2010 capsule film reviews | Full Frame Documentary Film Festival | Indy Week
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2010 capsule film reviews 

We reviewed as many of the New Docs and Invited Films as we could. Reviews are by Bronwen Dickey, David Fellerath, Marc Maximov, Neil Morris and Lisa Sorg.

indicates strongly recommended film.

THURSDAY

Louis Sullivan: The Struggle for American Architecture—(U.S., 97 min.) The essentially political nature of architecture is one of the strongest themes in this study of Louis Sullivan, the pioneering Chicago architect and mentor to Frank Lloyd Wright. Sullivan developed his highly original decorative style, based on forms found in nature, in pursuit of a new American architecture that would break free from its European roots. This film borders on the hagiographic: a Steadicam shot entering the interior of his masterpiece, the theater of the Auditorium Building, would have been dramatic enough on its own, but pairing it with an excerpt from Wagner’s Gotterdammerung puts it over the top. Still, it’s impossible to watch this visually accomplished film without becoming convinced of Sullivan’s genius. —MM

Last Train Home—(Canada; 87 min.) A troubling yet moving film, Last Train Home examines the phenomenon of the 130 million Chinese migrant workers who leave the country for the city to make our jeans, toys and appliances, and are allowed to return home once a year for the Tet, or New Year's holiday. In several masterful, claustrophobic sequences, we watch thousands of workers herd onto train platforms for more than a week as they jockey for tickets and space. Yet this is not the usual hand-wringing sweatshop movie. The migration serves as a backdrop for a family story: Many years ago, two parents migrated to the city for work, leaving their children in the care of relatives. One of those children, a girl, is nearly 18, and her rebellion and animosity toward her parents embodies the generational rift in Chinese culture as young people question the value of such a sacrifice. Directed by Lixin Fan, the associate producer of Up the Yangtze, which won several awards at Full Frame in 2008. —LS

Sun Come Up—(U.S., 38 min.) Members of a small community perched on the low-lying Carteret Islands, a coral atoll near New Guinea, must look for a new place to settle as rising sea levels begin to inundate their land. They're forced to appeal to their neighbors on the larger island of Bougainville, many of whom chafe at the thought of finding land for 1,000 newcomers. The peace-loving Carteret Islanders, for their part, feel uneasy about adapting to life in a land beset with the modern plagues of guns and drugs. Though in spots it feels a bit credulous and new-agey, Sun Come Up offers a touching portrait of the world's first climate refugees. —MM

Promised Land—(U.S., 53 min.) Redistributing white-owned land is a combustible topic in South Africa. Director Yoruba Richen explores two different claims near Johannesburg, giving equal voice to both parties: the land's current owners, some of whom purchased it recently, while others have lived there for generations; and the claimants, some of whom are descended from black landowners who had legitimate title to property they were forced to sell. The problem is intractable, zero-sum by nature, making it impossible to satisfy everyone. Richen succeeds in framing the issue in personal as well as historical perspectives, acknowledging that for questions of collective guilt and righting historical wrongs, there are no easy answers. —MM

My Enschede—(Netherlands, 67 min.) In May of 2000, the industrial Dutch town of Enschede was rocked by a massive explosion at a fireworks warehouse, killing 23 people and destroying a sizable chunk of the city. Director Astrid Bussink left her hometown for Amsterdam soon after, but returns to take stock of the damage nearly 10 years on. She talks to a raft of opinionated residents, many of whom have adopted dark theories (familiar to Americans post-9/11) that the explosion couldn't possibly have been just an accident. Her story-gathering instincts are solid, and her tenacity wins her a number of surprising coups. —MM

Thunder Soul—(U.S., 84 min.) They were one of the hardest-hitting soul/ funk bands of the 1970s, wowing crowds in the US, Europe and Japan—and all of its members were in high school. Under the leadership of music teacher Conrad Johnson, the Kashmere High School Stage Band blew their competition off the stage at national band competitions that mostly featured tame, Lawrence Welk-style arrangements. Two years ago, a group of alumni, now in their 50s, gathered to honor “Prof” Johnson and reminiscence about a band that was as much family as musical combo. It’s a warm, uplifting story, propelled by a can’t-miss soundtrack of vintage brass thunder funk. —MM

