The second week of the 2012 DocuWeeks showcase begins today, which means the event is opening up to West Coast documentary fans. Los Angeles gets its first crop of the IDA-selected Oscar-qualifying titles, while New York City moves on to a second batch. Looking at it from outside both cities, it might be confusing to define. Technically it’s NYC’s second week but L.A.’s first week. As a former New Yorker, I’m prone to focus on that city’s schedule.
Again, I haven’t seen all of the nonfiction films offered up in the series, and I’m saving at least one doc that’s hitting L.A. today for next week, when it switches to the NYC venue. I’d actually completely limit my scope in this preview to only look at the new NYC titles if it weren’t for a single short film that is only playing L.A. Still, I’ll try not to stretch this post out too long.
Yesterday was International Day of the World’s Indigenous People, which would have been a perfect time to see two of the new titles, particularly the moving and disquieting yet ultimately hopeful We Women Warriors. The directorial debut of journalist Nicole Karsin (with advisory assistance from No Impact Man’s Laura Gabbert), the film looks at three courageous indigenous women making a difference while their and other endangered native peoples of Colombia are constantly caught in the middle of the nation’s drug war and revolutionary conflicts.
I have seen this doc and I recommend it if you like Berlinger’s Crude — and in general the rights of aboriginal peoples — and want something that actually concentrates on the culture directly and respectfully champions their own strengths as activists.
The other film involving native peoples also reminds me of Berlinger’s work. Jennifer Jessum’s Holy Man: The USA vs. Douglas White is about a Lakota Sioux medicine man who was wrongfully imprisoned 17 years for a crime he didn’t commit. While uncovering the story the filmmakers themselves apparently helped to prove Douglas White’s innocence. Narrated by Martin Sheen, the award-winning doc also more broadly looks at the history of injustices Native Americans have faced in this country, so while I haven’t seen it I suspect I could recommend it to fans of Michael Apted’s Incident at Oglala.
I’m not sure if they’re necessarily indigenous or not, but the subjects of Everardo Gonzalez’s Drought (aka Cuates de Australia) seem to live like a native Mexican tribe in the way that they depend on the land and nomadically search for water during their annual dry season. As far as the set up goes, I’m reminded of the classic doc Grass, and from what I’ve read it sounds like Gonzalez is simply out to observe a region and culture, but the trailer makes it appear as more of an issue film involving the increasingly severe topic of the world’s water crises. Hopefully the film, which was named best documentary at the Los Angeles Film Festival, will be more of the former than the latter.
As much as I love the recent young magician doc Make Believe and don’t want a lesser-quality repeat, I have high hopes that Nelson Cheng’s The Magic Life will only add to what I enjoyed about the earlier film and have a few fresh tricks up its sleeve (har har). This one doesn’t deal with a competition, so that’s one positive aspect giving it an identity of its own. Actually, we could consider it a kind of competition doc since becoming a professional magician, or working towards any career in which few people truly make it, is awfully competitive. Cheng follows three aspiring magicians and likely through their stories celebrates the idea of following your passion rather than simply making a hobby out of it. I tend to have a hard time not liking these sorts of character pieces, and I know I’m not alone in that.
It should be obvious that my most anticipated doc in this batch is Ricky on Leacock, a long in the works film (38 years!) by Jane Weiner about the recently deceased documentary legend Richard Leacock. Any nonfiction cinema junky has to be drooling over this biographical (and presumably often autobiographical) portrait that also features such icons as Robert Drew, D.A. Pennabaker, Jonas Mekas, Ed Pincus and Dusan Makavejev talking about Leacock and his legacy, much of which was discussed before he even died. I don’t see even a true trailer anywhere, but here’s the film’s Kickstarter campaign ad, which includes a nice tease of footage (also see some clips on the Facebook page):
The most devastatingly original and fascinating film I’ve seen yet from this year’s DocuWeeks showcase is Danielle Gardner’s Out of the Clear Blue Sky. It’s a 9/11 doc that chronicles the days and then years following the tragedy from the perspective of the investment firm Cantor Fitzgerald, which saw 658 employees killed in the destruction of the World Trade Center. How does a company immediately continue in such a disaster, and why must it? These are just two of the difficult questions people like surviving CEO Howard Lutnick had to respond to.
Gardner, whose brother was one of the employees lost, compiles a decade-long record of grief and commemoration that’s understandably very sad. Yet more-interestingly, it’s a complex work that explores the peripheral sides of death and tragedy that aren’t often addressed even in smaller scale incidents. It’s also quite notable for being the latest in a slew of docs I’ve seen recently that ask us to really sympathize with very wealthy men, most of whom are often rather arrogant and unlikable (see Unraveled, Khodorkovsky and The Queen of Versailles). Sadly there is no trailer available for this one, so New Yorkers who can handle the subject matter should just trust me on this one.
As for L.A.’s first week, they’re getting NYC leftovers La Source, Trial By Fire, Once in a Lullaby and the short Kings Point, all of which I previewed last week. They’ve also got first dibs on Digital Dharma, Garden in the Sea and Without a Net, none of which I’ve seen yet, as well as the short film Beauty CULTure. Directed by (and featuring) Queen of Versailles helmer Lauren Greenfield, the half-hour doc looks at ideas of feminine beauty and body image, similar to what she has long been tackling with films like THIN and her photography. In fact, many of her pictures are included in the study between interviews with models and notable figures like Eileen Ford, Jamie Lee Curtis and Toddlers and Tiaras breakout Eden Wood. Mostly recommended if you already like Greenfield’s photo books and essays, especially Girl Culture.
The 2012 DocuWeeks showcase is being held in NYC at the IFC Center through August 23 and in L.A. at the Laemmle Noho 7 through August 30.