Doc Review: “Koran by Heart”

Tonight Greg Barker’s “Koran by Heart” debuts on HBO. It’s a competition doc — this year there’s a bunch — but it’s so much more, and I highly recommend it. Here’s an excerpt from my review of the film at Spout:

The fact that it’s not necessarily a display of comprehension does correlate Koran recitation to spelling bees, making “Koran by Heart” more akin to “Spellbound” than most competitive docs likened to Jeffrey Blitz’s 2002 exemplar. But the contest here is also a metaphor for contention among Muslims throughout the world regarding proper observance of the text and Islam in general. Many of the competitors, including the three that Barker focuses on, do not speak Arabic. So while they may have an understanding of the teachings of Islam, they don’t know what they’re literally chanting when they recite the text in the Arabic language. Equate this with followers of any religion who either don’t fully know or fully obey the doctrine of their faith. Or, to followers who believe and live one way that is perceived as ignorant or incorrect by other followers. The irony of the analogy, however, is that there is only one perfectly accepted way to recite the Koran.

The film premieres as part of HBO’s summer doc series at 9pm. It’ll also be on demand and on HBO GO through 9/11. See it.

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Doc News: “Southern Comfort” Adapted as a Stage Musical

Documentaries being adapted to the stage are in theory a tricky idea, but it worked for “Grey Gardens,” and this fall we’ll get to see if Kate Davis’ “Southern Comfort” is a good fit for musical theater, according to the New York Times‘ ArtsBeat. This isn’t just now being announced, but it’s the first I’ve heard of it, and I’m thankful for the reminder that I need to finally see this doc. Apparently my wife’s constant pleas to rent it haven’t worked enough. Maybe ahead of the premiere I should write a Documentary Classics column on the film over at Spout? Probably.

The 2001 Sundance-winning film follows Robert Eads, a transgender man with ovarian cancer, as he and his sweetheart, Lola Cola, head to Atlanta’s annual Southern Comfort Conference for transgendered individuals. The stage version will feature a folk-bluegrass score from Julianne Wick Davis and a book and lyrics by Dan Collins. You can check out the songs on Last.fm. ArtsBeat claims Annette O’Toole stars, but I think she was only involved with a reading that took place months ago (she read the Eads part). As far as I can tell the official cast is not yet available.

The show begins a limited run at CAP21 in NYC beginning October 5th and tickets are on sale. For now, check out a “trailer” (really just a clip) after the jump.

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Trailer: “Chasing Madoff”

It seems the time for docs about Wall Street villains is over. “Inside Job” won the Oscar, its weak British cousin, “The Flaw,” already left on the wayside. And Alex Gibney doesn’t appear to have any films involving finance out anytime soon (of course he could rise out of nowhere with one). But here’s “Chasing Madoff,” which looks kind of like a Gibney doc while sounding like a movie in which Ben Affleck tries to woo ex-NASDAQ Chairman Bernie Madoff despite the fact he’s not into dudes.

That title is changed from the book it’s based upon, Harry Markopolis’ “No One Would Listen: A True Financial Thriller,” but it fits (unlike former title “The Foxhounds”). The doc is about Markopopis chasing Madoff, in the form of his whistleblowing investigation that too long was disregarded and blocked. On screen, Markopolis’ testimonial appears to be the foundation for the film to work, and based on the trailer he seems like he could carry it well.

Hopefully I don’t get scammed and the doc, directed by Jeff Prosserman, is actually as good as it looks. We’ll see when the film opens in major cities August 26.

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Trailer: William Shatner’s “The Captains”

Not to be overshadowed too much this past weekend by his “Star Trek” co-star (Leonard Nimoy can be heard voicing Sentinel Prime in “Transformers: Dark of the Moon”), William Shatner has received a lot of attention for a new documentary he’s produced and directed, “The Captains.” It’s the actor’s first effort as a filmmaker since the 2002 DTV movie “Groom Lake,” and it will premiere on the EPIX cable channel July 21st as part of a two-day marathon called Shatnerpalooza. In addition to airing the first six “Trek” films, including the Shatner-directed “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier,” there are some early films and TV shows featuring the actor, as well as another documentary he was involved with, “William Shatner’s Gonzo Ballet.” 

“The Captains” is primarily a forum for Shatner to remind us all that he was the first “Trek” star by interviewing the captains from the other spin-off series, including Patrick Stewart (“The Next Generation”), Scott Bakula (“Enterprise”), Kate Mulgrew (“Voyager”), Avery Brooks (“Deep Space Nine”) and Chris Pine, who plays Shatner’s own role in the “Star Trek” reboot. We can already get a taste of Shatner with Bakula via an episode of the Bio interview series “Shatner’s Raw Nerve,” a show I can’t stand to watch because (1) the seat Shatner and guest share reminds me of the “Love Toilet” bit from “Saturday Night Live” and (2) the host regularly (and I guess fittingly) looks constipated.

I also won’t be seeing “The Captains,” because there are at least a thousand documentaries more important and worth seeing this year alone. But I’m somewhat curious about that “Gonzo Ballet” film, about Shatner’s collaboration with Ben Folds and choreographer Margo Sappington. See a clip of that after the “Captains” trailer after the jump.

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Doc News: Gary Sinise, John Lennon, Hot Dogs

– Because there’s not enough “Forrest Gump” reminders at the box office this weekend (Tom Hanks has a new movie, while “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” features a “Gump”-ish opening sequence), you can also experience one on the web. A new documentary about Gary Sinise’s rock group, Lt. Dan Band, which is named after the actor’s “Gump” character and regularly performs at U.S. military base, will debut on the web July 4th. Titled “Lt. Dan Band: For the Common Good” and directed by Jonathan Flora (“On the Road in Iraq with Our Troops and Gary Sinise”), the award-winning film will cost about $4 to stream on its site. From that cost, $1 will go directly to the Gary Sinise Foundation, which supports a number of charities for U.S. troops. Check out a trailer for the doc, which apparently features interviews with Robert Duvall and Jon Voight, after the jump. [via Fox News]

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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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