Enemies of the People—(UK, Cambodia; 94 min.) For 10 years, a senior reporter for the Phnom Penh Post spent his weekends in Cambodia's rural provinces looking for answers. His father and brother were both murdered by the Khmer Rouge during its terrifying reign in the late '70s, and his mother died in childbirth after she was forced to marry a member of the party. Four decades later, none of the former Khmer Rouge officials have ever provided an explanation for the senseless slaughter they carried out, and few have been brought to justice. In this moving and important story, the reporter, Thet Sambath, develops a long-standing relationship with Nuon Chea, right-hand man to Pol Pot and known during the regime as "Brother Number Two," in hopes that he will finally acknowledge the wrongs of the killing machine he helped create. —BD

Diary of a Times Square Thief —(Netherlands, 60 min.) When the decades-old diary of a young writer trying to make his way in New York City winds up on eBay, a Dutch filmmaker can’t resist grabbing it. Perhaps we can thank the arts-funding policies of European social democracies for the existence of this medium-budget tribute to New York City (including helicopter shots!). In his search for the diary’s author, director Klaas Bense explores the city’s underbelly, interviewing a few odd characters he meets along the way (including, incongruously, ageless cable TV talk show host Joe Franklin). To be honest, many of the interviews aren’t really worth the DV tape they’re written on, but others are eye-opening, even revelatory. —MM

Photo and Copyright by G.P. Fieret —(Netherlands, 50 min.) Gerard Petrus Fieret is a Dutch photographer whose partisans consider him one of the major talents of the 20th century. A true bohemian and social misfit, he lived for his art, neglecting personal finances and hygiene until old age left him destitute and living in squalor. Possessed of a kindly soul that shone through in his lyric poetry and pigeon fancying, and in praiseful nudes that showed respect for his female subjects, the present day finds him tragically lonely, disillusioned and bitter. But his body of work, the significance of which is probably overstated by the photographers and art dealers quoted in the film, is impressive, despite (or perhaps, in part, because of) the years of neglect and layers of grime. —MM

Kings of Pastry—(U.S., 84 min.) The latest from D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus, winners of the 2000 Full Frame Career Award, this bonbon of a film mixes equal parts drama and delight. Every four years in France, an exacting three-day competition is held to confer the title of MOF, Meilleur Ouvrier de France (Best Craftsman of France), on a few lucky pastry chefs. Half the fun comes from sweating with the contestants through the career-defining trial, the other half from sheer wonder at their intricate creations. Pennebaker and Hegedus make doc filmmaking look easy with their unerring knack for finding dramatic characters and moments. —MM

FRIDAY

Maria's Way—(Scotland, 16 min.) Coming not quite in time for Easter, this short gives a brief portrait of an elderly woman who makes her living selling tourist stamps to Catholic pilgrims en route to the shrine at Santiago de Compostela. It's no longer than it needs to be, but it feels too lacking in context to really show us anything. The most compelling sequence is an odd few moments in which a young tourist gently mocks the film's subject, almost as an ironic counterpoint to the filmmakers on the other side of the camera. —DF

click to enlarge La Belle Visite
  • La Belle Visite
La Belle Visite—(Canada, 80 min.) The title loosely translates as "journey's end," and its subject matter may give one pause: Out in the middle of the Qubcois hinterland, a dreary motel by the water has been turned into a budget old-folks home. But this isn't a slog through the undiscovered country, nor is it Young @ Heart (the people here are old at heart). Instead, it's a series of long, quiet shots that observe the quotidian details of whiling away one's last years. Yes, there are scenes of bingo and of physical humiliation, but while this isn't a joyful subject, the film is restrained, old school direct cinema and an engrossing meditation on a future many of us will have. —DF

