Local docs at “Our City Film Festival” Feb 13

Totally Local at the “OUR CITY FILM FESTIVAL” Feb 12-13

Local docs are always fun – it’s fun to live somewhere that people make movies about. Makes you feel kind famous to see places you know in film.  Plus later when you meet the filmmakers you can have a real conversation about your city – and it’s not all awkward. I heart that.  Local docs = awesome.

And this weekend you can see some at the Our City Film Festival.  We got a sneak preview – and we’re stoked. Our City Film Festival is a fund-raiser for Yachad – a local organization that helps to rebuild and repair DC communities.   So, you can come watch movies and support your community.  Lovin’ your work!

So here’s your guide to the Film Festival for doc fans.

Saturday night, February 12 – opening party at RFD’s.

Local Grammy Award winning Hip Hop Artist Christylez Bacon performs.

Drink specials = Doc & a Drink will be there!

Sunday, February 13 – A full day of films at the Goethe Institut at 812 7th Street, NW, Washington, DC

11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.   Docs in Progress Screenings

Docs in Progress is a local group that teaches individuals the skills they need to tell their own stories.  (They taught me how to edit with Final Cut Pro – for the record).   These films will be “in progress” looking for some feedback – so you’ve got a chance to help some people craft their films and get involved in the community.

1:15 p.m. – 2:45 p.m. – is the Doc Block – “Our Docs”

Totally local filmmakers making films about

With local filmmakers including

“Community Harvest” – made by a pair of dudes from “Meridian Hill Pictures” ( how local can you get?) about a community garden in Columbia Heights.   Longer post on them later.   Photo above.

“Touch, Pause, Engage” – about the first African American high school rugby team – in NE Washington.  Director Jonni Masella.

“The Washington Redskins: Winning Years” by Walter Gottlieb.

Walter is one of those names I’ve know I’ve heard somewhere but just can’t quite place.  He’s an active WIFV contributor, a filmmaker with decades of local experience.  Very excited to see his work.

Then there’s a super awesome Closing Party

At 7:30 – 9:00 pm. With the ladies from the show “DC Cupcakes” (man, I can’t stop hearing about this show lately.) which I unfortunately, I have a condo board meeting and will miss – but if you can go – you can get CUPCAKES!

So that’s what we’ll be doing next weekend!

You?

5 out of 5 cheers

–Katy Jones

The New Theater in Town. West End Cinema.

If you haven’t heard – there’s a new theater in my town.  And it ain’t no traditional multiplex.  It’s an art cinema – do you know what that means?  IT SHOWS DOCUMENTARIES!!!! In addition to other indie art films, this theater has a quite impressive line-up of documentaries, and it’s only its first month in existence.

Conveniently located at 23rd and M Street NW, Washington, DC – West End Cinema promises to help enrich the local art film scene.  We went out to see a film there last weekend and I loved it.  A nice, intimate feeling – fancy beers on tap, friendly service, and oh yeah, documentaries on screen.  Sweet.

I still love E Street Cinema, and it remains to be seen if the market can hold two art movie houses in one town, but I have faith.  We are DC.  We like our entertainment smart.  We like our local businesses healthy.  We are one of the largest documentary film communities in the country.  I can’t wait to see more movies!

–Rock it.

–Five out of five cheers

–Kathleen Jones (Katy J.)

FILM REVIEW: The Boxing Gym – punch it.

FILM: Boxing Gym

FILMMAKER: Frederick Wiseman

REVIEWED BY: Kathleen B. Jones

I’ve been on the road non-stop since August.   Finally got home this weekend and first thing I wanted to do was go see a doc in a movie theater.  I dragged my fella to go see Frederick Wisemen’s new film “Boxing Gym.”  I felt sorry that I made him sit through it with me.

“Boxing Gym” takes place at a boxing gym – shocking right? – it’s a gym in Austin, Texas with a diverse clientele ranging from children to the elderly, women and men, all races, who love to come into the gym and box.  The audience gets to be very familiar with the rhythm of the gym, the sound of punches, the increased skill of the characters.  That’s neat.  For an hour.

Frederick Wisemen is a known master documentary filmmaker.  Recently, he was the honoree at Silverdocs, the DC area’s biggest documentary film festival.  I know all that, but I have actually seen very few of his films.  They are not available on Netflix, they are only seen in the occasional library, once in awhile on PBS, and in theaters.   His style is pure cinema verite, i.e. filming what happens with no narration, no music, no additional lighting or sound effects.  It’s considered to be the most “true to life” style of filmmaking.

After an hour of no storyline, no sound but boxing and chatting, and no music, you get wicked bored.  I love the idea of pure cinema verite.  But in practice it’s just not much cooler than actually living.

