PRODIGAL SONS and superlative filmmaking

Article: PRODIGAL SONS and superlative filmmaking

Kimberly Reed’s documentary PRODIGAL SONS expanded to a few cities over the weekend, one of which is my Athens-Ohio-Main-Street-USA theatre, the Athena. The winner of a number of recent festival awards (two with “bravery” in the titles), the film is a jaw-dropper, the kind of “you can’t write this!” content that only, and I mean only, exists in life. Stranger than fiction, indeed, and more tragic, more superlative: More more more.

Film Forum turns 40

Article: Film Forum turns 40

Bruce Weber’s 1988 LET’S GET LOST, one of 30 films in the Film Forum screening at MoMA. When Film Forum opened in 1970 in Manhattan’s Upper West Side it operated with one projector, 50 folding chairs and a $19,000 annual budget, but when Karen Cooper was hired on as director in 1972, things changed. Now,…

Sundance environmental films: the natural environment

Article: Sundance environmental films: the natural environment

They’re big! They’re ugly! And they might give you warts! They’re cane toads… in 3D! Mark Lewis’ CANE TOADS: THE CONQUEST, which premieres at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, isn’t your typical nature documentary. This follow-up to 1988′s CANE TOADS: AN UNNATURAL HISTORY portrays the “horror” of an invasive species with a heavy dose of comedy, but still provides a provocative illustration of the ecological damage a non-native “invader” can wreak. Imported to Australia in the 1930s to deal with pests decimating the Queensland sugar crop, cane toads represent “Australia’s most notorious environmental blunder”: they didn’t eat the Greyback Cane Beetles, but did multiply like crazy…

A Sundance Channel premiere: Rufus Wainwright's PRIMA DONNA

Article: A Sundance Channel premiere: Rufus Wainwright's PRIMA DONNA

During the last 12 years, Rufus Wainwright has established himself as one of music’s most mercurial talents, fearlessly challenging convention and famed for soaring melodies and haunting lyrics. While preparing his most ambitious project, a full-fledged opera entitled PRIMA DONNA, Wainwright and his famous family — father Loudon Wainwright III, mother Kate McGarrigle and sister…

A Sundance Channel Original Documentary : THE GLASS HOUSE

Article: A Sundance Channel Original Documentary : THE GLASS HOUSE

Documentarian Hamid Rahmanian lifts the veil on a segment of Iranian society with inspiring profiles of four independent women coping with poverty, repression and physical brutality. At Tehran’s unique Omid e Mehr rehabilitation center for women, Nazila, an aspiring rap singer; Samira, a 14-year-old with a drug addiction; and Mitra and Sussan, who have endured insults, beatings and rape at home, learn the importance of self-esteem, personal expression and tools to take control of their lives.

Mutant documentary: Intervention

Article: Mutant documentary: Intervention

The other night, not unlike Monday nights a-many in the past, I found myself glued to the television, sucked in by a vortex commonly known as Intervention, the television series. Have you watched it? It’s a show about addiction. Beware, you’re liable to become addicted. (And I don’t feel very good about my problem, either, and I think I need help. Where’s my TV show for that?) Watching, I couldn’t help but think about a few colleagues I know in the NY documentary community who’ve begun to direct Intervention. Is this, could this be, is it anything near … documentary?

Well, documentary is a slippery term, as you know, already. Many filmmakers prefer “non fiction film.” Or just plain and simple, “movies.” The Intervention folk wouldn’t dare – they call their thing … a television series. A reality television series.

Urban environment: Timothy Beatley's THE NATURE OF CITIES

Article: Urban environment: Timothy Beatley's THE NATURE OF CITIES

If you’re an urbanite, you likely think of nature as something that exists outside of the city limits. That thinking is prevalent, and may contribute to the growth of nature deficit disorder among our kids… and ourselves. “Nature,” however, is all around us, and city government officials, planners, and community advocates are realizing that actively incorporating green spaces into urban settings makes for more livable environments (remember the High Line?).

A Sundance Channel Original Documentary : EVENTUAL SALVATION

Article: A Sundance Channel Original Documentary : EVENTUAL SALVATION

Founded in 1847 as a home for former African-American slaves, the West African nation of Liberia has welcomed generations of expatriate Americans fleeing racism. One such immigrant was Earnestine “Amma” Smith, who settled in the capital, Monrovia, in 1958. An educator and landowner, Amma fled her new home during the recent deadly civil wars.

