2019 Tribeca Film Festival movie review: ‘The Apollo’

April 25, 2019

by Carla Hay

The Apollo
(Photo courtesy of HBO)

“The Apollo”

Directed by Roger Ross Williams

World premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City on April 24, 2019.

The legendary Apollo Theater in New York City’s Harlem neighborhood has been around since 1934, and there is now finally a definitive documentary film about the venue’s legacy and lasting impact on culture. “The Apollo,” directed by Roger Ross Williams, skillfully manages the enormous task of taking all of the Apollo’s rich and complicated history and making it into a cohesive and fascinating story. The movie begins and ends with the Apollo’s 2018 world premiere of the stage adaptation of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “Between the World and Me,” his 2015 award-winning non-fiction book about what it means to be a black person in America. Angela Bassett and Common were among the entertainers who starred in the production.

The Apollo—which became a U.S. and New York City landmark in 1983—has hosted numerous actors, dancers, comedians and other entertainers, but the music artists are the ones who shine the brightest in the documentary. The archival footage in the film is breathtaking to watch, as it’s a thrilling reminder that virtually all of the most influential black entertainers from the 1930s onward have performed at the Apollo. The list reads like a who’s who of black culture: Louis Armstrong, Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Gladys Knight, and every major star who’s been on Motown Records, including Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, the Supremes, the Temptations, the Four Tops, Michael Jackson and the Jackson 5. Frank Schiffman, the original owner of the Apollo, is described as a ruthless businessman who saw the Apollo as an opportunity to provide an important showcase for black artists, beginning when these artists were shut out of “whites only” establishments. People of all races have performed at the Apollo, but this documentary focuses on black entertainers, in keeping with the Apollo’s original intention to be a venue primarily to showcase black talent.

Anyone familiar with the Apollo already knows about its famous “Amateur Night” talent contest (which was the brainchild of longtime Apollo emcee Ralph Cooper), but the documentary gives some insight into what you might not know: Cooper kept extensive notes (many of which are shown in the movie) on each performer from “Amateur Night,” as well as the established artists who graced the stage of the Apollo. The documentary includes footage of several “Amateur Nights” over the years (including a 13-year-old Lauryn Hill’s first Apollo performance in 1987, when she was booed on stage while singing the Jackson 5’s “Who’s Loving You”), as well as more recent behind-the-scenes and on-stage footage of aspiring entertainers. Several people in the documentary note that the Apollo audience is notoriously hard to please, so getting a standing ovation from the crowd is a badge of honor for any entertainer. The TV show “Showtime at the Apollo” (formerly known as “It’s Showtime at the Apollo”) is the long-running series that has highlights from the Apollo’s “Amateur Night.”

Jamie Foxx, who is interviewed in the film, also noted that many black comedians felt at home at the Apollo because they could be their uncensored selves and not have to worry about watering down their stand-up acts. The documentary includes footage of comedians such as Foxx, Richard Pryor, Moms Mabley, Chris Rock and Dick Gregory. Singer/actress Leslie Uggams, who began performing at the Apollo at the age of 9, shares some fond backstage memories in the documentary. She remembered that Ella Fitzgerald was always offering people food backstage, while Dinah Washington would generously dole out $100 bills to performers who were down on their luck.

The documentary also shows that the Apollo, much like black culture in America, is a story of resilience in the face of difficult obstacles. The Apollo’s relatively small capacity of about 1,500 people made it increasingly difficult for the venue to stay in business, and it temporarily closed in 1976, after filing for bankruptcy. Even when Inner City Broadcasting chief Percy Sutton bought the Apollo in 1983, making him the Apollo’s first black owner, the business still found it difficult to make a profit. In 1991, the state of New York bought the Apollo, which is now run by the non-profit Apollo Theater Foundation.

Even though the Apollo has long been considered a prestigious venue for black artists, it’s also a place that took risks and booked entertainers who were embroiled in controversy. Pharrell Williams and Doug E. Fresh give interviews in the documentary about how the Apollo was one of the first major venues in the United States to offer a major stage platform for hip-hop artists, including those such as Public Enemy and N.W.A, who would frequently speak out against the police in their songs. The Apollo also booked Billie Holiday at a time when her song “Strange Fruit” was considered offensive to many Southern people. Bobby Schiffman, Frank Schiffman’s son who inherited the Apollo until the venue filed for bankruptcy and closed in 1976, tells a story in the documentary about Eartha Kitt being afraid for her life to perform at the Apollo in 1960, because she had recently married a white man, and had been getting death threats from white and black people. But she won over the crowd, and Schiffman said it turned out to be one of her best performances, as well as a lesson for the Apollo that great entertainment on stage could triumph over any controversy going on outside the venue.

That’s not to say that the Apollo has been unaffected by social and political events. The documentary also puts everything into historical context, from the Apollo’s earliest years in the era of legal segregation, to the civil rights movements of the 1960s, to the rise of “black power” ideology in the 1970s to the influence of hip-hop culture in the 1980s and beyond. The message of the movie is that whatever has been an important historical touchstone for African-Americans from the 1930s and beyond—whether it was the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. or Shirley Chisholm running for president of the United States or the Black Lives Matter movement—the Apollo’s audiences and the entertainment on stage have been affected. The documentary also points out that the Apollo is also one of the first places that people go to for memorials when black icons die. The documentary includes footage of Apollo memorials after the deaths of Brown, Franklin, Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson and Prince.

Even with all the superstar entertainers who have graced the stage at the Apollo, one guest remains a special favorite: Barack Obama, who became the first sitting U.S. president to do an on-stage presentation at the Apollo. The documentary includes footage of that 2012 appearance, as well as of Obama backstage. If you visit the Apollo, longtime Apollo tour guide Billy Mitchell—also known as Mr. Apollo—might show you the wall of autographs that include Obama’s signature and those of many other celebrities. (There’s footage of Mitchell giving a tour in the documentary too.)

“The Apollo” is an expertly told story that does justice to the Apollo and the people who made the venue great. The only downside is that the movie will eventually become outdated as future legends will make their own history by performing on the Apollo stage. Until there’s a sequel or updated film, this documentary will stand as the most comprehensive visual story about the Apollo.

UPDATE: HBO will premiere “The Apollo” on November 6, 2019.

Fyre Festival documentary duel: Two competing movies premiere in the same week

January 14, 2019

by Carla Hay

Fyre Festival

The notorious Fyre Festival is the subject of two documentary films that are premiering in the same week. “Fyre Fraud” (directed by Jenner Furst and Julia Willoughby) premieres on Hulu on January 14, 2019, while “Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened” (directed by Chris Smith) premieres on Netflix on January 18, 2019, in addition to “Fyre” having a limited theatrical release on January 18 in New York City and Los Angeles. Although it’s not unusual for two separate documentary films to cover the same subject, it’s extremely rare for them to premiere in the same week.

Fyre Festival was one of the biggest music-industry frauds of this decade. The event, which was heavily promoted on the Internet, was advertised as a star-studded music festival in the Bahamas, offering a luxury experience that was scheduled to take place over two weekends in late April/early May 2017. Instead, attendees arrived at the festival site to find a garbage-filled area with very little shelter except flimsy tents and limited, substandard food options. Fyre Festival was cancelled one day before it was set to begin, and event founder/promoter Billy McFarland was eventually sentenced to six years in prison for fraud. Hip-hop star Ja Rule, who was advertised as a co-founder of the festival, quickly distanced himself from this disaster after the event was cancelled. Ja Rule issued a public apology, placed all the blame on McFarland, and avoided any criminal prosecution, although he and McFarland had several lawsuits brought against them.

There are sure to be many reviews comparing “Fyre Fraud” and “Fyre.” Hulu is making an effort to give “Fyre Fraud” an advantage by having the movie premiere first, and emphasizing that the film has an exclusive interview with McFarland that was done after the festival was cancelled and before he went to prison. “Fyre Fraud” also has media resources such as Mic (the news site aimed at millennials) and music-industry trade magazine Billboard as executive producers of the film. Meanwhile, Netflix’s “Fyre” has Vice Studios as a media partner in producing the documentary. Based on the official trailers and descriptions each documentary, “Fyre” seems to have a more straight-forward approach to the subject matter, while “Fyre Fraud” aims to take a more scathing look at the sociological circumstances that allowed this fraud to become as big as it was. Hulu describes “Fyre Fraud” as a “true-crime comedy,” which indicates that there will be a mocking tone to the film.

Meanwhile, the directors of each documentary have accused each other of questionable ethics, according to TechCrunch. The “Fyre” team said they turned down McFarland’s demands to be paid for an interview. McFarland eventually went to the “Fyre Fraud” filmmakers, who agreed to pay McFarland a six-figure sum (reportedly between $100,000 to $200,000) to be interviewed for “Fyre Fraud.” Meanwhile, the “Fyre Fraud” team says the ethics of “Fyre” are compromised because the film had executive producer involvement from James Ohliger and Elliot Tebele, two co-founders of Jerry Media, the company that marketed the Fyre Festival. A former Jerry Media employee interviewed in “Fyre Fraud” claims that high-ranking Jerry executives knew early on that the festival was a scam, but willingly perpetuated the scam out of greed. “Fyre” director Smith says that despite Jerry Media’s involvement in the film, he still had separate editorial control and did not shy away from depicting Jerry Media’s responsibility in the Fyre Festival fiasco.


Here is Hulu’s trailer and description of “Fyre Fraud”:

The Fyre Festival was the defining scam of the millennial generation, at the nexus of social media influence, late-stage capitalism, and morality in the post-truth era. Marketing for the 2017 music event went viral with the help of rapper Ja Rule, instagram stars, and models, but turned epic fail after stranding thousands in the Bahamas. Featuring an exclusive interview with Billy McFarland, the convicted con-man behind the festival; “Fyre Fraud” is a true-crime comedy bolstered by a cast of whistleblowers, victims, and insiders going beyond the spectacle to uncover the power of FOMO and an ecosystem of enablers, driven by profit and a lack of accountability in the digital age.

