I like the weeks where I can find a common theme among the new theatrical releases for documentary (some not opening today). But it’s weeks like this, when the films are so remarkably different from one another, that I really feel good about the medium. We’ve got a pressing environmental issue film, a record of history, a nostalgia-fueled comeback story of an artist long past his prime and a retrospective-fueled portrait of an artist at a climactic point in her life.
In the expanded releases section this week I’ve added Bruce McDonald’s Music from the Big House, the opening of which I must have missed. And as usual there are some other titles in there, some old, with special screenings and events, such as film fests. Festivals showing docs this week include Sheffield Doc/Fest, Korean-American NY, Reel Mind, St. Louis Jewish, deadCENTER, Distrital, Maui, Three Rivers Arts, Transilvania International, Zilele Filmului Romanesc, Seattle International, and Australia’s Human Rights Arts & Film.
Here are your four new theatrical releases followed by the weekly list of docs still in cinemas:
Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present
If you’re not into performance art, especially of the masochistic kind, don’t fear this directorial debut from cinematographer Matthew Akers (PBS’s Circus). He was skeptical, too, but thankfully he doesn’t take the first-person approach that many doc-makers might when entering a project out of skepticism, and so the film has a more subtle way of bringing us into an appreciation of Abramovic while Akers is simultaneously warming up to her work from behind the camera.
Eventually the doc focuses on her latest performance, an act of vulnerability, honesty and stamina that is the center of her 2010 MoMA retrospective, and this is where you’ll really be drawn in, even if it’s more to be fascinated with visitors to the exhibit, who sit down opposite the artist for a staring match and whatever subjective response is felt from the experience. I never thought I’d be so enchanted by watching people being affected by art, but when the art is also a person and is also being affected, there’s a divine process going on that is really incredible.
In addition to Abramovic, the doc features her former collaborator/lover, Ulay, David Blaine, James Franco, Orlando Bloom (for only a second), art critic Arthur Danto and MoMA curator Klaus Biesenbach.
Winner of the Panorama Audience Award for Documentary Film at the 2012 Berlin International Film Festival.
Recommended if You Like: Kirby Dick’s Sick; the Maysles’ Christo/Jean-Claude films; docs that change your mind about art
Opens on Wednesday at Film Forum in NYC and will be screening this week at Art Basel Switzerland. For upcoming openings in other cities, see the film’s screenings section on its Facebook page.
The issue of large hydroelectric dams is a worldwide concern (and now a growing branch of the global warming issue), but I was probably more invested in this doc about controversial plans in Southern Chile because I’ve been to Patagonia and walked on a glacier there. It’s the most beautiful untouched area I’ve had the pleasure to encounter. Even if you’ve never been, though, the landscape images on screen here might be sufficient to understanding some of the problem, both scenically and environmentally.
Director Brian Lilla does an excellent job of mixing personal attitudes on the proposed projects, from the rural dwellers in Patagonia who’ll be directly effected to the Santiago citizens without a clue who are expected to benefit from the power. And while it’s clear which way the film slants, you do get a good deal of information about both the pros and the cons of hydroelectric dams. There aren’t a lot of issue docs this successful at being equally educational and interested in intimate storytelling.
Winner of Special Jury Award at the 2011 Festival de Cine de la Patagonia Aslen — Winner of Jury Award at the 2011 Certamen de Cine de Viajes del Ocejon — Winner of the Presidente Allende Award at the 2012 Festival Cine Otro in Valparaiso, Chile — Winner of the El Capitan Award at the 2011 Yosemite Film Festival.
Recommended if you like: Up the Yangtze; Cadillac Desert; natural landscapes
Now playing at Cinema Village in NYC. For upcoming openings in other cities, check the film’s playdates page.
From my TIFF dispatch at Movies.com:
a crowd-pleasing doc about the titular songwriter and actor, who you know from such works as Kermit the Frog’s “Rainbow Connection” and Brian De Palma’s Phantom of the Paradise, as he now works in addiction recovery and makes the occasional concert appearance in corners of the world aware he’s “still alive.” Director Stephen Kessler (Vegas Vacation) achieves the rare feat of making a good “stalk-umentary,” pestering his subject until they’re eventually buddies and we’re emotionally immersed in a comeback-initiating profile not that unlike Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work (and not just because it also features lots of Tonight Show clips).
