Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Hulk Hogan Body Slams Gawker in Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press

Brian Knappenberger’s Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press, which just hit Netflix, originally held the more sensational (and unwieldy) working title Nobody Speak: Hulk Hogan, Gawker and Trials of A Free Press upon its Sundance premiere. Shot during the run-up to the 2016 election, the film takes as its starting point the salacious Florida trial pitting the now disgraced, titular WWE hero against bad boy Nick Denton’s Gawker Media (a site that none other than the New York Times’s David Carr likens in the film to the “mean girls in a playground” – while copping to reading it).


And to read my review visit Global Comment.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Thursday, June 29, 2017

The Reagan Show is a masterful look at the past

“How could you do the job if you hadn’t been an actor?” is what Ronald Reagan claims he often wondered (when asked by David Brinkley if anything he learned as a thesp was applicable to the presidency) in a telling clip from the start of Pacho Velez and Sierra Pettengill’s engrossing The Reagan Show, an all-archival doc from CNN Films that hits theaters in NYC and LA on June 30th (and on VOD, appropriately enough, July 4th).

An editing tour de force, the film is crafted entirely from 80s network newscasts and “White House Television” – what the Reagan administration dubbed its recordings of all the president’s daily activities – alongside clips from many of the 53 Hollywood movies Reagan acted in prior to his presidency. Indeed, there was quite a bit of stage-managed history for the filmmakers to choose from. As a title card notes, the Gipper’s team “used film and video five times as much as all previous administrations combined.” Which left Ted Koppel to ponder whether that shining city on the hill would be real or a “vacant Hollywood set?”


To read my review visit Global Comment.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

From Race to Resistance to Refugees: The 28th Human Rights Watch Film Festival

The 28th edition of the Human Rights Watch Film Festival, running June 9-18 at NYC’s Film Society of Lincoln Center and IFC Center, will be showcasing 21 feature docs and panel discussions (and no fiction films – a smart programming move as the fiction films in past years inevitably ended up the weakest links in the lineup).

Glancing through the program there looks to be a whole lot of timely stuff to choose from, including a “From Audience to Activist” discussion in which “filmmakers, journalists and activists share best practices on how to hold powerful institutions accountable safely and effectively,” and “The Resistance Saga,” an entire day dedicated to Pamela Yates’s award-winning trilogy (1984’s When the Mountains Tremble, 2011’s Granito: How to Nail a Dictator, and this year’s 500 Years: Life in Resistance) that follows the Mayan citizens of Guatemala from their fight for basic rights right through to the first trial in the Americas prosecuting the genocide of indigenous people.


To read my personal picks visit Filmmaker magazine.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Doc Stars of the Month: Davonte 'Dada' Harrell, Reginald 'Junior' Askew, David 'Bud' Perry, 'Raising Bertie'

Margaret Byrne's Raising Bertie (executive produced by J. Cole) is an intimate, six-year journey into the lives of three young, African-American men. Like others their age, Davonte "Dada" Harrell, Reginald "Junior" Askew and David "Bud" Perry face such daunting tasks as finishing high school, finding steady employment and navigating the rollercoaster ride into adulthood. That they attempt to do all this in rural Bertie County, North Carolina—where every odd is stacked against them—is both admirable and enlightening (at least to those of us residing in our urban and coastal bubbles). And it’s what makes these three determined southerners this June’s "Doc Stars of the Month."

Documentary had the honor of speaking with Dada and Junior (between work shifts) and Bud (still recovering from a car accident!) prior to the film’s June 9th theatrical premiere at Maysles Cinema in New York City, through Gunpowder & Sky Distribution and Kartemquin Films. The film also airs on POV on August 28.


To read my interview visit Documentary Magazine.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Doc Stars of the Month: The Sung Family, 'Abacus: Small Enough to Jail'

Abacus: Small Enough to Jail - which has been garnering accolades on the festival circuit ever since its Toronto debut, and was the opening night flick at this year's Full Frame Documentary Film Festival - is equal parts riveting and rage-inducing. Master documentarian Steve James's latest film lays bare the five-year legal drama of the Sung family, Chinese immigrant owners of (NYC) Chinatown’s Abacus Federal Savings Bank, which was accused of mortgage fraud by the limelight-seeking Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance Jr., rendering this community-serving, family-owned-and-operated shop the sole US bank to face criminal charges in the fallout from the 2008 financial crisis. (And despite, ironically, having one of the lowest default rates in the country. Indeed, Fannie Mae even continued to do business with Abacus after the indictment!)

So needless to say, it was a privilege for me to chat collectively by email with this heroic and tight-knit family of six (Abacus founder and patriarch Thomas; his wife, Hwei Lin; and daughters Vera, Jill - both bank executives - Chanterelle and Heather) prior to the film's opening at NYC's IFC Center on May 19 through PBS Distribution.


To read the interview visit Documentary Magazine.

Monday, May 15, 2017

“The Film Gives Viewers Plenty to be Angry About…”: Steve James on Abacus: Small Enough to Jail

Steve James’ documentary, Abacus: Small Enough to Jail, is at once a heartfelt portrait of a close-knit family facing overwhelming adversity and an infuriating indictment of our U.S. justice system gone seriously awry. The film follows the Chinese immigrant Sung family, founding owners and operators of the Abacus Federal Savings Bank down in NYC’s Chinatown, who in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis found themselves locked in a half-decade battle with spotlight-loving Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance, Jr. Though the bank had one of the lowest default rates in the country (with only nine out of 3,000 loans defaulting!), the overzealous prosecutor nevertheless decided to pursue charges — giving the low-income-community-serving institution the dubious distinction of being the one and only bank indicted for mortgage fraud in the fallout.


To read my interview with the legendary Hoop Dreams director visit Filmmaker magazine.