Google Baby —(Israel, India, U.S., 70 min.) A gay Israeli man is so delighted with the child delivered to him and his partner by a surrogate in America, he begins to advise others seeking similar arrangements. Sensing an opportunity, he soon looks to set up a strange sort of triangle baby trade involving American egg donors and Indian surrogates, with himself as the middleman. In structure and shot selection, the film has a haphazard feel to it, which to some extent works in its favor, reflecting the awkwardness and unplanned nature of this peculiar free market solution to a human problem. —MM

Jaffa, The Orange's Clockwork—(Israel, France, Germany, Belgium; 87 min.) This unique, ambitious perspective of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict focuses on one of the region's most famous exports, the Jaffa orange, and how the cultivation of this small fruit became one battleground for Zionist control of the Promised Land. The film is most intriguing as a revealing historical instrument. However, commentary from various film scholars, art critics and literary experts makes the documentary both unique and occasionally unwieldy. —NM

click to enlarge Casino Jack and the United States of Money
  • Casino Jack and the United States of Money
Casino Jack and the United States of Money—(U.S.; 122 min.) Oscar-winning director Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side) presents this slickly produced, entertaining and revelatory probe inside the corrupting influence of money in modern politics. Specifically, Gibney exhaustively illustrates how Jack Abramoff was not some rogue ber-lobbyist who emerged from obscurity to sully Capitol Hill. Instead, he was just one of the conservative foot soldiers in the Reagan Revolution who eventually gorged at the trough of greed afforded by their rise to power. Gibney's film is astute and cautionary. And, like any good potboiler, you cannot stop watching even though you know how the story is going to end. —NM

The Invention of Dr. Nakamats —(Denmark, 57 min.) Japanese inventor Yoshiro Nakamatsu claims to hold the world record for patents, with more than 3,000 to his name, including the floppy disk and the karaoke machine. But his most impressive work is the soaring edifice of his ego. The film has a lot of fun at his expense, and his eccentricities—to mention only two, he’s photographed and analyzed every meal he’s eaten for the last 34 years, and daily ingests a self-made nutritional concoction that he says will enable him to live to the age of 144—provide an easy target. Unlike your garden-variety egomaniac, however, Dr. Nakamatsu is able to laugh at himself, which keeps up the good cheer in this extremely entertaining profile. —MM

click to enlarge The Darkness of Day
  • The Darkness of Day
The Darkness of Day
—(U.S., 26 min.) This unsettling meditation on suicide begins with a brief bit of text about Director Jay Rosenblatt's last session with his deceptively upbeat massage therapist: "The next day she drove to the Marin Headlands, pulled her car over to side of the road, and jumped off a cliff." The seemingly flip tone of the intro and the found footage from old, often cheesy educational footage of which the film is constructed, contrast jarringly with the agonized journal entries, read in voice-over, of a man who killed himself. The film strikes a tricky balance between seriousness and silliness, not always successfully, but it's working with powerful material, and the words and images linger. —MM

The Mirror—(Italy, Canada; 83 min.) Viganella, a tiny village in the Italian Piedmont at the bottom of a steep Alpine valley, is shaded from the sun for three months a year. Populated mostly by the elderly and residents of a nearby Buddhist commune, the dying town must find a way to make itself relevant in the 21st century. The indefatigable, boosterish part-time mayor (who daylights as a train engineer) is taken with the idea of putting a huge, servo-controlled mirror up on the mountainside to illuminate the town square. The filmmakers approach the situation with a dry wit, and they find lots of comical moments, especially when reporters from around the world arrive for the mirror's opening-day celebration. —MM

Life Extended—(Sweden, 58 min.) The closest thing to "experimental" film at this year's festival, this tour of the current science of life extension has a playful and impressionistic visual aesthetic. It's also a bit scattershot—some of the set pieces and interviewees are only tangentially related to the subject, and some of the "experts" aren't terribly expert (Aubrey de Grey, a British gerontologist who probably gets the most screen time, talks and thinks big, but his theories on life extension are not well-regarded by mainstream science). The film mostly succeeds on its own terms, though, as a catchy grab-bag of provocative ideas. —MM

