Cameraperson Points Its Lens at Both Death and Life

A review of Cameraperson, directed by Kirsten Johnson.For 20 years, Kirsten Johnson has shot memorable documentary features about human suffering and the ravages of war (Pray the Devil Back to Hell, The Invisible War). Her new film, Cameraperson, collects snippets from her work on many of those features to weave a challenging tapestry—an odd hybrid of autobiography and catalog of infamy and human suffering—that threatens to become morose but which provide moments of transcendence and deep hum … [Read more...]

Voyage of Time: The IMAX Experience Condenses All of Time to 44 Minutes

Review of Voyage of Time: The IMAX Experience, Directed by Terrence MalickThe Terrence Malick surge continues. This blog has covered the filmmaker’s Knight of Cups from earlier this year and, even more recently, The Vessel, which he executive produced. The sudden burst of output from a filmmaker who took off 20 years between his second and third features has more than satisfied audiences hungry for his sincere grappling with nature, desire and the state of the human soul.The arrival of M … [Read more...]

AFI DOCS Highlight Life, Death and Industries Struggling to Survive

The American Film Institute (AFI)—launched by Lyndon Johnson in 1967 to "enrich and nurture the art of film in America"—is probably best known today for its list of the Top 100 American films (issued back in 2007) or its annual list of the year’s best films. But for those of us who live near the AFI Silver Theater in Silver Spring, Md., AFI has become one of the great champions of nonfiction filmmaking.Having rebranded its Silverdocs festival a few years ago as AFI DOCS, the institute showc … [Read more...]

Mavis! Closes AFI Docs Festival With a Gospel Shout

Very Semi-SeriousFestival documentaries tend to lean on “issues” films that highlight injustice or that profile important or famous individuals. Rare is the film that leaves audiences laughing. That’s what made Very Semi-Serious, a look at the artists behind the New Yorker cartoons, so refreshing. The film centers on New Yorker cartoon editor Bob Mankoff, who sheds light on the selection process for each issue’s cartoons, We learn that an astonishing 1,000 cartoons are received weekly by the … [Read more...]

Anger, Artistry Characterize AFI Docs Audience Award Winner

Last year’s AFI Docs’ festival opener, Scott Teems’ Holbrook/Twain, provided a model for showbiz documentaries. Not only is actor Hal Holbrook a fascinating subject when discussing his best-known performance (a one-man show in which he plays Mark Twain), but director Teems includes Holbrook’s’ children discussing the impact of their father’s constant time on the road while they were young. While not exclusively negative, their regrets, and Holbrook’s’ own rueful comments about what he missed out … [Read more...]

AFI Docs Highlight the Role of Faith, Family in Making a ‘Better World’

Reviews of Best of Enemies, The Look of Silence, and Listen to Me MarlonThis year’s AFI Docs festival showcased the “dreams of a better world,” as seen through the lenses of its filmmakers, according to AFI CEO Bob Gazelle. Both the opening and closing night films—as well as several movies in between—showed how faith and family could affect those dreams, for better or for worse.Opening the festival on June 18 was Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville’s Best of Enemies, a lively revisiting of t … [Read more...]

Drones locks on, arms, and misfires

Review of Drones, Directed by Tonje Hessen ScheiDrones was not a half-bad idea for a low-budget film. I can see what the filmmakers were trying to do here. It had the potential to be a compelling, Rear Window-esque story, told entirely from inside a little drone operating center somewhere in Nevada with a real-time window into a world on the other side of the planet. Given the setting, the premise is predictable but compelling: two drone pilots (Eloise Mumford and Matt O’Leary) are mo … [Read more...]

E-Team an On-the-Ground Encounter With Noble Intentions

A Review of E-Team, screening at the AFI DOCS documentary film festivalAFI DOCS, the documentary film festival formerly known as Silverdocs, has been undergoing a rebirth of sorts the past couple of years, changing its name and expanding beyond the AFI Silver theater in Silver Spring, Md., to several venues in downtown Washington, D.C.Among other changes this year, AFI DOCS has labeled three of its 84 titles Spotlight Screenings, the first of which, E-Team (which stands for “Emergencies T … [Read more...]

Memorable Truths Mark AFI DOCS Opener

Review of Holbrook/Twain: An American Odyssey, Directed by Scott TeemsFilm festival-goers who are serious film lovers know that opening-night selections are usually high-wattage PR vehicles rather than the probing, artful films that are the strength of most festivals. This year’s AFI DOCS international documentary film festival opening night was an exception. If Holbrook/Twain: An American Odyssey views Twain less than critically, its portrait of Holbrook only flirts with hagiography, al … [Read more...]

Hannah Arendt Against World Opinion

Review of Hannah Arendt, Directed by Margarethe von Trotta“The best books in the world sit on shelves, but are never read,” Mark Twain once remarked. When hearing the name “Hannah Arendt,” most educated people today say, “Who?” Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951) established her as the prominent female philosopher of her era. Origins placed both the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany within the Western tradition for the first time and showed their striking similarities despite being on … [Read more...]