The vast majority of feature documentary films I receive are called ‘streamers.’ That is, instead of a DVD or Blu-ray disc, I get a link and a password, and watch the film on my computer. That annoys me, and the filmmakers do not provide much-needed Closed Captioning. But it’s the only way can view and review.
I was pleasantly surprised when I received a sealed commercial Blu-ray disc from Cinema Libre Studio called “At WAR”—about an extended labor dispute in France. As I watched the film I was amazed at the access filmmakers had to all the private meetings between the adversaries.
I watch films cold. I don’t need or want to read or hear about them. All I need is the genre. So, when I received “At WAR” I went right to it. When it came time to write my review I picked up the literature, and the first thing I noticed was that this is not a documentary, it is a narrative drama.
Although I was no longer amazed at the filmmakers’ access to these warring parties, I am thoroughly amazed at the slice-of-life realism created by the filmmakers and their cast.
It is on that basis that I heartily suggest you see acting at its finest in support of a dramatic story of human conflict—a universal war between greed and human values.
“At WAR” is available on DVD, Blu-ray, and On Demand from several platforms.
Suzanne Simard, Ph.D. and German Forester Peter Wohlleben are two of the six researchers who reveal the hidden life of trees in Julia Dordel’s and Guido Tölke’s Intelligent Trees.
Earlier this century filmmaker James Cameron let the world know he was already hip to the true nature of trees when he cast Sigourney Weaver as tree researcher Dr. Grace Augustine in his first ‘Avatar’ film. The fictional scientist was arriving at the knowledge that trees communicate with each other.
These nonfictional researchers are confirming and affirming this understanding with elaborate, challenging and provocative scientific discoveries of the extent to which trees have intelligence and compassion. Summarizing my understanding of what has been demonstrated so far, trees are social, they relate to each other in numerous ways, and they have specific needs that must be met in order to be healthy and happy.
In natural circumstances trees are cooperative and supportive of each other. They have ‘families’ and ‘friends’ and ‘communities’—they also take care of their young and/or ailing neighbors.
Trees have a form of consciousness that deserves respect and care. Our world would be much healthier and happier if we were to incorporate this understanding into our care for trees. The film’s researchers provide clues of how to provide that care.
Available from Amazon and Vimeo, Intelligent Trees is another well-produced environmental feature documentary that is an absolute must see.
50 % of the film’s revenue goes towards Dr. Simard’s ongoing research on the communication between trees. Her work is housed in the Forest and Conservation Science centre at The University of British Columbia.
Please contact Brian Sweet at APL Film for additional information on the film at firstname.lastname@example.org
“What we want to do is force people to evaluate their notions of the United States being a Christian nation. It’s not. We are a secular nation. We’re supposed to be a democratic, pluralistic nation. We are supposed to be a nation that doesn’t allow the government to dictate what is appropriate religious expression.” ‘Lucien Greaves’—Spokesperson, The Satanic Temple
Hail Satan? is an introduction to The Satanic Temple (TST), a religious organization inspired by Mr. Greaves, the central character in director Penny Lane’s bold, fascinating, provocative documentary.
The Satanic Temple has chapters around the world, and the only figure I found in my search for the number of total members was 50,000. Chapter members provide a variety of social and environmental services.
Lane interviews a large number of members, and follows several of TST’s public presentations. The issue of Arkansas’ ‘Ten Commandments Monument’ which is placed on the State’s capital grounds garners the most attention in the film’s coverage. To mock the ignoring of the fundamental Constitutional dictum of the separation of church and state, Greave’s led the creation of a statue of Baphomet, and litigated in Federal court to have that statue placed next to the Monument.
Hail Satan?—like TST itself—is a much-needed passionate call for religious freedom, for honoring the United States’ constitutional dictum.
(Pictured: Baphomet monument in front of the state capitol building for one day during a Satanic Temple rally in Little Rock, Arkansas)
“I want to see science fiction step over the old walls, and head writing over to the next wall, and start to break it down, too.”