Emmy™ nominated and Peabody™ award-winning directors Jenner Furst and Julia Willoughby Nason executive produce along with Michael Gasparro, The Cinemart, MIC and Billboard.


“Fyre Fraud” is more than the story of a failed music festival in the Bahamas – this dark comedy is a cautionary tale for a generation.

Billy McFarland offers us a window into the mind of a con artist, the insidious charm of the fraudster and how they can capture our imaginations, our investment, and our votes in the age of Trump. McFarland’s staggering ambition metastasized in a petri dish of late-stage capitalism, corporate greed, and predatory branding, all weaponized by our fear of missing out.

Our aim was to set the stage for a strange journey into the moral abyss of our digital age, going beyond the meme to show an ecosystem of enablers, driven by profit and willing to look the other way, for their own gain.

We draw on countless cultural references, on true crime tension, and on humor – but we did not intend to create a toothless comedy about the Fyre Festival. We hope this film can pierce our collective apathy and disrupt our own millennial peers, if only for an instant – to look at these stories for what they truly are, and to halt this algorithm before it devours us whole.


Here is Netflix’s trailer and description of “Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened”:

An exclusive behind the scenes look at the infamous unraveling of the Fyre music festival. Created by Billy McFarland and rapper Ja Rule, Fyre was promoted as a luxury music festival on a private island in the Bahamas featuring bikini-clad supermodels, A-List musical performances and posh amenities. Guests arrived to discover the reality was far from the promises.
Chris Smith, the director behind the Emmy Award Nominated documentary “Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond,” gives a first-hand look into disastrous crash of Fyre as told by the organizers themselves.
Written & Directed by: Chris Smith (“Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond Featuring a Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton” (2017), “American Movie” (1999 Sundance Grand Jury Prize for Documentary), “Collapse” (2009)) Produced by Library Films, Jerry Media, Matte Projects VICE Studios, and VICE Studios. Executive Producers: Brett Kincaid, Max Pollack, Matthew Rowean, Gabrielle Bluestone, James Ohliger, Elliot Tebele. Edited by Jon Karmen, Koehler.



2018 DOC NYC: movie reviews and recaps

November 16, 2018

by Carla Hay

The ninth annual DOC NYC—which took place in New York City from November 8 to November 15, 2018—has continued its status as an outstanding international festival for documentary visual media. Almost all of the DOC NYC screenings and other events took place at the SVA Theatre, IFC Center and Cinépolis Chelsea. DOC NYC also has panel discussions about filmmaking, offering a wealth of opportunities to share knowledge, discover new talent and network with professionals.


DOC NYC 2018 also had competitions, with all voted for by juries, except for the Audience Award. The winners were:

Viewfinders Competition (for films with a distinct directorial vision): “A Little Wisdom,” director Yuqi Kang’s look at a Tibetan Buddhist monastery.

Metropolis Competition (for films with New York City stories): “Barbara Rubin & the Exploding NY Underground,” director Chuck Smith’s profile of filmmaker Barbara Rudin, who helped influence the careers of Andy Warhol and Lou Reed.

Shorts Competition: “In the Absence,” director Seung-Jun Yi’s examination of at the Sewol Ferry Disaster in South Korea. Special mentions when to the short documentaries “Obon ( directed by Andre Hoermann and Anna Samo) and “King of the Night,” directed by Molly Brass and Stephen Tyler.

Audience Award: “Out of Omaha,” director Clay Tweel’s profile of identical twin African American brothers who want to escape their lives of poverty and crime in Omaha. (Eligible films were in the Viewfinders and Metropolis competitions.)

DOC NYC PRO Pitch Perfect Award: “Civil War (or, Who Do We Think We Are),” director Rachel Boynton’s examination of how American remember the Civil War.

IF/Then Shorts Northeast American Pitch Award: “Mizuko (Water Child),” directed by Kira Dane and Katelyn Rebelo

The 2018 DOC NYC Visionaries Tribute (which has non-competitive categories), an invitation-only event presented on November 8, honored Orlando Bagwell and Wim Wenders, each with the Lifetime Achievement Award; “Free Solo” co-directors Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin with the Robert and Anne Drew Award for Documentary Excellence; and Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program director Tabitha Jackson with the Leading Light Award.

There were about 300 feature films and short films at the festival, in addition to the panels, so it’s impossible for one person to experience everything during the festival. But here is a recap of the world premieres that I saw at DOC NYC 2018:



“Amazing Grace”

Directed by Sydney Pollack

This long-lost Aretha Franklin documentary was a surprise addition to DOC NYC, which announced the movie’s world premiere at the festival just one week before its debut on November 12, 2018.  In January 1972, Franklin recorded her best-selling gospel album “Amazing Grace” over two days at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles. “The documentary film Amazing Grace” chronicles the recording of the album. Due to legal reasons, including Franklin’s objections to the movie being made public, the release of the “Amazing Grace” documentary was delayed for decades. After Franklin’s passing in August 2018, and with her family’s approval, this movie is finally getting released, thanks largely to the efforts of producer Alan Elliott.

Aretha Franklin is undoubtedly the star of the show, but her brother/musical director Rev. Cecil Franklin, who had a more extroverted personality, could have easily upstaged her in the movie during certain scenes when he makes introductions and tells jokes during the show. But once Aretha sings, the power of her talent takes over, and it hits home how much a void can never be filled now that she has passed away. The movie also features glimpses of Aretha’s father, the Rev. C.L. Franklin, as well as Rolling Stones members Mick Jagger and Charlie Watts, who were in the audience.

It’s hard to see why this emotionally resonant movie, whose highlights include performances of “What A Friend We Have in Jesus” and “Mary Don’t You Weep,” was kept from the public for all these years. There were reportedly audio problems that have apparently been fixed in this final cut. There are also many not-very-flattering closeups of Aretha, Cecil and other people literally sweating in the church, so certain people who objected to the release might have been self-conscious about how they looked. It’s unknown what the temperature in the church was like at the time of filming, but it’s obvious that all the sweating came from the sheer energy and passion that came from this show. And given that this movie was filmed in 1972, the low-tech appearance of everything is to be expected; it just adds to the  “raw and real” ambience of the film. It’s in stark contrast to today’s slick music documentaries where artists are rarely shown sweating up a storm for their art.  “Amazing Grace” will have a limited release in U.S. theaters on December 7, 2018, before getting a wider release sometime in 2019.

Breslin and Hamill: Deadline Artists

Directed by Jonathan Alter, John Block and Steve McCarthy

Pete Hamill and Jimmy Breslin in "Breslin and Hamill: Deadline Artists"
Pete Hamill and Jimmy Breslin in “Breslin and Hamill: Deadline Artists” (Photo courtesy of HBO)

In this excellent profile of New York journalists Jimmy Breslin (Daily News) and Pete Hamill (New York Post, Daily News), the gregarious and blunt Breslin is the clear standout, compared to the more low-key and sophisticated Hamill. Even though Breslin and Hamill have some important things in common (they’re both Irish-American, born and raised in New York City, unapologetic liberals and authors of several books), the contrast between the two journalists is even more apparent: Breslin (who died in 2017 at the age of 88) was more a “man of the people,” while Hamill preferred to hobnob with celebrities and elite members of society.  For example, Hamill dated Shirley MacLaine and Jackie Kennedy Onassis. The main thing that Breslin and Hamill have in common is their commitment to bringing a human side to reporting the news without losing their journalistic integrity and individual voices as writers. Breslin and Hamill were interviewed for this film, as well as their family members, colleagues, fans and critics.

The documentary does not shy away from examining Breslin’s and Hamill’s flaws and career lows, but Breslin has the more interesting story, and he is the more famous of the two. Growing up in a broken home with an emotionally distant mother, Breslin turned to journalism to channel his passion for telling stories. His oversized personality also came with an oversized ego that led to controversies (such accusations of being racist against an Asian female colleague or how he used his notorious Son of Sam correspondence to further his career), but like a lot of complicated people, Breslin also had a generous side to him. He usually championed the underdog, even when it led to ridicule or risking his personal safety.

The movie reminds people that Breslin was one of the few public figures in New York City who called for an “innocent until proven guilty” due process for the Central Park Five (five black and Latino teenagers accused of raping a white woman in Central Park in 1989), at a time when the majority of the public had already decided that the accused were guilty before the case ever went to trial. It turns out that Breslin was right: The five defendants did not commit the crime. DNA evidence and a confession from the real rapist exonerated the Central Park Five in 2012, but only after they spent several years in prison. Breslin was also unafraid of being in the minority with his criticism of subway vigilante Bernhard Goetz, who was glorified by many people for shooting four unarmed black teenagers with an unlicensed gun in 1984. The teenagers said they were panhandling, while Goetz said that he shot them because they tried to rob him.

Hamill, who grew up in a relatively stable middle-class home, had experience as a columnist and as editor-in-chief at New York City’s biggest tabloid newspapers: the New York Post and the Daily News. His managerial positions might explain why he was more cautious than Breslin when it came to hot-button topics. Even though Hamill was less likely than Breslin to personally stick his neck out for controversial social issues, the movie portrays Hamill as a lot less egotistical than Breslin, and such a beloved boss that most of the New York Post’s editorial employees famously walked out when Hamill was fired by a new owner in 1993. Hamill was eventually re-hired at the New York Post, but he later returned to the Daily News, where he would have on-again, off-again employment for several years. Now in his 80s, Hamill still writes books and contributes to publications such as the New York Times. Several of the talking heads interviewed for the documentary lament that Breslin and Hamill represent a bygone era of journalism when newspapers, not the Internet, was the main way that people read the news. HBO will premiere “Breslin and Hamill: Deadline Artists” on January 28, 2019.

