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

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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.)

FILM REVIEW: Bigger, Stronger, Faster

Bigger, Stronger, Faster movie poster

FILM: Bigger, Stronger, Faster *The Side Effect of Being American
FILMMAKER: Chris Bell
FILM REVIEWER: Katy Jones

Dude, this one totally rocks.

This amazingly huge dude pumps iron at Gold’s Gym and wonders if he should do something else with his life – like steroids. I mean, of course, why not? Everyone else is doing it. Well, not me. But like everyone in his family, all of his heroes, every upstanding American he knows, you know, all of those people are doing it.

So to find the answer about what he should do, he talks to everyone on both sides. His family, his congressman, and his heroes. The thing is the anti-steroid group comes off like dirtbags. So they don’t really help their argument that steroids are bad. That being said, the folks who actually do steroids don’t generally seem like they are having a happy lovely life as a result. So they don’t really help their argument that steroids are good. (Well, except that HIV-positive guy Continue reading “FILM REVIEW: Bigger, Stronger, Faster”

Doc&aDrink Resolutions 2010

Greetings and Salutations in the New Year and I hope the winter is treating you right.

Becky and I have taken a little breather from Doca&aDrink the past month or so to spend some time with our families, recover from illness (her) and injury (me), and talk about the directions we want this little blog to take in the year to come. Keeping this blog is even more fun than we thought it would be when we first started, and we’re looking to do some new things in the New Year.

Thought I’d share with you our goals for the New Year…. Continue reading “Doc&aDrink Resolutions 2010”

Kimjongilia Review

Kimjongilia Movie Poster
Kimjongilia Movie Poster

FILM: Kimjongilia
FILMMAKER: NC Heikin
REVIEWER: Katy Jones

Films like this are so hard to review. The interview subjects are heart-wrenching, but I didn’t much care for the movie. Kimjongilia is a string of interviews from escapees from North Korea – a dozen or so former North Koreans tell a successive and never-ending wall of horror stories about what pains leader Kim Jong-Il inflicts on his people and how much these people fear for their families left inside the wall of repression that is North Korea. These stories are horrible.

We drove four hours round trip to Easton, Maryland to see this movie at the Chesapeake Bay Film Festival because it had one of the most impressive trailers I had ever seen. I left the viewing of the feature film with sense that I could have just stuck with the trailer and gotten everything that was meaningful out of this movie. The trailer had strong visuals, short and “straight to the heart” sound bites with a clear visual direction.

The feature length Kimjongilia presents the assorted soundbites and visuals with very little direction. There’s a jumble of a narrative structure. One minute someone’s losing her son, the next minute someone’s in a coma, the next someone’s sold into sexual slavery, there’s dancing, there’s a cello, you can’t figure out what’s going on. It goes on for hours. In the trailer when it was like a bullet to your heart – as a feature length film it becomes a wall of sound. And I don’t like to say it, but it becomes…boring.

So what I like about the trailer, the visual elements, I still like about the movie. It’s really hard to get cameras into North Korea (I mean, ask Euna Lee and Laura Ling what happens when a journalist accidentally steps on North Korean soil). The filmmaker had interviews with escapees, but very little footage of North Korea itself other than news and propaganda films. So to provide footage – that important stuff that goes between sound bites and over places where you had to do some splicing – she had art. Performance art interpreted the feelings of what was being told in the stories. It was a very imaginative solution to her problem. I also liked the way she hid identities. Some participants were terrified that the regime might identify them for speaking and punish their families still in North Korea. To hide identities, the filmmaker used extreme close-ups – filming a tearful eye, a gesturing hand, or a gasping mouth to fill the screen during the story. This was also clever. Over the extended length though, even these imaginative visuals became repetitive.

My end opinion was that Kimjongilia really should have been a short – a thirty minute (maximum) short film with some really tight editing would have made the narrative more focused and give the sound bites an impact instead of getting lost in a jumble. In a shorter film, the artistic elements would have really stood out instead of seeming overused. It was just too long and too unstructured. I don’t recommend the movie, but I really do recommend the trailer.