Written and directed by Arwen Curry, Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin tells the prolific writer’s life story in an amazingly short 68 minutes. The ‘Worlds’ in the film’s title refers both to the many worlds Le Guin created in her stories, and the world she created for herself and her family.
Although Le Guin (October 21, 1929 – January 22, 2018) is well-noted for her legacy of fantasy novels, the film makes it clear that her lifetime of non-stop writing expanded beyond that genre—as did her worldview. She broke down ‘the old walls’ many times, and brought countless writers along with her. Indeed, it is fair to say Le Guin is literally a legendary writer—in the year 2000, she was pronounced a ‘Living Legend’ by the U.S. Library of Congress.
Beyond her public legacy, I was astounded to learn of Le Guin’s second life as wife and mother. She raised three children, and lived 65 years of stable marriage with husband Charles Le Guin.
Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin was produced with the author’s participation over a ten-year period. It is distributed by American Masters. The film received at least seven festival awards, and was an official selection of several other festivals.
Arwen Curry has brought to vivid life an artist whose name you may not have even heard of, but who you will now know forever.
Ursula K. Le Guin website (see upper right-hand corner of the home page, and click on Dragons Enter Here)
Although I regret not having seen The Wavy Gravy Movie when it was released in 2009, I am grateful and excited to have seen this thoroughly gratifying Kino Lorber 10th Anniversary Edition with its 2019 interview of Wavy Gravy and wife Johanara Romney—and with over 55 minutes of additional scenes.
This review is for those who have not seen the original film as well as those who would likely be moved by the interview and additional scenes.
For those few who never heard of Wavy Gravy, he was born in 1936, and named Hugh Nanton Romney. The core of his life’s activities are performing, teaching and organizing. Wavy Gravy’s renown emerged out of the 1960s cultural revolutions. He is beloved for his deeply altruistic character, and honored for founding or co-founding several organizations including Seva Foundation and Camp Winnarainbow.
With The Wavy Gravy Movie director Michelle Esrick has produced the definitive cinematic profile of Wavy Gravy. She covers both the man, his times, and skillfully takes her audience through his transformation from small boy to mystic clown who, at 83, is still going strong—as is his 52 year marriage with Johanara.
Wavy Gravy and this well-reviewed film about him are both deeply inspiring and utterly fascinating.
The film is available from Kino Lorber.
Directed by prolific filmmaker Joseph Hillel, City Dreamers profiles the above mentioned four who, at the time of production, were between the ages of 87 and 97—and still active. Denise Scott Brown, Phyllis Lambert, Blanche Lemco van Ginkel, and Cornelia Hahn Oberlander are icons—if not legends—in the worlds of architecture and urban planning. With this brilliant documentary their renown is expanding. (See links below to learn more about each of them.)
The women provide a bit about their life stories, but primarily they focus on their professional experiences, passions and values. They were pioneers in incorporating social and environmental concerns into their work, and in confronting the men’s club called architecture.
Hillel accompanies their stories with a dizzying, engaging, onslaught of archival and contemporary images from the early twentieth century to the present.
Jean-Olivier Bégin’s soundtrack perfectly captures the cool jazz of 1950s mise en scène. If the producers release the soundtrack, yours truly will be their first customer.
City Dreamers is a masterpiece of documentary filmmaking which deserves multiple viewings—and an Oscar nomination.
The film premiers October 20 at the Architecture & Design Film Festival in New York.
City Dreamers is a First Run Features release.
Here is more information about the four women:
Denise Scott Brown
Blanche Lemco van Ginkel
Cornelia Hahn Oberlander
“Bellingcat doesn’t have institutional support. They don’t have a big building at The Hague, or Brussels where they do their work. They actually publish very detailed analysis, and many of them are volunteers, living at home—they don’t have security. What they do is really risk a great deal to find out the truth in very complex situations that include major global players.” Professor Claire Wardle, Executive Director, First Draft
Written, directed, and shot by veteran filmmaker Hans Pool, Bellingcat: Truth in a Post-Truth World tells the story of the creation and dramatic evolution of the international citizen-journalist collective called, of course, Bellingcat. Founded by Elliot Higgins, and based in the United Kingdom, Bellingcat has become a major player in the much-needed and dangerous work of citizen investigative journalism.