“Decade of Fire”

Directed by Vivian Vazquez and Gretchen Hildebrand

This film shows how New York City’s Bronx borough was able to rebuild after devastating fires in the 1970s displaced thousands of residents, who were mostly black and Latino. “Decade of Fire” co-director Vivian Vazquez, who was raised in the Bronx in the 1970s, narrates the movie, and discovers through investigative research that many of the fires were caused by years of neglect in updating building wiring and, more nefariously, the alleged result of arson by greedy landlords who wanted to profit from insurance payouts. The movie alleges that local residents desperate for cash were often secretly paid by landlords to set fire to the landlords’ buildings, and these crimes were rarely reported.

Gentrification and government restructuring of voting districts along racial lines are also offered as explanations for the fires, which the film concludes were mostly set to purposely displace ethnic minorities to move out of certain areas of the Bronx. Even with these disturbing allegations, the movie also offers inspirational hope by showing how displaced residents took it upon themselves to rebuild their neighborhoods without waiting for the government or landlords to assist them. Residents with little or no construction experience had a “do-it-yourself” approach to learn how to rebuild and take more control of their neighborhood buildings, which led to a significant decrease in the destructive fires. However, the movie ends on a cautionary note and serves as a warning that what happened in the Bronx in the 1970s could happen to other similar at-risk communities.

“Jay Myself”

Directed by Stephen Wilkes

This inside look at photographer Jay Maisel’s move from his 72-room New York City studio building could have been subtitled “Confessions of an Artistic Hoarder.” It’s clear within the first 15 minutes of the film that Maisel has a hard time letting go of all the stuff he’s collected and kept over the years, much of which would have little value at a garage sale or a flea market, such as unfinished knick knacks, old magazines and tons of unused art material that has collected dust. As the saying goes, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” Maisel had to sell the building, where he lived and worked since 1966, because he could no longer afford the real-estate taxes and other expenses of owning the property. It was one of the largest private real-estate deals in the city’s history.

The documentary shows the massive undertaking of packing up Maisel’s haphazardly stored possessions in order to move them to a smaller place. With help from his wife and daughter, who tactfully try to convince Maisel to get rid of things that are truly garbage, he alternates between reliving happy memories of being in the building; commenting on and showing his art; and stubbornly refusing to throw away items that he realistically no longer needs and have no value. Not all of his possessions are of the “pack rat” variety, but he’s accumulated enough that it’s sadly obvious that he might not have had to sell the building if he had cleared out the junk years ago and rented out all the usable space to help pay the bills. The movie does not mention if Maisel ever received this kind of financial advice, but even if he did, Maisel seems like the type to ignore the advice.

“Jay Myself” director Stephen Wilkes, who is also the documentary’s narrator, admits from the beginning of the film that he considers Maisel to be a friend and mentor. Perhaps that close friendship is why the movie doesn’t explore the deep psychological issues that led to Maisel’s hoarding. A more objective director would have confronted those issues instead of ignoring them like the proverbial elephant in the room.

“Lady Parts Justice in the New World Order”

Directed by Ruth Leitman

Lady Parts Justice League, a New York City-based activist group founded by “The Daily Show” co-creator Lizz Winstead, fights for reproductive rights and other women’s issues by mixing politics and comedy. In response to the Donald Trump administration’s efforts to place more restrictions on Planned Parenthood and other places that provide legal abortions, members of Lady Parts Justice League went on its first “Vagical Mystery Tour” across the U.S. in 2017, to do live stand-up comedy, raise money, and give support to pro-choice clinics, particularly in states where reproductive rights are at the most risk. The tour is the focus of most of this 13-episode documentary series, which is seeking a media outlet to air it. DOC NYC had the world premiere of the series’ first and third episodes.

Equally entertaining and alarming, the show hits all the right notes when it comes to delivering its message and educating people on current abortion issues, but the show’s episodes that were screened at the festival present a fairly limited view of pro-lifers as angry people (mostly men) spewing hateful chants and harassing people outside clinics. The best parts of the show are when the LPJL members are at the clinics where they can give their support, such as helping escort patients in and out of the clinics, providing meals to the staff, or working on landscaping that will improve the clinics’ safety. People who are pro-choice will have their beliefs confirmed by watching this series, while pro-lifers will just have certain stereotypes reinforced that pro-choicers are left-wing feminists. Since only two episodes were screened at DOC NYC, it’s unknown if the series will delve deeper into the reality that there is diversity on both sides of the issue.

What’s admirable about the series, based on the two episodes that screened at the festival, is that it doesn’t ignore the fact that the women’s movement has problems and tensions, such as how women of color in the movement can experience racism from white people who consider themselves to be liberals. Series executive producer Winstead does a good job of addressing this issue head-on during a group meeting that is shown in the series, and it seems as if she genuinely makes the women of color on her team feel valued and included. And the show isn’t afraid to expose that the LPJL doesn’t always have its act together, such as in one hilarious scene when the group members on tour find out that the Airbnb place they rented is a dumpy disappointment, and they have to scramble to find another place to stay.

A glaring void in the episodes that were screened is the scarcity of pro-choice men who seem to be allies to the Lady Parts Justice League cause. Most of the pro-choice men who are seen interacting with LPJL members are male clinic workers who aren’t part of the tour.  It’s hard to tell from just two episodes how much effort LPJL made to include men in their day-to-day tour activities and who their male pro-choice allies are back in their home base.

And aside from Winstead mentioning that she had a legal abortion as a teenager (an abortion she says she doesn’t regret), there’s hardly any revelation of the Lady Parts Justice League members’ personal lives and what motivated them to sacrifice a great deal of their time to LPJL. A lot of people are pro-choice, but there’s more to the story if people want to spend time away from family and friends to visit pro-choice clinics around the U.S. and raise money for these clinics and other pro-choice causes. There’s no doubt that the LPJL members are passionate about their beliefs, but hopefully the series will show a more well-rounded view of their personalities instead of condensing them to wise-cracking or preachy soundbites.

Although Winstead’s history with “The Daily Show” might suggest that “Lady Parts Justice in the New World Order” could end up on Comedy Central, this show is better served to be on a TV network or streaming service where there aren’t restrictions on the show’s adult language. Whatever an individual’s beliefs are about abortion, “Lady Parts Justice in the New World Order” has a thought-provoking viewpoint that needs to be heard in a conversation that shouldn’t be sugarcoated or silenced.

“See Know Evil”

Directed by Charles Curran

Whenever there is an authorized documentary about someone who has died young after abusing drugs, the documentary often falls into the trap of glorifying the deceased as a lovable rebel instead of truly examining what led to the tragic circumstances around the untimely death. It’s an easy trap to fall into because the people closest to the deceased have to be interviewed for the documentary, but out of guilt and/or grief, they often don’t want to talk about the ugly realities of how drug addiction destroyed their loved one. This biography of New York City-based fashion photographer/artist Davide Sorrenti, a heroin addict who died of a kidney ailment in 1997 at the age of 20, often falls into that trap, but it does an excellent job of showing his free-spirited, charismatic personality and his meteoric rise in the 1990s due to popularizing the “heroin chic” trend. His edgy work appeared in magazines such as Interview and Ray Gun, and he took some of his most famous photos of model Jamie King, then known as James King, who was his heroin-addict girlfriend at the time. King (who cleaned up her life years ago after going to rehab) and model-turned-actress Milla Jovovich are two of several people interviewed who share fond memories of him in this documentary.

The most inspiring and best part of the film is how it shows that Davide did not wallow in self-pity over his thalassemia (also known as Cooley’s anemia), which required him to have frequent blood transfusions. Many of Davide’s close friends didn’t even know at first that he had the disease because he acted as if he was perfectly healthy. Doctors had once predicted that Davide wouldn’t live to become an adult, so that undoubtedly motivated his zest for life but also probably led to much of his reckless behavior. It makes it all the more tragic that he succumbed to the drug-addict lifestyle that contributed to his death.

The movie’s biggest flaw is that it tends to downplay how much nepotism was the main reason for why Davide was given so many career-boosting opportunities at such a young age. Davide came from a family of successful Italian-born photographers who were all interviewed in the film: older brother Mario, who was Davide’s unofficial mentor; older sister Vanina, who became a photographer after Davide’s death; and mother Francesca, who raised the kids as a divorcée, and worked her way up to the success that eventually benefited her children.

Before Davide began emulating Mario’s career path, he belonged to See Know Evil, an artistic group of young, male mischief makers (some of whom are interviewed in the film), who openly admit that their main activities were making graffiti, committing petty crimes and doing drugs. It’s the kind of teen rebellion that many young people experience, but the documentary fails to acknowledge how Davide’s race, class and family connections played a huge role in why he didn’t end up in the prison system when other young people who’ve done the same misdeeds aren’t as lucky. Davide was a product of the type of privilege that can glamorize drug addiction and “thug life,” as portrayed by young, pretty people who are mostly white and are from comfortably middle-class or upper-class backgrounds. Coming from that privilege, along with a fashion-insider family, is why the fashion industry easily embraced and celebrated Davide during the height of the 1990s “grunge” era, as a reaction against the over-the-top glitz of the 1980s.

Every drug addict has low points of doing shameful things that are difficult to talk about but could serve as a cautionary tale to help others, so it’s not too surprising that this authorized documentary doesn’t mention anything that would tarnish anyone’s reputation. Davide’s former girlfriend King and a few other people make vague references to a drug den type of atmosphere where Davide was living during the last year of his life, but the film has no detailed personal account from any of his loved ones about how bad things got for him when he was in the depths of his addiction or if anyone made any serious attempts to get him into rehab. The aftermath of Davide’s death is rushed through with video soundbites from Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour and President Bill Clinton scolding the fashion industry for the “heroin chic” trend, effectively shaming the fad into extinction. There is also a brief mention of the efforts of Davide’s mother Francesca to honor his memory by being an activist in preventing drug addiction. Just like the photographs that Davide took, “See Know Evil” is a snapshot of the “grunge” era in fashion, but the movie is ultimately what the people who were in that culture wanted you to see, and the viewers know there’s more to the story that is not told.

