Film » Film Review

Full Frame 2013 short reviews

3 comments

Our contributors reviewed as many films as we could get our hands on. Highly recommended titles are preceded by INDYPICK. Reviews were written by David Fellerath, Craig D. Lindsey, Ashley Melzer, Emma Miller, Neil Morris, Sylvia Pfeiffenberger, Lisa Sorg and JP Trostle.


THURSDAY

INDYPICK THE LAST SHEPHERD (Marco Bonfanti, Italy, 76 min.)—The word "pastoral" conjures images of rural beauty and isolation, but "l'ultimo pastore" Renato Zuchelli makes his living as an urban shepherd, battling encroaching concrete on the outskirts of Milan. Italy's Catholics may still honor shepherds as the first witnesses to Jesus' birth, but Renato's best paying customers nowadays are the Muslim butcher shops. With a jovial heart, ample physique and sheepdog Moru constantly by his side, Renato sheds light on many secrets of his trade, from the ancient shepherds' slang known as "Gai" to the surprising opportunities for love, family and freedom that his wandering livelihood affords. [For more on herding cultures, see also: Buzkashi!] —SP

CAMERA/WOMAN (Karima Zoubir, Morocco, 59 min.)—Khadija Harrad's bad marriage may be preferable to her new digs. Living with her family, Harrad is pressured to earn money for rent and kowtow to their conservative vision of her life. Working as a camerawoman makes for great opportunities and tough conversations. Harrad is torn between standing up for her rights and bowing to family pressure for the sake of her young son, Yassine, in this frustrating, intimate portrait of a woman on the rise. —AM

CITIZEN KOCH (Carl Deal, Tia Lessin, US, 88 min.)—If you've heard of Charles Koch (and know it's pronounced "Coke") and Scott Walker, and you know that AFP and ALEC stand for Americans for Prosperity and American Legislative Exchange Council, then you may not learn that much from Citizen Koch, which focuses on the unsuccessful attempt to recall Gov. Walker after he destroyed the collective bargaining power of Wisconsin's public employees. Although Koch, one of the world's richest men, spent millions failing to unseat Obama in the last cycle, his power in state elections shows no signs of abating. If he and his cronies could do it in a heavily unionized state like Wisconsin, they can do it anywhere (and have, in North Carolina). As one chagrined Wisconsinite tells us at the end, "They're coming for you next." —DF

INDYPICK AMERICAN PROMISE (Michèle Stephenson and Joe Brewster, US, 138 min.)—In this intensely personal and emotionally wrought doc, shot over more than 14 years, a husband-and-wife filmmaking duo turns the camera on their son Idris, his friend Seun and themselves, tracking their son's education at the prestigious Dalton School in New York. It's an exploration of race, pressure and parenthood in America, at times both funny and heartbreaking as Idris and Seun grow from tots to teens. Stephenson and Brewster draw you into their home without sugarcoating; their own flaws as parents often stem from an all-consuming desire to see their son succeed. —EM

INDYPICK BLOOD BROTHER (Steve Hoover, US, 93 min.)—When visa complications kick Rocky Braat back to America, he is reunited with his best friend, Steve Hooper, for the first time in three years. Old ties can't contend with the love and deep need Rocky fulfills in India, working with children infected by AIDS and often abandoned. They call him "Big Brother." He calls them his purpose and he rushes back with Hooper in tow. This loving account of Rocky's new life is a raw vision of joy and overwhelming pain, a peek into the resilience of children and the love that can grow if you encourage it. —AM

BATTERY MAN (Dusan Cavic, Dusan Saponja, Serbia, 54 min.)—Scientists can't decide if Serbia's Biba Struja is an insulator, an accumulator or a total fake. Watching this 51-year-old stick a nail in a live socket provokes a simpler reaction. Electric Biba is extraordinary. Unfortunately, his life is less than glamorous—especially with a wife and two children to support and pack of skeptics dogging his heels. Biology's quirk is both gift and curse in this interesting look into the life of a small-time superhero whose aptitude for resistance applies to currents and relationships. —AM