Blitz the Ambassador

Article: Blitz the Ambassador

I’ve been watching on repeat lately the music video for Brooklyn rapper Blitz the Ambassador’s single “Breathe” from his new album Stereotype, an iTunes Hip-Hop top ten chart (without label support! Dang, someone sign him UP! ). Before moving to the States for college at Kent State University, Blitz’s musical style was strongly informed and influenced by his experience growing up in Ghana surrounded by the sounds of Afro-Beat and Highlife, as well as playing djembe in drum circles. Speaking of style, if “Breathe” is any indication, he’s got that and then some. The music video and the sound, backed by his band Embassy Ensemble, is brimming with head-nodding, shoulder-shaking, foot-tapping energy.

Blitz recently composed the original score to the PBS documentary, BRONX PRINCESS, which chronicles a Bronx-bred teenager, Rocky Otoo’s journey from New York City to Ghana to reunite with her chief father.

A CHEMICAL REACTION comes to the film festival circuit

Article: A CHEMICAL REACTION comes to the film festival circuit

When dermatologist June Irwin first stood up in 1985 to speak at a Hudson, Quebec, town council meeting about the potential link between synthetic lawn pesticide and herbicide use and human and animal illnesses, she was written off as a flake. Irwin persisted, though, attending “every single town meeting in Hudson for six consecutive years…

Everyone forever now

Article: Everyone forever now

“Everyone Forever Now” is an “episodic motion-based media project” that “is an examination of the collective wisdom and expression of human actions.” Creators Will Hoffman & Daniel Mercadante attempt to document and capture the mundane experiences of everyday like suntanning to the provocative such as shooting a gun. I particularly enjoyed their effort to document…


Article: Michael Moore's CAPITALISM: A LOVE STORY

Populist director Michael Moore takes a stab at the fat cats of Wall Street in his latest film CAPITALISM: A LOVE STORY, a documentary about the financial crisis of 2007-2009 and the subsequent stimulus and bailout packages. CAPITALISM echoes similar themes from a 2003 Canadian documentary THE CORPORATION, a critical examination of the modern-day corporation and its behavior towards society.

Documentary vs. fiction … and how to use an inverted tool

Article: Documentary vs. fiction … and how to use an inverted tool

I went to see Marshall Curry’s new documentary, RACING DREAMS, last week. It’s an engaging, intimate film that follows three adolescent kids through one year of Extreme Go-Kart Racing competitions – a sort of warm-up little league to the big time of NASCAR. Annabeth Barnes of Hiddenite, North Carolina, pictured below with her dad, is one of the film’s charming stars. In one pivotal year, we witness her move away from childhood and toward the precipice of adulthood, a subtle and moving transformation.

The two other protagonists, Josh and Brandon, have significant dramatic arcs as well. As I was watching, I couldn’t help but think about the old reliable adage about doc versus fiction storytelling: while fiction film must strive for an organic, complicated reality that allows the audience to ‘buy’ the authenticity of the imagined world, the documentary must strive for an heightened, almost simplified sense of the purely dramatic. Archetypes embraced!

Bruce Weber: Gone Fishing online exhibition

Article: Bruce Weber: Gone Fishing online exhibition

Last night Sundance Channel launched the first online exhibition from acclaimed filmmaker and photographer Bruce Weber entitled GONE FISHING – A LITTLE JOURNEY IN MY BACKYARD. The exhibition includes more than 70 photos, video from many of his films, and a wealth of information on Weber himself. You can even watch his short film YOU…

Movie review in rock poster format

Article: Movie review in rock poster format

For Iranian-born Canadian Eileen Yaghoobian’s documentary DIED YOUNG, STAYED PRETTY about the “underground poster culture” that “examines the creative spirit that drives these indie graphic artists,” cartoonist and writer Ward Sutton illustrates his review in a poster format for the Village Voice. [Via]

Food, Inc.: A gut-wrenching revelation of what's really on your plate

Article: Food, Inc.: A gut-wrenching revelation of what's really on your plate

E. coli? Obesity? Illegal immigration? Hardly a day goes by, it seems, when one of these issues doesn’t appear somewhere in the news. The new documentary film Food Inc. does something that few in the mainstream media have tried with these issues: it demonstrates how they’re all connected to our food system, and the mass production methods that now dominate food processing in the United States.

Destroying Africa, One Helping Hand at a Time

Article: Destroying Africa, One Helping Hand at a Time

Sundance Channel is proud of one of our alumni!

Former Production Assistant Landon Van Soest left us several years ago when he received a Fulbright Scholarship to Kenya. While on his Fulbright and in the ensuing few years Landon and his filmmaking partner Jeremy Levine followed several people whose lives were gravely changed by two “poverty alleviation” projects funded by the UN and an American philanthropist.

