The following capsule reviews were written by Grayson Currin (GC), David Fellerath (DF), Bob Geary (BG), Richard Hart (RH), Fiona Morgan (FM), Neil Morris (NM), Zack Smith (ZS), Adam Sobsey (AS), Lisa Sorg (LS) and Douglas Vuncannon (DV). Highly recommended movies are preceded with an (*). Movies not reviewed below were, in most cases, unavailable to us.
Thursday, April 12
* COMRADES IN DREAMS (Uli Gaulke, Germany, 102 min.) In what could be termed Cinema Paradiso: The Documentary, we meet four movie projectionists who keep the cinematic flame flickering in Burkina-Faso, India, North Korea and remotest Wyoming. In the face of the jaded attitudes of those who have ready access to multiplexes, these entrepreneurs are a throwback to a more innocent movie age. This film is also of interest to viewers looking for a glimpse of North Korean life. (Fletcher Hall, 10 p.m.) —DF
THE DENTIST FROM NEW JERSEY (John Knapich, USA, 21 min.) The dentist, Simon Leventhal, is also a photographer. And his favorite subject, for 30 years, was the New York City skyline—and the World Trade Center buildings. He snapped them in every kind of light, with spectacular—now poignant—results. Something to see. (Civic Center One, 12:15 p.m.) —BG
* FIELD OF STONE (Shambhavi Kaul, USA, 62 min.) The world premiere of Durham director Kaul's portrait of country music outlaw David Allan Coe. See "Friend or Coe?" (Civic Center One, 2:45 p.m.) —GC
* FOR THE BIBLE TELLS ME SO (Daniel Karslake, USA, 99 min.) Interviews with conservative Christian parents and their gay children track the journeys of five families through the maze of religious teaching and scientific research, journeys that often end in acceptance. Among those interviewed are Gene Robinson, openly gay Episcopal bishop of New Hampshire, and Dick Gephardt, whose daughter Chrissy is an out LGBT activist. The film takes on the fundamentalist anti-gay agenda by taking a deep, critical look at what Biblical literalists teach about homosexuality, contrasted with exactly what the Bible says and interviews with clergy and Biblical scholars who make the religious case for tolerance. (Civic Center Two, noon) —FM
* FREEHELD (Cynthia Wade, USA, 38 min.) A veteran New Jersey cop is dying of lung cancer. Will the county commissioners ("Freeholders") extend her pension benefits to her surviving domestic partner, as the new state law allows? They're conservatives. But fellow cops are on her side. Simple, dramatic and powerful in every way—whatever you think about gay rights. (Civic Center One, 2:45 p.m.) —BG
MOTODROM (Joerg Wagner, Germany, 9 min.) Motorcycles go round and round the inside of a drum. Every conceivable angle is covered by the cameras, but there's little payoff. (Fletcher Hall, 10 p.m.) —DF
RADIOPHOBIA (Julio Soto, Spain, 56 min.) A ghostly revisit to the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, including interviews with survivors and a tour of Pripyat, a city rendered a ghost town by the massive meltdown. "I feel this documentary is particularly poignant today," writes Soto, "since governments and scientists are again debating whether nuclear fuel is the safe way to satisfy not only the increasing demand for global energy, but even as the best way to reduce harmful greenhouse gases."(Cinema One, 10 a.m.) —NM
THE RAPE OF EUROPA (Richard Berge, Bonni Cohen and Nicole Newnham, USA, 117 min.) It's one of the strangest coincidences of the 20th century: Expressionist painter Oskar Kokoschka got into the Viennese Academy the same year Adolf Hitler was rejected. In The Rape of Europa, we're told Kokoschka once mused about what would have happened if he'd been rejected and Hitler had gotten in. The anecdote's—and the film's—point: Hitler was as obsessed by art as he was with politics, and the two were rarely separated. (Fletcher, 2:30 p.m.) —RH
Friday, April 13
8 BIT (Marcin Ramocki and Justin Strawhand, USA, 76 min.) Outside of metropolitan centers like New York and Berlin, it might not be widely known that vintage computer technology is influencing an international art movement of considerable vitality. Going beyond Modernism and Postmodernism, a new generation of artists is revisiting video games from the '80s and '90s. The competently crafted 8 Bit offers an excellent introduction to the fascinating development. (American Tobacco, 9:30 p.m.) —DV
* ALICE SEES THE LIGHT (Ariana Gerstein, USA, 7 min.) In the darkness outside of our cities, there are lights that we have forgotten how to see. (Civic Center Two, 3:30 p.m.) —DF