GIDEON'S ARMY (Dawn Porter, US, 96 min)—There's a lot to like about this film that focuses on three Southern African-American public defenders. As a series of portraits, the film is powerful and humbling. However, some might wish for a more sweeping indictment of a culture that condemns the poor, from abusive prosecutors to dangerous prisons ("anal rape central," as one lawyer puts it), with their only defense inexperienced, often demoralized lawyers who struggle to pay their own bills on the job's meager salary. —DF


FRIDAY

GOD LOVES UGANDA (Roger Ross Williams, US, 83 min)—Much media coverage of Uganda has focused on the draconian anti-LGBT laws there. What kind of evil, hateful religion do they practice? If you haven't guessed, we learn that American evangelical Christians have a special fixation on, and influence over, Uganda, the "pearl" of the continent. Uganda is prime recruiting ground: It's full of young, English-speaking people in desperate need of assistance, which the evangelicals are happy to provide with their armies of eager young missionaries (many of whom wouldn't look out of place in Carrboro). —DF

FIRST COMES LOVE (Nina Davenport, US, 105 min.)—Nina Davenport takes viewers into her universe and her uterus with candor and familiarity as she embarks on the path toward single motherhood. At times, the earnestness of Davenport's scripted narration—and her pointed interviews with her father and friends—feels forced. But when Davenport just lets the camera roll, her fun, quirky interactions with her New York City friends and her baby boy are joyous, revealing and organic. —EM

PABLO'S WINTER (Chico Pereira, Spain, UK, 76 min.)—This black-and-white, slow-moving documentary about Pablo, a misanthropic former miner from Almadén, Spain, is stunning to look at but doesn't add up to much. Pablo's redeeming moments come infrequently, and the connection that director Chico Pereira attempts to draw between Pablo's chain-smoking grumpiness and Almadén's mining history is unclear. The film is best appreciated by Hispanophiles and those with a penchant for cinematography. —EM

Preceded by YUCCA MTN TALLY (Phoebe Brush, US, 21 min)—A unsettling meditation by Durham filmmaker and former Full Frame staff member Phoebe Brush on the scale of time required for nuclear waste to degrade. —DF

INDYPICK SLOMO (Josh Izenberg, US, 17 min.) Slomo—as in slow motion—is the nickname of John Kitchin, a self-proclaimed, former Ferrari-driving "asshole" turned rollerskating folk hero on the San Diego boardwalk. In a supreme irony, the former neurologist/psychiatrist developed a rare neurological disease, rendering him unable to identify faces. As his mid-life crisis bloomed into a radical lifestyle change, Slomo did what few of us dare to: He embraced his "personal delusional system" as a form of mental health. An inspiring vision, for the weirdo in all of us. —SP

MEDORA (Andrew Cohn, Davy Rothbart, US, 82 min.)—The haplessness of the once-mighty Medora High School basketball team in Indiana serves as a metaphor for the decline of small-town America. The intriguing narrative about the consequences of economic downturn and school consolidation devolves into repeated renderings of rural squalor—the story would have made an ideal 40-minute short. And several plot lines are abandoned or outright ignored: e.g., Medora's coach is also a cop in nearby Bedford, a fact revealed without elaboration on any inherent conflict or tension. —NM

THE PALACE (Tomasz Wolski, Poland, 82 min.)—In 1952, Warsaw heralded the coming of The Palace of Culture and Science, the "most beautiful monument of the Polish-Soviet Friendship." Some 60 years later, filmmaker Tomasz Wolski reveals the slide from symbol of progress to study in tedium. Overweight security guards survey lounging cats; tinkering repairmen check elevators; swim coaches confront lazy teen lifeguards. Propaganda of old can't help the monotony of today in this clever look into a day's workings at The Palace. —AM

HOMEGOINGS (Christine Turner, US, 56 min.)—An unusually intimate look at African-American funerary traditions through the lens of one successful Harlem funeral director, produced for the PBS series "POV." The son of a South Carolina sharecropper, Isaiah Owens follows the Southern tradition of caring for the dead, based on beliefs and experiences that date back to slavery. Now, the slogan of his family business is, "Where Beauty Softens Your Grief." His specialty: personally preparing the dead for their open casket moment. A lot of care for the grieving is involved, along with respecting the deceased's wishes down to a T, whether she wants the right brand of hair color or a horse-drawn hearse and parade. [For a different perspective on the modern funeral industry, see also: A Will for the Woods.] —SP