I watch documentaries to experience a new life.  These characters in “The Boxing Gym” are just normal people – you know, people who like to work out, but that’s it.  Again, it’s neat for a bit.  It’s good to have a minute where you are present in a scene and really look at what happens in life around you.  But after an hour of someone else’s perfectly normal life passing by on a screen you start thinking, “Um, I could be outside experiencing my perfectly normal life instead of sitting here in this chair watching some guy jump rope.”

Nothing much happening.  Nothing’s at stake, nothing’s really changing.    And frankly, being stuck in a tiny gym for two hours – it’s actually kind of claustrophobic.  It’s not unlike watching someone type on a computer for about two hours straight.  There’s a rhythm to the typing, and a beauty to some of the angles, but do you really want to watch it for two hours?  And pay $11 for the privilege?

But I will give credit to the film because I did go home and try out some of the boxing moves I watched in the film – and I realized that it is pretty fun.  Boxing would be cool.  I might try it sometime.  Maybe I did get a little something out of it. So 1) you are person who likes boxing or are curious about it – you should watch this film or 2) you are a student of documentary film who wants to learn more about cinema verite – you should watch this film.  But if you are 3) a person who believes that if they spend $11 on something you should get some entertainment on that value – yeah, skip it.

–Two out of five cheers

–Kathleen B. Jones (Katy J)

Boston Globe review of “Boxing Gym”

The Washington City Paper review

IFC Conversation with Wiseman

FILM REVIEW: Dogtown and Z-Boys

FILM: Dogtown and Z-Boys

FILMMAKER: Stacy Peralta

REVIEWER: Kathleen B. Jones

I am revisiting some of my favorite docs while I’m on the road.  (All praise Netflix Instant!).  Most recently I rewatched every 90s teen punk skateboarder wannabe favorite Dogtown and Z-Boys.  I remember this doc as being super awesome when I first saw it (it was realeased in 2001) but wasn’t sure I wasn’t viewing it through the lens of a 20-something media student who totally like thought boys who skateboarded and listened to Black Flag were like totally hot.  Tastes haven’t changed.  Movie is awesome, still like dude who listens to Black Flag.

Dogtown and Z-Boys is the story of a skater gang from California who defined 70s skateboard culture.   The fact that the filmmaker, Stacy Peralta, was one of the Z-Boys, could have made it suck (there’s a rule about being too close to what your filming), but instead it makes it awesome.  The other members of the team talk to him like a person, like, “you remember how Johnny was” and it makes you the audience feel like you’re a part of the experience.  Like you totally know these guys, even though they would totally never actually talk to you.

Peralta himself appears as one of the interviewed characters, as he should since he was a part of that experience, but he doesn’t narrate. Sean Penn does the narration as an omniscient 3rd person narrator.  So you get to feel how much Peralta is personally involved in the story, and cared about making a great film about an experience he was part of, but it’s not like just wanted to talk about himself.

Now, these were a violent bunch of kids who broke into people’s homes and damaged property and ran from the cops and had a total subculture to themselves.  As adults, they don’t lie about it, or hide from it.  The interview with Jay Adams whose life after the crew broke up descended into drugs and jail is a really powerful experience.

It’s a great film, with an authentic voice, great story, thoughtful filmmaker, fantastic historical footage and kind of inspiring subtext.  Kids follow their passion and achieve greatness, with some consequences attached.  They are a totally multi-cultural crew, and they had a chick on their team.  I dug it so much I think I’m actually going to buy it and it will be one of the few docs I keep around to watch over and over again and analyze.   I’m giving it one less than five stars because there were a couple interviews I couldn’t figure out – like why Henry Rollins was in it.

I found the Z-Boys story and Peralta as a filmmaker intriguing. I’m also really interested in seeing what Peralta did next, which was make a film about the Crips and Bloods.  I’m interested in seeing how his life story as part of a gang helps to inform his choices as a filmmaker.  So hopefully I’ll watch that next week.

Four out of five stars.

Katy B. Jones

Deep Water – Deeper, and Deeper he went

FILM: Deep Water

FILMMAKER: Louise Osmond & Jerry Rothwell

REVIEWED BY: Kathleen B. Jones

I am on a bit of a nautical kick lately.  Recently watched Deep Water.  This 2006 film follows the story of a yacht race round the world.  I should preface with rather a sad failure of a yacht race round the world.  In 1969, in a twisted race of torture that humans sometimes like to create for the themselves, a race was created for who could conduct a solo circumnavigation of the globe – without ever stopping.  So, to be clear, you are talking about months at sea alone with nothing but ocean.  I like to be alone sometimes, but this is intense personal solitude.

There are nine people crazy enough to enter, and most of them fail.  Some are dead.  And one crazy fool named Donald Crowhurst enters with almost no sea experience and completely mortgages himself to the hilt in order to do it, leaving himself and his young family destitute if he fails.