Roads to Memphis—(U.S.; 81 min.) Before he shot Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4, 1968, the only thing James Earl Ray had ever succeeded at was escaping from prison. As he reached middle age, the lifelong outcast grew obsessed with politics, especially with the ambitions of Alabama's governor, the defiant racist George Wallace, whose path to the presidency Ray felt King threatened. Using an Errol Morris-style combination of recollections and re-enactments, Ives presents the fascinating, tragic history of the King assassination in what feels like real time. Several of the commentators remark on how much the "non-violent encouragers of hate" (public officials who didn't necessarily preach violence but allowed it) contributed to the evil climate of which Ray became a symbol, something very much worth thinking about in these contentious political times. —BD

The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant—(U.S.; 40 min.) This Oscar-nominated 40-minute short subject documentary follows auto factory workers during the last days before the closing of the General Motors plant in Moraine, Ohio. The film's construct is decidedly simple, consisting mainly of revolving, real-time interviews with the affected employees. What delivers its emotional punch is the relationship between the workers, a family-type bond that transcends any gender, race or class distinctions. It is both socially relevant filmmaking and a tearjerker of the highest caliber. —NM

Weapon of War —(Netherlands, 60 min.) The prevalence of rape in war-plagued African nations has become so pronounced it’s now considered as much a tactic as a byproduct of war. The scope and horrific nature of the problem make it a challenging subject for a documentary. The filmmakers found some worthy interview subjects, including a Congolese army regular, guilty of multiple rapes in his younger days, now tasked with traveling from unit to unit to inform the troops that official army policy condemns the practice. However, the film doesn’t really explore the unsettling differences between central African cultural practices and our own expectations—does the exchange of a piglet for an expression of forgiveness from the victim really constitute closure, much less justice? —MM

War Don Don—(Sierra Leone; 85 min.) As the nightmarish decade-long civil war afflicting Sierra Leone finally wound down, a special court was established in 2002 to try the perpetrators of war crimes. Issa Sesay, who was conscripted into the rebel army at a young age and rose to command its forces, voluntarily laid down his weapons in the last days of fighting. His guilt would seem a foregone conclusion, since the fighters under his command were undoubtedly guilty of atrocities, but this fascinating and complex film shows his case to be more nuanced than one would expect. Backstory on the war, courtroom testimony and interviews with the principal players and ordinary civilians are assembled into a remarkably sophisticated examination of the machinery of justice. —MM

Countryside 35x45 —(Russia, 43 min.) When the Russian government decrees that all old Soviet passports be replaced with new Russian ones, a cheeky middle-aged photographer sets out to a remote area of Siberia to take advantage of the new market for passport photos. Each photo comes with a generous helping of fussing, flirting and good-natured small talk with the country folk. This film is a good example of the prevailing style of Russian documentary: free of voiceover, with a lot of long, static takes and absurd situations. Adult language warning: The film contains scenes of surprisingly profane cattle herding and wedding toasting. — MM

My Perestroika—(U.S., UK; 87 min.) For many Russians who lived through the collapse of the Soviet Union, the elation they felt on casting off a repressive, intrusive regime was diluted by an ineffable wistfulness, however uninvited, for the passing of the stable social order they'd grown up with. The film follows four 40-something Muscovite schoolmates: a punk rocker, a high-end clothier, a schoolteacher and a working single mother, rewarded to varying degrees by the new era of free enterprise, their ordinary childhood nostalgia tangled up with their memory of the strange hypocrisies of a dying ideology. It's an engrossing picture of a generation that's seen more than its share of change. —MM

click to enlarge Capital
  • Capital
Capital
—(U.S., Russia, Kazakhstan; 72 min.) A quizzical tour of Astana, the new capital of Kazakhstan currently under construction. The mostly empty city is filled with grandiose architectural oddities and a seeming overabundance of tour guides and media functionaries, while lacking much in the way of jobs and an actual citizenry. The droll, low-key style of much current Russian documentary is on display here, and it's good to get a glimpse at what is surely one of the stranger parts of the world at the moment. There's very little in the film of the country's vainglorious president-for-life, Nursultan Nazarbayev, but his nutty mix of patriotism and self-aggrandizement hovers in the background. —MM