MENSTRUAL MAN (Amit Virmani, India/Singapore, 63 min)—International relief and development experts have long known that education and female empowerment are the keys to improving the lives of the rural poor around the world. Here, a man called A. Muruganantham, whose good-humored self-deprecations mask a canny, ambitious mind, devises a sanitary napkin that can be produced by simple, hand-powered machines. He's an appealing presence, as are the female micro-entrepreneurs who benefit from his work. This upbeat film shows the benefits of small-scale development initiatives, and ultimately plays like an informational and fundraising tool for global NGOs. —DF

OUR NIXON (Penny Lane, US, 85 min.)—We revisit the Nixon presidency, this time through a mash-up of archival interviews, the Nixon White House tapes and, uniquely, Super 8 home film recordings taken by Nixon aides H.R. "Bob" Haldeman, John Ehrlichman and Dwight Chapin seized during the Watergate investigation (and later stored at the National Archives and Nixon Presidential Library). The film is less about Nixon—although his foibles are on full display—than the view of him through the eyes of three trusted confidants. While the information isn't new, at least the packaging is. —NM

INDYPICK THE PLEASURES OF BEING OUT OF STEP (David L. Lewis, US, 86 min.)—Whether's he's writing about jazz music or politics, free speech or other issues in his long-running Village Voice column, Nat Hentoff has always handled any subject he tackled with passionate, erudite gusto. This nonlinear yet even-handed doc chronicles his life and career, following the veteran muckraker as he continues to piss people off well into his 80s. Those who still believe in the power of journalism may want to check this out. —CDL

DANCE FOR ME (Katrine Philp, Denmark, 79 min.)—Competitive ballroom dancing can be a white knuckle sport, emotions held in check behind masks of false eyelashes, hairspray, mannered expressions and body makeup. By all appearances, platinum princess Mie and brooding warrior Egor should make a fiery couple in the Latin dance competition, but it turns out that prize-winning chemistry takes practice. —SP

Preceded by TAXIDERMISTS (Nicole Triche, US, 21 min)—Durham filmmaker Nicole Triche's doc short focuses on two practitioners of ancient art and features an unforgettable pièce de résistance. —DF

FIGHT LIKE SOLDIERS, DIE LIKE CHILDREN (Patrick Reed, Canada, 83 min)—Lt. Gen. Romeo Dallaire's life was changed by his experience leading the U.N. peacekeepers stationed in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide. In the two decades since, he has taught, borne witness, written books and been the subject of fiction films and documentaries (including 2002 Full Frame audience award winner The Last Just Man). This film catches up with him in his globetrotting activist mode, supporting his latest book, similarly titled to the film, which aims to help the world end the use of child soldiers. For vivid, firsthand source material on this issue, see the Tim Hetherington doc on Saturday night. —DF

WRONG TIME, WRONG PLACE (John Appel, Netherlands, 80 min)—Mass shootings: They're not just for Americans anymore. It can even happen in the heart of wealthy, civilized Scandinavia. But the motives that drove Anders Behring Breivik to set off a bomb in Oslo that killed eight, and shoot up an idyllic teen socialist summer camp, killing 69, are mostly avoided. Instead, this film focuses on a handful of survivors: a pregnant teen from Uganda, a grief-stricken young woman from Georgia (who swam away while her best friend, who couldn't swim, was killed), and a local boy who showed up late, catching the last ferry with the killer. This is the film of the aftermath, the survivors and their grief and guilt, the idealistic teens who have been confronted with horror far too soon. —DF

INDYPICK IRISH FOLK FURNITURE (Tony Donoghue, Ireland, 9 min.)—Conserving local history and the charm of everyday objects is the subject of this whimsical short, which uses stop-motion animation to reveal the handiwork of Irish woodworkers bringing the rustic furniture in their rural communities back to life. The history of lives lived in these farmhouses gets resurrected too, from generations of parents and grandparents right down to the mice and the chickens. —SP

