‘donate now’ button? Well, live in confusion no longer, my friend. The happy dudes behind THE HAPPY FILM have now made it really easy for us to help them fund their movie by making it an official Kickstarter project.

Weekly movie trailer roundup: SHUT UP LITTLE MAN and OUR IDIOT BROTHER

Weekly movie trailer roundup: SHUT UP LITTLE MAN and OUR IDIOT BROTHER

With today’s release of SHUT UP, LITTLE MAN and OUR IDIOT BROTHER, it’s officially a Sundance festival weekend! Regardless of my obvious affiliation and personal bias, I’m pretty darn excited for these two, so excited, in fact, that I actually used an exclamation mark to express myself (I never do that). I didn’t go to the festival last January and aside from these two trailers, not a teaser or clip have I seen.

Snoozing through the most exciting food in the world in EL BULLI: COOKING IN PROGRESS

Snoozing through the most exciting food in the world in EL BULLI: COOKING IN PROGRESS

In a lecture given by El Bulli’s Ferran AdriĂ  to his new crop of fledgling cooks, he tells them at the food at El Bulli is less about taste and more about concept. When it comes to avant garde cooking, AdriĂ  is the leader of the pack. Until he shut down his restaurant this July, he would regularly close it for half the year to conduct experiments with his core team in Barcelona, and the reopen six months later it to diners who gladly shelled out $500 for one of AdriĂ ’s epic 35-course meals.

A Surge In Serge Gainsbourg’s legend

A Surge In Serge Gainsbourg’s legend

Except for the time Meryl Streep played a rabbi, the coolest man with an accent on screen, as of next week, will be Serge Gainsbourg. The French composer of hypnotic jazz-pop in the 1960s is the subject of GAINSBOURG: A HEROIC LIFE, in which Eric Elmosnino plays the guy complete with all his quirks and multitalents.

Joyce McKinney: the psychopath beauty queen in Errol Morris' TABLOID

Joyce McKinney: the psychopath beauty queen in Errol Morris' TABLOID

In 1977 Joyce McKinney, a Miss Wyoming beauty queen, flew to England, kidnapped her former boyfriend, Kirk Anderson – a Mormon missionary – and drove him to a cottage where she tied him to the bed and raped him repeatedly in an attempt to become pregnant. According to McKinney, however, Kirk left with her willingly and the two proceeded to have the best weekend of their lives. She didn’t get pregnant either way, a failing she attributes to the evil Mormon brainwashing that made Anderson impotent. If you don’t know what I’m talking about then you haven’t seen TABLOID, the latest from veteran documentary filmmaker Errol Morris (FOG OF WAR, THE THIN BLUE LINE). Extensive interviews with the very camera un-shy McKinney, as well as with the tabloid reporters who followed the case, a young ex-Mormon and even a Korean dog cloner, make this hands down the most entertaining documentary I’ve seen all year. And since Anderson refused to be interviewed (no surprise there), you’re naturally left puzzling over what really happened long after.

Ray Anderson on film

Ray Anderson on film

Last week, sustainable business pioneer (and a personal hero of mine) Ray Anderson lost his battle with cancer. Founder and longtime CEO of Interface, Ray was a pioneer from the outset. A commercial flooring company, Interface brought the carpet square to the United States. At age sixty, after nearly two decades of success, Ray could’ve retired to a house on the golf course and lived out his golden years in luxury. Instead, after reading Paul Hawken’s “The Ecology of Commerce,” this established businessman had an epiphany (or, as he liked to call it, a “spear in the chest” moment): he had found success and made his fortune by plundering the Earth’s resources. Ray committed himself and his company to big, hairy, audacious goals concerning their environmental impact, and made amazing strides in an industry that’s traditionally been very resource and energy intensive.

Cindy Meehl's BUCK

Cindy Meehl's BUCK

Cindy Meehl’s BUCK is a horseman’s story. A character portrait featuring trainer Buck Brannaman – probably one of the best looking modern cowboys you’ll ever see (never mind his beautiful wife and daughter), BUCK is a story of self-realization. This coming-of-self angle may be why the film has been winning awards all over the place and crossing over to audiences who don’t give a lick about horses. That’s me, really (a rider I am not), but I have to say I wasn’t as charmed as I wanted to be. I took my son and had to explain beforehand that much of the movie was going to concern the fact that Buck had been mentally and physically abused by his alcoholic father. (“What’s abuse?” asked my son. When I told him some children are beaten he looked at me earnestly and said, “You and daddy don’t do that.”) Buck’s journey from foster child to world-class horse whisperer who revolutionized the way horses are trained is definitely interesting, but this is a case of slight overhype. “Much of the movie – too much of it – is just Buck in the corral, riding, working with ropes and flags, conditioning a horse to behave,” says Orlando Sentinal critic Roger Moore.