And from my more recent doc column at Movies.com:
thanks to Williams, who almost deserves a co-directing credit for steering the project on the right course, it ends up a very endearing portrait as well as an amusing real-life take on the buddy comedy genre.
Now playing at the Angelika Film Center and Village East in NYC.
Tahrir: Liberation Square
From the first second, before any credits, we’re thrown into Tahrir Square and virtually experience two weeks of the Egyptian Revolution as it was centered in this location in early 2011. Director Stefano Savona (Palazzo delle Aquile) went to Cairo within days of the start of the demonstrations and, with a very small camera and sound recorder, captured the daily events through the protests and the civil violence up to Mubarek’s resignation. And what he delivers is not only significant to what happened but also to the medium of documentary, as it’s the kind of immediate and present filming that Direct Cinema lives on through while also filling a huge void in journalism today.
If you need context, this isn’t the place to find it. It’s not so much about the revolution as it is of the revolution, a document for history rather than history itself. Mostly observational with occasional exposition provided by onscreen conversations, this film boldly embeds us into the moment with chilling results and it’s a necessary supplement to whatever you already know or don’t know about what went on in the eponymous square.
Winner of the 2011 International Competition Tasca d’Almerita Award at SalinaDocFest — Winner of the Grand Prize at the 2011 Traces de vies Documentary Film Festival.
Recommended if you like: In Tahrir Square; The Battle of Chile; Burma VJ
Opens Monday at the Maysles Cinema in NYC. For upcoming screenings in other cities, check the film’s playdates page.
Expanded releases this week (older films, new cities, festivals, some also still playing elsewhere). Links go to screening calendar listings:
5 Broken Cameras - New York, NY [6/8-6/12]
American Teacher - Providence, RI [6/8]
Between Madness and Art - Pittsburgh, PA [6/8-6/10]
The Boy Inside - Rochester, NY [6/12, for Reel Mind Film Festival]
Chely Wright: Wish Me Away - Lake Park, FL [6/8-6/11 & 6/14]; Sebastopol, CA [6/8]; Wilmington, DE [6/8-6/9]; Pittsfield, MA [6/9] Bethlehem, PA [6/10]; Tucson, AZ [6/13]
The City Dark - Cleveland, OH [6/8]; Lancaster, PA [6/8]; Aberdeen, SD [6/9]
Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope - Columbus, OH; Tucson, AZ
Crazy Wisdom - Miami, FL [6/8-6/10]
Earth Keepers - Columbia, SC [6/12]
El Velador - New York, NY [6/14-6/20]
A Fierce Green Fire - Sheffield, UK [6/14-6/16, for Sheffield Doc/Fest]
First Position - Asheville, NC; Bellingham, WA; Burlington, VT; Des Moines, IA; Greensboro, NC; Hilo, HI; Hilton Head Island, SC; Memphis, TN; Portland, ME; Rochester, NY; San Luis Obispo, CA; Santa Fe, NM; South Lake Tahoe, CA; Tucson, AZ; Hunter, NY [6/8-6/10]; Lambertville, NJ [6/8-6/10]; Pittsfield, MA [6/8-6/11]; Peekskill, NY [6/13]; Southern Pines, NC [6/14-6/18]
Follow Me: The Yoni Netanyahu Story - Sarasota, FL; St. Louis, MO [6/11, for St. Louis Jewish Film Festival]
Gerhard Richter Painting - New York, NY [6/8]; Houston, TX [6/10]; Indianapolis, IN [6/10]; Wichita, KS [6/14-6/16]
Granito - Oklahoma City, OK [6/9, for deadCENTER Film Festival]; Ottawa, ON [6/14]