INDYPICK CUTIE AND THE BOXER (Zachary Heinzerling, US, 82 min.)—Great love, like anything else, takes endurance. Artists Noriko and Ushio Shinohara's marriage proves as much. When they met, she was 19 and he was 40 years her senior with a shaky foothold in the art world. Their insecure situation hasn't changed much, but the years have bread a new dynamic in the pair's rapport. The push and pull of their relationship plays out editorially as a dance between the everyday struggle of the artistic process and intimate animations and old family videos. There is an uncommon gentleness to Ushio and Noriko, so near the brink of utter poverty, yet still chasing their passions. —AM

INDYPICK MUSCLE SHOALS (Greg "Freddy" Camalier, US, 111 min.)—For those who aren't well-versed in soul music history, Muscle Shoals is the small Alabama town where such artists as Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett and Clarence Carter (who are interviewed in the movie) went to record career-defining hit songs. This engrossing doc focuses on Rick Hall, the troubled mastermind who produced these classics, as well as the predominantly white session musicians who created the funky "Muscle Shoals sound." Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Bono and Alicia Keys also show up to give their props. —CDL

INDYPICK DOWNLOADED (Alex Winter, US, 107 min.)—It's hard to believe that we already have nostalgia-filled films being made about the pioneers of online data and file sharing. This doc about the rise, fall and legacy of Napster—including founders Shawn Fanning and Sean Parker—is entertaining and illuminating, serving as not only a historical account but also a window into the infancy of the still-burgeoning Internet democracy phenomenon. Reels of archival MTV footage were utilized for this slickly-made VH1 production. —NM

INDYPICK A STORY FOR THE MODLINS (Sergio Oksman, Spain, 26 min.)—In this peculiar but intriguing short, Spanish filmmaker Sergio Oksman recalls how he found a box in the street containing photos and other items belonging to the Modlin family. Through these photos, he traces the history of this clan, led by Elmer Modlin, a former actor (he appeared as an extra in Rosemary's Baby) who retreated to Spain with his family, all of them practically closing themselves off from the world. —CDL

SUITCASE OF LOVE AND SHAME (Jane Gillooly, US, 69 min.)—Here's another doc in which a filmmaker encounters some personal effects and reconstructs a beguiling true story. Jane Gillooly came across a suitcase full of reel-to-reel tapes, all of it containing audio a married man and single woman recorded and sent to each other. This moody, dreamlike film lets the tapes speak for themselves as it captures the forbidden, erotically charged love affair these two had. —CDL


SATURDAY

INDYPICK BUZKASHI! (Najeeb Mirza, Canada, 82 min.)—Amid rippling green tundra, punctuated by the occasional windblown tree, a shallow valley forms a natural stadium for watching buzkashi, a "crowd" game played on horseback by Central Asian shepherds. In the Pamir Mountains, an area known as "The Roof of the World," three buzkashi champions tell their stories: While the rural shepherds still play a game of individual guts and glory, urban businessmen are moving in with teams trained to control the field. The nouveau riche train in modern gyms; the shepherds work out using improvised barnyard fixtures (when they aren't lifting donkeys on their backs). The city guys breed their own horses, whereas shepherds have to get theirs through wealthy sponsors, just like NASCAR drivers. Behind the scenes of life in rural Tajikistan, we learn that the life of a shepherd, much like the more traditional game of buzkashi, allows an individual the freedom to play by his own rules and sometimes emerge as hero. On the other hand, his interdependence on animals breeds a callous intimacy and leaves him economically vulnerable to disease and predators. [For more on herding cultures, see also: The Last Shepherd.] —SP

Preceded by WOLF MOUNTAIN (Dan Duran, Brendan Nahmias, Sam Price-Waldman, US, 7 min.)—An eye blinks at the faraway mesa. Is it a human or a lupine eye? This short celebrates the interspecies bond felt by Tonya Littlewolf with the animals she cares for at the Wolf Mountain Sanctuary. From the perspective of her Native American culture, she sees the rescued wolves, who are incapable of living independently in the wild, as her siblings. —SP