“The Show’s the Thing: The Legendary Promoters of Rock”

Directed by Molly Bernstein and Philip Dolin

“The Show’s the Thing: The Legendary Promoters of Rock”

Long before Live Nation existed, the live concert business in the U.S. was run by a mafia-styled fiefdom that had local concert promoters dominating their own territories. “The Show’s the Thing” is a superb lesson in music history that tells how Premier Talent founder Frank Barsalona and other concert promoters impacted the careers of rock stars in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, when several local promoters, not one big company such as Live Nation, handled a national tour. Although the movie gives credit to New York-based Barsalona (who died in 2012 at the age of 74) as being one of the chief architects and pioneers of the live concert industry as we know it today, there are plenty of other major concert promoters who are also given the spotlight. They include Ron Delsener (New York), Bill Graham (San Francisco), Larry Magid (Philadelphia), Arny Granat (Chicago), Don Law (Boston), Jules and Mike Belkin (Cleveland) and United Kingdom-based Harvey Goldsmith, who was influential in brokering deals for many British artists’ major U.S. tours.

Most of the promoters who are still alive were interviewed for this film, but don’t expect a lot of diversity when it comes to the documentary’s interviews. Rock music, now as it was then, is primarily the domain of white men. The only person of color interviewed in the film is Carlos Santana, and the few women who are interviewed tend to be the promoters’ family members who were also usually their co-workers. Taken in the context that this documentary is about what the music industry was like before the Internet and other technology made people more socially aware, it’s not a surprise that this movie isn’t too concerned with being politically correct about diversity.

The documentary has a great selection of archival footage, with significant mentions of Led Zeppelin, the Who, the Beatles, Bruce Springsteen, David Bowie and the Rolling Stones. It’s clear that the filmmakers are true music fans, based on the excellent use of songs and how they’re edited in the film. One of the most fascinating parts of the documentary is the behind-the-scenes drama of Live Aid, when a feud between Goldsmith and Graham nearly threatened to derail the historic 1985 concert. Jon Bon Jovi, one of the rock stars interviewed in the film, tells a few memorable stories from an artist’s perspective about his early days as a struggling musician and how concert promoters helped him and his band.

But the best stories come from the promoters themselves, some of whom have no shortage of ego in describing their importance in shaping the concert industry. Even when they talk about the bitter rivalries that inevitably happened, it’s with a huge dose of fond nostalgia and wistfulness. Most of the promoters ended up selling their businesses to larger companies, which led to the rise of Live Nation. The promoters’ recollections naturally have a grandiose tone of “we were so great in the good old days,” and there’s plenty of bragging about the sex, drugs and rock’n’roll lifestyle that many of them enjoyed. At times, the film comes across as a little too reverential to these promoters, since there’s no real counterpoint of people talking about the very dark side of these promoters’ music-industry heyday, when powerful men got away with things that would be much harder to conceal in this era of social media. But in general, “The Show’s the Thing” is a fantastic documentary that’s worth seeing for anyone who appreciates rock history and for those who want to discover how some of the people who work behind the scenes can be just as interesting as the celebrities.

“To Kid or Not to Kid”

Directed by Maxine Trump

British-born, New York City-based documentary filmmaker Maxine Trump (no relation to Donald Trump) turns the spotlight on herself and other women who haven chosen not to have children, including a woman in her 20s who wants to be sterilized and author Marcia Drut-Davis, who caused controversy in 1974 by going on “60 Minutes” with her then-husband to declare that she didn’t want to have children. “To Kid or Not to Kid” is a solid and watchable effort, told with Trump’s first-person narration, but the film could have benefited from having a wider scope of people interviewed and more introspection from the director/narrator. Trump, who is in her 40s and married, naturally interviews people in her family, such as her husband, her widowed mother and her sister who is a divorced mom. She visits the NotMom convention, an annual gathering of women who do not have kids because of choice or circumstance. Trump also interviews women who chose to have children; some say they regret the decision, while others say they’re happy with their choice to become mothers. The fathers of these children are not interviewed, most likely because Trump  wanted this film to have a primarily female perspective. But there isn’t much diversity either with the women who are interviewed, since almost all are white and middle-class.

While making the documentary, Trump openly admits to sometimes being conflicted about deciding not to become a mother. It’s fairly obvious she is using the movie to reassure herself that she made the right decision to not have children. And that’s okay, but she left a lot of people out of what could have been a more well-rounded documentary about how family planning and reproductive issues can affect people. For example, the film doesn’t have interviews with anyone who is openly infertile, or people whose relationships are affected because one partner wants to have kids and the other one doesn’t. Adoption is also pretty much ignored in this film, since the focus is primarily on whether or not to have biological children. This documentary’s total running time is fairly short (about 75 minutes), but it could have been longer to explore these different perspectives.

Trump repeatedly mentions statistics and her concerns about the world being overpopulated as the main reasons why she doesn’t want to have kids. Although many people think being child-free by choice is a selfish decision, Trump firmly believes that it’s more selfish for people to have large families when the world’s resources are being depleted. It’s a viewpoint that led to her being estranged from a longtime female friend who doesn’t agree with that opinion. Trump tries to reconnect with the friend in this documentary. During the course of the film, Trump shows some self-awareness in understanding that it doesn’t benefit anyone to be negatively judgmental about choices to become a parent or how many children is appropriate for a family who can afford it.

But more self-awareness from Trump was needed for this film. Although Trump mentions in the beginning of the documentary that she had an operation when she was younger that would have made pregnancy difficult for her (and she shows the physical scars on camera to prove it), she doesn’t give any psychological introspection on the obvious emotional scars that the operation left. Trump and her husband come across as likable, intelligent, responsible adults, but sometimes handle the issue of having kids in a way that’s more like how immature young people would handle it. For example, Trump (who says she got married later in life) reveals that before she and her husband got married, they never talked to each other about whether or not they wanted to have kids. In the film, she doesn’t address why they avoided talking about such an important issue before making the commitment of marriage. A documentary filmmaker is supposed to be curious, and a more insightful director would have answered the question of why this couple didn’t bother to discuss the parenting issue before getting married.

And in one scene that could be interpreted as somewhat staged to create drama for the film, Trump announces that after she and her husband have had sex, they’re in a mild panic because they’re not sure if the morning-after pill is available over the counter. The movie then shows Trump and her husband going on the Internet and trying to find out how to get the pill without a prescription. It’s an “Oh my God, we might have gotten pregnant, now what do we do” scene that looks disingenuous, because Trump is close to menopausal age and has had an operation that would make it difficult for her to be pregnant, and surely it’s not the first time that these middle-aged, married people have thought about their birth-control options. They aren’t naive teenagers, after all. And without giving away any spoilers, someone in their marriage eventually gets a different operation (which is documented in the film) that essentially ends their need for birth control anyway.

Another issue some people might have with the film is that Trump’s marriage is not exactly “child-free.” Trump mentions that after she and her husband got married, they found out that he has underage twin daughters from another relationship. The children, who are not shown on camera, do not live with Trump and her husband, but Trump wonders how being a stepmother will affect her marriage, as her husband adjusts to being included in his daughters’ lives. A question that Trump never asks her husband on camera is how her decision to not have children would have affected their marriage if it meant that he would possibly never become a father. It’s a difficult question that not too many people would be brave enough to ask or answer honestly on camera. Overall, “To Kid or Not to Kid” is a well-intentioned, but somewhat narrow-viewed, effort to explore the issue of choosing to become a parent or not. It’s a complex issue that affects a diverse array of people, and would be better-suited for a docuseries instead of a movie.

Netflix reveals details of docuseries ‘Dogs’

October 29, 2018

A scene from "Dogs" (Photo courtesy of Netflix)
A scene from “Dogs” (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

The following is a press release from Netflix:

“Dogs” launches globally on Netflix on November 16, 2018. An elegant, engaging and cinematic verite documentary series celebrating the deep emotional bonds between people and their beloved four-legged best friends. The series tracks six incredible stories from across the globe including Syria, Japan, Costa Rica, Italy and the U.S.—each proving that the unconditional love one feels for their dog is a beautiful universal truth. With episodes helmed by critically acclaimed directors including: Academy Award-nominated Amy Berg (“Deliver Us From Evil”), Academy Award-winning Roger Ross Williams (“Life Animated,” “Music by Prudence”), Academy Award-nominated Heidi Ewing (“Jesus Camp,” “One of Us”), Emmy Award-winning Richard Hankin (“The Jinx”) and Academy Award-winners T.J. Martin and Daniel Lindsay (“Undefeated”), “Dogs” takes us on an inspirational journey exploring the remarkable, perhaps even magical qualities that have given these animals such a special place in all of our hearts.

“Dogs” is a Netflix Original Documentary Series, developed as a documentary series by Glen Zipper with Academy Award-nominated Amy Berg of Disarming Films and Zipper, of Zipper Bros Films, serving as executive producers.

Episode 1: The Kid with a Dog

Directed by: Heidi Ewing (“Jesus Camp,” “One of Us”)

A scene from “Dogs” (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

Corrine, an 11 year old girl who suffers from traumatic seizures, is forever changed when she meets Rory, a certified dog who has been trained to detect oncoming seizures. This episode highlights the depths of a closely formed friendship between a child and their dog, the unbreakable trust they have in each other and the incredible power of a dog’s ability to assist humans in health and wellness.

Episode 2: Bravo, Zeus

Directed by: Amy Berg (“Deliver Us From Evil”)

A scene from “Dogs” (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

Two years after fleeing his home in war-torn Syria, Ayham has made a new home for himself in Germany.  He cannot feel at peace however, until he is reunited with his best friend, a Siberian Husky named Zeus. Ayham and his friends risk everything they have to bring Zeus across the border from Syria to Lebanon in the hopes of ultimately being reunited in Germany.