ANGELS IN THE DUST (Louise Hogarth, USA, 96 min.) A straightforward look at the Cloetes, a couple who opened an orphanage in South Africa. The material sometimes feels like an extended 20/20 segment, but it does provide a look at the realities of life for orphans in South Africa, and some shocking statistics. (Civic Center One, 12:15 p.m.) —ZS
COMA (Liz Garbus, USA, 100 min.) Heart-wrenching and enlightening, this world premiere follows four coma survivors who awaken only to struggle with effects of their traumatic brain injuries. Yet, says Garbus, "(t)he heart of the film is in the struggle of the families to help their loved ones re-emerge, and in the end, in their questioning of what it is that makes life worth living." (American Tobacco Campus, 3:45 p.m.) —NM
* GHOSTS OF CITE SOLEIL (Asger Leth, Denmark/USA, 88 min.) A visually spectacular, spellbinding expose about two brothers leading the Chimeres, violent street gangs employed to do the bloody bidding of Haiti's floundering regime. This is one of the festival's best films. (Cinema One, 8:45 p.m.) —NM
THE HANDS OF CHE GUEVARA (Peter De Kock, Netherlands, 58 min.) After Che's 1967 summary execution in Bolivia, his body was secretly buried. His followers had only his hands, which they cherished as relics and eventually delivered to Castro. Despite some evocative cinematography, the film feels padded, and too much is taken up with a quarrel between two aging, self-important leftists, associates of the same Bolivian Communist Party that gave no assistance to Che in his last months. (Civic Center One, 3 p.m.) —DF
KNEE DEEP (Michael Chandler, USA, 81 min.) This quirky tale of John Osborne, a farmer in rural Maine who shot his mother when she tried to sell the family farm, has a thoroughly enjoyable Fargo/ I Love You to Death-esque portrait of a hilariously close-knit family who were quite understanding of the poorly conceived crime. The family and the crime are interesting enough on their own, so efforts to add to the atmosphere with stock footage and reaction shots from cows actually disserves the story. Overall, though, it's a compelling look at a simple man driven to extremes, and what it takes to maintain a way of life. (Cinema One, noon) —ZS
LAST DAYS OF LEFT EYE (Lauren Lazin, USA, 88 min.) This surprisingly intimate portrait of Lisa 'Left Eye' Lopes of the hip-hop trio TLC lends a fresh, incisive look at the late entertainer's life and final introspective days. At times the hagiography that seemingly follows the premature death of every pop-culture figure, the film is really about a talented, all-American girl who gets subsumed by the star-making machine and, as a consequence, loses her sense of self. (American Tobacco Campus, 6:30 p.m.) —NM
THE LAST DAYS OF YASSER ARAFAT (Sherine Salama, Australia, 77 min.) A personal look inside Yasser Arafat's besieged Ramallah compound during the final months of the late Palestinian leader's life. "He was like an old king, trapped in the ruins of his castle yet still defiant," observes Salama, "and I wondered how it would all end." (Civic Center One, 3 p.m.) —NM
LUMO (Bent-Jorgen Perlmutt and Nelson Walker III, USA, 78 min.) Raped at the age of 20 by soldiers in the eastern Congo, Lumo is left with a fistula, a tear in the wall between the bladder and vagina that leaves her incontinent and unable to bear children. She leaves her village for treatment and finds love, support and comraderie at a hospital for fistula patients. But recovery is not as easy for Lumo as for her friends. (American Tobacco, 11:45 a.m.) —FM
* MANDA BALA (SEND A BULLET) (Jason Kohn, USA, 85 min.) A Grand Jury and Audience winner at this year's Sundance, this visually sumptuous film examines the widening economic disparity in Brazil and the culture of crime that has flourished as a result. "In Sao Paulo," says Kohn, "corruption is the way the rich steal from the poor, and kidnapping is kind of the way the poor steal back from the rich. The result is a broken, almost dystopic society." (Civic Center Two, 6:15 p.m.) —NM
* METACARPUS (Nicole Triche, USA, 8 min.) Durham artist's lovely Super-8 meditation on the human hand, as appreciated by people who make their living with them. (Cinema One, 9 a.m.) —DF
PROTAGONIST (Jessica Yu, USA, 90 min.) This complex, unconventional work examines four seemingly disparate lives under the guise of an analysis of the works of Euripides. Talking-head interviews are crosscut with wood puppet re-enactments of the Greek tragedies for a hybrid film positing that we are all the lead character in our own real-life play. (Fletcher Hall, 9:30 a.m.) —NM