INDYPICK A RIVER CHANGES COURSE (Kalyanee Mam, Cambodia/US, 83 min)—Focusing on three Cambodian families scratching out a living from the land and water, this film is beautifully and patiently photographed. Despite the apparent natural bounty around them, the subjects of this film find their habitat is being exploited by outside forces, making a future of working in sweatshops all but inevitable. Mam's film is a case study of how the forces of global capitalism destroy the environment and crush those trying to live independently and with dignity on an increasingly despoiled land. Hasta la victoria siempre. —DF

Preceded by NILE PERCH (Josh Gibson, US, 17 min)—Fish trafficking in Uganda is the subject, but come, too, for the black and white, 35mm cinematography. See "Full Frame 2013: Four fine documentaries by Durham filmmakers." —DF

INDYPICK 12 O'CLOCK BOYS (Lotfy Nathan, US, 75 min.)—From its opening minutes this doc will snag you, in the same way that Pug, its 10-year-old protagonist, is seduced by the 12 O'Clock Boys, a pack of dirt bike and ATV riders who race through the streets of Baltimore and battle with the police. "Dangerous, fun, exciting — it's powerful," says someone of the thrill these inner city youth live (and die) for. The sense of exhilaration and escape, inevitability and doom, is palpable. You know it won't end well, but you can't stop watching. —JPT

INDYPICK A WILL FOR THE WOODS (Amy Browne, Jeremy Kaplan, Tony Hale, Brian Wilson; US, 103 min.)—A powerful, personal testament to the "green burial" movement, this film follows the life and death of Durham psychiatrist, musician and folk dancer Clark Wang who, with the help of a sympathetic cemetary director, transformed an undeveloped tract of land at Pine Forest Memorial Gardens into the Triangle's first "green" burial ground. With humor, eloquence, anguish and reflection, Clark and his life partner Jane grant the filmmakers unlimited access to his funeral preparations, final hours, wake and burial. The film also gives space to the voices of activists, from conservationists to funeral directors, who lobby for and against natural burial, understood as burial without embalming, expensive metal caskets or concrete vaults. [For a look inside the traditional funeral industry, see also: Homegoings.] With the world premiere falling on the second anniversary of Clark's return to the earth, the film not only ardently advocates for natural burial, it walks us through the mourning process for a beautiful life that was too brief.—SP

THE BABY (Deborah van Dam, Netherlands, 85 min.)—A woman is sent to live in America after WWII and the death of her Jewish parents in a concentration camp. Her tenuous connection to Anne Frank (the Frank girls babysat her before their family went into hiding) is far less compelling than the lifetime of crushing Survivor Guilt she feels for people she barely remembers and a history she cannot connect with emotionally. A cautionary tale for those who dig too deep into their family's past. —JPT

INDYPICK MAIDENTRIP (Jillian Schlesinger, US, 82 min.)—Teen video diary meets coming-of-age/adventure movie in this film about the solo voyage of Laura Dekker, at 14 the youngest person to sail around the world. Her desire to attempt the daring feat was met at first by a lawsuit from Dutch authorities, before she was allowed to set sail on a 40-foot craft she refurbished by hand with her dad. Dekker's self-shot footage includes plenty of dolphins, rainbows and dancing in front of the camera. But she also tests her own strength to withstand parents, journalists and authority figures, as well as the world's most treacherous reefs and rough weather. Director Schlesinger adds details about Dekker's early biography that make it compellingly clear: Far from a parent-driven publicity stunt, her round-the-world voyage was something she was born to do. —SP

MANHUNT (Greg Barker, US, 102 min.)—Playing like a DVD extra for Zero Dark Thirty, this HBO doc tracks the CIA sisterhood of Al-Qaeda analysts from pre-9/11 through Abbottabad, as well as the rest of the intelligence apparatus geared toward hunting Osama bin Laden. The opening 50 minutes are maddeningly mundane, with visual flourishes repeatedly deployed to buttress banal background. But once the intelligence community shifts into its post-9/11 mindset, the film becomes engaging and informative. —NM