The Oath—(U.S.; 97 min.) For much of the running time, you may wonder why director Laura Poitras (My Country, My Country, and Flag Wars, both Full Frame selections) chose to tag along with former Al-Qaida operative Abu Jandal in his less glamorous second act as a taxi driver in Yemen. Jandal's speech is pompous, self-serving and not necessarily trustworthy, so spending an hour in his company begins to wear. It's not until near the end of the film, in which Poitras reveals the details of his downfall, that you understand what makes his story so compelling, and the rest of the film is cast in a new light. Ingenious in structure and finally very powerful. —MM

I am Secretly an Important Man —(U.S., 85 min.) Cantankerous, hard-bitten street poet Jesse Bernstein was a fixture of the Seattle arts scene in the pre-grunge era. His physical voice perfectly matched his poetic voice; in performance, his angry, sardonic, sneering roar suited the bilious rants that sometimes obscured a considerable inventiveness and mastery of tone. He struggled with mental illness and had a difficult personality, but the vulnerability at his core is remembered by close friends, lovers and family members (he was obviously unsuited to family life, but nonetheless had two sons by two different women). In the embrace of this lovingly crafted portrait, his poetry and personality come to life. —MM

La isla—Archives of a Tragedy — (Germany, Guatemala, 85 min.) The second half of the 20th century was a dark period in the history of Guatemala, fraught with military coups, civil wars, and murderous government death squads. Today, in the recesses of an infamous former underground prison, researchers comb through recently discovered secret police files in pursuit of a full accounting of the era’s human rights abuses. Filmmaker Uli Stelzner gets extra credit for creative filmmaking—for instance, projecting historical footage on the prison walls above the researchers as they work—but however appropriate to the subject matter, the film’s relentless darkness makes it difficult to sit through. An explosive surprise ending in the waning minutes brings a welcome jolt of energy. —MM

Dirty Business—(U.S.; 89 min.) No one says you can draw too much attention to important public issues, particularly one like the environmental and economic battle raging over the coal industry. Still, in terms of a feature documentary, director and longtime Bill Moyers collaborator Peter Bull's world premiere expos bears striking similarities to Pittsboro director Michael O'Connell's award-winning film, Mountain Top Removal. Rolling Stone reporter Jeff Goodell—who also appeared in Mountain Top—narrates an examination updated for today's political push for so-called clean coal technology. —NM

Ahead of Time —(U.S., 73 min.) If Ruth Gruber’s list of achievements had ended at becoming the world’s youngest Ph.D. at age 20, she would have had an interesting story to tell. But this irrepressible 98-year-old from “a shtetl called Brooklyn” went on to a trailblazing career as a fearless, far-flung journalist and sometime government official. As a reporter, she broke the story of the Exodus, a ship full of Jewish WWII refugees that was attacked at sea by the British. Though first-time director Bob Richman presents her story in a fairly conventional fashion, Gruber’s mind is perfectly sharp, and she’s a fascinating witness to the history that she made as well as lived through. —MM

Saturday

The Kids Grow Up—(U.S., 92 min.) Doug Block delivers a sequel of sorts to 51 Birch Street, his unsettling portrait of his father's secret world. This time, Block plays the father, looking on anxiously as his teenage daughter prepares for college and adulthood. Editing footage taken throughout his daughter's life, Block becomes a bit of an albatross: Consciously or not, the girl seems to take steps to elude Daddy's camera—from going abroad for a year to keeping a non-anglophone French boyfriend to choosing a college across the country. Still, Block's obsessive documentation of his family's evolution carries real poignancy, particularly as illness strikes his family and he contemplates his own aging and mortality. —DF

Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould — (Canada, 106 min.) The legendary pianist gets a comprehensive biography (call it “one long film about Glenn Gould.”) Ample audio, video and photographic footage from his life and performance is superbly knit with modern remembrances: Fortunately, Gould left behind enough recorded material, including insightful musings about his approach to his art, to make him the posthumous narrator of his own documentary. He was a renowned eccentric, but the filmmakers are careful to show the extent to which Gould played up his quirks once they had been seized upon by the popular press. The result is a remarkably well-rounded and humanizing portrait, with a sensational ready-made score. —MM

Born Sweet —(U.S., 28 min.) Vinh, a philosophical Cambodian teenager, suffers from the effects of arsenic from a tainted well. He bears his illness with stoicism and grace, but there’s no cure for his condition, and he knows the normal life of a healthy young adult is out of his reach. His main consolation in life is his love of karaoke, which adds a slightly wacky element to this otherwise sober treatment. The film is also an interesting commentary on aid organizations, one of which unwittingly dug the tainted wells, leaving another to try to contain the damage years later. — MM

Today Is Better Than Two Tomorrows —(Ireland, 73 min.) Leh and Bo, 11-year-old cousins and best friends who live in a small village in northern Laos, are separated when Bo’s family moves to the city and Leh wins a spot in the temple as a novice monk. Leh’s carefree, idyllic childhood on the banks of the Mekong gives way to the more rigorous existence of a young initiate. The photography is exquisite, and scenes of village and temple life are intriguing, but the film suffers for holding the children at arm’s length. Their individual experiences are subsumed to the goal of conveying a mystical vision of Buddhism, however captivating that vision may be to the Western eye. —MM

The Poot —(Iran, 42 min.) A how-it’s-made documentary about Persian rugs, showing every step of the process, from fleece to floor. Aside from a few instances of electricity replacing human, animal, water or wind power, the methods seem little changed from centuries past. The images and sounds are strikingly sensual: The plant material used to make powdered dye rustles under the weight of a heavy stone grinding wheel; a bubbling mountain freshet rinses color-saturated yarn. This film would make a spectacular advertisement for the Iranian carpet industry—seeing the many expert hands involved, you’d never think to haggle over the price. —MM

click to enlarge Divine Pig
  • Divine Pig
Divine Pig
—(Netherlands; 60 min.) Dorus the pig is something of a celebrity in his small Dutch town. He lives in the backyard of Gerard Zwetsloot, the local butcher, and often lovingly follows his owner through town for long afternoon walks. Children are especially fond of him; they run out of their yards to greet him with apples as he trots by. But things for Dorus get a little tense as summer gives way to fall and Zwetsloot must decide whether or not he will slaughter his pet come winter (his business is butchery, after all, and customers love the tenderness of home-raised pork). Were it left at that, this film would be fairly compelling, but the director overreaches by trying to equate Zwetsloot's ambivalence about Dorus with man's relationship to pigs across history and cultures. The result is entertaining but—handsome swine notwithstanding—narratively thin. —BD

In the Matter of Cha Jung Hee —(U.S., South Korea, 62 min.) As a young girl, Deann Borshay Liem was adopted from a Korean orphanage and sent to the United States. Her Korean name was Kang Ok Chin, but she was sent under false pretenses as a stand-in for another girl, Cha Jung Hee, and told to keep quiet about the switch. The question of her true identity eventually came back to haunt her, prompting a search for her birth family and for the girl whose spot she’d taken. The search takes a number of complicated twists, and Borshay Liem provides plenty of historical backstory, which partly explains the film’s heavy reliance on voice-over narration. It’s a well-constructed mystery, though, effectively personalized by Borshay Liem’s introspection. —MM

The Border—(Slovakia; 72 min.) A cruelly arbitrary border drawn in 1945 split the town of Slemence, with one side in Ukraine and the other in Slovakia. Families were separated, friends and relatives cut off. The villagers protested by calling to each other from their fields across the fence and gathering annually on both sides near the closed checkpoint. But their lives were forever changed by this open wound in their community. It's not all heavy going, though: The film's tone fits the absurdity as well as the gravity of the situation as the villagers adapted to their fate with a measure of resigned humor. —MM

