documentaries

Paying Homage to the Genius of Black Artists

Sandra Bertrand

The film is strongest when it focuses on the individual artist, in some instances a long-overlooked glimpse into lives we often didn’t know existed.  Take, for instance, Edmonia Lewis, whose sculpture “Forever Free” from 1867 is an artistic marvel in white marble.  It portrays a black man and child, sculpted in a classical style that could stand beside any Greek sculpture in a major museum.  Lewis eventually went into exile in Rome, undoubtedly seeking out a more accepting environment for her inspiration. 

‘Other Music’ and the New York City of a Bygone Era

Christopher Karr

The movie chronicles the shuttering up of New York City’s most beloved record store, Other Music, which took exquisite pride in championing the kind of musicians whose work you wouldn’t find at Tower Records across the street. The owners and employees acted as indie curators, relishing every opportunity to geek out over thousands of obscure musicians, personally selecting albums based on their customers’ tastes and inclinations. 

Dreaming of Future Possibilities in New Documentary, ‘Inventing Tomorrow’

Mandy Day

The International Science and Engineering Fair or ISEF, put on by the Society for Science and the Public, draws 1,800 students from 80 countries every year to compete in all levels of science including Environmental Science, Becker told AsAmNews. Inventing Tomorrow’s director, Laura Nix, and producers had the tremendous task of finding just a few projects to feature among the more than 1 million students who compete for a spot at ISEF every year. In the final cut of the film, just four projects and their creators were featured.

‘Heroin(e)’ Depicts Life in ‘Overdose Capital of America’

Titi Yu

Heroin(e) is a powerful film that follows the stories of three women in Huntington, West Virginia, who are battling the opioid crisis on its front lines. Drug addiction is so common in Huntington, the “overdose capital of America,” that it’s weaved into the fabric of everyday life. In one scene, paramedics work to revive an overdose victim at a convenience store while people step around the commotion and move along the checkout line as if nothing is happening.

Filmmaker Frederick Wiseman Discusses His New Film, ‘Ex Libris — New York Public Library’

Titi Yu

While many of Wiseman’s other films examine the darker forces of institutions, Ex Libris is a meditation on the central role of the New York Public Library (NYPL) in New York’s intellectual and civic life. Like all of Wiseman’s films, his genius lies in the ways in which he can create meaning out of the mundane. Wiseman wanders the administrative halls of the library and drops in on staff meetings that might otherwise be seen as a bore. 

Oscar-Nominated Doc Brings Back James Baldwin’s Voice for New Generation

Damaso Reyes

If you think the height of documentary filmmaking comes from the brain of Ken Burns, Peck’s taut exploration of the life of one of America’s literary geniuses will come as a welcome revelation. Yes, there is archival footage mixed in with contemporary imagery, but there are no talking heads. There are no historians or professors emeritus explaining what we have or are about to see on-screen. For the most part, we simply have Baldwin himself, alternating mostly between frustration and indignation and occasionally bemusement.

Exploring Cambodia’s Trauma of Silence

Andrew Lam

For "Daze of Justice," his first film, Siv says he was drawn to the idea that people of his mother’s generation, who had long kept silent, were now seeking justice. What they find, and what the audience discovers over the course of the film, is that for victims of war, justice is often illusive, like an exotic animal one hears of but rarely sees. In another scene from the film, Siv’s group of survivors sit under a veranda alongside Pheng and a crowd of others - presumably victims or their descendants - as they watch a screen depicting the court proceedings happening just inside. 

New Documentary Follows the Life of Blind Chess Players in India

Gabriella Tutino

Algorithms, a documentary by Ian McDonald, takes a look at the relatively unknown world of blind chess players. Filmed over the course of four years, the documentary follows three talented children--Darpan, Sai Krishna and Anant—and one former champion player—Charudatta Jadhav—as they compete in chess tournaments and try to bring a champion title to India. The documentary opens in Mumbai at the National Team and Junior Blind Chess Championship in 2009, showing partially-blind and totally-blind people competing against each other. 

The Life and Times of Paul Bowles: The Man Inside the Cage

Sandra Bertrand

It seems in many ways that Paul Bowles led a charmed life.  The new sounds of jazz had been forbidden in an inordinately strict household—though his mother’s reading of Edgar Allen Poe became an inspiration for his later stories.  A closeted homosexual and a fatalist at heart, he had tossed a coin:  heads he would take his own life, tails he would head for the City of Light.  His early musical talents caught the ear of composer Aaron Copland, his traveling companion for his first trip to Tangier.  But it was in Paris that Gertrude Stein discovered her “Freddie.”  

‘The End of Time’: The Cosmos of Peter Mettler

Sandra Bertrand

Watching a Peter Mettler film is no ordinary experience.  You may as well be strapping yourself in place for a ride to through the Milky Way, plunging into the core of a live volcano or simply winessing the inexorable march of an ant colony with their grasshopper prey. The End of Time, the latest in a trilogy by this Canadian filmmaker, is part of a mid-career retrospective, presented by the Film Society of Lincoln Center.  The trilogy began with Picture of Light (1996), followed by Gambling, Gods & LSD (2002).  

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