RADIANT CITY (Gary Burns and Jim Brown, Canada, 85 min.) A docu- and a mocku-mentary about suburbia's ills, featuring a "show within a show" with a not-so-surprising ending. Slick but not original; recommended only if you live in Brier Creek, Wakefield or similar and are not already familiar with James Howard Kunstler, Andres Duany and the New Urbanist critique. If you are, it'll just get you muttering. Again. (Cinema One, 5:45 p.m.) —BG
SPECKY (Anne-Claire Pilley, UK, 22 min.) The filmmaker goes for a month without her specs to see if she can improve her vision using a variety of quack techniques. Not surprisingly, Pilley relies on a faux-naif, Supersize Me-style narration, as irritating as it is unconvincing. (Civic Center One, 9:15 a.m.) —DF
* TOOTIE'S LAST SUIT (Lisa Katzman, USA, 100 min.) Like films about Native Americans and European Jews, you know how most stories shot recently in New Orleans are going to end. Not this one. Hurricane Katrina is more a denouement than the conclusion of the story of legendary Mardi Gras Indian Allison "Tootie" Montana. In finding out about Tootie, we learn so much: about the inherent segregation of Mardi Gras, the 19th-century relationships between slaves and local Choctaws, and about the real roots of jazz and New Orleans R&B. But mostly, we learn about the amazing art of creating the magnificent, feathered and beaded suits the Mardi Gras Indians wear, and the role marching Indian groups like Tootie's Yellow Pocohantas played in New Orleans' African-American culture. (American Tobacco, 9:45 a.m.)—RH
WHITE LIGHT/BLACK RAIN (Steven Okazaki, USA, 86 min.) The dispute over whether or not America should have dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki near the end of World War II is inextricably affected by the perspectives of culture, politic and age. The lesson derived from this recounting of those tragic events, drawn from survivor interviews and haunting photographs and paintings, is that the world must never allow it to happen again. (Civic Center Two, 9:45 a.m.) —NM
Saturday, April 14
* BANISHED (Marco Williams, USA, 87 min.) Full Frame veteran Williams (The Two Towns of Jasper) returns with a film about historical episodes of African Americans being forcibly removed from their land. See "Strange fruit." (Civic Center Two, 3:45 p.m.) —LS
* BLOCKADE (Sergei Loznitsa, Russia, 52 min.) The accomplishment here is the recreation of the Siege of Leningrad. Amalgamated from archive footage and a recreated soundtrack (which is tastefully minimalist), Blockade shows the besieged city through the ghostly eyes of its stoic populace. The old Russian film stock's gorgeous tonality has the power to hold the viewer's attention through scenes of banality and brutality, ultimately creating an eerie sensation of transience. (Durham Arts Council, 9 p.m.) —DV
* THE DEVIL CAME ON HORSEBACK (Annie Sundberg and Ricki Stern, USA, 85 min.) When young, retired U.S. Marine Capt. Brian Steidle signed on as an unarmed observer of the ceasefire in Sudan, he had no idea he'd be a witness to genocide in Darfur. Haunted by his inability to stop the violence, and by the West's unwillingness to act, Steidle went public with gruesome photographic and documentary evidence that the Sudanese government has actively supported the systematic murder, rape and torture of black African citizens. A powerful, disturbing film by the directors of The Trials of Daryl Hunt. (Civic Center Two, 6:30 p.m.) —FM
* KURT COBAIN ABOUT A SON (A.J. Schnack, USA, 96 min.) In what may be the most compelling portrait of Kurt Cobain committed to screen, Schnack pairs poignant audio excerpts from Michael Azerrad's 25 hours of taped interviews with Cobain to B-roll footage of Pacific Northwest landscapes, landmarks and residents. Hearing Cobain—conflicted, contradictory, courageous—speak over Schnack's clever shots and animations is somehow as chilling as it is comforting, his 15-year-old observations on culture as salient now as they were then in 1992. (Civic Center Two, 9:30 p.m.) —GC
MATCH MADE (Mirabelle Ang, USA, 48 min.) A look at an "International Dating Service" in Ho Chi Minh City that arranges marriages for women from rural areas with more successful men from Saigon. The process literally reduces marriage to a combination of ritual and business arrangement, making some disturbing points about the country of Vietnam as a whole ... not to mention marriage as an institution. (Civic Center One, 2:45 p.m.) —ZS
