Category Archives: Feature Film

AFI DOCS 2016 Wrap Up

With ninety-four films from over 30 countries the 2016 AFI DOCS had something for just about every documentary film lover. The Opening Night film dazzled the at-capacity audience at the Newseum with Alex Gibney’s North American Premiere of Zero Days,a detailed account of claims the US and Israeli governments unleashed a sophisticated virus to thwart the Iranian nuclear enrichment program. The film also addressed the issue of retaliation and made for a lively conversation and Q & A following the screening. Highly recommended.

 

 

Kicking off the first full day, I had the good fortune of seeing seven short documentaries under the guise of Shorts: Outside In; Tracks, The Great Theatre, Rotatio, Neige, Fundir and Chocolate Mountain Metal, Shorts: Outside In. Warmly recommended.

Winding up a busy Day 2 at the Newseum, an interactive museum of news and journalism in downtown Washington, DC, Newtown, an emotionally, powerful look at the local community two years after the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre from acclaimed director Kim Snyder, and Audrie & Daisy, a story of two high school girls who were sexually assaulted in indefensible states and their vilification on social media with tragic consequences, were shown. Both are must-see films. Highly recommended.

 

Day 3 brought  After Spring, a telling tale of the relocation of Syrian refugees and the challenges they face at the Zaatari relocation camp inside the Jordanian border. Directors Steph Ching and Ellen Martinez attended the screening and made themselves available to discuss the making of the film. Recommended.


Almost Sunrise, explores an alternative approach to the traditional diagnosis and treatment of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Director Michael Collins chronicles the journey of two Iraq War veterans as they share a 2700 mile hike from the Midwest to the state of California to create an awareness of their trauma. Along the way, the two are warmly greeted and supported by fellow veterans and communities alike. Warmly recommended.

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Unfortunately, due to an overwhelming demand for seats at the Guggenheim Symposium and Screening, I was not granted a place for the evening’s conversation with Werner Herzog and Ramin Bahrani including clips from Herzog’s storied career and a screening of his latest work, Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World. Nevertheless, I made my way over to Silver Spring, MD, AFI Silver Theater for Cinema, Mon Amour, a wonderful story of a Romanian family and their ‘never say quit’ spirit as they work determinedly to keep open the last of Romania’s grand movie palaces.

Day Four began with a visit to the AFI DOCS Lounge for the Filmmakers Forum and the making of short documentaries. Quick and to the point, storytellers and the movers and shakers of the industry engaged in an informative format as filmmakers and producers provided guidance and probed the issues in today’s filmmaking environment.

Full of vigor, the featured Command And Control,directed by Robert Kenner, recounted a 1980 nuclear accident with surreal details. Highly recommended.command-and-control-tribeca

Next, I dropped in on Vanessa Gould’s Obit, an insider’s guide to the world of who’s who in the annals of lives lived through the eyes of the legendary New York Times obituaries desk. Obit reveals a unique form of journalism and the idiosyncrasies of the writers and editors who create and compose these celebrations of extraordinary lives lived. Warmly recommended and my personal favorite!

Closing out the evening again at the Newseum with a Spotlight Screening of Check It.  Check It, a mesmerizing look at an inner city, Washington DC, gang composed of gay and transgendered teens who allied themselves together for protection and survival out on the streets of the nation’s capitol over a three year period, was directed by Toby Oppenheimer and Dana Flor. Over the course of the film, the Check It gang comes to the realization that while surviving is critical so is leading a productive and useful life. Warmly recommended.

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Day 5 kicked into gear with another visit to the AFI DOCS Lounge for Part Four of the Filmmakers Forum. I arrived early and met Discovery’s Gina Scarpulla. Unbeknownst to me, Ms. Scarpulla and her team at Discovery are pioneering virtual reality in film. Virtual headsets, known as lunchboxes were made available before and after the forum. See my full write up here: AFI DOCS Filmmaking Forum on Virtual Reality

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next came the Chicken People, directed by Nicole Lucas Haimes. Chicken People delves into the worlds of the contestants and their contenders, pure bred chickens,  as they vie for best fowl at the Ohio National Poultry Show and the title of Super Grand Champion. Warmly recommended and A Don’t Miss!

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Doc & Darryl, a soon-to-be-aired ESPN 30 for 30 film, depicts the trials and tribulations of the 1986 Major League Baseball World Champions New York Mets and the meteoric rise and setbacks of the team’s two most talented players, Dwight ‘Doc’ Gooden and Darryl Strawberry. The film was co-directed by Judd Apatow and Michael Bonfiglio. See my write up: Doc & Darryl

Closing out the 2016 AFI DOCS was Norman Lear: Just Another Version Of You, directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady. This is a masterpiece of television history. Breathtaking images of actors, writers and directors watching clips from  All In The Family, The Jeffersons, Maude and Good Times juxtaposed against their commentaries, highlight this cinematic gem. Another must see film! And I know Norman Lear wouldn’t have it any other way. Highly recommended.

