Friday, November 29, 2013

Co-Directing Couple Joe Brewster and Michèle Stephenson on Race, Elite Education and their Sundance-winning “American Promise”

For co-directors Joe Brewster and Michèle Stephenson, their 13-years-in-the-making “American Promise” may have fulfilled every indie filmmaker’s American Dream. Since winning the Jury Award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, the doc – which trails this upper-middle-class black couple’s own son Idris and his friend Seun as they learn to navigate the majority white world of NYC’s prestigious Dalton School – has nabbed prize after prize, including the top award at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, and most recently, at the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival. It was there in Hot Springs that I finally got to catch the flick – and, as good luck would have it, moderate a Q&A via Skype with the Brooklyn duo. And since there’s rarely enough time post-screening to adequately address questions in depth, I asked the filmmaking couple for a repeat performance here at Global Comment. (“American Promise” will premiere on PBS in February – but if you simply can’t wait, go to to request a screening near you.)

To read my interview visit Global Comment.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Going Beyond Burlesque with Beth B’s “Exposed”

“How do you cover up cellulite? With glitter and a spotlight.” These words of wisdom from the legendary NYC, splendidly zaftig, female drag queen World Famous *BOB* pretty much sum up the ethos of legendary NYC, underground filmmaker Beth B’s latest doc-extravaganza “Exposed,” a behind-the-scenes peep at today’s proudly subversive burlesque movement. Its performers include folks like Rose Wood, a biologically male strip-teaser brought into the scene by biologically female drag queen Dirty Martini, and Mat Fraser, perhaps the sexiest Seal Boy – also the name of his critically-hailed one-man show – on the planet. (Sorry boys and girls, this disabled hottie is married to burlesque queen, and former Miss Exotic World, Julie Atlas Muz.)

And while the film itself is rather tame in format – clips from performances cut with straightforward interviews with those artists as well as with Tigger!, Bunny Love, Bambi the Mermaid and James Habacker – its presentation is not. Unsurprisingly, the punk godmother of No Wave cinema is adamant that “Exposed” not be “seen” but “experienced” – in the form of an event that includes actual live performances from one or more of the doc’s subjects. To that end, Beth B might have a thing or two to teach younger filmmakers about getting butts in seats. And, even more importantly as a result, the gender-bending, body-image-shattering pioneers she presents onscreen might just be able to school the world at large. “Filmmaker” spoke with Beth B prior to the U.S. premiere of “Exposed” on Friday, November 15th at DOC NYC.

To read my interview visit Filmmaker magazine.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

What to See at DOC NYC

Wedged between international documentary mega-fests CPH:DOX and IDFA on the festival calendar, this country’s largest documentary film fest DOC NYC might seem a humble affair. (Indeed, the four-year-old DOC NYC is downright cozy and laidback compared to Amsterdam’s industry-driven shindig where making sales often eclipses enjoying the sheer pleasure of cinema.) This year’s lineup features 131 films and events, including 11 world premieres and 9 US premieres – not to mention high-caliber attendees from Noam Chomsky to Michel Gondry, to Sarah Polley and Oliver Stone. Yet several small gems that I’ve written about at prior fests are every bit as worthy of celebration as opening night’s “The Unknown Known” (even with Errol Morris in attendance to discuss his Donald Rumsfeld doc). So with this in mind, here are five flicks from four categories I urge every doc geek in Gotham not to miss.

To find out more visit Filmmaker magazine.

Monday, November 11, 2013

A Tale of Two Cities: The 62nd International Film Festival Mannheim-Heidelberg

Situated in the southwestern part of Germany where the Rhine and the Neckar meet, Mannheim, like its sibling city Heidelberg – located upstream from Mannheim on the Neckar and a half hour away – is a university town. Only the University of Mannheim is housed in the 18th century Mannheim Palace, a massive baroque extravaganza that resembles Versailles more than any learning institution I’ve ever encountered. And even that pales in comparison to Heidelberg Castle, still partially in ruins since the Renaissance structure was demolished in the 17th and 18th centuries. This quaint city’s imposing castle emerges from the forested Königstuhl hillside like a great stone beast, overlooking Old Town, which, unlike Mannheim, was mercifully spared from Allied bombs during WWII.

To read the rest visit Filmmaker magazine.