INDYPICK THE UNDOCUMENTED (Marco Williams, US/Mexico, 91 min.)—This insightful, well-made doc provides a first-hand look at the plight of those who brave death to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona. Director Marco Williams embeds himself into various perspectives of this plight, from the border agents whose function is both penal and humanitarian to medical examiners charged with chronicling the desert's dead to the families in Mexico who lose loved ones. The film possesses two qualities of a excellent documentary: It's poignant and thought-provoking. —NM

Preceded by ASH (Nathan S. Duncan, US, 10 min.)—Stone markers flash by in numbered sequence, like a computation whose meaning is unknown. Time lapse shots seem to animate Austin State Hospital, the now abandoned lunatic asylum that sprawls across a Victorian-era map of the city like an Edward Gorey manse. A computer-generated séance brings to life voices from 19th-century patient records, documenting cases of "uterine derangement" and "melancholia." The large-scale institutionalization of the mentally ill buried thousands of lives in cold anonymity; this film attempts to tease out hints of lost personalities from the ruins. —SP

MUSSELS IN LOVE (Willemiek Kluijfhout, Netherlands/Belgium, 74 min.)—A pregnant hatchery manager with a face out of Vermeer painting explains that the sex life of the mussel in its natural habitat is like "one big orgy." In her mussel hatchery, close-ups of the bivalves' frilly flesh openings are worthy of an O'Keefe painting. Other characters contributing to a 360-degree view of the mussel in Dutch culture include a gourmet chef, marine farmers and a professor of gynecology experimenting with the use of mussel "glue" in intrauterine surgery. —SP

Preceded by TRUE-LIFE ADVENTURE (Erin Espelie, US, 4 min.)—Imposing narratives on nature can be a tricky, all-too-human business. This short makes the point by juxtaposing vintage newsreel audio with the lazy, complex visual tapestry of insect ecology on a mountain stream. —SP

AKA DOC POMUS (Peter Miller and Will Hechter, US, 99 min.)—This affectionate, breakneck-paced doc gives you a crash course on the life and times of Doc Pomus, the late, prolific Brill Building songwriter. Friends, family, admirers and collaborators (including Lou Reed, B.B. King, Dr. John and songwriting greats Leiber and Stoller) are interviewed about the charming, portly fellow who had a childhood bout with polio that left him using crutches for most of his life—yet he managed to pen pop classics such as "Save the Last Dance for Me." —CDL

INDYPICK TWENTY FEET FROM STARDOM (Morgan Neville, US, 90 min.)—Backup singers finally get their moment to shine in this documentary, a salute to the church-bred black women who came into the pop music strata in the '50s and '60s and gave many a classic tune its heart and soul. Darlene Love, Merry Clayton and Lisa Fischer are a few of the legendary singers whose careers are saluted. Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder and Sting also appear to give their props to these ladies in interviews. —CDL

INDYPICK IF YOU BUILD IT (Patrick Creadon, US, 84 min.)—A moving portrait of two designer-activists with an all-consuming desire to help revitalize a rural town in Bertie County, N.C., despite institutional roadblocks, this rousing film is both inspiring and frustrating. You'll celebrate the radical, impassioned community-building efforts of designers Emily Pilloton and Matthew Miller while lamenting the lack of support they receive. Although the film leaves unanswered questions—what happens in Bertie County, and to the young people there, after Matt and Emily leave?—it serves as a powerful, real-life illustration of that famous line from Field of Dreams. See our interview with filmmaker Patrick Creadon. —EM

INDYPICK AFTER TILLER (Martha Shane and Lana Wilson, US, 88 min.)—In-depth profiles of the four remaining doctors who do late-term abortions, After Tiller is low-key and straightforward. The physicians are seen as stalwart and deeply compassionate in the face of heart-rending stories from prospective parents facing the hardest decision of their lives and intimidation from protesters. In several cases they are compelled to continue because of protester attacks. —JPT