On the whole, clever visuals, amazing concept, weak storytelling.

2 out of 5 cheers

Katy

FILM REVIEW: Man on Wire

©2008 Jean-Louis Blondeau / Polaris Images
©2008 Jean-Louis Blondeau / Polaris Images

FILM: Man on Wire

FILMMAKER: James Marsh

REVIEWER: Katy Jones

Man on Wire is the story of Philippe Petit – daredevil and wire-walker who was once young and crazy (now is older and crazy). In 1974, he and a team hatched an illegal plan – to harm no one. With bank robber audacity, broke into the World Trade Center, strung a wire across the Twin Towers, and he walked between them for 45 minutes. He laid down, he knelt, he entertained, and after months of planning, he sent the world a message that anything was possible. Afterwards he got arrested, laid, and his relationship fell apart, but that was all part of the experience.

The story is resourcefully told through interviews with Philippe and his co-conspirators, now a group of excellent storytellers in their 50s and 60s. These are intercut with recreations and amazing archival footage of Philippe. Not just at moments on the wire, but behind the scenes, horsing around, flirting, arguing. I suppose artistic people always have a camera around.

Philippe is a self-made performer who taught himself most of his skills on the wire. He made his living performing guerilla tight rope acts in parks and juggling. He spent years planning the Twin Towers escapade, affectionately called “Le Coup” and it’s a real testament to what heights passion can drive a person. He made secret visits to the Towers, spying in security, building models to plan where to string his wire and where to place his anchors, He enlisted the aid of friends to help him in the caper – to help secure the line, break into the building, get past security, and share in the later arrest. “We knew what we were doing was illegal,” says several people he inspired, “that was part of the excitement.”

And indeed, its hard to get mad at a man for pursuing a dream, that the Towers were made for him to walk upon, that harmed no one, put no one at risk but those who volunteered to be a part of it, and that is remembered to this day.

Part of the wonder of his achievement is that he performed this stunt at probably the only time in history he would have been able to do so. The buildings were still under construction, allowing them to move about somewhat undetected.

There is no doubt that Philippe is a bit of strange and kooky man – I mean, who could accomplish a break in that harms no one other than a person a little off the beaten path. Who wants to walk a wire and dance in the air other than someone without the same fear of death that the rest of us have. It’s a testament to his passion and his ability to inspire others that he accomplished what he did. I thoroughly enjoyed the story, and would watch it again. Grading it down a it because there’s nothing new in the way the storytelling is laid out – just a nice basic story.

4 out of 5 cheers

Katy

P.S. Side note – I am a bit disappointed that all of the American participants of his team chickened out – and only the French remained in the end of the stunt. Really not a pround testament to the American spirit.

FILM REVIEW: Pray the Devil Back to Hell

pray_the_devil_back_to_hell FILM: Pray the Devil Back to Hell
FILMMAKERS: Gini Reticker & Abigail Disney
REVIEWER: Katy Jones

On Monday night, Navin and I went to E Street Cinema to attend a free screening of the new doc “Pray the Devil Back to Hell”. The film is about a grassroots peace movement in Liberia started by women that effectively ended the brutal civil war in that country. Shout out to Wooly Mammoth Theater that sponsored the event as part of the publicity campaign for their new play Eclipsed.

The story is told mostly in interviews with a few very empowering and heroic women who were the strategic planners of this massive movement. The film opens with a riveting and goose-pimple inducing graphic interpretation of what the women have survived and achieved. Then it goes into interviews with the women who made peace happen – supported by graphic stock footage and photography.

The civil war in Liberia had erupted in 1989 as then warlord Charles Taylor tried to seize power. His armies hacked through the countryside, burning villages, raping women, murdering men, and taking young boys to be trained as child soldiers. Once Charles Taylor achieved the presidency in 1997, other warlords mimicked the brutality to try to seize power from him. After more than a decade of violence, the women of Liberia had had enough.

