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American Head Trip: Joshua Oppenheimer Talks to Errol Morris About his Netflix Docudrama Hybrid Wormwood

Peter Sarsgaard in Wormwood

Recounting a recent conversation, Errol Morris says that he’s happy his friend understood Wormwood, the documentary filmmaker’s epic new work, as “an essay on ‘doing history.’” “I think it’s a lot of things, too,” Morris goes on to say, “but I like to hear that it’s about my obsessions with epistemology.” Obsession and epistemology—doesn’t the latter usually require the former? It certainly does in these reality-challenged times, when the act of landing on some honest reckoning with the social and political record requires a scrupulous method, unrelenting tenacity and, indeed, some small degree of obsession. All these qualities have been present throughout the long and storied career of Errol Morris, whose films have challenged facts, probed psychologies and, with dizzying…  Read more

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Hits and Misses: Anthony Kaufman Surveys the Sundance Class of ’17

Elizabeth Olsen and Aubrey Plaza in Ingrid Goes West, courtesy of Neon

The headlines said it all: “Hollywood Faces  August Death March,” “Bummer Summer” and “Beleaguered Box Office.” OK, Hollywood had a tough year, but does that necessarily apply to independent films? Well, as the saying goes, a receding tide sinks all boats. And so it was in 2017: If people were going out to fewer movies and streaming more episodic content at home, it affected both indie films and tentpoles. But if we look back at the films that premiered at Sundance 2017, there are a few instances to inspire hope: The Big Sick, of course, was the big one; Wind River, perhaps the last film to ever be released successfully by the Weinstein Company, had earned more than $33.7 million…  Read more

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Dee Rees, Brooklynn Prince, Howard Rodman and More Announce the 2017 Black List

If you don’t have access to all the work, and if you’re not plugged into the industry development community, the annual Black List — a “most-liked” list of unproduced screenplays floating around in Hollywood — is always a bit of head-scratcher list. Do the loglines — Daddio‘s “A passenger and her cab driver reminisce about their relationships on the way from the airport to her apartment in New York,” or The Mother‘s “A female assassin comes out of hiding to protect the pre-teen daughter she gave up years before” — herald exciting new voices or simply clever takes on durable concepts? Impossible to say without the PDFs on your hard drive. A read through all the loglines, however, does reveal…  Read more

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Power and Perspective in Storytelling: How To Support Each Other, Authentically Represent Characters, and Dismantle The White Power Structure


Armed with Faith (Photo: Asad Faruqi)

Discussing the Other, race, and privilege in documentaries is no straightforward task. Who can tell whose story to whom using whose story-telling techniques have been questions since before 1922’s Nanook of the North, and when we toss in why, and whose paying for it, it doesn’t get simpler. At a panel on perspective and point of view in storytelling at DOC NYC PRO, filmmaker Renee Tajima-Peña deftly moderated as five award-winning filmmakers who present as non-white grappled with some of the issues around representation, the white gaze, and what we as individuals can do to support each other, act authentically towards those we represent, and begin to dismantle the white power structure we often make films within. Who Can Tell…  Read more

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A Spoiler-Free Review of Rian Johnson’s Star Wars: Episode VIII — The Last Jedi

Daisy Ridley in Star Wars: Episode VII - The Last Jedi

When The Force Awakens came out, I was totally fine with it; judging by IRL/online post-screening reactions, Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi is going to be broadly received as definitely better, possibly great. (That’s the “objective” opinion fanboy types say they’re looking for when angrily commenting on reviews disparaging their favorite properties.) Meanwhile, I had a strange experience, asking myself throughout why I wasn’t having a better time. Making a new Star Wars film is both hard (big production, managing continuity within the greater franchise universe, executing coherent and hopefully exciting action sequences) and not: almost everyone showing up will have some kind of serious pre-existing goodwill for the film, even if primarily due to (guilty?) nostalgia. The Abrams installment probably leaned…  Read more

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“My Approach is More Novelistic than Journalistic”: Director Frederick Wiseman on His Oscar-Shortlisted Doc, Ex Libris: The New York Public Library

Ex Libris: New York Public Library

Now 87, Frederick Wiseman is showing no signs of slowing down. His most recent documentary Ex Libris: The New York Public Library, which gives an inside look at the esteemed institution, has been shortlisted for the Academy Award for Best Documentary. Staying true to the filmmaker’s distinctive style of organic, no-fuss lensing, with subtle opinions about his subject matter teased out through his editorial process, Wiseman assuredly conveys in this latest work, via 197 minutes of filmic snapshots, the rich intellectual life offered — and symbolized by — the Library and its offering of community events and talks with figures like Patti Smith, Elvis Costello and Richard Dawkins. Ex Libris steers clear of underlying politics, such as the controversy surrounding the…  Read more

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Watch: “American Carnage: The Films of Steve Bannon”

From 2004 to 2016, Steve Bannon directed nine feature-length documentaries. Bannon, who professes open admiration for the aesthetics of Leni Riefenstahl, believed for a time that his films, which bear dire titles like Battle for America, Fire From the Heartland and District of Corruption, would catapult him to prominence as the right-wing’s cinematic answer to Michael Moore. Diving into his oeuvre is not unlike experiencing the last decade’s-worth of popular political documentaries but through a conservative looking-glass. Bannon’s films illustrate both his dangerously apocalyptic worldview, and provide an object lesson for probing the thin line between documentary and propaganda. They’re also near-unwatchable. But, they are texts worth encountering in order to get a fuller picture of the man who has so thoroughly upended our politics. American Carnage began its life as an article, published in the…  Read more

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Watch: Christopher Arcella’s Bitcoin-Inspired Short, The Satoshi Sculpture Garden

With bitcoin values soaring and “blockchain” the soon-to-be-new film industry buzzword, Christopher Arcella is out with a well-timed short, The Satoshi Sculpture Garden. With a cool, meditative calm, he follows a young woman as she surveys an outdoor sculpture garden consisting of pieces that play upon ideas tied to the cryptocurrency. Data visualization indeed! From Arcella’s director’s statement: In order to fully appreciate Bitcoin one needs to have a basic understanding of Bitcoin’s technology and the systems that the technology is disrupting. Otherwise, trying to understand Bitcoin is a bit like trying to derive meaning from abstract sculpture. The Satoshi Sculpture Garden is a short film that places audiences into such a situation. Each sculpture in the film represents a…  Read more

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VOD Picks

  • The Killing of a Sacred Deer Black Comedy
    A24
    Official site
    12/26/17 MOD VOD
  • Good Time Drama Thriller
    A24
    Official site
    11/21/17 MOD VOD

Interviews

Jane Goodall in Jane

Brett Morgen on Jane, Syncing Philip Glass’s Score to Chimp Sounds and Organizing 140 Hours of Archival Footage

Brett Morgen prides himself on adventurously pushing artistic boundaries in documentaries such as The Kid Stays in The Picture, where he used photo animation to capture Paramount producer Robert Evans’ life; Cobain: Montage of Heck, where he integrated the singer’s music and sound collages with…  Read more

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on Oct 25, 2017

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