Upcoming documentaries include one 43 years in the making
It's been a hot summer for documentaries, with the release of Asif Kapadia's Amy, Best of Enemies from Morgan Neville and Robert Gordon, Matthew Heineman's Cartel Land and Meru, co-directed by Jimmy Chin and E. Chai Vasarhelyi, to name but a few.
But with fall around the corner, it's time to look at what's coming soon to theaters and film festivals. It's an intriguing bunch of titles, featuring Oscar-winning directors and some fascinating subjects.
>The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution directed by Stanley Nelson. It's hard to imagine a more timely film, given the present climate of racial tension in the country following the deaths of numerous unarmed black people at the hands of police.
The film is described as the first feature-length documentary to examine the Black Panther Party, which emerged from Oakland, California in the 1960s, in explicit opposition to the non-violent method of resistance to racism advocated by Martin Luther King Jr.
PBS is behind the film, backing a theatrical release before it airs on public television. The Black Panthers opens at Film Forum in New York on Sept. 2; in Boston on Sept. 11; in DC and Philadelphia on Sept. 18, and at the Nuart Theatre in Los Angeles on Sept. 25. Watch the trailer here
>Amazing Grace directed by Sydney Pollack. The Toronto International Film Festival will debut a documentary the late filmmaker began shooting more than 40 years ago. In 1972 Pollack's cameras followed Aretha Franklin in Los Angeles as she gave a celebrated pair of concerts that resulted in the album Amazing Grace.
Update: TIFF has pulled the Aretha documentary from its lineup as a result of a legal dispute. A federal judge in Colorado issued a temporary restraining order preventing the Telluride Film Festival from screening the film. Possibly out of caution, TIFF cancelled exhibition plans. Read the latest here.
According to the festival, before Pollack died in 2008 he expressed a desire for the film to be completed. Watch the trailer here
>Women He's Undressed directed by Gillian Armstrong. The provocatively-titled documentary, which premieres at the Toronto International Film Festival, is the story of once-acclaimed (but now largely forgotten) Aussie-born costume designer Orry-Kelly. He designed for many of Hollywood's greatest talents, including Bette Davis, Marilyn Monroe, Natalie Wood, Ava Gardner, Rosalind Russell and even some of the guys -- Humphrey Bogart and Errol Flynn, for instance.
The title of the documentary is arch because Orry-Kelly was gay, which in that era of Hollywood was not exactly a ticket to success, even for a costume designer.
"He survived partially protected by his friendship with Jack and Ann Warner," a publicist for the film noted. Jane Fonda and Angela Lansbury are among the stars interviewed for the film. Watch the trailer here
>Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon directed by Douglas Tirola. The film recounts the birth of the magazine that spawned some of comedy's greatest talents. Without the National Lampoon there would be no Animal House. Enough said.
Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead opens Sept. 25 in New York, the same day it becomes available on iTunes and VOD. It opens in theaters in Los Angeles and other cities in the following weeks. Watch the trailer here
>Finders Keepers directed by Bryan Carberry and Clay Tweel. One of the funniest documentaries of this or any year. The bizarre story of a North Carolina man who lost his leg in an accident, then decided to preserve the remains. He stowed the limb in a smoker, which wound up in possession of another man who refused to return the missing extremity. Yes, this actually happened.
This thoroughly entertaining film opens in New York and Los Angeles Sept. 25, and then expands to more theaters and to VOD on October 2. Watch the trailer here
>He Named Me Malala directed by Davis Guggenheim. The Academy Award-winning filmmaker (An Inconvenient Truth) turns his attention to Malala Yousafzai, the youngest person ever honored with the Nobel Peace Prize. At the age of 15 Malala was nearly assassinated in her native Pakistan by Taliban gunmen enraged by her efforts to promote education for girls.
Undeterred by the attack, she has continued to campaign for girls' education rights, an activism that has earned her a place on Time magazine's list of the world's 100 most influential people. Watch the trailer here
>The Prime Ministers: Soldiers and Peacemakers directed by Richard Trank. The follow up to Trank's previous film, The Prime Ministers: The Pioneers, which examined Israel's early leaders, including Golda Meir. Both films are based on the memoirs of late diplomat Yehuda Avner.
