This year’s DocuWeeks theatrical showcase, presented by the International Documentary Association, begins today in New York City. From August 3 through August 23, the event will run in the Big Apple, specifically at the IFC Center, while the Los Angeles component begins August 10 and goes through August 30 at the Laemmle Soho 7.
The first crop kicking off the series consists of five hope-filled features and a shorts program made up of seven additional films. I’ve seen a few of these initial docs — I noted my endorsement of Sundance vet Love Free or Die in a previous post announcing the selected titles — but I’d like to highlight all of them below.
The IDA must have programmed with purpose, because two of the week’s films focus on choruses. The one I’ve seen is called Once in a Lullaby: The PS22 Chorus Story, which is up your alley if you like really cute kids expressing themselves and seeing their dream come true. I’ll admit I teared up in response to their joy at least once, and joy permeates through this film.
I believe it has the most appeal of the first crop, since it’s like Glee in real life, and it’s all about these Staten Island singers, who became pretty famous on YouTube, as they head to Hollywood to perform “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” at the 2011 Academy Awards ceremony. Surprisingly, though, Oscar co-host Anne Hathaway is the only real celebrity who appears within the film’s narrative.
Here’s the trailer. Its L.A. run begins 8/10.
The other chorus movie is Defiant Requiem, a seemingly uplifting Holocaust doc about 150 Jewish prisoners at the Terezin concentration camp, who fought the Nazis through song, specifically Verdi’s “Requiem,” as well as a commemorative concert held recently in their honor. It’s a film that mixes new and old narratives along with dramatization, animation, musical performance and, of course, emotional interviews with survivors.
This one also promises a good deal of joy, at least “as much as you can call joy in camp,” says one woman. I’m quite intrigued by the layers going on structurally here, and I’m surely interested in seeing the doc version before Hollywood swoops in for the remake.
Watch a trailer below. Its LA run begins 8/17.
More joy, or at least a lot of positive spirit, is to be found in Love Free or Die, which I reviewed elsewhere earlier this year. This doc also deals in religion and persecution, though here it’s the religious organization that’s committing the intolerance. New Hampshire Bishop Gene Robinson is openly gay and therefore an outcast within the greater Episcopal Church, the leaders of which pretty much shun him during a trip to England.
As I wrote before, though, Robinson has got such a captivating screen presence and displays such goodness, strength, pride, conviction and honor that it’s hard to imagine that any person or organization that got to know him could treat him badly. I felt for him in the bad times and the good, and not to spoil anything but there is actually a fair deal of good times in the film.
Here’s the trailer. Its L.A. run begins 8/24.
Another winning and inspiring figure is at the center of La Source, a documentary directed by Patrick Shen (The Philosopher Kings), narrated by Don Cheadle and featuring typically enlivening music from Sigur Ros. It follows a Princeton University janitor named Josue Lajuenesse, who returns to his remote Haitian village following the 2010 earthquake in order to set up a project to bring clean, uncontaminated water to his family and community.
Let it encourage you to give aid to Haiti or seek out other similar efforts for poverty-stricken areas, but mostly let it show you the fulfillment of giving back and the power of people who come together for a cause, as we see exemplified by groups in the U.S. and the village. This is the sort of documentary that makes you feel good, reminds you that there is hope in the world and shows you a great standard of true accomplishment.
And I love that it ends with a title stating “The End,” recognizing that some docs are about their contained stories alone and celebrating Lajuenesse’s act as not necessarily a call for any further help — although there is also another title, of the “how you can help” variety, advocating for aid more generally elsewhere in the world.
Watch the trailer. Its L.A. run begins 8/10.
I haven’t had a chance yet to see Trial By Fire: Lives Re-Forged, but I will have the opportunity before its L.A. debut next Friday so I’ll be sure to revisit the film in next week’s preview. Produced by married filmmakers Megan Smith-Harris and Bill Harris (head of Documentary Programming at A&E), the film profiles multiple burn victims and their courageous journeys as they overcome their injuries and scars to become burn survivors. One of them, some may recognize, is soap actor and Dancing With the Stars champion J.R. Martinez.
Here’s a trailer. Its L.A. run begins 8/10.
As for the shorts program, there is also much inspiration to be found, whether from Martin Smith’s Jimmy, which presents a day in the life of a man with Cerebral Palsy who championed for disabled rights 40 years ago, or from Cutting Loose, which looks at the rehabilitated lives of men participating in the annual Scottish Prison Service hairdressing competition.
The latter is co-directed by Finlay Pretsell who also produced both, as well as fellow Scottish Documentary Institute entry The Perfect Fit. Like Cutting Loose, this third short also deals with big macho guys working on dainty things, here in the production of ballet slippers. All three are only playing in NYC. Click on each film title to see their respective trailers. Here’s an additional clip from Cutting Loose:
The only short in the program I’ve seen is Kings Point, an almost depressing but mostly just rational look at a retirement community in Florida where a handful of interviewed subjects admit there’s no point in making friends, only acquaintances, and there’s certainly no reason for anything too serious with the opposite sex.
But it’s not about the wild lives of indulgent elderly recognizing that their time is fleeting. These people are sort of just waiting to die, which is actually more fascinating than it sounds.
Watch the trailer. Its L.A. run begins 8/10.
And last but not least are the three mini-shorts from POV’s StoryCorps series, in which true accounts originally recorded for the radio are animated by The Rausch Brothers to give them a visual interpretation. The selected trio includes Facundo the Great, about teachers in the 1950s changing the names of Mexican-American students, Sundays at Rocco’s, about one man’s memory of his Italian grandfather, and Eyes on the Stars, in which we hear about Challenger astronaut Ronald McNair from his brother, Carl.
There are no trailers for those films, each of which is only about 3 min. anyway, but you can visit the StoryCorps website and listen to the stories before experiencing their cartoon adaptations. Like the Scottish shorts, these will only be playing DocuWeeks in NYC.
For more details and showtimes for these and upcoming films in the program, visit the IDA DocuWeeks page.
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