INDYPICK WHICH WAY IS THE FRONT LINE FROM HERE? THE LIFE AND TIME OF TIM HETHERINGTON (Sebastian Junger, US, 79 min.)—The subject of this film seems not to have figured out what he was doing with the rest of his life when he was killed in April 2011 while covering the Libyan civil war. Newly famous, newly in love and the recent recipient of an Oscar (with Junger) for the harrowing Afghan-outpost doc Restrepo (Full Frame '10), Hetherington recorded his ambivalence and divided psyche in a short called Diary that played Full Frame in 2011, five days before his death in the besieged city of Misrata. But in an act of devotion by Junger, journalist James Brabazon and others, the photographer's life is celebrated courtesy of an extraordinary trove of footage, as well as testimonials from family and colleagues. Hetherington was ahead of his time in his facility with video and the Internet, but—according to Junger—he was also fascinated by ancient, masculine rituals of war and male love. This view may seem a quaint Hemingwayesque relic in the age of drones and women in combat, but it's hard to argue with the men who were there. Still, the changing times are heralded in ironic fashion when, late in the film, we hear from a female photographer, the young up-and-comer Katie Orlinsky, who was with Hetherington on the terrifying street where he died at age 40. —DF

INDYPICK LEVIATHAN (Lucien Castain-Taylor, Véréna Paravel, US, 87 min.)—Beginning with a daunting opening epigraph from The Book of Job, Leviathan is a beast of a film, a kind of documentary-as-heroic-endeavor. Non-narrative, with little audible dialogue, this film is about a fishing vessel, the massive hulk of steel surging through the Atlantic. It's about water, it's about seagulls, it's about trapped, dying fish, it's about tattooed men with cigarettes clenched in their lips. The camera angles are remarkable, with close-ups and long takes sustained on a pitching, rolling vessel. The film reaches an epiphany with a shot from the hull of the boat, dropping underwater and then surging upward, then down again. It's Homeric, it's Hobbesian, it's Melvillean. It's also alarming and modern: That's an awful lot of fish they're killing, in oceans that can't withstand much more commercial exploitation. —DF

Preceded by DAVINCI (Yuri Ancarani, Italy, 25 min.)—Small incisions open up the chest cavity where doctors perform state of the art heart surgery thanks to a new system: DaVinci. The view inside is an alien landscape of translucent blues, slippery fat and veiny organs. When they blare angular music and fix the gaze on the coldness of the machinery, the film distracts from the compelling subtlety of surgery, the dancing fingers of one saving the life of another. —AM

PUSSY RIOT—A PUNK PRAYER (Mike Lerner and Maxim Pozdorovkin, UK, 88 min.)—Relying heavily on court footage, grainy verité video and talking heads, this chronological account of the arrest of the Russian feminist punk group Pussy Riot has a decidedly 60 Minutes vibe. Ultimately, the film offers little more insight into the significance, history or motivations of the agitprop collective than what plastered Twitter and the news last year, and its exhaustive documentation of court proceedings feels almost tedious. —EM


SUNDAY

RUNNING FROM CRAZY (Barbara Kopple, US, 101 min.)—This doc bills itself as an exploration of model-actress Mariel Hemingway's approach to her family history of mental illness (seven of her family members have committed suicide, including her grandfather Ernest and her sister, onetime supermodel Margaux). But the film plays more like an E! True Hollywood Story about the Hemingway sisters than an attempt to destigmatize mental illness. That's okay, if you don't already know their celebrity story, which in itself is pretty juicy stuff. —EM

THE FRUIT HUNTERS (Yung Chang, Canada, 90 min.)—Love fruit? You'll probably like The Fruit Hunters as it visits exotic fruit growers (including actor Bill Pullman) and other "guardians of biodiversity" around the world. Tasty, yes, but the final product is too polished, too much like a TV commercial from the global food industry it decries. Oddly jarring animation and historic re-creations get in the way of the real oddballs and scientists who pursue their passion. Just show us the damn fruit already! —JPT