We’re very proud to announce that Landon and Jeremy’s film GOOD FORTUNE is having its New York premiere next week at the prestigious and always politically impactful Human Right Watch International Film Festival.

Art addicts: Herb and Dorothy Vogel

Article: Art addicts: Herb and Dorothy Vogel

When Herb and Dorothy first began to actively, one might say exhaustively or compulsively, collect art it had to meet the following two criteria:

1. It must be affordable.
2. It must fit into their small Manhattan apartment.

As curators mourn declining sales, the Vogels are inspiration to anyone who loves art and is not a privileged, cynical snoot. Learn more about them…

Trailer: What would you do to reverse the aging process?

Article: Trailer: What would you do to reverse the aging process?

In YOUTH KNOWS NO PAIN, her upcoming semiautobiographical documentary, my friend Mitch McCabe takes a funny and highly personal look at the anti-aging industry. The film is populated by a number of odd, obsessive characters, including a plastic-surgery-obsessed housewife from Texas and guy in late middle age who, with the help of scalpels and a…

Dark secrets in public: opening up to Lynch

Article: Dark secrets in public: opening up to Lynch

David Lynch presents INTERVIEW PROJECT on his website on June 1, featuring short interviews with hundreds of people — the result of a 20,000 mile road trip over seventy days across the United States. “The people told their story,” Lynch says in his video introduction, “It’s a chance to meet [them] … it’s human … and you can’t stay away from it.” Read SUNfiltered’s earlier post on this project if you missed it, and click the link below for more video and commentary.

David Lynch’s INTERVIEW PROJECT: the inner life of small towns

Article: David Lynch’s INTERVIEW PROJECT: the inner life of small towns

David Lynch has a penchant for small cities and towns and the people in them, and he has set a lot of his films in such places. Towns like Deer Meadow (from TWIN PEAKS, not to mention Twin Peaks itself), Lumberton (BLUE VELVET) and Laurens (THE STRAIGHT STORY) come to mind. His bios seem to always remind us that he grew up in Missoula, Montana and was an Eagle Scout. So… in what seems like an ode to this world, David Lynch has embarked on INTERVIEW PROJECT with filmmaker team Austin Lynch (his son) and Jason S. This 121 part documentary series premieres on his website on June 1st and will continue unleashing its short (3-5 min.) episodes for a year, each episode featuring a person from a new place in the country. What exactly is INTERVIEW PROJECT? Watch David Lynch explain this “20,000 mile road trip” here….

The longest film you've ever seen

Article: The longest film you've ever seen

This is a weekly column written by Annie Howell and Lisa Robinson, two filmmakers and film professors who are wondering where modern storytelling is heading.

What’s the shortest film you’ve seen that’s been satisfying as a story?

In turn, what’s the longest screen story experience you’ve ever sustained?

I’m flashing back to my long long movie-going experiences … a five hour documentary on Cassavetes, A CONSTANT FORGE—THE LIFE AND ART OF JOHN CASSAVETES, dir. Charles Kiselyak, at SXSW in 2001. (After the movie, my husband Michael and I bonded with the five other people in the theatre, including Blaine Thurier of The New Pornographers, a Cassavetes fan and the winner of that year’s Best Narrative Feature for his film, LOW SELF-ESTEEM GIRL.)

The work of Hungarian director Béla Tarr. (Okay, that wasn’t me that endured the 7.5 hour SATAN’S TANGO, it was Michael again, and he stayed for the whole thing at Brooklyn Academy of Music — even after Gus Van Sant left.)

What's the Matter With Kansas is now a film

Article: What's the Matter With Kansas is now a film

Thomas Frank’s What’s the Matter With Kansas was one of the smartest and most provocative books to appear during the George W. Bush presidency. Kansas, the author’s home state, tended to vote Democratic until a few decades ago, when Republican strategists started figuring out how to exploit social issues for electoral gain. According to Frank,…

OBJECTIFIED: exploring our manufactured environment

Article: OBJECTIFIED: exploring our manufactured environment

Gary Hustwit’s first film, the smart 2007 documentary HELVETICA explored the 50-year history of that iconic typeface and the countless ways it’s shaped Western visual culture. To the joy of design nerds everywhere, Hustwit’s second film, OBJECTIFIED, is starting to make the rounds of film festivals, and it will be released later this year. OBJECTIFIED…

Tibet In Song

Article: Tibet In Song

He was at Middlebury College, on a Fulbright scholarship, studying music and video production. In class he’d seen films about the musical traditions of many countries but never one about his own home, Tibet.