Episode 3:  Ice on the Water

Directed by: Richard Hankin (“The Jinx”)

A scene from “Dogs” (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

In a picturesque town off of Lake Como, Italian fisherman Alessandro relies on his partner, Ice, a 10-year-old Labrador to help with the family business as they get ready for the busy tourist season.  The fishermen in town struggle, but Ice continues to stand guard and do all he can, even in the coldest winter months.

Episode 4: Scissors Down

Directed by: Roger Ross Williams (“Life Animated”)

A scene from “Dogs” (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

In Japan, people’s relationships with their dogs is on a whole new level.  Dogs are dressed in clothing to match their owners and the craft of dog grooming is a true artform.  This episode follows two of the world’s most renowned dog groomers as they fly to California to compete in the ultimate dog grooming competition.

Episode 5: Territorio de Zeguates

Directed by: T.J. Martin and Daniel Lindsay (“Undefeated,” “LA 92”)

A scene from “Dogs” (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

Territorio de Zeguates is a sanctuary deep in the Costa Rican rainforest that houses thousands of dogs and saves them from living on the streets. But with that many dogs, how long can the organization sustain without running out of resources?  The people who run the shelter dedicate their lives to making these dogs lives better, even at their own expense.

Episode 6: Second Chances

Directed by: Amy Berg (“Deliver Us From Evil”)

A scene from “Dogs” (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

New York City has a love affair with adopting dogs. There are more dogs in New York than there are people in the city of Cleveland—and thousands of them are rescues. This episode follows every step of this adoption ecosystem through the charity Hearts and Bones as they go on a rescue mission to bring dogs from a kill shelter in the south to the Big Apple for a better life.

Follow DOGS:

Instagram: @netflixdogs

2018 Hollywood Film Awards: ‘Believer’ gets documentary prize; Imagine Dragons frontman Dan Reynolds will perform on show

October 25, 2018

The following is a press release from Dick Clark Productions:

Dick Clark Productions announced today that the 22nd Annual Hollywood Film Awards will bestow the Hollywood Documentary Award to Live Nation Productions’ “Believer,” the story of Imagine Dragons’ frontman Dan Reynolds as he comes to a crossroads when he witnesses fellow members of the Mormon church spurned due to their sexual orientation.  Reynolds, who also served as Executive Producer on the film, will be accepting the award at the ceremony, which will take place on Sunday, November 4 at The Beverly Hilton. As part of the ceremony, Reynolds, producer Tim Edgar and award-winning composer Hans Zimmer will also take the HFA stage to deliver a performance of “Believer’s” empowering track “Skipping Stones.” The song is one of two original tracks that are featured in the documentary.  Reynolds teamed up with the film-score legend for this heartfelt track to promote change, love and acceptance of the LGBTQ community within the Mormon Church.

They join previously announced honorees Nicole Kidman, who will receive this year’s Hollywood Career Achievement Award; Glenn Close, who will receive the Hollywood Actress Award; Hugh Jackman, who will receive the Hollywood Actor Award; Damien Chazelle, who will receive the Hollywood Director Award; Timothée Chalamet and Rachel Weisz, who will receive the Hollywood Supporting Actor Award and Hollywood Supporting Actress Award, respectively; “Crazy Rich Asians,” which will receive the “Hollywood Breakout Ensemble Award,” Amandla Stenberg, who will receive the Hollywood Breakout Performance Actress Award; John David Washington, who will receive the Hollywood Breakout Performance Actor Award; Felix Van Groeningen, who will receive the Hollywood Breakthrough Director Award; and Yalitza Aparicio, who will receive the New Hollywood Award.

The Hollywood Film Awards, honoring the most acclaimed films and actors while previewing highly anticipated films and talent for the upcoming year, also acknowledges artists in the categories of Cinematography, Visual Effects, Film Composing, Costume Design, Editing, Production Design, Sound and Makeup & Hairstyling. In its 22-year history, more than 320 of the world’s biggest stars and filmmakers have been highlighted at the Hollywood Film Awards and more than 130 of the honorees have gone on to garner Oscar nominations and/or wins.

“Believer” is a film based on Imagine Dragons’ frontman Dan Reynolds who comes to a crossroads when he witnesses fellow members of the Mormon church spurned due to their sexual orientation. Since 2008, teen suicide rates in Utah have skyrocketed, which many people attribute to the Mormon church’s official stance regarding same-sex relationships. Director Don Argott follows Dan and openly gay former Mormon Tyler Glenn, lead singer of Neon Trees, as they decide to create LoveLoud, a music and spoken-word festival designed to spark dialogue between the church and members of the LGBTQ community.

Dan Reynolds, a third generation Las Vegas native, is lead singer for the Grammy winning band Imagine Dragons. Born to a family of nine children, Dan grew up writing and recording music before beginning his studies at Brigham Young University and later UNLV. Dan left his schooling to form Imagine Dragons, which had its start making ends meet playing casinos and bars in Las Vegas before signing to KidinaKorner/Interscope Records. The band has since sold over 12 million albums and 35 million singles worldwide. In 2016, Dan formed Interscope imprint Night Street Records, whose first signing K.Flay was nominated for two 2018 Grammy Awards.  Having publicly expressed his concern for the rising suicide rate in LGBTQ+ youth, Dan founded the LOVELOUD Foundation in 2017 to bring awareness to the growing crisis. Its mission is to bring communities together by igniting the vital conversation of what it means to unconditionally love, understand, accept, and support our LGBTQ+ family and friends. Dan also currently serves as a board member for The Tyler Robinson Foundation, a charity he co-founded which helps support pediatric cancer families in financial distress.

Additional honorees for the 22nd Annual Hollywood Film Awards will be announced in the coming days.

For the latest news, follow the Hollywood Film Awards on social and join the conversation by using the official hashtag for the show, #HollywoodAwards.

Twitter: @HollywoodAwards
Facebook: Facebook.com/HollywoodAwards
Instagram: @hollywoodawards
YouTube: youtube.com/HollywoodAwards

About Dick Clark Productions
Dick Clark Productions (DCP) is the world’s largest producer and proprietor of televised live event entertainment programming with the “Academy of Country Music Awards,” “American Music Awards,” “Billboard Music Awards,” “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest” and the “Streamy Awards.” Weekly television programming includes “So You Think You Can Dance” from 19 Entertainment and DCP DCP also owns one of the world’s most unique and extensive entertainment archive libraries with over 60 years of award-winning shows, historic programs, specials, performances and legendary programming. DCP is a division of Valence Media, a diversified media company with divisions and strategic investments in premium television, wide release film, specialty film, live events and digital media. For additional information, visit www.dickclark.com.

About The Hollywood Film Awards
The Hollywood Film Awards, founded in 1997, were created to celebrate Hollywood and launch the awards season. The recipients of the awards are selected by an Advisory Team for their body of work and/or a film(s) that is to be released during the calendar year. For additional information, visit www.hollywoodawards.com.

2018 DOC NYC: What to expect at this year’s event

October 24, 2018

by Carla Hay

The ninth annual DOC NYC, which takes place in New York City, is one of the world’s leading documentary festivals, with a slate of more than 300 films from a diverse array of topics. The 2018 edition of DOC NYC, which takes place November 8 to November 15, has an outstanding variety of feature films and short films, with several of the movies focusing on under-represented people and marginalized communities. Most of the festival’s events take place at the IFC Center, SVA Theatre and Cinépolis Chelsea.

DOC NYC, which was co-founded by Thom Powers and Raphaela Neihausen, has also had an excellent track record when it comes to diversity and inclusion. The event has a larger percentage of films from female directors than most other film festivals. Beyond the gender parity issue, this year’s DOC NYC is a true definition of a “world-class” festival, since there are numerous ethnicities and cultures from around the world represented in the films at the festival. DOC NYC also offers panel discussions, with most of the discussions geared to sharing behind-the-scenes knowledge about filmmaking.

Celebrities expected to attend the event include “Documentary Now!” co-creator Seth Meyers; “Out of Omaha” executive producer J. Cole, who is also known for his successful music career; “Fahrenheit 11/9” director Michael Moore; “Quincy” co-director Rashida Jones; “Echo in the Canyon” star Jakob Dylan; “Cracked Up” star Darrell Hammond; and “Olympia” star Olympia Dukakis.

There are many films at DOC NYC that have premiered elsewhere, and some films that have already been released in theaters, including the critically acclaimed “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?,” “Free Solo,” “RBG,” “Fahrenheit 11/9,” “Quincy” and “Three Identical Strangers.” However, DOC NYC also has several world premieres. Here are the feature films (and some TV episodes) that will have their world premieres at DOC NYC. A complete schedule can be found here.



New York-based psychoanalyst Ofra Bloch, a native of Israel, travels to Germany, Israel and Palestine to explore anti-Semitism. World Premiere: November 12 at Cinépolis Chelsea.

“Amazing Grace” UPDATE: Added on November 5, 2018

In 1972, Aretha Franklin recorded her best-selling gospel album “Amazing Grace” at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles. This film,  directed by Sydney Pollack, chronicles the recording of the album. Due to legal reasons, including Franklin’s objections to the movie being made public, the release of the “Amazing Grace” documentary was delayed for decades. With Franklin’s passing in 2018 and with her family’s approval, this movie is now finally getting released. World Premiere: November 12 at SVA Theatre.

“Beyond the Bolex”

Director Alyssa Bolsey, whose great-grandfather Jacques Bolsey invented the Bolex camera, takes a personal journey examining the history behind the Bolex. World premiere: November 8 at Cinépolis Chelsea.

“Bleed Out”

Comedic director Steve Burrows takes a serious look at medical malpractice, which has affected his own life: His mother underwent hip replacement surgery that  went badly, which put her in a coma that left her with permanent brain damage. World premiere: November 13 at IFC Center.

“Brave Girls”

Three young Indian women in a conservative Muslim community aim to improve their lives through education. World Premiere: November 15 at Cinépolis Chelsea.

“Breslin and Hamill: Deadline Artists”

A profile of famed New York journalists/columnists Jimmy Breslin (Daily News) and Pete Hamill (New York Post, Daily News). World Premiere: November 15 at SVA Theatre.


Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Buzz Bissinger, the author of “Friday Night Lights” and a frequent Vanity Fair contributor, opens up about his personal life, including his cross-dressing and how it has affected his marriage. World Premiere: November 10 at SVA Theatre.

“The Candidates”

Since 1996, Townsend Harris High School in Queens, New York, has been holding a simulation of a nationally prominent election for a semester, with students portraying the candidates and other people involved in the real-life campaigns. This documentary is about the school’s re-enactment of the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, with a Ukranian-American playing Donald Trump and a Pakistani-American playing Hillary Clinton. World Premiere: November 10 at IFC Center.


The story of 15-year-old, U.S.-born Jamil Sunsin, a new Jersey resident whose family is torn apart when his undocumented parents and older sister are deported back to Honduras under the Trump Administration’s immigration policies. World Premiere: November 14 at IFC Center.

“Cooked: Survival by Zip Code”

This documentary explores how U.S. residents living in low-income zip codes get disproportionately inferior aid after natural disasters, starting with the 1995 heatwave that hit Chicago and claimed the lives of more than 700 people, and including 2005’s Hurricane Katrina and 2012’s Superstorm Sandy. World Premiere: November 11 at SVA Theatre.

“Cracked Up”

A biography of former “Saturday Night Live” comedian Darrell Hammond, who has been open about his troubled history of mental illness and drug addiction, which stem from his abusive childhood. World Premiere: November 14 at SVA Theatre.

“Crafting an Echo”

The story behind the creative conflicts between Martha Graham and choreographer Andonis Foniadakis, who was commissioned by the Martha Graham Dance Company to create a new piece. World Premiere: November 14 at SVA Theatre.

“Creating a Character: The Moni Yakim Legacy”

A biography of Juilliard School acting instructor Moni Yakim, whose former students include award-winning Viola Davis, Jessica Chastain and Patti LuPone. World Premiere: November 11 at SVA Theatre.

“Decade of Fire”

This film shows how New York City’s Bronx borough was able to rebuild after devastating fires in the 1970s displaced thousands of residents, who were mostly black and Latino. World Premiere: November 10 at SVA Theatre.

Dennis and Lois”

Dennis and Lois have had a decades-long love affair with each other and with rock music. The couple met in 1975 at New York’s famed CBGB club and have remained “superfans” of rock, even at an age when most people outgrow the fan activities that Dennis and Lois still do, such as extensive traveling to concerts, volunteering to sell band merchandise, and inviting touring musicians to stay in their home. World Premiere: November 14 at IFC Center.

“Documentary Now!” Presents “Original Cast Album: Co-Op”

IFC’s “Documentary Now!” series (created by Rhys Thomas and “Saturday Night Live” alumni Fred Armisen, Bill Hader and Seth Meyers) is a show that presents a mockumentary in every episode. The “Original Cast Album: Co-Op” mockumentary, starring John Mulaney and Renee Elise Goldsberry, spoofs the 1970 D.A. Pennebaker documentary  “Original Cast Album: Company.”  World Premiere: November 9 at SVA Theatre.

“Enemies: The President, Justice & the FBI” – “That’s What Friends Are For”

The Showtime series “Enemies: The President, Justice & the FBI,” from Oscar-and-Emmy-winning documentarian Alex Gibney, will world premiere its first episode, “That’s What Friends Are For,” at DOC NYC. World Premiere: November 12 at IFC Center.

“The Great Mother”

A profile of immigration activist Nora Sandigo, who has become the legal U.S. guardian for more than 2,000 U.S.-born children whose undocumented parents have been deported. World Premiere: November 15 at IFC Center.

“I Am the Revolution”

The story of how three Middle-Eastern women are fighting for gender equality. World Premiere: November 15 at Cinépolis Chelsea.

“Jay Myself”

An inside look at the sale of photographer Jay Maisel’s 72-room New York City studio building, which was one of the city’s biggest private real-estate deals. World Premiere: November 11 at SVA Theatre.

“Jonestown: Terror in the Jungle”

DOC NYC has the world premiere of the first half of this Sundance TV miniseries, which chronicles the tragedy of 1978’s Jonestown cult massacre that took place in Guyana.  World Premiere: November 9 at IFC Center.

“The Kleptocrats”

This investigative film shows how $3.5 billion dollars were stolen from a Malaysian government fund. World Premiere: November 9 at IFC Center.

“Lady Parts Justice in the New World Order”

Lady Parts Justice, an activist group founded by “The Daily Show” co-creator Lizz Winstead, fights for reproductive rights and other women’s issues by mixing politics and comedy. DOC NYC will have the world premiere of two episodes from this documentary series. World Premiere: November 11 at SVA Theatre.

“Last Stop Coney Island: The Life and Photography of Harold Feinstein”

A biography of Harold Feinstein, who specialized in photographing people in New York City, especially at Brooklyn’s Coney Island. World Premiere: November 14 at Cinépolis Chelsea.

“Life Without Basketball”

This film chronicles the battles faced by Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir in her quest to have the International Basketball Federation allow players to wear hijabs. World Premiere: November 10 at Cinépolis Chelsea.

“Little Miss Westie”

The story of Ren, the first transgender girl to compete in West Haven, Connecticut’s Little Miss Westie Pageant. World Premiere: November 10 at IFC Center.

“Memory Games”

This film shows the journey of four athletes as they compete for the title of World Memory Champion. World Premiere: November 10 at Cinépolis Chelsea.

“My Perfect World: The Aaron Hernandez Story

The biography of disgraced football star Aaron Hernandez, who died in prison after being convicted of murder. World Premiere: November 14 at IFC Center.

“New Homeland”

Oscar-winning documentarian Barbara Kopple tells the story of five refugee children whose families have relocated from war-torn Syria and Iraq to Canada. World Premiere: November 13 at IFC Center.


A biography of actress Olympia Dukakis, who is best known for her Oscar-winning supporting role in “Moonstruck.” World Premiere: November 11 at SVA Theatre.

Operation Infektion

An investigative look at how politically motivated “fake news” was handled in the former Soviet Union, decades before it became a hot-button topic about the 2016 U.S. presidential election. World Premiere: November 10 at SVA Theatre.

“The Orange Years: The Nickelodeon Story”

A nostalgic look at the history of children’s TV network Nickelodeon. World Premiere: November 15 at SVA Theatre.

“Out of Omaha”

African-American twin brothers Darcell and Darrell Trotter are the subjects of this film, which chronicles the twins’ lives in racially divided Omaha, Nebraska. World Premiere: November 10 at SVA Theatre.


The story of a woman named Raf’aa, who flees war-torn Syria, leaving behind her husband and two sons. While living in a refugee camp in Germany, she hopes to reunite with them, but her husband and children are stuck in Greece. World Premiere: November 11 at IFC Center.

“See Know Evil”

A biography of fashion photographer Davide Sorrenti, who had a meteoric rise in the 1990s due to popularizing the “heroin chic” trend, but he was troubled by his own real-life heroin addiction. World Premiere: November 9 at SVA Theatre.

“The Show’s the Thing: The Legendary Promoters of Rock”

The history of how Frank Barsalona and other concert promoters impacted the careers of rock stars in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. World Premiere: November 15 at IFC Center.

“The Smartest Kids in the World”

This documentary follows four American teenagers who study abroad, each in a different country that surpasses the United States when it comes to  education ratings: Finland, the Netherlands, Switzerland and South Korea. World Premiere: November 11 at IFC Center.

“Somewhere to Be”

This spotlight is on the Greenwich House Senior Center in New York City and many of its quirky members and visitors. World Premiere: November 10 at SVA Theatre.

“Stars in the Sky: A Hunting Story”

The controversial activity of hunting animals for sport is explored in this film, which follows hunters in the Alaskan wilds. World Premiere: November 11 at Cinépolis Chelsea.

“Takumi. A 60,000 Hour Story on the Survival of Human Craft”

“Takumi” is the Japanese word for “artisan.” This film showcases a diverse array of Japanese artisans, include a chef, a car-factory inspector, a carpenter and a traditional paper-cut artist. World Premiere: November 11 at Cinépolis Chelsea.

“To Kid or Not to Kid”

Documentary filmmaker Maxine Trump (no relation to Donald Trump) turns the spotlight on herself and other women who haven chosen not to have children. World Premiere: November 11 at IFC Center.

“Very Senior: Attitude Is Everything”

A look at the energetic residents of the retirement community of Sun City, Arizona. World Premiere: November 15 at IFC Center.

“We Are Not Princesses” 

A group of Syrian women in a Lebanese refugee camp discover new freedoms through the art of acting. World Premiere: November 14 at Cinépolis Chelsea.

“Welcome to the Beyond”

The story behind successful 1980s model Hoyt Richards and his secret double life as a member of the Eternal Values cult. World Premiere: November 13 at Cinépolis Chelsea.

2018 New York Film Festival: documentary lineup announced

August 22, 2018

Maria by Callas
“Maria by Callas”

The following is a press release from the Film Society of Lincoln Center:

The complete lineup for the Spotlight on Documentary section of the 56th New York Film Festival, taking place September 28–October 14 at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, has been announced. This year’s series of dispatches from the front lines of nonfiction cinema features intimate portraits of artists, depictions of the quest for political and social justice, and much more.

Selections include three documentaries spotlighting controversial political figures, including former FOX News chairman Roger Ailes in Divide and Conquer: The Story of Roger Ailes, directed by Alexis Bloom (Bright Lights, NYFF54); The Waldheim Waltz, in which director Ruth Beckermann employs archival footage to examine the media’s role in the political ascension of former UN Secretary-General and Austrian president Kurt Waldheim; and returning NYFF filmmaker Errol Morris’s American Dharma, an unflinching, unnerving interrogation of former Trump strategist Steve Bannon. Other notable documentary subjects include Maria Callas, the legendary soprano whose rise to stardom, tumultuous public life, and vocal decline are vividly portrayed in Tom Volf’s Maria by Callas, and iconic New York street photographer Bill Cunningham, whose ruminations on his life and career are depicted in new archival footage in Mark Bozek’s lovely and invigorating The Times of Bill Cunningham.