The film is fascinating, because with no tools other than 60’s archival footage, a few interviews from people still alive four decades after this insanity, and some actors reading journals, the film creates a sense of extreme tension and drama.  And I found myself chewing through nails unable to sleep.  I don’t want to give it away, but it’s a true adventure film.   At the same time a testament to the greatest of human acheivement and the depths of human foolishness.   One of the best archival films I’ve ever seen.

Four out of five cheers.

–Katy Jones

My Apologies to the First Person Narration….

Hello readers, I have an apology to make.

I have mentioned in several blogs how generally off-putting I find first person narration in a documentary, particularly when the narrator is the filmmaker.  I believe that I was in error.   Particularly after watching the vastly compelling Dear Zachary, which is narrated in first person, I feel that I must grovel a bit and apologize to first person narration.

Lately, I have been forced to admit that several of the films I most loved since starting this blog involve first person narration.   I enjoyed Kurt and Courtney, which was entirely narrated by filmmaker Nick Broomfield.  Bigger, Stronger, Faster gets you to care about steroids due to the personal story of the filmmaker.  And while Living Downstream wasn’t narrated by the filmmaker, it was narrated by the author on whom the film was based – and I loved it.

But the most poignant and touching use of first person narration is definitely Dear Zachary.  I don’t think I can properly explain to those who have not seen this movie how effective it is.  The personal voice of the filmmaker lets you experience the unfolding of tragedy along with him, and leads you to care about the characters in such a personal way that at the end of the film you feel as if it has happened to you.  It was an extremely effective way to frame the story, and I don’t think a third person narrator would have done the same job.

So I feel that I need to make an apology to first person narration.  I am sorry that I doubted your usefulness.  I was being an idiot. Early in my documentary career I was exposed to films that used you poorly and that wasn’t your fault.

My eyes have been opened. You are a useful dramatic and structural tool in a documentary filmmaking arsenal.  I look forward to seeing you used by talented filmmakers in the years to come.

Cheers,

–Kathleen (Katy J.)

Doc News – Dear Zachary

Many of you have read Becky’s review of “Dear Zachary” from a few months ago.  (We obsessively check our stats – we can tell you’ve been reading!)

If you haven’t seen the film yet, you have a really cool opportunity to do so this weekend.

Dear Zachary will be playing at the Cinema Arts Theater in Fairfax this Saturday, June 5th at noon. It’s  your chance to see a phenomenal doc in a theater, and to meet the filmmaker Kurt Kuenne.

Tickets may be purchased here.

–Katy J.

Film Review – Kurt & Courtney

Warning – this is a total spoiler review –

Just hooked up Netflix streaming to the TV – and went crazy all Memorial Day weekend with all the cool stuff I could watch instantly.

One of the docs you too can watch instantly is “Kurt and Courtney.”  Like most teen angsters in the 90s, I was (am) a Nirvana fan.  So I’m curious about the subject. I was also curious about the filmmaker, Nick Broomfield who is repeatedly quoted in every book on documentary film that I own.  (If you know me, you know I’ve got at least more than one book on documentary film.) So I was as curious about him as I was about “Kurt and Courtney.”

This film is kind of a sucker punch.  It really got a reaction out of me.  Nick Broomfeld does a first person narration through the whole film – I believe I may have mentioned how much I generally hate first person narrators.  He’s driving around telling us about who he wants to interview, where we are, what we’ve learned about Kurt Cobain…yammer, yammer, yammer.  And the people he’s interviewing generally seem a bit off their rocker.  As you meet more people from Cobain’s life –  the more you think, “Wow. He was surrounded by nuts.”  (Except his sweet Aunt Mary, you really kind of wish you had a sweet Aunt Mary).

So I spent the first half of the film kind of hating it.  I was really mad at Nick Broomfield for making me watch a film that goes nowhere.  I wasn’t learning anything I didn’t already know about Kurt Cobain – everytime things got interesting, Nick Broomfield would say something like, “Well, I would have interviewed this guy…but Courtney Love stopped me,” or “I would have played a song, but Courtney Love gave me injunction,” “I would have flown here, but Courtney Love scared away my funders.” And then, “I would have interviewed so and so…but Courtney Love threatened her with death.” What?

So halfway in – this movie takes a turn, and you get where fearless leader Nick’s been taking you. Courtney Love really pissed off Nick Broomfield during the making of this film. So since she won’t let him make a film about Kurt (& Courtney) – he makes a film about Nick & Courtney, making sure the audience knows every way she gets in the way of his freedom of speech.  He includes every conceivable way she may have hurt people in the past. And includes recordings where she threatened music journalists with death if they wrote bad stuff about her, and scared one so bad she left town.

