Monday, August 7, 2017

A Conversation with Sherng-Lee Huang and Livia Ungur (HOTEL DALLAS)

Named in 2016 to Filmmaker magazine’s annual “25 New Faces of Independent Film,” artistic and life partners Sherng-Lee Huang and Livia Ungur are at the forefront of the doc/fiction revolution. As I wrote last summer, their Berlinale-premiering, debut feature Hotel Dallas “tells the true story of how the soapy series Dallas — the only American program allowed to be aired in Romania because the authorities believed it a cautionary tale about the evil capitalist West — became must-watch TV that influenced an entire generation. It also tells the fuzzier tale of how Livia, who fell in love with Patrick “Bobby Ewing” Duffy as a youngster, and her father Ilie, who fancied himself a wheeler-dealer like J.R., pursued their Dallas dreams after the fall of the regime. While Ilie built Hotel Dallas (a Southfork replica and a means to embezzle millions in taxes), Livia left for America, only returning years later to revisit her adolescent obsession through the prism of the “new” — although ’80s-inspired — Romania. (And yes, Duffy actually agreed to be in the film, compensated with only a bottle of wine.)”

And after you wrap your head around that whopper of a synopsis, read on to learn more. I spoke with the counterintuitively down-to-earth couple before the film’s Vimeo/Amazon/Google/Fandor streaming debut.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

EMPATHY IS CHEAP: A CONVERSATION WITH BRANDON HARRIS

As a Jewish chick who identifies as genderqueer, has never lived in Bed-Stuy, and is a generation older than African-American millennial Brandon Harris, I am most certainly not the target audience for his remarkable debut Making Rent in Bed-Stuy: A Memoir of Trying to Make It in New York City. And yet I’ve long been in awe of Brandon’s writing. Back when we were colleagues at a now-defunct film site years ago, I considered him some sort of cinephile prodigy. (And now that we’re both contributing editors at Filmmaker magazine I remain steadfast in that belief.)



To read my interview with my Renaissance man friend visit The Rumpus.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

FETISHIZING DISTRESS: THE WRONG LIGHT AND SEX TRAFFICKING

Josie Swantek Heitz’s and Dave Adams’s The Wrong Light, theatrically released in NYC through Cinema Guild on July 14, is disturbing on several levels. First, there’s the story itself. The filmmakers set out to create a portrait of the Children’s Organization of Southeast Asia (COSA), a nonprofit boarding school of sorts founded in 2005 by Mickey Choothesa. Choothesa is a self-proclaimed war photographer (with no background in child services) whose mission in life seems to be to save Northern Thailand’s girls from being sold into the country’s sex trade. Through the eyes of two “rescued” adolescents, whose parents had allegedly sold them to traffickers, the filmmaking team hoped to celebrate a tale of resilience, courage, and redemption. If all this sounds too good to be true, you’re probably not part of the rich, white philanthropy establishment.

To read my review visit The Rumpus.

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.