In a double feature presentation, Ron Mann’s Carmine Street Guitars and returning NYFF director Manfred Kirchheimer’s Dream of a City portray uniquely New York stories: Mann’s film is centered on Rick Kelly, luthier of the eponymous music shop, as he builds new guitars with repurposed timber from storied New York spots like the Hotel Chelsea and McSorley’s, while the astonishing Dream of a City captures old New York firsthand, featuring stunning black and white 16mm images of city life shot by Kirchheimer and Walter Hess from 1958 to 1960. The documentary lineup also features stories of war past and present, showcasing perspectives from both the front lines and the home front. In a new restoration, William Wyler’s essential 1944 WWII combat documentary The Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress will screen as a companion piece to Erik Nelson’s The Cold Blue, which combines the remaining unused 16mm footage from Wyler’s film with the spoken recollections of nine of the last surviving World War II veterans to craft an experience of a different kind. Capturing the devastating effects of the ongoing war in the Middle East, James Longley’s Angels Are Made of Light follows schoolchildren as they come of age alongside the adults preparing them for an unstable future in the shattered, wartorn city of Kabul, Afghanistan.

Other highlights of the Spotlight on Documentary section include the World Premiere of Tom Surgal’s Fire Music, a fittingly wild and freeform tribute to the sights and sounds of the free jazz movement; John Bruce & NYFF alum Paweł Wojtasik’s End of Life, a supremely composed meditation on the act of dying; What You Gonna Do When the World’s on Fire?, Roberto Minervini’s urgent, lyrical portrait of African-Americans in New Orleans struggling to find social justice while maintaining their cultural identity; and Watergate, in which director Charles Ferguson (Inside Job, NYFF48) reopens the infamous investigation to create a real-life political suspense story built from archival footage, drawing disquieting parallels with the current presidency and criminal investigation.

The 17-day New York Film Festival highlights the best in world cinema, featuring works from celebrated filmmakers as well as fresh new talent. The selection committee, chaired by Kent Jones, also includes Dennis Lim, FSLC Director of Programming, and Florence Almozini, FSLC Associate Director of Programming.

As previously announced, the NYFF56 Opening Night is Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Favourite, Alfonso Cuarón’s ROMA is Centerpiece, and Julian Schnabel’s At Eternity’s Gate will close the festival. The complete lineup for the Main Slate can be found here, for Projections here, for Convergence here, and for Retrospectives and Revivals here.

NYFF Special Events and Shorts sections, as well as filmmaker conversations and panels, will be announced soon.

Tickets for the 56th New York Film Festival will go on sale to the general public on September 9. Festival and VIP passes are on sale now and offer one of the earliest opportunities to purchase tickets and secure seats at some of the festival’s biggest events, including Opening and Closing Night. Learn more here.


American Dharma
Dir. Errol Morris, USA/UK, 2018, 100m
U.S. Premiere
Errol Morris’s productively unnerving new film is an encounter with none other than Steve Bannon—former Goldman Sachs partner and movie executive, self-proclaimed “populist” warrior, and long-time cinephile. Morris faces off with his subject in a Quonset hut set modeled on a Bannon favorite, Twelve O’Clock High, and questions him about the most disturbing and divisive milestones in his career as a media-savvy libertarian/anarchist/activist, from Breitbart News’ takedown of Anthony Weiner to Bannon’s incendiary alliance with our current president to the tragic milestone of Charlottesville. American Dharma is an unflinching film, and a deeply disturbing experience. To quote William Carlos Williams, “The pure products of America go crazy…”

Angels Are Made of Light
Dir. James Longley, USA/Denmark/Norway, 2018, 117m
In the new film from James Longley (Iraq in Fragments), made over a period of several years, school children grow up before our eyes into young adults in the shattered city of Kabul in the country of Afghanistan. Longley meticulously constructs a framework—at once humanist, historical and poetic—for the trajectories of his young subjects and the adults doing their best to nurture them and prepare them for an unstable and unpredictable future. Angels Are Made of Light is a film of wonders great and small, some terrifying and some deeply moving, made by a truly ethical and attentive artist.

Carmine Street Guitars
Dir. Ron Mann, Canada, 2018, 80m
U.S. Premiere
The vibe is always deep and the groove is always sweet in Ron Mann’s lovely portrait of a week in the life of luthier Rick Kelly’s eponymous ground floor shop. Here, with help from his 93-year-old mother (and bookkeeper) and young apprentice Cindy Hulej, Kelly builds new guitars out of “the bones of old New York,” i.e. timber discarded from storied spots like the Hotel Chelsea and McSorley’s. A few regular customers—including Lenny Kaye, Bill Frisell, Charlie Sexton, Marc Ribot, and the film’s “instigator,” Jim Jarmusch—drop in along the way for repairs or test runs of Rick’s newest models. Or just to hang out and be with the music.

Preceded by:
Dream of a City
Dir. Manfred Kirchheimer, USA, 2018, 39m
World Premiere
The 87-year old Manny Kirchheimer, a filmmaker’s filmmaker, has spent decades quietly documenting the life of our city, where he has resided since fleeing Nazi Germany with his family in 1936. Kirchheimer’s films can be placed in the proud tradition of New York–based “impressionistic” nonfiction films like Jay Leyda’s A Bronx Morning and D.A. Pennebaker’s Daybreak Express, but they have a meditative power, tending to the surreal, that is absolutely unique. This astonishing new film, comprised of stunning black and white 16mm images of construction sites and street life and harbor traffic shot by Kirchheimer and his old friend Walter Hess from 1958 to 1960, and set to Shostakovich and Debussy, is like a precious, wayward signal received 60 years after transmission. A Grasshopper Film / Cinema Conservancy Release.

The Cold Blue
Dir. Erik Nelson, USA, 2018, 73m
Erik Nelson’s new film is built primarily from color 16mm images shot in the spring of 1943 by director William Wyler and his crew on 8th Air Force bombing raids over Germany and strategic locations in occupied France. Wyler shot over 15 hours of footage on a series of raids with the 91st bomber group, from which he crafted his 1943 film The Memphis Belle. From the remaining raw footage, Nelson has crafted an experience of a different kind, filtered through the spoken recollections of nine veterans, among the last survivors of the War in Europe.

Divide and Conquer: The Story of Roger Ailes
Dir. Alexis Bloom, USA, 2018, 107m
This is the epic tale of Roger Ailes, the hemophiliac boy from Warren, Ohio, who worked his way up from television production, to the Nixon White House, to George H.W. Bush’s successful 1988 presidential campaign, to the stewardship of Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News, which he built into a full-fledged right-wing propaganda machine disguised as a news organization that played a starring role in the 2016 presidential election. In the bargain, Ailes and his cohorts created a host environment for an exceptionally pure strain of power-wielding misogyny that proved to be his undoing. Director Alexis Bloom goes about her task methodically, establishes her facts scrupulously, and finishes things off with an appropriately ironic edge. An A&E IndieFilms release.

End of Life
Dir. John Bruce & Paweł Wojtasik, USA/Greece, 2017, 91m
U.S. Premiere
John Bruce and Paweł Wojtasik’s radiant film takes a respectful and serenely composed look at the very activity, the actual work, of dying for five individuals: Sarah Grossman, the spiritual teacher Ram Dass, Carol Verostek, Doris Johnson, and the artist, writer, and performer Matt Freedman. This is not a film of rhetoric but of concentrated and sustained attention to an area of experience at which we all arrive but from which the living flinch. Bruce and Wojtasik are tuned to a very special and extraordinarily delicate wavelength as artists, and they create a rare form from the silences, the incantatory repetitions, the mysterious repeated gestures, and the communions with the mystery of being enacted by the dying. A Grasshopper Film release.

Fire Music
Dir. Tom Surgal, USA, 2018, 90m
World Premiere
Tom Surgal’s film looks at the astonishing sounds (and sights) of that combustible and wildly diverse moment in music known as free jazz, which more or less began with Ornette Coleman, whose tone clusters and abandonment of strict rhythms opened the floor from under modern jazz. Surgal pays close attention to the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Albert Ayler, Eric Dolphy, Sam Rivers, Sun Ra & His Arkestra, and, of course, the recently deceased piano genius Cecil Taylor. Filled with priceless archival footage and photographs, Fire Music is a fittingly wild and freeform tribute to music that makes your hair stand on end.

Maria by Callas
Dir. Tom Volf, USA, 2018, 113m
The legendary soprano Maria Callas—American-born, ethnically Greek, and a true citizen of the world—was one of the supreme artists and cultural stars of the mid-20th century, and she became almost synonymous with the art form to which she devoted her life—Leonard Bernstein once called Callas “the Bible of opera.” Tom Volf’s film, comprised of archival photographs, newsreels, interviews, precious performance footage, and selections from her diary, takes us through Callas’s life: from her childhood, early training, and rise to stardom, through her tumultuous public life and vocal decline, and to her death from a heart attack at the age of 53. This is a cinematic love note to a great artist, and a vivid audiovisual document of mid-century western culture. A Sony Pictures Classics release.

The Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress
Dir. William Wyler, USA, 1944, 45m
In February of 1943, Major William Wyler went up in a B-17, 16mm camera in hand, on his first combat mission over Bremen with the Ninety-First Bomber Group. On this and the missions that followed, the Hollywood master, then at the height of his career, braved freezing and perilous conditions to get the images he needed, saw his sound man perish on a return trip from a raid over Brest, and refused an order to stop flying combat missions issued by his superiors, worried that he would be taken prisoner in Germany and identified as the Jewish director of Mrs. Miniver. The final result was Memphis Belle, one of the greatest of the WWII combat documentaries, and it has now been meticulously and painstakingly restored.