At the end of the film she is the invited speaker at the ACLU – the celebrated litigators of freedom of speech. Nick Broomfield puts it to the test – and after her speech HE GETS UP ON STAGE and questions the ACLU for having someone he feels is antithetic to freedom of speech as the guest speaker.  The irony of his being escorted from the stage for freely expressing his opinion at an ACLU meeting – is frankly beyond awe-inspiring. And strangely, I kind of loved this film.

I didn’t learn anything much new about Kurt and Courtney.  But I do know that I will never ever cock-block Nick Broomfield.  And he may be the most punk filmmaker I have ever seen.

–3 out of 5 cheers

–Katy J.

Joe Berlinger’s “Crude” – Film review

Film: Crude

Filmmaker: Joe Berlinger

Reviewed by: Katy Jones

Sunday, Becky and I finally got the chance to watch Joe Berlinger’s much-hyped film Crude. And dadgummit if it didn’t live up to the hype.   And thanks to Netflix streaming, you too can watch it immediately, and you should, you really really should.

Long ago, in the Ecuadorian rainforest, a young man gets a job working for the foreign oil company Texaco.  He witnesses countless atrocities, unsafe working conditions, toxic pollution, and abuses of power.  When he grows up, his church sponsors his education and sends him to law school.  He emerges with a mission.  To take Texaco to court and make them answer for the ruination of the rainforest in their pursuit for oil.

Crude follows three years in the life of that court battle.  In the rainforest itself, with evidence in the case coming forth from the ground beneath the judge’s feet.    The land is toxic, the water is poisoned, the children get cancer and die.  And there is nothing to do to stop it – except hit the oil companies where it hurts.

The complexity of this story – with it’s accompanying heart-break, humanity, and posturing-  is artfully portrayed in the Berlinger documentary.  In the initial few minutes, we see the Ecuadorian lawyer Pablo Fajardo traveling to the rain forest to meet with members of the Cofan tribe to ask what they would need for restitution, what course of action could help make the deaths of their families and their culture “right.”   As the story follows Pablo, the audience is guided by his American counterpart, American lawyer Steven Donziger who helps to coordinate the American legal element of the case – which has become even more complex once Texaco merged with Chevron.

Pablo is our hero who is “the David in this David and Goliath story.” But for story purposes, his American counterpart Steven Donziger is the English- speaking guide who shows us the work that is being done on Pablo’s behalf.  The structure works well – following these two major characters helps to braid the multiple sides of the story.  We meet the voices of the Chevron company who insist that the fault of the degradation is not theirs to bear.  We have a guide through the rainforests and politics of Ecuador.  And guides through the legalese and urban landscape of the United States.  We even get the chance to see it through Pablo’s eyes.  We also meet the individual voices out of 30,000 constituents in Ecuador who have lost their children, homes, and livelihood to the destruction of the rain forest in the quest for oil.

I have been thinking about the issues for days – do I live in a toxic culture?  Am I contributing to it?   Am I to blame?  Would the destruction have been less pervasive if Chevron had stopped the court battle and offered to help?  Is the company to blame?  Or the government?  How do you make these things “right”?

And that’s the best part of this documentary.  It’s a skillfully told story, with something truly at stake, that introduces you to a culture and problem you couldn’t have truly understood before.  I loved it.

Five out of five cheers

Katy Jones

More about the film

Crude’s Blog

Chevron’s Comments

Errol Morris on Frederick Wiseman

The Silverdocs are coming, the Silverdocs are coming!  The documentary community in D.C. gets a shot of adrenaline every June when one of the world’s best documentary film festivals opens at the AFI Theater in Silver Spring.  Becks and I are counting down till our moment to rub elbows with filmmakers and critique our little hearts out.  A whole film festival dedicated to documentaries, right in our hometown…yes!

This year’s Guggenheim winner is Frederick Wiseman.  This is the big honor of the festival given to an Important Documentary Filmmaker.  It’s the big deal.  And among the other events, one of the major Silverdocs screenings that will be massively difficult to get into will be the special screening honoring his prolific career.

I looked through his list of over thirty films and humbly realized that I haven’t seen a single one of them. How embarrassing.  What will I say to everyone I run into at doc events who will be talking about him?  Quick note on to do list – Must. Watch. Frederick. Wiseman.

And in the meantime, I turn to one of my favorite filmmakers – Errol Morris – who had a recent blog post about the illustrious Frederick Wiseman.  And makes him sound like not just an illustrious filmmaker, but an interesting, surreal, and perhaps irreverant one too.

Frederick Wiseman’s Best Scenes by Errol Morris.

Frederick Wiseman is Found at Zipporah Films.

–Katy J.