* MEETING RESISTANCE (Molly Bingham and Steve Connors, USA, 84 min.) Ten months of interviews with Iraqi insurgents in the Al Adhamiya district of northern Baghdad overturn key pieces of received Western wisdom about the nature of the Iraqi conflict and reveal the bone-chilling resolve and intelligence of those fighting American occupation. Their identities obscured, the fighters discuss why they fight, how they organize themselves and generally where their financial support comes from. Interviews with regular people in Al Adhamiya's teashops and sidewalks fill in a larger picture of a people who become more united—whether under the banner of Islam or Arab nationalism—the longer their nation is occupied by a foreign army. (Cinema One, 2:30 p.m.) —FM
NOBODY CALLS MY PARENTS LOSERS (Aage Rais-Nordentoft, Denmark, 29 minutes). Johannes is 16 and is starting to open up about why he lives in an orphanage—because both of his parents suffer from serious mentally illness. Interesting possibilities, but not much is realized here. Mom and dad appear, but say little. Johannes knows it's no shame, but he's Danish, so he broods? (Civic Center Two, 9:45 am) —BG
* OPERATION HOMECOMING: WRITING THE WARTIME EXPERIENCE (Richard E. Robbins, USA, 81 min.) Based on a project of the National Endowment for the Arts, which aims to get veterans to write about their experiences of war, this film features interviews with literary vets (e.g. Tim O'Brien) and dramatizes the intense, gut-wrenching prose of less famous servicemen through strong art direction and remarkable footage of the war. Operation Homecoming will air Monday, April 16, at 10 p.m. on UNC-TV. (American Tobacco, 10 a.m.) —FM
SARI'S MOTHER (James Longley, USA, 21 min.) A short vignette by the director of Iraq in Fragments, Sari's Mother follows a woman as she tries to get care and medicine for her 10-year-old son, who is dying of AIDS contracted through a blood transfusion. Family life on a farm in rural Iraq is portrayed poetically against the backdrop of military occupation and war. (Cinema One, 2:30 p.m.) —FM
A SON'S SACRIFICE (Yoni Brook, USA, 26 min.) A Muslim man gives up his job in the secular world to return to his father's halal butcher shop in Queens, in this richly observed sketch of a New York immigrant culture. (Civic Center Two, 12:45 p.m.) —DF
SPORTSFAN (Aaron Lubarsky, USA, 66 min.) Entertaining but unadorned, this film tracks a year in the lives of several hardcore Minnesota Viking football fans. "The documentary is about hope and loss, familiar territory to any diehard sports fan," says Lubarsky. "It is also a film about the importance of connecting with a larger community, the need to escape from responsibility, and the frustrations of having dreams." (American Tobacco Campus, 11:30 p.m.) —NM
SURFING SOWETO (Sara Blecher and Dimi Raphoto, South Africa, 34 min.) In Soweto, a group of bored young men—sporting monikers like Bin Laden and Bitch Nigga—take to riding the tops and sides of commuter trains. The film concludes that, yes, this is a dangerous practice, but it doesn't quite convince us that the phenomenon is anything more than a passing, nihilistic fad. (Durham Arts Council, 9:30 a.m.) —DF
Sunday, April 15
* GREENSBORO: CLOSER TO THE TRUTH (Adam Zucker, USA, 83 min.) An examination of the 1979 murder of Communist Party activists at the hands of white supremacists. See "Strange fruit." (Fletcher Hall, 4 p.m.) —LS
A JOURNEY OF DMITRY SHOSTAKOVICH (Oksana Dvornichenko and Helga Landauer, Russian Federation, 75 min.) This sober biography, heavy on archival material, centers on the great Russian composer's 1973 cruise to America. The Soviets sent him for three reasons: to flaunt their new luxury liner, to let him receive an honorary degree, and to seek treatment for his mysterious muscular dysfunction. Did this apparatchik (he joined the Communist Party in 1960) so regret his complicity that his hands ceased making music? (Cinema One, 11:45 a.m.) —AS
* SHAME (Mohammed Naqvi, USA, 96 min.) The powerful, engrossing story of Mukhtaran Mai, a Pakistani woman raped under the orders of her own tribal council. Her circuitous journey to seek justice and parlay her tragedy for the betterment of her village, all while battling the travails of becoming a cause celebre, is a must-see. (American Tobacco Campus, 9 a.m.) —NM
Fear and filming
Hunter S. Thompson has already inspired several documentaries, including 2003's Breakfast with Hunter and the recent Buy the Ticket, Take the Ride: Hunter S. Thompson on Film. But most of these focused on specific incidents from Thompson's life, as opposed to examining his notorious career. That could all change with Alex Gibney's Gonzo: The Life and Death of Hunter S. Thompson, an in-depth look at Thompson's life and writing.
