Doc Trailer: TIFF ’11 Entry “The Patron Saints”

Newly announced as part of the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival‘s ‘Canada First!’ program, “The Patron Saints” has just hit my radar and left me with an itch I really hope to scratch in a month, press accreditation provided. Directed by Brian M. Cassidy (best known as a co-director of “Fish Kill Flea”) and Melanie Shatzky (Cassidy’s collaborator on two prior short docs and an upcoming narrative starring Melissa Leo), the film has both a new teaser trailer and an old, shorter one, plus a clip uploaded to YouTube in early 2008, which may or may not still be footage in the finished work. I hope that it is.

Based on these glimpses I’m getting a vibe that it’s somewhere between Wiseman’s “Titicut Follies,” minus the abuse, and any one of the non-narrative eclectic docs out of Finland in recent years (“Steam of Life,” “Living Room of the Nation,” etc.). You can check out all three of those videos after the jump, but first an official synopsis:

THE PATRON SAINTS is a disquieting and hyperrealistic glimpse into life at a nursing home. Bound by the candid confessions of a recently disabled resident, the film weaves haunting images, scenes and stories from within the institution walls.

Sidestepping conventional documentary methods for a heightened cinematic approach to storytelling, filmmakers Brian M. Cassidy and Melanie Shatzky employ lyrical realism and black humor in this charged portrait of fading bodies and minds.

The black humor part has me wary — do they mean we are to laugh at these people? — and also all the more curious, for the same reason.

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Doc News: Ryan Reynolds, “Tabloid” Refuted, “The Life of Muhammad” Attacked

– The attention-hungry subject of Errol Morris’ “Tabloid,” Joyce McKinney, showed up at a Museum of Modern Art screening last week to refute the parts of her story the film allegedly gets wrong, according to Peter Labuza’s blog. She also claimed to be upset about everyone laughing at her expense, just as she had done at the infamous DOC NYC screening I attended last fall (see video of that one after the jump). I can’t say I disagree entirely that the film exploits and makes fun of its character a bit much, but she’s not exactly proving herself undeserving of scrutiny by hammily egging us all on like this. Little does she realize, I guess, is that in addition to her own personal agenda and attention-seeking, she’s also just making people more interested in the film. Hopefully she will regularly turn out for screenings (perhaps she could clone herself?) when IFC releases the doc July 15. [via IFC News]

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Doc News: “The Thin Blue Line”, R.J. Cutler, Cee Lo Green

– Last week Errol Morris tweeted the first major report of the passing of Randall Dale Adams, who had died of a brain tumor in October at age 61. Adams was one of the two main subjects of Morris’ classic “The Thin Blue Line,” he being the wrongfully imprisoned man who was exonerated in part by the film itself. He had spent 12 years behind bars for a Dallas police officer’s murder he didn’t commit. After his release he sued the filmmaker over the rights to his story, which seemed a bit like biting the hand that unlocks your prison cell, and after that he disappeared from limelight (Morris stopped talking to him after the legal matter) and apparently ended up in Ohio, in a city called Washington Court House, where he died. Since Morris’ tweet more lengthy reports and obituaries, such as this one in the NY Times, have gone out. One of the most famous documentary figures of all time, it’s sad to hear this news. If you’ve somehow never seen “Thin Blue Line,” it’s on Netflix Instant. In lieu of a decent clip from the film, check out a bit of Philip Glass’s score after the jump, specifically “Adams’ Theme.”

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Doc News: Herzog, New Academy Membership, Silverdocs, Ryan Dunn

– Werner Herzog‘s next documentary has been retitled from “Death Row” to “Gazing Into the Abyss: A Tale of Death, a Tale of Life” and has been picked up by ZDF Enterprises for worldwide TV rights and theatrical distribution outside the U.S. and UK. The filmmaker is quoted by Variety as describing the film as “a gaze into the abyss of the human soul,” though more literally it involves interviews with Texan death row inmates, including: “two men convicted of triple murder, another who killed his girlfriend and her two mentally retarded sons, and a woman — one of only 10 on Texas’ death row — charged with abducting a newborn baby and killing the child’s mother.”

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Doc News: Jose Padilha, Michael Moore, Pearl Jam and Queen

– Brazilian documentary filmmaker Jose Padilha (“Bus 174”; “Secrets of the Tribe”) is hopefully not getting too distracted from non-fiction. He’s currently in development on the “RoboCop” remake and is now back in the news with his previously announced South American ‘Triple Border’ project “Tri-Border.” The English-language political action thriller, originally titled “A Willing Patriot” and written by Jason Keller, is currently being re-scripted by Nick Shenk (“Gran Torino”). Add to this the option of the next “Wolverine” movie, as Padilha is reportedly on Fox’s shortlist for directors up for the gig abandoned by Darren Aronofsky. Next up for the director, though, is a segment of “Rio, Eu Te Amo,” the latest in the “Paris, Je T’Aime”/”New York, I Love You,” model of anthologies (aka the “Cities of Love” franchise). I’m still not sure if his short will be fiction or doc, but I expect it’s the former.

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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

Miami 2011: “How to Start Your Own Country”

Did you know the inventor of the Segway now leads his own country? And it’s in the Long Island Sound? This is one of the things to be learned from Jody Shapiro’s “How to Start Your Own Country,” an amusing and enlightening documentary about micronations, with particular focus on the future of frontier-breaking. Dean Kamen, the Segway guy, owns North Dumpling Island, which he calls the Kingdom of North Dumpling, and though technically, legally still part of New York State, it has officially seceded from the United States (with a non-aggression pact signed by President George H. Bush), has its own constitution (supposedly hundreds of years old) and is self-sufficient and completely carbon-neutral. It helps that Kamen is a billionaire. He also doesn’t rule over anyone else.

Shapiro jumps from one micronation to the next in the film, some more eccentrically run than others, while generally addressing the whole issue of the “country club” mentalities of the United Nations, the European Union, etc. Places like North Dumpling and the Principality of Sealand (a former British fort in the North Sea that was originally taken over by pirate radio broadcasters) are basically aligned with more familiar states like Palestine and Liechtenstein. Then there are the more eclectic, utopian concepts, such as the territory-less, location-variable New Free State of Caroline, which seems to blur the line between cult and state. It also best exemplifies the doc’s attention to the connection of state and state of mind.

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