Leymah Gbowee decided to get women involved peace activism and took her message to her church. Muslim women, most notably Asatu Bah-Kenneth (now Deputy Inspector-General of the Police in Liberia) also mobilized to join the fight. Dressed in white, like Biblical characters, these women protested every day in front of Charles Taylor asking for peace. Their numbers grew so massive and drew so much attention that eventually President Charles Taylor was forced to acknowledge them. They extracted a promise that he would attend peace talks in Ghana with the rebelling warlords. The women applied the same public pressure to the warlords who also agreed to attend.

This was a dramatic and affecting story and the film walked a kind of line between journalism and personal journey.  The women interviewed are the architects of the movement, and their heroic characters are impressive and inspiring. In a movement that was meant for all the women (and people) of Liberia, it would have been extremely moving to also hear a bit more from women who had been displaced, from the Liberian statesmen who were affected by the message, from children who now looked up to their mothers, or from men talking about the effect the women had on their lives.

I was very affected the message of the film, and for the first time I think I got an idea of what really happened in Liberia.  I was left wanting more. That may be a good thing. Since watching the film, I have been spending a significant amount of free time obsessed with learning more about Liberia and the peace process since.

—3 out of 5 Cheers

Katy

For additional information about the peace process:

World Organization for Human Rights USA
Peace X Peace

Additional Documentaries about Liberia:

PBS’s Liberia: America’s Stepchild from 2003.
The upcoming independent film The Redemption of General Butt Naked

FILM REVIEW: Harlan County, USA

FILM REVIEW: HARLAN COUNTY, USA
FILMMAKER: BARBARA KOPPLE
REVIEWER: KATY JONES

This is just a fantastic effing film! I’m kind of a angry at myself for going this long without seeing this film. It’s everything I always wanted filmmaking to be.

In June of 1972, the mine workers of the Brookside Mine in Harlan County, Kentucky go on strike for better working conditions and wages. They wanted a United Mine Workers contract with parent company Duke Power and refused to go back to work until they got it. Barbara Kopple takes her film crew to Harlan County to get a bit of footage, but finds the mine workers and the strike so compelling she decided to stay in Harlan County and make an entire film about the strike.

What resulted is a passionate, heroic and immersive view into the inner workings of the strike and the lives of the workers. This desperate group of people – living in company shacks with no water or electricity – who fight for a better life. Ms. Kopple and her film crew pursue every angle of the story – they go inside the mines, the home life of the workers, the meetings of the union, the gatherings of the strike breakers with such gentle tenacity that the camera becomes a participant in the strike itself.

Its like going through culture shock. The initial moments of this film – the noise and clatter of the mine, the voices of the mine workers, the views of the town – are foreign and confusing. But just like gaining understanding in another country – as you watch the film, as you become more immersed and understanding, and these lives become more vibrant and compelling. What’s at stake – their health, their livelihood, their children – becomes richer and more desperate. As the strike continues to go on and the danger faced by those characters you come to care about – the frustrated mine workers and the spitfires of the ladies club – escalates at the hands of the strikebreakers and police you participate in the fear and tenacity of those holding on to hope at the end of the fight.

This is a film about Americans who fight hard for a better life. This is a film where lives are at stake. This is a film about worker’s rights. This is also a women’s lib film. The active strike participation of wives and mothers and sisters in this Appalachian small town doubled the power of the strike against the company. And the women become the most consistent voices in the strike and its organization.

This is also a film about the power of the camera. The constant presence of the camera recorded an exhaustive amount of violence as the strikebreakers and their organizer, Basil Collins, tried to beat and threaten submission into the miners. Basil Collins is recorded in slow motion firing a gun at the camera while members of the strikebreakers beat Ms. Kopple and her crew. However, it is likely that the presence of the camera kept the level of murder down during the strike. Earlier strikes had resulted in a great deal of bloodshed on both sides. This strike had only one death. One death resulted in enough outrage to end the strike.

