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: Disney and Ben Stiller Remaking “Quantum Hoops”

Doc-makers, a word of creative and financial advice: rather than jumping ship and taking a paycheck to direct a generic Hollywood comedy, instead direct a decent nonfiction film with a feel-good narrative that could easily be adapted into a generic Hollywood comedy. But not too decent, because nobody is ever going to remake a film like “Hoop Dreams” — but maybe “Racing Dreams” (eventually) and now definitely “Quantum Hoops” (more advice: someone make a doc titled “Quantum Racing” right away — whether or not it’s about the sailing team of that name). According to Deadline, Disney is teaming up with Ben Stiller‘s Red Hour production company and doc-maker Rick Greenwald for a dramatic redo of Greenwald’s little known 2007 sports doc, and screenwriter Stan Chervin (“Moneyball”) has been hired to pen the adaptation.

The original “Quantum,” which features narration by David Duchovny, follows the Caltech Beavers at the end of the 2006 basketball season. Known as maybe the worst college team ever, the Beavers had at the time not won a conference game in 21 years, or any game in 11. Of course, they go to Caltech, so they’re total nerds, but perhaps they just needed the right coach… You get the picture, but you likely haven’t seen the film, and that’s probably to Disney and Red Hour’s preference. Theatrically the doc earned only $7,000 and it’s currently not even on Netflix. It is on DVD (and Amazon VOD), however, so Netflix’s status is part of the annoying issue I wrote about recently in my Movies.com column (everyone click the “save” button on the “Quantum Hoops” page now). I haven’t seen it yet either, but I’m still curious who they’ll get to star, as coach Roy Dow (seen in this video), as I can’t think of a single actor who resembles the guy. Maybe it’s the baldness that’s throwing me off.

Check out the trailer for the original “Quantum Hoops” after the jump.

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Doc Clips: “Sarah Palin: You Betcha!”

The other Sarah Palin documentary, “The Undefeated,” hasn’t been a huge hit, though its gross is not awful for a non-fiction release, especially one so right-leaning. Could a lefty take on the former Vice President candidate do better? We’ll have to wait a bit, as Nick Broomfield‘s “Sarah Palin: You Betcha!” doesn’t even hit the festival circuit until next month, when it premieres in Toronto. I can see it being the filmmaker’s highest grossing doc since 1998’s “Kurt & Courtney,” which would put it well above the pro-Palin doc, if it can garner some positive reviews and decent distribution (Arc Entertainment holds U.S. rights) that sells it as a Michael Moore-ish doc.

And based on the first “teaser” clips, that shouldn’t be too hard. I prefer Broomfield’s sensationalist shtick to Moore’s, because he aims less for laughs and tends to seem genuinely a curious, albeit emotionally distanced, investigator in spite of his reputation for paying interviewees and hawking conspiracy theories. But it’s also hard to imagine he’s gotten much of substance here that other journalists have failed to get. Unless Broomfield has found people to testify that Palin shot both Kurt Cobain and Biggie Smalls and is currently hiding Tupac in her home — and I’m sure Broomfield could — I don’t even know how entertaining or interesting it will be compared to the filmmaker’s past works. I’m bracing for disappointment yet I also can’t help anticipating his first feature doc in five years, following a great two-film jump into narrative works.

Check out the two new clips after the jump.

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Doc Review: “Superheroes”

Tonight, Michael Barnett’s “Superheroes” is the latest film to premiere as part of HBO’s Summer Series program of new documentaries. A sufficiently fascinating look at real-life costumed crusaders (like a true “Kick-Ass”) around the U.S., it wasn’t produced by HBO, so it’s great that the doc is airing on the cable network in general, let alone was chosen as part of this weekly spotlight. Obviously the geek niche appeal figures into the deal since it’s hardly as well-crafted as some of the other titles included in the series this year (it does look a whole lot better than “Sex Crimes Unit,” at least). But as silly as much of it is, there are a lot of great points made beneath the surface of the characters’ showcases. For real real-life superheroes, I recommend you seek out Steve James’ “The Interrupters,” but this doc is worth checking out too.

I excitedly started following “Superheroes” in early January, in anticipation of its Slamdance unveiling. From there I reviewed the doc for Cinematical, in which I noted it’d be popular enough through VOD and online outlets. HBO is an even greater place for it to debut. Here’s an excerpt from the review:

The film doesn’t exactly mean to make fun of the characters, but it is easy to laugh at much of what they do and say in the film. Some, like Master Legend are sillier and less intelligent than others. But I have to admit to feeling guilty in finding humor in their idiocy, just as I’m led to feel at the end of ‘Dinner for Schmucks.’ It’s okay, though, since a lot of the RLSH represented don’t seem to mind being viewed as a joke as long as they’re visible and can thereby bring awareness to the causes they’re fighting for.

Often ‘Superheroes’ comes off as also being more about the problems of the world than the costumed crusaders on screen. Through people like “Zetaman,” “Life,” “Mr. Extreme” and the simply named “Super Hero,” we are made to think about the issues of homelessness and violent crime, as well as police corruption and bureaucracy that lead to the necessity for these RLSHs to pop up in cities across the nation.

Watch the film’s trailer and a bunch of clips after the jump, and hopefully you’ll tune in tonight at 9pm for more.

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In Theaters: “Magic Trip”

Just when the festival-goers are anticipating the third Alex Gibney film of the year (hockey doc “The Last Gladiators,” which bows at Toronto next month), regular folk finally get to see the Oscar winner’s first (on the big screen): “Magic Trip: Ken Kesey’s Search for a Kool Place” debuted at Sundance back in January and is now hitting theaters in NYC, San Francisco, Berekely and Santa Cruz. Other engagements start next weekend and continue through October (see play dates here). Check out the trailer here.

Co-directed by Alison Ellwood, the doc chronicles Kesey’s cross-country road trip with his Merry Pranksters and their rainbow-colored bus, Further, in 1964. It has actually been on VOD for over a month now, so I guess this isn’t the first time regular eyes have their chance to see it. Anyway, I reviewed the flick back in March from the Miami International Film Festival, and here’s an excerpt:

I don’t see the point. Is its supposed to be a Kesey biopic? Another unneeded celebration of the 60s? A pseudo adaptation of Wolfe’s book? I guess we can later appreciate this doc more once an actual dramatic adaptation of “Electric Kool-Aid” is produced as promised/threatened.

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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.

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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