INDYPICK THE EDITOR AND THE DRAGON: HORACE CARTER FIGHTS THE KLAN (Martin M. Clark, Walter E. Campbell, US, 58 min.)—Before the mainstream media became as untrustworthy as carnival barkers, high-profile newspapers such as The New York Times and the Washington Post were held up as beacons of truth and engines of change. However, small-town newspapers wield far more influence on—and are more accountable to—their communities. This is the story of how, in the early 1950s, The Tabor City Tribune, a weekly paper with a circulation of 1,700, and its editor, Horace Carter, took on the powerful Ku Klux Klan, which was terrorizing blacks and white sympathizers in southeastern North Carolina. Carter's news stories and editorials were not the incendiary rants now common in the media, but instead were thoughtful, well-argued criticisms. He risked his life in confronting the hate group, which counted police officers and sheriff's deputies among its membership. Mexican journalists consistently face this kind of retribution—previous Full Frame attendees may remember Reportero, which documented those scribes' daily risks. American journalists reporting on their home turf confront fewer dangers these days, although the tide may be turning: A newspaper editor in Cherokee, N.C., recently resigned after he received death threats for inquiring about the public database of gun permits. For its unflinching coverage of the KKK, in 1953 the Tribune won the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service, shared with the News Reporter of Whiteville and its editor, Willlard Cole. Carter, who is interviewed at length in this film, died in 2009. His journalistic prowess was exceeded only by his bravery. —LS

WE ALWAYS LIE TO STRANGERS—(A.J. Schnack, David Boone Wilson, US, 108 min.) With 64,507 seats—more than Broadway—the theaters of Branson, Mo., are packed with primarily elderly patrons (a pan of the audience shows a whole lot of white people with gray hair) of kitschy variety shows. This film peels back the veneer of the town to show the financial and emotional insecurities facing the producers and performers. We see the emotionally frayed, dejected cast of The Magnificent Variety Show, the new kid on the Branson block, which can't compete with the highly successful long-running Presleys' Country Jubilee. Although it boasts 300 costume changes, The MVS plays to just 60 people (a five costume change per capita ratio) in a cavernous theater and resorts to distributing flyers at restaurants to draw people in. These larger narratives are woven with personal stories—particularly poignant is the story of a gay parent—that embodies an America at odds with itself. Politically and culturally conservative—"We're about the core values in culture:God, country and family," says the mayor—Branson still has to keep up with the times. As America changes, will Branson survive? —LS

IN SO MANY WORDS (Elisabeth Haviland James, US, 77 min.)—This study of Raleigh psychoanalyst, author and newspaper heiress Lucy Daniels is an impressive rendering of an imaginative woman's point of view. See "Full Frame 2013: Four fine documentaries by Durham filmmakers." —DF

INDYPICK BIG STAR: NOTHING CAN HURT ME—(Drew Denicola, Olivia Mori, US, 120 min.)—Big Star, as Robyn Hitchcock aptly described the trio, was like a "letter posted in 1971 that didn't arrive until 1985. It got lost in the mail."Until Hitchcock, R.E.M., the dB's and other mid-'80s music icons revealed Big Star as a major influence, no one had gotten the memo. Nonetheless, led by Alex Chilton, this four-piece from Memphis was one of the greatest bands you never heard of. (And for most people, still is.) The story of Big Star is an oft-told and cautionary tale: A critically acclaimed band, apparently on the cusp of success, is mismanaged by its record company and ignored by the buying public. Years pass. Cult status ensues. With rare footage, music and interviews, including archival segments with Chilton (who died in 2010 at age 59), this documentary is a Big Star fetishist's dream. Thankfully, the directors and editors avoid the cliched narrative popularized by VH-1'sBehind the Music (I call it "and then tragedy strikes" structure). Instead, we get a nuanced portrait of the band—and yes, tragedy does strike, several times—which should inspire even those unfamiliar with Big Star to scour used record stores for their albums. (Good luck: As we see in the film, even at record conventions it's difficult to find those original LPs now.) Imagine instead of hearing Bread on classic rock radio, singing along to "The Ballad of El Goodo." You'll hear that song in the film. It could change your life. —LS

Preceded by a 30-minute live performance of Big Star songs by Triangle collective the Fellow Travelers.

Comments (3)

Showing 1-3 of 3

Add a comment
 

Add a comment

Quantcast