Rabbi Marvin Hier, Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and a two-time Oscar-winning filmmaker, produced the new documentary and its earlier companion. The Prime Ministers: Soldiers and Peacemakers looks at the seminal figures Yitzhak Rabin and Menachem Begin, the latter responsible for negotiating the Camp David Accords that brought peace with Egypt.
The Prime Ministers: Soldiers and Peacemakers opens at the AMC Empire in New York on Oct. 9; it opens in Los Angeles and Encino, Calif. on Oct. 14, with a national release to follow.
Late October [exact date tbd]
>All Things Must Pass directed by Colin Hanks. The actor perhaps best known for his work on the TV series Fargo turns his sights on a musical institution: Tower Records. In its heyday there was no more successful record store chain than Tower. The advent of downloadable music imperiled the empire, but the documentary argues there are other reasons the company collapsed.
All Things Must Pass features interviews with musical greats Dave Grohl, Bruce Springsteen and Elton John, among others. Per the publicist handling the film, it will be released in "late October." Watch the trailer here
>Generosity of Eye directed by Brad Hall. Actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus produced the documentary, which recently played at the Rhode Island International Film Festival. It's the story of Louis-Dreyfus' father William, who amassed an extraordinary art collection and then decided to sell it to start an endowment for a children's education project in Harlem.
JLD's husband, Brad Hall, directed the film. Distribution plans are unclear at this point, but several pieces from the art collection itself are on view until October 11 at the Katonah Museum of Art in Katonah, New York.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus recently shared news about the Rhode Island International Film Festival screening with fans on her Instagram account. The post attracted 1,803 likes as of August 25. Among the comments, curiously, was this one: "Julia PLEASE where are your sunglasses from in your old navy commercial."
Films that could wind up on the Oscar short list are opening this week
The last week of July brings the release of a slew of new documentaries, including two of the best reviewed films of the year: Listen to Me Marlon and Best of Enemies.
July 29 [New York]; July 31 [LA]
>Listen to Me Marlon Filmmaker Stevan Riley creates a fascinating and immersive "self-portrait" of the great Marlon Brando, through previously-unheard audio recordings which the actor made for self-hypnosis and self-motivation. Riley went so far as to recreate Brando's home [which was torn down after his death] in London to situate the voice in its original environment. Trailer here
Winehouse, Brando and Farley among the famous getting big screen treatment.
There are issue documentaries and personality documentaries-- and occasionally a combination of the two-- citizenfour being a prime example. Coming soon to theaters and TV screens are several of each kind of documentary which are entertaining, compelling and informative.
>Amy directed by Asif Kapadia. The film about the late singer Amy Winehouse is among the most buzzed-about documentaries of the year, winning strong reviews from Variety and Vanity Fair, among others. But the Winehouse family isn't pleased, releasing a statement "dissociating" itself from the production, which the family calls a "missed opportunity." Trailer here
>Cartel Land directed by Matthew Heineman. Donald Trump's recent comments notwithstanding, the catastrophic drug-related violence in Mexico has mostly slipped from US headlines in the past couple of years. Cartel Land will help remind you how desperate the situation is.
Heineman risked his life to go on the ground in the midst of the drug war, uncovering thick layers of moral ambiguity. His hero is Dr. Jose Mireles, a physician in the state of Michoacán, who forms a citizen militia, the "Autodefensas," to combat the drug cartels. Meanwhile, in Arizona, ex-army man Tim "Nailer" Foley forms a paramilitary operation of his own to police the cartels north of the border.
Dynamic and visceral filmmaking. Opens NYC July 3 and LA July 10. Trailer here
In "What Happened, Miss Simone?" Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Liz Garbus delves deeply intro the troubled star behind "Mississippi Goddam" and "I Put a Spell on You."
Is Is it possible to be widely considered brilliant, yet still be under-appreciated? Such is arguably the case with Nina Simone, a singer of worldwide renown but probably not among the names that come to mind when thinking of the greatest women singers of the 20th century (Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday, Judy Garland and even Aretha Franklin would rank ahead of her on most top five lists).