The Perennials Project: building bridges in a shifting world

The Perennials Project: building bridges in a shifting world

Those of us in the green space may tend to equate the term “sustainable community” with practices like the growth of neighborhood farmers markets, the integration of renewables into a town or city’s energy mix or the presence of innovative green businesses. Behind all of these practices, of course, are people committed not only to a more environmentally benign way of life, but also to the viability of their communities.

An eclectic group of young creatives has redefined the word “perennials” to describe the people at the forefront of creating healthier, more livable communities. The Perennials Project will explore these people who, according to the project’s website, are “working toward a sustainable future by bridging divides.”

THE HAPPY FILM, support the new doc by Stefan Sagmeister

THE HAPPY FILM, support the new doc by Stefan Sagmeister

Watch the smile-inducing trailer.
What does it mean to be happy? How do we measure it? Is happiness like a muscle we can flex at will, and if so, “is it possible to train our mind in the same way we train our bodies?”

A short while ago, artist and designer Stefan Sagmeister decided to put these questions to the test with a three-part practice involving meditation, cognitive behavioral therapy and prescription drugs – and make a documentary about his experience called THE HAPPY FILM. Through experiments and explorations (“from the sublime to the ridiculous”) loosely based on his pivotal book “Things I Have Learned in My Life So Far,” Stefan will test “once and for all if it’s possible for a person to have a meaningful impact on their own happiness.”

VOICES OF THE TRANSITION: the transition movement comes to film

VOICES OF THE TRANSITION: the transition movement comes to film

Voices of the Transition – english Trailer from les jardins on Vimeo.


Feeling paralyzed by news of environmental challenges like climate change, water shortages, and biodiversity loss? Fed up with political inaction and posturing on these issues? Groups of people around the world have decided to take matters into their own hands, and the transition movement represents efforts to by towns, villages, and even countries to adapt to changing environmental circumstances, to lighten their impact, and to even create more meaningful ways of life.

IF A TREE FALLS: THE EARTH LIBERATION FRONT

IF A TREE FALLS: THE EARTH LIBERATION FRONT

The term eco is thrown around a lot these days, preceding a mind-numbingly long stream of words like -friendly, -chic, -tourism, and the ubiquitous -tote. But rarely do we hear it in conjunction with terrorism, as in eco-terrorism, the subject of Sam Cullman and Marshall Cury’s documentary IF A TREE FALLS, which won the U.S. Documentary Editing Award at Sundance this year.

THE LAST MOUNTAIN: one community's fight against mountaintop removal

THE LAST MOUNTAIN: one community's fight against mountaintop removal


When did you first hear the term “fracking,” the shorthand for hydraulic fracturing, a decades-old natural gas extraction technique that’s come under scrutiny from both activists and governments alike? It was probably around the time of the release of Josh Fox’s GASLAND (which won a Special Jury Prize at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival). No doubt that director Bill Haney and the producers of THE LAST MOUNTAIN (an official selection at Sundance this year) hope their activist documentary will bring similar attention to the practice of mountaintop removal by coal mining companies… another extraction method that’s been in use for years, and received a ton of attention within environmental and activist circles, but that hasn’t hit a tipping point in terms of general awareness of the damage it does to Appalachian communities in West Virginia and Eastern Kentucky (as well as watersheds that feed huge portions of the Eastern US).

Robyn Documentary

Robyn Documentary

Robyn, the prolific and innovative Swedish pop singer, is the subject of a new hour-long documentary. It’s a fascinating glimpse into the life and professional evolution of a child star to an iconic force. It is in four parts – click through to the next part after each part ends.

THE BICYCLE CITY: how two wheels empowered a community

THE BICYCLE CITY: how two wheels empowered a community

The Bicycle City. Trailer from Greg Sucharew on Vimeo.


Here in the US, bicycles generally fall into the category of “alternative transportation”… meaning an alternative to a car. Bikes are also alternatives in Rivas, Nicaragua… but, in their case, it’s an alternative to walking. Decades of war and political strife in the Central American country have left basic infrastructure and economic opportunities in ruin; in Rivas, providing citizens with bikes — about 20,000 over twenty years — has allowed them to create opportunities for themselves uncommon in many parts of the developing world.

The documentary THE BICYCLE CITY focuses on the role these bicycles have played in reinvigorating this coastal town. Currently in post-production, director Greg Sucharew’s film tells the story of how non-profit Pedals for Progress brought all those bikes (generally used ones from the US) to Rivas… and how they’re changed the socio-economic outlook for its residents.

Ventriloquy gets a hand in new doc

Ventriloquy gets a hand in new doc

Mel Gibson in The Beaver isn’t the only dysfunctional person with his hand up a puppet these days. The new documentary Dumbstruck has five of them—and they’re all rather likable despite the way they tend to mess up their human relations in favor of bonding with the playthings that have become their lifeline and livelihood.

The ventriloquists are extremely varied—from entry level to hugely successful—but they all seem to follow a certain pattern: they have all had loneliness issues. They find comfort in their puppets, even if they have constant one-upmanship debates with them. And they usually have to deal with disapproval from relatives who’d way prefer that they settle down with actual humans.