Friday, January 6, 2017

Doc Star of the Month: Michelle Smith, 'Best and Most Beautiful Things'

Editor's Note: Some of the greatest documentaries of all time would be inconceivable without their protagonists to drive the stories and keep us viewers enthralled. From the Beales to the Friedmans, from Bob Dylan to Bob Flanagan, these real-life people were transformed, through the dynamic collaborative processes with their respective filmmakers, into indelible and engaging characters of cinema. And it's thanks to the access and intimacy that these protagonists granted to the filmmakers that these films were made in the first place.

So when writer Lauren Wissot proposed a column in which she would interview a documentary subject every other month, we welcomed the idea. So, here is the inaugural Doc Star of the Month (even though it's every other month): Michelle Smith of
Best and Most Beautiful Things.

To read my interview with one of the brightest stars of 2016 visit Documentary Magazine.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Casey Affleck’s Bad Behavior Be Damned (or Why You Should Not Boycott “Manchester by the Sea”)

To call Manchester by the Sea writer/director Kenneth Lonergan’s masterpiece is not an exaggeration. This is a near-flawless film. (And further proof that HBO needs to give Lonergan his own limited series a la Lisa Cholodenko’s Olive Kitteridge or Todd Haynes’s Mildred Pierce.) It features a no-weak-link ensemble cast headed by controversial actor Casey Affleck – who, after being accused of sexual misconduct and harassment by I’m Still Here producer Amanda White and the film’s cinematographer Magdalena Gorka, settled out of court back in 2010. It also stars the luminous Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler (Friday Night Lights, Bloodline) and Lucas Hedges (best known to Wes Anderson fans from his turns in Moonrise Kingdom and The Grand Budapest Hotel), who together bring to vivid life Lonergan’s tale of an uncle (Affleck) haunted by his own demons suddenly forced to look after his fatherless nephew.

To read the rest of my op-ed visit Hammer to Nail.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Do You Need to Premiere at a Major Festival to Qualify your Doc for an Oscar? Roger Ross Williams on the Shortlist Process

One of the most intriguing aspects of this year’s Savannah Film Festival’s Docs to Watch Roundtable, which I wrote about a couple months back, was the lively back-and-forth that occurred when the subject of the Oscar shortlist came up. From all appearances it seems that a documentarian’s chances of making that Holy Grail cut are “predetermined” — i.e., if your film didn’t debut at one of a narrow number of A-list fests, well, forget about it.

However, Roger Ross Williams, a member of the Documentary Branch of the AMPAS board of governors, took vigorous issue with that assessment. Which intrigued me even more. So Filmmaker decided to follow up with the multitasking, Academy Award-winner a few weeks after the fest, as he was preparing for the UK release of his latest nonfiction artwork Life, Animated. (Which, yes, subsequently made the Oscar shortlist.)

To read my interview visit Filmmaker magazine.

Monday, December 26, 2016

The Best VR of 2016: Arnaud Colinart and Amaury La Burthe on Notes on Blindness: Into Darkness

This year’s DOK Neuland, DOK Leipzig’s interactive component (housed in what resembled an intergalactic pop-up tent in the beautiful, wide open Markt) allowed me a second chance to experience what will surely go down as the best work of virtual reality seen widely in 2016. Fortuitously, I’d been able to catch Notes on Blindness: Into Darkness — the accolade garnering (Storyscapes Award at the Tribeca Film Festival, the Alternate Realities VR Award at Sheffield Doc/Fest) VR companion piece to Peter Middleton and James Spinney’s much heralded documentary — at the charming Savannah Film Festival’s VR Showcase just the week before. (The doc itself opened at Film Forum in November.) Though it’s now available for free on various platforms, the experience of putting on a headset and virtually falling once again into a “world beyond sight” nearly brought me to tears. And how often does that kind of emotional connection happen with virtual reality? Notes on Blindness: Into Darkness is an astounding work of immersive cinema. Arthouse VR.

To read the rest visit Filmmaker magazine.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Holland’s Own Trumpland: From Zwarte Piet to Geert Wilders

To say that the Donald Trump’s (electoral college) victory has galvanized the far right globally is an understatement. Though France’s Marine Le Pen tends to grab most of the headlines here in the States, she may soon be upstaged by the Netherlands’s Geert Wilders, who just delivered his closing statement in a hate-speech trial he deemed unworthy of his presence for most of its proceedings. (The trial stemmed from a 2014 rally at The Hague in which Wilders told supporters who’d voiced their desire for fewer Moroccans in Holland that “we will arrange that.”)

This isn’t the first time Wilders has run afoul of Dutch law. In 2011 he faced similar charges for comparing the Koran to Hitler’s Mein Kampf, along with issuing other anti-Islamic denunciations. He’s also a serious contender for Prime Minister. Sound familiar? Wilders, like Trump, is no anomaly. He’s simply the loudest voice in a seedy underbelly of intolerance that’s been running through all Western “free nations” since their founding. Indeed, Wilders and the Holland template can provide much needed insight into our own troubled, white nationalist terrain.

To read the rest of my essay visit Global Comment.

Friday, December 2, 2016

“There is a Certain Freedom to Being an Outsider”: Garrett Zevgetis on Best and Most Beautiful Things

Boston-based filmmaker Garrett Zevgetis’s SXSW-premiering Best and Most Beautiful Things (its title a nod to Helen Keller’s words) is a cinematic portrait of a young woman in Bangor, Maine, a recent high school graduate who is searching for a job to suit her skills. An anime devotee whose rebel fashion sense seems to be influenced by her vast Werecat Sisters doll collection, Michelle Smith also happens to be legally blind and has Asperger’s syndrome. As the doc progresses, though, disabilities fade into the background, upstaged by Michelle’s determination to assert her individuality (including exploring BDSM) and live her life on her own terms. In other words, just like every other 20-year-old emerging into autonomous adulthood.

Indeed, the small moments in Michelle’s coming-of-age-journey that Zevgetis captures are every bit as inspiring as the grand natural beauty of Maine. Patiently letting the story unfold, Zevgetis gives us a glimpse into the battles Michelle’s disabilities have forced her to wage — namely against condescension, preconceived notions, and other people’s ignorance (which, as Michelle puts it, should not be her burden to bear). Filmmaker was fortunate enough to speak with the Boston-based director about all this and more prior to the film’s December 2nd, NYC premiere at Cinema Village. The film rolls out to other markets in the days ahead.

To read my interview visit Filmmaker magazine.