I have to live with Nina and that is difficult.
But the new documentary "What Happened, Miss Simone?", directed by Liz Garbus, paints a picture that may convince many that Simone was a musical genius and a vastly underrated talent. The film premieres on Netflix June 26 after making its debut at the Sundance Film Festival in January.
Few American diplomats in recent decades can claim as many successes as the late Richard Holbrooke. He is credited with brokering the peace agreement that ended the war in Bosnia in 1995. It is not only his triumphs but his failures that are the subject of the new documentary "The Diplomat," directed by his eldest son, David.
For those who love movies about the creative process, "Dior and I" is a must see. The documentary from director Frederic Tcheng takes its place among the greatest films about fashion, including "Unzipped," "Bill Cunningham New York" and "Valentino: The Last Emperor" (which Tcheng co-produced and co-edited).
Through immersing the viewer in the world of Dior and revealing the extraordinary effort required to produce a collection, I hoped the film would ultimately reveal a cross section of Parisian life, in the tradition of great French social realists like Renoir and Zola.
The film takes viewers inside the famed House of Dior as newly-appointed artistic director Raf Simons prepares his first haute couture collection for the firm. "Dior and I" opens in New York and Toronto April 10 and in Los Angeles and other cities April 17.
The Church of Scientology may be mulling whether to cancel its HBO subscription. The pay cable network debuts the controversial new documentary "Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief" this Sunday (March 29) at 8pm. The film is contoversial-- well, because anything associated with Scientology is controversial. Rest assured, it does not paint a flattering portrait of the church, founder L. Ron Hubbard or current Scientology leader David Miscavige.
"Going Clear" is the latest film from Academy Award-winning director Alex Gibney (or does that honor belong to Gibney's "Steve Jobs: Man in the Machine," which just premiered at SXSW? He's extraordinarily prolific). It's based on the book of the same title by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Lawrence Wright, whose works include "The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11" and the recently-published "Thirteen Days in September: Carter, Begin, and Sadat at Camp David."
In the midst of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament, Showtime debuts a new documentary on legendary coach Dean Smith, who won two national championships at the University of North Carolina. Sadly for Tar Heels fans, the team lost Thursday night to number one seed Wisconsin in a close contest, but this documentary may offer some solace. Smith earned 879 victories over the course of his coaching career, capped by titles in 1982 and 1993. Watch a promo for the documentary here.
How do you survive in the most dehumanizing conditions possible -- a place where your very identity marks you for death? The answer for a number of prisoners held in Nazi concentration camps was to somehow create art in the midst of the horror that was the Holocaust. The new documentary "Because I Was a Painter," from director Christophe Cognet, explores drawings and paintings made surreptitiously by inmates in the death camps. The film opens April 24th at Lincoln Plaza in New York.
Click here to watch the trailer
Publicist Sasha Berman provided additional information about the film: "In 1945, when the Allies liberated the concentration camps, they discovered thousands of secretly created artworks. These drawings, hidden from the Nazis, offer an unparalleled understanding of life in the camps. Featuring interviews with surviving artists, curators, as well as recently uncovered evidence, this fascinating documentary considers the ability of art to capture, reflect and survive under unimaginable conditions.
BECAUSE I WAS A PAINTER explores a wide range of perspectives, from an artist who grapples with finding beauty in paintings of corpses to Treblinka survivor Samuel Willenberg who believes that the artworks can be nothing but inherently devoid of beauty. In addition to works intended as art, the film contemplates the role of alternative relics such as portraits of Romani victims killed by infamous Nazi physician Josef Mengele and paintings that were recreated years later because originals were lost or destroyed."
The Academy Award-nominated documentary "The Salt of the Earth" reaches U.S. theaters Friday, March 27. The film about the life and work of photographer Sebastian Salgado, who has created visually stunning images of human suffering, is co-directed by Salgado's son, Juliano Ribeiro Salgado and acclaimed filmmaker Wim Wenders.
Read the New York Times Q&A with Salgado here. The New York Times' A.O. Scott reviewed the film in December 2014.