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Norman Lear , center, on the red carpet with filmmakers Heidi Ewing, right, and Rachel Grady, left, before the screening of the 2016 AFI DOCS Closing Night film, Norman Lear: Just Another Version Of You, June 26, 2016, at the Newseum in downtown Washington, D.C. (Photo credit: Larry Gleeson)

This was my first AFI DOCS. Set in our nation’s Capitol, the festival ran smoothly. Two venues were in downtown Washington, DC, and were within walking distance of one another. Also, both venues were easily accessible by the Metro and had plenty of shops, coffee bars, sports bars, and restaurants nearby. The third venue was in Silver Spring, Maryland, home of the AFI DOCS Silver Theater and Cultural Center. Again, plenty of shops and nearby eateries and fairly easy to get to by Metro. The Washington Post calls AFI DOCS “The nation’s leading documentary film festival.” I couldn’t agree more.

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Until next year, I’ll see you at the movies!

The AFI DOCS Interview: #NEWTOWN Director Kim A. Snyder

June 1, 2016

On December 14, 2012, a 20-year-old gunman forced his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, and murdered 20 schoolchildren and six educators. In the aftermath of the killings, filmmaker Kim Snyder traveled to Newtown and trained her lens on a grieving community, following several families who came face to face with tragedy. NEWTOWN reveals both the indelible scars gun violence leaves behind and the resilience of people who come together to heal.

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AFI spoke to director Snyder ahead of the film’s AFI DOCS premiere.

What led you to documentary filmmaking?

I was working on the production side of narrative filmmaking when a turn in my personal life compelled me to direct my first documentary. I have been doing it ever since.

What inspired you to tell this story?

I was drawn to the profound effects of collective trauma and the need for many people in Newtown to be heard on their own terms in an effort to make meaning out of the unthinkable. I wanted to pierce through a growing desensitization to these escalating incidents of mass gun violence through creating an emotional experience that humanizes the issue in a universal way.

How did your subjects?

It was like peeling an onion. In that first year, I did not feel comfortable penetrating the privacy of those most affected. My first connections were with the Interfaith community, which informed an intimacy and framing that was at once philosophic, existential and spiritual to some extent; it lent a holistic approach to a community wrestling with the darkest of journeys. Friar Bob, the priest who buried eight of the 20 children, was among those severely affected in terms of trauma. As I organically developed relationships with others through careful trust building, I began to develop a story of a town through a number of prisms, including that of parents of loss, educators, first responders, neighbors, youth — faces that render a portrait of any town and one that would redefine what it means to be a victim, while exploring the profound effects of survivor guilt and the resilience required to repair the social fabric of the entire community in the wake of the tragedy.

What was a particular obstacle you faced while making the film?

I faced a profound sense of responsibility in not wanting the process of the film to add to the ongoing trauma of those who participated, and in keeping my own psychological and emotion reactions to the material in check.

What do you want audiences to walk away with?

I want them to take away a profoundly emotional but rewarding journey to experience in their own community. I want them to experience perspective, anger and uplift from a community that offers profound truth and life perspective. Most importantly, I want them to leave with the conviction to participate in effecting change.

Why is Washington, DC, a valuable location to screen your film?

It is perhaps the most essential place for us to screen. Presenting an intimate exploration of the aftermath of the deadliest mass shooting of schoolchildren in American history in the seat of government and policymaking will be extremely powerful. We hope to maximize this potential.

NEWTOWN plays AFI DOCS on Thursday, June 23 at 5:45. Buy tickets here.

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[Source: American Film Magazine (blog)]

Mark Wahlberg Bringing ‘Deepwater Horizon’ to Big Screen

From ABC News:

Mark Wahlberg is bringing the real-life disaster story of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion to life on the big screen.

Good Morning America” debuted the new trailer for the film, “Deepwater Horizon,” which features the stories of those who worked on the BP rig during its harrowing final hours. The April 2010 explosion killed 11 people and triggered the biggest oil spill in U.S. history.

Wahlberg stars as Mike Williams, an electrician who escaped from the burning rig. He’s joined by an impressive cast: Dylan O’Brien as floorhand Caleb Holloway; Gina Rodriguez as young crew member Andrea Fleytas; Kurt Russell as crew member Jimmy Harrell; and John Malkovich as BP representative Donald Vidrine.

“Deepwater Horizon,” hits theaters Sept. 30, 2016. Watch the trailer above and see the exclusive dramatic character posters below.

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Star Trek Beyond

STAR TREK BEYOND is in theaters July 22, 2016

Star Trek Beyond, the highly anticipated next installment in the globally popular Star Trek franchise, created by Gene Roddenberry and reintroduced by J.J. Abrams in 2009, returns with director Justin Lin (The Fast and the Furious franchise) at the helm of this epic voyage of the U.S.S. Enterprise and her intrepid crew.

In Beyond, the Enterprise crew explores the furthest reaches of uncharted space, where they encounter a mysterious new enemy who puts them and everything the Federation stands for to the test.

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(Press materials courtesy of Paramount Studios)