“Life in a Day” Trailer

See the new trailer, from distributor National Geographic, of the film that surprised me most at Sundance: “Life in a Day.” Who knew that a crowdsourced documentary produced by Ridley Scott and brought to you by YouTube could be so meaningful and spellbinding? I guess I should stop doubting director (curator) Kevin Macdonald.

From my review at Cinematical:

Initially it’s easy to compare the film to Godfrey Reggio’s ‘Qatsi’ trilogy (especially the first, ‘Koyaanisqatsi’), and I’ve already dubbed this ‘YouTubisqatsi,’ given the partnership with the video-uploading site. Technically it’s the latest documentary classifiable as crowd-source or user-generated cinema (like last year’s election day documentary ’11-4-08′), yet this ultimately feels more like a single person’s vision than a collaborative effort. The many “filmmakers” involved are really just multiple second-unit camerapersons who’ve captured shots and sequences for Macdonald to fit into his own subjective view of humanity, as consistent or diverse as it may seem through the eyes and actions of different individuals.

Watch after the jump.

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Watch Tim Hetherington’s Short Documentaries “Diary” and “Sleeping Soldiers”

It’s extremely upsetting to hear about the death of Tim Hetherington, photojournalist and co-director of the Oscar-nominated “Restrepo,” as well as cinematographer for “The Devil Came on Horseback.” It was made known via a fellow journalist’s Facebook page that Hetherington and photographer Chris Hondros were killed while covering the conflict in Libya and has since been confirmed.

“Restrepo” was one of the best documentaries of 2010 and its embedded-journalism format certainly shows the kind of danger Hetherington would put himself in for the sake of great cinema and journalism. His bravery was to our benefit and his death is a great loss in that regard, as well as with the obvious and direct tragedy of the situation.

Let’s remember him through his work. First, here’s a short, personal film he made last year about what he does and why he does it, titled “Diary”:

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Review: “Scenes of a Crime”

Though I was unable to attend the 2011 Full Frame Documentary Festival this week as planned, partly due to my accreditation being through Cinematical/Moviefone, for which I no longer work, I was able to see this one selection from the program and so am reviewing it as a single piece of Full Frame coverage.

We’ve all seen enough cop shows and legal dramas to have in our head an idea of what police interrogations look like. But those fictions aren’t anything like the reality presented in Blue Hadaegh and Grover Babcock’s “Scenes of a Crime.” The documentary involves a case of possible infanticide in which two detectives interview a man for ten hours regarding the death of his four-month-old son. Along with excerpts from the video footage of that lengthy examination, the film also presents parts of an interrogation training video and testimonials from the policemen about how they conducted the proceedings and lawyers and expert witnesses commenting on those proceedings. Did the men force a confession out of an innocent person? If so, does such injustice happen often? Those are the main questions the doc asks, and as with other works of its kind it will frustrate, infuriate and/or provoke a lot of discussion.

It takes a lot more than raising familiar doubts about police and judicial practices, however, to make a good documentary. Hadaegh and Babcock (“A Certain Kind of Death”) also construct the story of their film’s case similar to the best of them. While it doesn’t have all the strengths of masterpieces like “The Thin Blue Line” or “The Staircase,” mostly because the case itself isn’t as deep, “Scenes of a Crime” guides us through a narrative in an engaging way, the sort of manner in which developments are revealed to us late in the film that make us, as they did the investigators, rethink what might have happened. I don’t want to call a film like this “edge-of-your-seat entertainment,” of course, but it does what any good court drama or doc does in that it keeps us enough in the dark that we can’t wait to find out the outcome of the trial. Even if we have an expectation, probably one born out of cynicism, what the verdict will be.

To read the rest of this review, head over to Spout.com

Review: “Gun Fight”

There are a few great debates in this country that may never be settled. Abortion is one. First Amendment exceptions is another. The argument over the right to bear arms, though, is one that can’t even have that “may” in there. No kind of evidence, imaginable or unimaginable, is going to come out of nowhere and prove that guns should be permitted, controlled or banned. It’s just always going to be a balance of beliefs and opinion. That doesn’t mean the topic shouldn’t continue to be debated for eternity, and I certainly welcome any documentary that wants to take either side strongly. Unfortunately, there’s this misconception lately that non-fiction films have to be “objective” and include all points of view. It’s a misconception that makes Barbara Kopple’s latest, “Gun Fight,” a major disappointment.