The Times of Bill Cunningham
Dir. Mark Bozek, USA, 2018, 71m
World Premiere
Mark Bozek began work on this lovely and invigorating film about the now legendary street photographer on the day of Cunningham’s death in 2016 at the age of 87. Bozek is working with precious material, including a lengthy 1994 filmed interview with Cunningham (shot when he received a Media Award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America) and his subject’s earliest pre-New York Times photographs, long unseen. In his customarily cheerful and plainspoken manner, Cunningham takes us through his Irish Catholic upbringing in Boston, his army stint, his move to New York in 1948 (which was controversial for his straitlaced family), his days as a milliner, his close friendships with Nona Park and Sophie Shonnard of Chez Ninon, his beginnings as a photographer, and his liberated and wholly democratic view of fashion. Narrated by Sarah Jessica Parker.

The Waldheim Waltz / Waldheims Walzer
Dir. Ruth Beckermann, Austria, 2018, 93m
Kurt Waldheim was an Austrian diplomat and politician who served as Secretary-General of the United Nations from 1972 to 1982. In 1986, his nation elected him as president despite a controversy over his previously undisclosed role in the Nazi regime during World War II. Using archival footage, Ruth Beckermann (The Dreamed Ones, Art of the Real 2016) studies how various media reported Waldheim’s accession and, more broadly, the influence of false naïveté and political pressure by those in positions of power. The Waldheim Waltz is an intelligent, timely work of activist filmmaking—one whose questions about collective complicity, memory, and historical responsibility are as important to ask today as they were more than 30 years ago. A Menemsha Films release.

Dir. Charles Ferguson, USA, 2018, 240m (+1 intermission)
Charles Ferguson reopens the case of Watergate, from the 1972 break-in to Nixon’s 1974 resignation and beyond, and gives it a new and bracing life. The filmmaker creates a real-life political suspense story, one remarkable detail at a time, built from archival footage; interviews with surviving members of the Nixon White House (including Pat Buchanan and John Dean), reporters (Lesley Stahl, Dan Rather and, of course, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein), special prosecutors (Richard Ben-Veniste, Jill Wine-Banks); the Senate Watergate Committee (Lowell Weicker), members of the House Judiciary Committee who debated Nixon’s impeachment (Elizabeth Holtzman), modern commentators, and historians; and carefully executed recreations based on the Oval Office recordings. Ferguson also accomplishes the difficult and immediately relevant task of drawing extremely disquieting fact-based parallels with another presidency and criminal investigation, still underway. An A&E release.

What You Gonna Do When the World’s on Fire?
Dir. Roberto Minervini, Italy/USA/France, 2018, 123m
U.S. Premiere
Italian-born, American South–based filmmaker Roberto Minervini’s follow-up to his Texas Trilogy is a portrait of African-Americans in New Orleans struggling to maintain their unique cultural identity and to find social justice. Shot in very sharp black and white, the film is focused on Judy, trying to keep her family afloat and save her bar before it’s snapped up by speculators; Ronoldo and Titus, two brothers growing up surrounded by violence and with a father in jail; Kevin, trying to keep the glorious local traditions of the Mardi Gras Indians alive; and the local Black Panthers, trying to stand up against a new, deadly wave of racism. This is a passionately urgent and strangely lyrical film experience.

2018 Toronto International Film Festival: documentaries announced

August 9, 2018

Quincy Jones in "Quincy"
Quincy Jones in “Quincy” (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

The following is a press release from the Toronto International Film Festival:

The Toronto International Film Festival’s ® 2018 documentary programme presents its lineup of 27  feature-length non-fiction films, representing 19 countries. The TIFF Docs selection will open with the World  Premiere of Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 11/9,” a radical and humorous look at the United States under Donald  Trump. Other World Premieres include Rashida Jones and Alan Hicks’ “Quincy,” profiling musical icon Quincy  Jones; Victoria Stone and Mark Deeble’s “The Elephant Queen,” narrated by Chiwetel Ejiofor, tracing the epic  journey of an elephant herd; Billy Corben’s “Screwball,” a true-crime comedy on doping in Major League Baseball;  and Maxim Pozdorovkin’s “The Truth About Killer Robots,” investigating the lethal consequences of automation.  The TIFF Docs programme is made possible through the generous sponsorship of A&E IndieFilms.

“TIFF Docs contains multiple titles poised to become the next non-fiction hits after a summer of box-office  breakouts,” said TIFF Docs Programmer Thom Powers. “Beyond the well-known directors in the lineup, look out  for newer talents that will take audiences by surprise.”

One-third of this year’s doc features are directed or co-directed by female filmmakers including TIFF Docs  closing film, Margarethe von Trotta’s Searching for Ingmar Bergman , which offers a multi-faceted look at the  Swedish auteur’s life 100 years after his birth. Women creators, trailblazers, and the #MeToo movement are  also examined within the lineup: Naziha Arebi’s “Freedom Fields,” about a Libyan women’s football team; Alex  Holmes’ “Maiden” recounts the story of the first all-women sailing crew in the “Whitbread Round the World Race”  (now the Volvo Ocean Race), skippered by Tracy Edwards; and Tom Volf’s “Maria by Callas,” narrated by Joyce DiDonato, profiles one of the major icons of the 20th century.

Grand adventures are at the heart of several docs in the selection. E. Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin’s “Free Solo” captures Alex Honnold’s unprecedented climb of El Capitan without safety ropes; Andrey Paounov’s “Walking on Water” documents the artist Christo’s project The Floating Piers ; John Chester’s “The Biggest Little  Farm” chronicles an eight-year struggle to run a family farm; and Shannon Service and Jeffrey Waldron’s “Ghost  Fleet”  captures a nail-biting rescue of fishermen enslaved at sea.

After directing last year’s Festival opener “Borg vs McEnroe,”  Janus Metz teams with Sine Plambech for the World Premiere of  “Heartbound,” a longitudinal study 10 years in the making about the trend of Thai women  marrying Danish men. And several documentaries represent eclectic perspectives told from around the world,  including: Rithy Panh’s “Graves Without a Name,” on the legacy of Cambodia’s genocide; Jawad  Rhalib’s  “When Arabs Danced,” on Muslim performers pushing boundaries; James Longley’s  “Angels Are Made of Light,” about a  group of Afghan children and their teachers; and Frederick Wiseman’s “Monrovia, Indiana,” about a small town in America’s Midwest.

The 43rd Toronto International Film Festival runs from September 6 to 16, 2018.

Films screening as part of the TIFF Docs programme include:

American Dharma
Errol Morris | USA/United Kingdom
North American Premiere

Angels Are Made of Light
James Longley | USA/Denmark/Norway
Canadian Premiere

The Biggest Little Farm
John Chester | USA
International Premiere

Divide and Conquer: The Story of Roger Ailes
Alexis Bloom | USA
World Premiere

The Elephant Queen
Victoria Stone, Mark Deeble | United Kingdom/Kenya
World Premiere

* TIFF Docs Opening Film *
Fahrenheit 11/9
Michael Moore | USA
World Premiere

Free Solo
E. Chai Vasarhelyi, Jimmy Chin | USA
International Premiere

PBS ‘Chefs Flight’ spotlight in ‘American Masters’ includes documentaries on James Beard and Jacques Pépin

April 13, 2017

by Carla Hay

PBS is launching “Chefs Flight”as part of the network’s “American Masters” series that will include new documentaries on culinary icons James Beard and Jacques Pépin.

“James Beard: America’s First Foodie” premieres in most market on May 19, 2017, at 9 p.m. Eastern Time. (Check local listings.) The program chronicles a century of food through the story of Beard (1903-1985), who was a pioneer celebrity chef and author. Immediately after the Beard documentary, PBS will televise a rebroadcast of “American Masters – Julia! America’s Favorite Chef” at 10 p.m. ET.

Meanwhile, “Jacques Pépin: The Art of Craft” (narrated by Stanley Tucci) premieres in most markets on May 26 at 9 p.m. Eastern Time. (Check local listings.) Immediately after the Pépin documentary, PBS will have an encore presentation of “American Masters – Alice Waters and her Delicious Revolution” at 10 p.m. ET.

According to a PBS press release: Among the many highlights in the Beard documentary are Daniel Boulud and restaurant critic Gael Greene telling how Beard helped start Citymeals on Wheels; Jacques Pépin reminiscing about cooking with Beard; Martha Stewart sharing how Beard’s cookbooks influenced her; Ted Allen disclosing Beard’s challenges being an “out” gay man at a time when same-sex sexual activity was illegal; chefs Jonathan Waxman and Larry Forgione reflecting on Beard’s mentorship and its impact on their career; Wolfgang Puck recounting how he helped found the James Beard Foundation; Alice Waters explaining how Beard discovered Chez Panisee; chef Jeremiah Tower offering insight into Beard’s relationship with Marion Cunningham; chef Naomi Pomery demonstrating how to make the famous “James Beard’s Onion Sandwich”; and next generation chefs such as Marc Forgione, Greg Higgins, and Pomeroy discussing how Beard’s influence is still felt today. James Beard Award Foundation president Susan Ungaro and executive vice president Mitchell Davis also appear in the documentary.

Dubbed the “Dean of American Cookery” by The New York Times, Beard … spoke of the importance of localism and sustainability long before those terms had entered the culinary vernacular. He was a forerunner of the farm-to-table movement and helped create the iconic Four Seasons concept and menu. He was the first chef to host his own television show, “I Love to Eat,” which debuted on NBC in 1946, and taught not only women but men how to cook. He also had a cooking school that he operated out of his New York apartment.

Beard authored 22 cookbooks, penned a syndicated newspaper column and wrote countless magazine articles. He is credited with introducing Julia Child to the New York culinary scene, and he later becoming a best friend to her.

The James Beard Awards Gala and Reception are considered the “Oscars” of the food-service industry. The 2017 ceremony will take place  May 1 at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. Jesse Tyler Ferguson is hosting the show. The complete list of nominations are here.



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