Hit So Hard: The Life & Near Death Story of Patty Schemel - Montreal, QC [6/8]; Mexico City, MX [6/9, for Distrital Film Festival]
Impunity - Dallas, TX [6/8-6/9]
Indie Game: The Movie - Melbourne, AU [6/8]; Sydney, AU [6/12 & 6/14]; Sheffield, UK [6/13 & 6/16, for Sheffield Doc/Fest]
Inni - Sibiu, RO [6/13-6/17, for Transilvania Film Festival]
The Interrupters - Albany, NY [6/14]
Inventing Our Life: The Kibbutz Experiment - Beverly Hills, CA; Encino, CA [6/9-6/10]; Fallbrook, CA [6/9-6/10]; Tacoma, WA [6/10]
The Invisible Frame - Pittsburgh, PA [6/8-6/10]
The Island President - Shreveport, LA; Madison, WI; Byron Bay, AU [6/12, for Human Rights Arts & Film Festival]; Honokaa, HI [6/12-6/17]; Nyack, NY [6/13]; Perth, AU [6/14, for Human Rights Arts & Film Festival]
Jiro Dreams of Sushi - Carlisle, PA; Newburyport, MA; Olympia, WA; Reading, PA; Ojai, CA [opens 6/10]; Savannah, GA [opens 6/10]; Los Angeles, CA [opens 6/11]; Wilmington, NC [opens 6/11]; Hamilton, NY [opens 6/13]; Three Oaks, MI [opens 6/14]
Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance - Becket, MA [6/10]
Last Call at the Oasis - Danvers, MA; Palm Desert, CA
Looking for Icons - Pittsburgh, PA [6/8-6/10]
The Loving Story - Portland, OR [6/8-6/14]
Marcel Ophuls and Jean-Luc Godard - Pittsburgh, PA [6/8-6/10]
Marley - Salem, MA; Redlands, CA [opens 6/9]; Albuquerque, NM [opens 6/12]; Bar Harbor, ME [opens 6/12]; Stuart, FL [opens 6/12]; Utica, NY [opens 6/13]; Lexington, KY [opens 6/14]; Madison, MS [opens 6/14]; Oklahoma City, OK [opens 6/14]
Music from the Big House - Albany, NY; Landsdowne, PA; Gloucester, MA [6/8]; Ogden, UT [6/8]; Arlington, VA [6/10]; Santa Monica, CA [6/13]
My Reincarnation - Princeton, NJ [6/13]
Neither Allah, Nor Master! - Providence, RI [6/8]
Never Stand Still - Maui, HI [6/13-6/17, for Maui Film Festival]
OC87: The Obsessive Compulsive, Major Depression, Bipolar, Asperger’s Movie - Irvine, CA; Los Angeles, CA
Our School - Pitesti, RO [6/12-6/13, for Zilele Filmului Romanesc]
Paul Goodman Changed My Life - Washington, DC [6/9]
Payback - East Colfax, CO [6/8-6/14]; Austin, TX [6/13]; Boulder, CO [6/13-6/16]
Pina - Cleveland, OH [6/8-6/9]
Pink Ribbons, Inc. - Chicago, IL; Hartford, CT; Washington, DC; Provincetown, MA [6/14]
The Pruitt-Igoe Myth - New York, NY [6/11]; Grand Rapids, MI [6/12]
Steve Jobs: The Lost Interview - Dallas, TX; Grand Rapids, MI; Kansas City, MO; Little Rock, AR; Peekskill, NY; Vancouver, BC [opens 6/10]; Anchorage, AK [opens 6/11]; Bridgeport, CT [opens 6/12]; St. Johnsbury, VT [opens 6/12]; Waterloo, ON [opens 6/13]; Gloucester, ME [opens 6/14]; Phoenix, AZ [opens 6/14]
Stolen Art - Pittsburgh, PA [6/8-6/10]
Surviving Progress - Columbus, OH; St. Louis, MO
Taking Back Detroit - New York, NY [6/14]
Tighten Your Belts, Bite the Bullet - New York, NY [6/14]
Ultimate Christian Wrestling - New York, NY [6/8, for Korean-American Film Festival New York]
Under African Skies - Alice Springs, AU [6/8, for Human Rights Arts & Film Festival]
The Way Things Go - Pittsburgh, PA [6/8-6/10]
Windfall - Toronto, ON [6/11 & 6/13-6/14]
Also still in theaters:
If you would like a film’s opening or expansion included in the weekly Docs In Theaters post, click the contact link on the right and send me an email.
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