The film, which premiered this week on HBO, has a fairly clear allegiance to the gun control position based on who it follows most predominantly: Virginia Tech victim turned lobbyist Colin Goddard (who also is the focus of Kevin Breslin’s recent Sundance entry, “Living for 32”) and a doctor who’s seen enough bullet wounds in the ER that he’s become an advocate on the issue. These subjects are not characters so much as props on a cluttered stage without a play or purpose. “Gun Fight” simply catches viewers up on issues concerning the Second Amendment, especially since the VT massacre four years ago but also referencing Columbine a lot and, tacked on at the end, an acknowledgment of January’s shooting in Tucson.

To read the rest of this review, head over to Spout.com.

Another Unavailable Oscar-Nominated Doc: “The Race for Space”

One of these days I’m going to attempt to see as many available Oscar-nominated documentaries as possible. Today I noticed one of the many that could be difficult to find: David L. Wolper’s 1959 TV special “The Race for Space.” Wolper, who died last summer, is best known for producing “Roots” and “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” though he also had some hand in classic docs like “The Hellstrom Chronicle” (an Oscar winner), “Four Days in November” (Oscar nominee) and “Imagine: John Lennon.”

“Race for Space,” which lost to the only other feature doc nominee of 1960 (“Serengeti”), was Wolper’s first of two directorial efforts (the other is a 1961 doc titled “Hollywood: The Golden Years”), and it’s sadly not available in any format I can find. I stumbled upon it while looking for films about Yuri Gagarin and the Soviet cosmonaut program since today is the 50th anniversary of the first manned space mission.

Wolper’s film came before Gagarin’s milestone, of course, but it featured exclusive footage from Russia of Sputnik and such. The point isn’t the film’s relevance to the anniversary, though; it’s that it needs to be made available for doc aficionados like myself.

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Who Wants to See Sidney Lumet’s Rare Oscar-Nominated MLK Documentary?

Sidney Lumet directed a whole lot of movies, but only one of them is a documentary. And sadly this Oscar-nominated feature, “King: A Filmed Record…Montgomery to Memphis,” has been unavailable in really any format accessible to most Americans for many years. The original cut features extensive archival footage of Martin Luther King, Jr., as well as onscreen readings of his speeches, by the likes of Harry Belafonte, Sidney Poitier, James Earl Jones, Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Ruby Dee, Bill Cosby, Walter Matthau, Burt Lancaster and Charlton Heston.

Co-directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, and selected by the Library of Congress for the National Film Registry in 1999, it is a film I haven’t yet seen. Few recently have, I guess, since it initially screened one day — March 24, 1970 — in its 185-minute entirety at more than 600 cinemas, later aired a few times on commercial TV and then was cut down to less than two hours for a VHS release (with all celebs but Belafonte removed). Apparently the 3-hour cut screened at NYC’s Museum of Modern Art earlier this year, and I’m very sad that I wasn’t aware of the event.

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“Armadillo” Trailer: A Quiet Preview of One of the Year’s Best Films

This is an exciting month for documentary, especially for anyone impressed by the programming of last fall’s debut of the DOC NYC film festival (for which I served on a jury and so couldn’t talk about many of the selections at that time). April brings the official theatrical releases of a few of that event’s competition and non-competition works, such as the brilliant “Kati With an I,” which opens in Harlem this Friday. Later comes Werner Herzog’s 3D masterpiece “Cave of Forgotten Dreams” (April 29) and next week sees the debut of “Armadillo,” a film that’s comparable to Oscar nominee “Restrepo,” but I think it’s even more outstanding. And given that I named “Restrepo” the second best doc of 2010, you can be sure “Armadillo” is high on my 2011 list. (Also look out for DOC NYC winner “Windfall” at this month’s Full Frame doc fest in North Carolina next weekend, and keep an eye out early in May for DOC NYC fest selection “Make Believe.”)

So a beautiful trailer for “Armadillo” showed up online recently and now’s as good a time to look at it, a week in a half before you really truly must go see the film. I don’t care if you don’t want to see another embedded doc about soldiers fighting in Afghanistan. I don’t care if you hate war movies or documentaries altogether. You won’t think of what kind of movie it is while watching. You’ll be far too engaged with all the drama, action and controversial, ethical concerns laid out on the screen. Maybe, like me, you will have fun trying to figure out where and how all the cameras are in any given setup (some are attached to helmets, giving us incredible access to the fighting). After watching this trailer, I can’t wait to see it again. Check it out after the jump.

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