As examples of their work, Pool covers the organization’s investigation of the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17, Syria’s civil war, and the poisoning of Russian spy Sergei Skripal.
Covered by no less than Variety, Bellingcat: Truth in a Post-Truth World is an expertly produced, must-see documentary film.
(Pictured: Bellingcat journalist Christiaane Triebert)
Gemma is 18 years old. She smokes cigarettes, and lives in Motherwell, Scotland, a thriving community until Margaret Thatcher’s policies brought down the steel mill. She and her companions are called ‘scheme birds.’
“A scheme,” she says, “is like a non-snobby place to stay.”
Gemma never knew her mother. She was raised, instead, by her grandfather who she calls Papa.
Papa is teaching her boxing. When not teaching, Papa raises and releases large numbers of pigeons. Every Friday Papa hosts a kind of competition regarding which is the finest pigeon that day. Gemma says the birds fly around the world, most return.
Directed by first-time feature documentary directors Ellen Fiske, Ellinor Hallin, Scheme Birds follows Gemma and her friends as they drift into adulthood.
You will not forget Gemma.
Scheme Birds had its world premier at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival where it won Best Documentary Feature and the festival’s ‘Albert Maysles New Documentary Director Award.’
You may access the film here.
I hope Gemma finds a way to quit smoking.
In 2002, veteran filmmaker Sarah Feinbloom produced and directed What Do You Believe?—The Religious Lives of American Teenagers. The award-winning film was featured on PBS, and screened internationally. Now, in 2019, she has released her follow-up film What Do You Believe Now?—The Spiritual Journeys of American Millennials. The film premiers at 2019’s Mill Valley Film Festival.
In the first film Feinbloom interviews six American teenagers about their religious/spiritual beliefs. In the follow-up film Feinbloom juxtaposes interviews of the teenagers with their interviews as adults.
The teenager interviews reveal a roughly accepted set of beliefs for each of the teens. Their views are, respectively, Catholic, Pagan, Jewish, Muslim, Lakota and Buddhist. The follow-up interviews reveal changes in their beliefs, aspects that remain, and values that inform their adult religious understandings.
Inevitably, viewers see ourselves in these children and adults as they struggle with—and to a degree, resolve—issues human beings have struggled with since there were human beings. We empathize with the losses, gains, and continued struggles the six have experienced over almost two decades.
Inevitably, too, we ponder on our own personal beliefs and values, as well as the religious struggles of humanity with its many and varied religious beliefs, practices and institutions.
In addition to her filmmaking career, Feinbloom is also founder and executive director of GOOD DOCS, an educational distribution company specializing in human rights and social issue documentaries.
September 8, 2019
I had occasion to contact filmmaker Steve Burrows recently with an inconsequential question. After that was laid to rest I asked him what’s next in his professional life, and he gave me an unanticipated dramatic earful about the incredible success of his 2018 film, BLEED OUT—about injuries and deaths caused by medical errors—the 3rd leading cause of death in America.
Made on the proverbial shoestring budget, shot over a ten-year period, and with mostly a smartphone and other very small cameras, BLEED OUT has found distribution via HBO as well as a plethora of web-based platforms. Finding effective distribution is one thing, actually making a difference in the world is quite another—the whole point of placing your film in the world—and that is what BLEED OUT has done, and is doing.
BLEED OUT tells the story of the harm done to Steve’s mother, Judie, from a cascade of medical errors. The film is a powerful clarion call for reform, accountability and transparency in American health care.
Burrows writes, “Our film continues to kick ass across all sectors in America, public and private. It has struck a deep nerve. The sense of urgency is palpable. Doctors, hospitals and medical schools across the country have been screening our film and are on-the-record stating BLEED OUT is literally saving lives!’”
Here is a link to a 3-minute clip of healthcare practitioners advocating enthusiastically for the film’s message
Here is a link to the film’s website
Link to my January, 2019 review