After winning the strike, the lives of the coal miners in Harlan don’t suddenly become paradise, but they win concessions bit by bit. There’s an uphill battle in the future, and a compelling feeling that some battles simply have to be won.

5 out of 5 cheers

Katy

“Afghan Star” Review


FILM REVIEW
Title: Afghan Star
Director: Havana Marking
Film reviewed by: Katy Jones

I loved this film. It took me a little while to get into it. It’s a little rough – it’s a film about Afghanistan. It’s a world I’ve never been to, and like any culture shock, it takes a little bit of time to get a sense of where you are and what you are trying to navigate.

Television has come back to Afghanistan after being outlawed during the years of Taliban rule. One of the most popular programs on the television is Tolo TV’s Afghan Star. The set up is the same as American Idol. Thousands audition across the country wearing contestant numbers and singing to a panel of judges who alternatively ridicule and praise until they whittle out a small group of finalists. These finalists move on to the main broadcast and sing in a weekly program. After they perform, the audience sends votes for their favorite via text messages. The next week the person with the fewest votes is removed from the program. And this poor unlucky soul, after being told that their dreams are crushed, gets to sing one final song to the audience and exit on a “high note” so to speak.

The four finalists that we follow are from different backgrounds and different regions in Afghanistan. Rafi, an adorable 19 year old with Jonas brother appeal is from nearby Mazer e Sharif, a community dominated by the Tajiks of Iranian descent. Hameed is a twenty-five year old classically trained musician from the Hazara minority, a people believed to be related to the Mongolians.

Rafi is clearly the heartthrob while Hameed is clearly the better musician. Both become symbols for their people to pin their hopes. And they are friends (at least on screen). The sight of these two singing together, joyfully embracing after they are passed to the next round resonates strongly with a people that are tired of fighting and want to see Afghanistan as a unified country.

There are two (!) female contestants. There is the modest and Madonna-esque (Rembrant style Madonna) Lema who is praised for maintaining her feminine modesty. She quietly, stoically can’t help herself from singing and is matter of fact of the danger she knows she is facing in being a woman on the screen. She doesn’t need to be a star, but she does need to sing.

And then there’s Setara. Ah, Setara, an irrepressible Madonna-esque (pop star style Madonna) diva who can’t help but dance when she’s singing. Eventually, the audience turns against her because she bounced from side to side in an immodest fashion while singing. She doesn’t cry at the announcement that she is kicked off, but during her final song – oh, dear. Her face sets, her thoughts broadcast, “Okay, you didn’t like that – see how you like this!” And she belts out a song as she sashays around the whole stage, letting her head-scarf slip. Oh, Setara. Noooooooo!!!! She leaves the program laughing, and dodging death threats.

But my favorite character is Daoud Sediqi, the producer/host who works behind the scenes. “Why do I care who wins personally? These people are characters for me to make a better world with.” For him, having these ethnic groups share the same stage and vote for the same stars is a unifying force for the Afghan people. “Why talk about the Taliban?” he asks, “They are not important.” They are not a part of this television world he is creating. In his world, ethnic diversity shares one stage and sings together and supports each other. Women are seen, television is broadcast, and music is heard. Interestingly, this film was shot in 2006, and Mr. Sediqi today is no longer a part of Afghan Star. Earlier this year, he was sent to watch this documentary in the U.S., and he never returned to Afghanistan.

Why do I like this show? Amazing characters? Yes. The producer manipulating the entire country. Yes. But also there’s this – my belief in democracy has been shaken in recent years, petty fighting, caring more about the pretense of caring than actually caring, the exhaustion of watching Sarah Palin continue to get press – but you know, you’re giving it back to me, Afghan Star. Suddenly democracy does seem like a process that can bring people together as much as tear them apart. Suddenly, in an entertainment-driven TV show, I am reminded why freedom of the press is important. Thumbs up.

4 out of 5 cheers

Katy