I thought about doing a Best Documentaries of SXSW feature, but that would have included too many repeats from past festivals. For instance, a number of my favorite docs of 2011 so far, such as 'Armadillo,' 'Cave of Forgotten Dreams,' 'The Interrupters' and 'How to Die in Oregon,' were in Austin last week and honestly would have trumped anything I'd just seen. Yet I couldn't limit myself to world premieres, either, because there are some films I caught up with at SXSW, like Sundance Audience Award winner 'Buck' and the wonderfully eccentric 'Convento.'
The truth is, I wasn't really excited about a lot of this year's non-fiction crop (including 'Buck'), and I already devoted full reviews to two favorites, 'The City Dark' (which won an award for its awesome score) and 'Conan O'Brien Can't Stop.' I didn't see all the docs of course -- that might have been impossible even if I didn't make time for friends, Franklin and a few fiction films; also, other Cinematical writers took on a few selections for coverage (see our reviews of 'Fightville,' 'El Bulli: Cooking in Progress' and 'Becoming Santa' as well as a look at the music docs of the 24 Beats a Second program). But I would like to share some thoughts on a handful of other films I like for one good reason or another.
As one of maybe only three people who isn't a fan of Morgan Spurlock's latest pop documentary sensation, I technically shouldn't be the one posting the new trailer for the film, which I guess is now fully titled 'POM Wonderful Presents The Greatest Movie Ever Sold.' But like Spurlock, who very reflexively depicts himself selling out to brands who'll finance his film, I'm willing to whore myself out, especially if it has to do with getting people to watch a doc, any doc.
Besides, I'm totally interested in seeing the product placement satire again when it comes out next month (in limited release, April 22), not because I expect to see brilliance and insight I missed at Sundance but because scenes have been added since the world premiere (audiences in SXSW saw the newer cut) and I do honestly love the idea of 'Greatest Movie' being theoretically a never-ending movie.
One of these days someone's going to make a documentary about all the problems with documentary. It will probably have to be longer than (1452 minute-long) 'Grandmother Martha' and might, unlike 'The Greatest Movie Ever Sold,' actually be more self-reflexive than the average modern doc. While we wait for such a film, let's get the ball rolling on the discussion.
Yes, it is true that we've just had one of the best years for documentary ever. But that doesn't mean there aren't also more negative issues for the mode than ever before. The thing is, there are so many kinds of non-fiction films and so many kinds of doc enthusiasts that we all have very different answers for the following question: what one thing could change for the better for documentaries?
I've spent the past week at the Miami International Film Festival (read my wrap-up) and am currently at South by Southwest seeing docs both great and not so great, and running into extremely divergent doc fans and filmmakers. Most were totally stumped by the broad question at hand, so I've also opened it up to people not in my vicinity, such as on Twitter and a Facebook group for documentary lovers. And now, of course, I'm opening it up to you.
Happy St. Patrick's Day. Fittingly, here is a review of a film about a guy of Irish descent directed by the guy who directed 'Leprechaun 2.'
One of the highlights of the SXSW film festival is seeing a sold out comedy at the Paramount Theater. 1200 people laughing together is just a wonderful thing. Even better, for me, though, is seeing so many people in one room together for a documentary, as was the case for 'Conan O'Brien Can't Stop.' It's one of a few docs playing twice in such a big room this week, and (nothing against the also-great 'The Interrupters' and 'Senna') surely it's the most popular of the three.
Part of the reason for that popularity is obviously O'Brien's notoriety, and the promise of laughs is certainly a factor, as well. If I had to complain about anything, and it's somewhat appropriate with this film to be bitchy, it is actually too funny for a crowd that big. From the opening, in which the talk show host gives a surprising celebrity sighting to a star-homes tour bus, the audience could not quiet down. It's just one hilarious bit after another, and I missed many of those bits. So, I can't wait to see the doc again to fill in gaps. Also, it's just plain worthy of multiple viewings.
When I was invited to the Miami International Film Festival, an obvious draw was to leave the cold Northeast for a sunny trip to Florida, even if I'd naturally be spending most of my time inside watching movies. I knew it'd be a little tough to keep off the beaches in favor of the assignment, however, and I was almost glad to find the weather chillier than expected. Did I eventually take in some cocktails poolside one day as I did some work? Of course. I'm only human.
The thing about the Miami fest is that its screenings are pretty much limited to evening show times. So attendees are able to hit the sand during the day, view any of 100 films in and out of competition at night, and then, if desired, still have the later hours reserved for the clubs. This year's event marked the debut of new executive director Jaie Laplante, formerly of the Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, who upon appointment told the Miami New Times that the city's cinematic taste is for "a lot of passion, color, flare" and "works with grand emotions."
I can't recall if I read Michael Pollan first or saw Aaron Woolf's 'King Corn' first. The two experiences occurred roughly the same time (in mid 2007). But either way I'm sure that I learned a lot about the food industry from the latter (which features Pollan as a talking head). And as an ignorant eater unaware that corn dominates our diet and may be ruining the American farm system through its industrialization, I appreciated the way its information was filtered through the investigatory curiosity of two college buddies, who learned right alongside the viewer.
Now one of those inquisitive guys, Ian Cheney, who is also credited as a writer and producer of 'King Corn,' has a new directorial effort (following his 2008 debut, 'The Greening of Southie'), which is a similar sort of personal journey that looks into another sort of taken-for-granted subject. Titled 'The City Dark,' the new documentary, umm, sheds light on the growing problems of light, specifically of the artificial variety. Like corn, artificial light seems to be another hidden evil, evidence that, as the film states, "everything that does good to humans also does bad."
Eat My Shorts is a bi-weekly column that showcases and reviews short films.
It's more than a week until St. Patrick's Day, but that means you have plenty of time to watch all 10 of the Irish short films I've curated for you here. Actually, some of them, specifically the two oldies, are only Irish-themed but still appropriate to the holiday. So get your green on and enjoy.
First, a word about Irish shorts: Partly thanks to the Irish Film Board's interest in shorts (they just announced a new animated short funding grant) but in general due a strong national cinema overall, the past decade has seen a great surge of quality shorts from Ireland, a number of which have been nominated for Oscars. This year's contender, 'The Crush,' may have been my least favorite in its group, but it has its charms and I was still glad to see Ireland continue a streak with this being the third year in a row it was represented in the live action category.
First up is a film that won the Academy Award in 2006.
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