In an e-mail, Gibney, director of the Oscar-nominated Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, says that the film includes interviews with Pat Buchanan, Jimmy Buffett, Jimmy Carter, Tim Crouse, Jann Wenner, George McGovern and more. "The most present character is Hunter himself," Gibney says. "Most of the words spoken in the film are Hunter's."
Though Gibney never met Thompson, he feels that this actually helped him in putting the film together. "I wasn't part of any 'in-group' or 'out-group,'" Gibney says. "[I wasn't] hamstrung by any past personal allegiances or feuds, so I could move between people and groups who may not like each other very much.
"And, since I was focusing on him as a writer, I could see him more clearly from afar than if I had 'known' him personally. Though, I feel as if I know him very well now—maybe not as a friend, but more as a detective would."
A sample from Gonzo will play at Full Frame, offering viewers a chance to gain insights not only into Thompson's life and writing, but into Gibney's filmmaking process. "Full Frame is the premier national documentary festival," Gibney said. "I liked [festival director] Nancy Buirski's suggestion about showing a work in progress—something I would normally never do—because it offers an insight for the filmmaker and the audience about how docs work." —Zack Smith
Gonzo screens at 3:30 p.m. Saturday, April 14, at the American Tobacco Campus.
Nuremberg: Nazis Facing Their Crimes
One of the most interesting archival discoveries on offer at this year's festival is Christian Delage's compilation of the filmic record of the trials of the Nazi war criminals, which commenced in November 1945, in the devastated city in which Hitler had once hosted massive rallies.
The crimes of the defendants—most infamously, Hermann Goering, Julius Streicher, Albert Speer, Rudolf Hess and Joachim von Ribbentrop—were so unprecedented that the victorious Allied powers determined to fashion an international tribunal that would be a model for collective justice. The Allies—and the United States in particular, the French-produced film pointedly notes—were determined to make the proceedings as transparent and equitable as possible.
Delage, who is a professional historian, reviewed 250 uncatalogued 10-minute reels of footage to assemble the film. In an e-mail, he says that the film is an outgrowth of his challenge to the notion that the Nuremberg courts did not confront the concept of genocide. "While a number of historians have said that the consciousness of genocide doesn't happen until the Eichmann trial in the 1960s, I complicate our understanding by taking the audience back to the event itself."
Indeed, we see the trial turn into a public accounting of the Holocaust. In court, the defendants were forced to watch film footage of dead bodies being bulldozed into mass graves, and listen to the testimony of Jewish survivors. In the end, all but three of the 24 defendants were convicted of various crimes, and 12 were sentenced to die by hanging.
In the days before C-SPAN, part of the documentary effort involved recruiting one of Hollywood's greatest film directors, John Ford, to oversee the filming of the trial. Ford is best known to film fans as the director of such classics as Stagecoach, The Grapes of Wrath and The Searchers. Less well-known is his work with the OSS and his efforts to document WWII.
The Nazis were responsible for the deaths of tens of millions of people, yet the world found a legal, dignified way to bring them to account. Left upspoken in Delage's film is the obvious contrast with the Bush legacy of torture, warrantless surveillance, extraordinary rendition and secret military tribunals, all to pursue an enemy that has killed a tiny fraction of the Nazis' death toll. —David Fellerath
Nuremberg: Nazis Facing Their Crimes will be shown in a special screening Sunday, April 15, at 7 p.m. in Civic Center One. Alice Kaplan, a professor of romance studies at Duke University, will introduce the film.