Waste Land—(UK, Brazil; 95 min.) Brazilian artist Vik Muniz rose from humble origins to become a world-renowned conceptual artist and photographer. Mid-career, his work began to take on a social justice slant; in this film he returns to his home country to create portraits of the stigmatized workers who salvage recyclable material at an enormous landfill outside Rio de Janeiro. Director Lucy Walker (Blindsight) returns to Full Frame with this extraordinary study of the catadores, who maintain their dignity in the face of oppressive poverty. Coming from opposite ends of the spectrum, the catadores and Muniz show that greatness isn't measured by society's validation of one's work. —MM

Family Affair—(U.S.; 89 min.) Every family has skeletons in its closet, but Chico Colvard's has much more than its share. As a young boy, he'd accidentally shot his sister in the leg, but that was only the most visible wound in a family full of hidden pain. To sound the depths of their tragedy, Colvard enlists his estranged mother, his damaged, abusive father and his brave, faade-maintaining sisters to give their sides of a story they'd much rather put behind them. His naked honesty and respect for all involved keep the film from feeling exploitative, and his sisters, who've started families of their own, emerge as heroes of sorts. —MM

Albert's Winter —(Denmark, 30 min.) Eight-year-old Albert is a pensive boy trying to decide whether he should enroll in a special school for the musically inclined, leaving his old friends behind. The adults around him try to help him deal with a more frightening possible future involving his mother’s cancer. Overcast skies and swirling snow set a brooding mood in the long, dark Danish winter that reflects Albert’s fears and uncertainty. Patient and slowly heartbreaking, this film shows a side of childhood that’s not about carefree playtime or tidy moral lessons. —MM

The Edge of Dreaming —(Scotland, 73 min.) One stormy night, Scottish filmmaker Amy Harding dreamed that her horse died, only to discover that he actually had. Her next dream predicted her own death within a year’s time. By nature a skeptic, she’s nonetheless shaken by this omen, terrified of losing the happy home she’s made in the Scottish countryside with a beloved husband and three children. She draws on her work as a science documentarian to seek rational explanations for her dream, but as the year progresses she finds it impossible to shake the literal interpretation she fears. Artistic and intimately personal, the film explores mortality and loss with no less power for being hypothetical. —MM

click to enlarge Summer Pasture
  • Summer Pasture
Summer Pasture—(U.S., China, Tibet; 98 min.) At 15,000 feet above sea level, nomadic yak herders roam the high plains of Tibet, eking out an existence in one of the harshest climes on the planet by selling caterpillar fungus, yak butter and cheese in nearby towns. The film follows a family of three for a summer as they come to grips with the mother's health issues and, subsequently, the modern world. The cinematography is breathtaking: scenes of vast skies that occasionally empty themselves of hail. The contrast between that sense of freedom with the family's dark, cramped tent symbolizes the choices that they must make for themselves and their infant daughter. —LS

Stonewall Uprising—(U.S., 82 min.) On the night of June 27, 1969, the patrons of the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Greenwich Village, finally decided they had had enough. When the police arrived for one of their periodic roundups, scattered resistance escalated into a full-scale riot, and in the ensuing months a nascent gay rights movement began to take shape. This well-researched film provides plenty of background on the shameful history of homosexual persecution in America. Though there's precious little footage of the fateful night at the Stonewall, as the filmmakers acknowledge in a disclaimer at the beginning, they're appropriately restrained in their use of re-creation, allowing absorbing first-person interviews with participants to carry the narrative. —MM

Garbo: The Spy—(Spain, 88 min.) If his biographers are to be believed, a single Catalonian spy deserves a share of the credit for the successful Allied landing at Normandy in 1944. Joan Pujol Garca, code-named Garbo, was an enigmatic double agent who'd developed a distaste for totalitarian ideology during his involvement in the Spanish Civil War. It's hard to tell whether opportunism or idealism prompted his initial attraction to espionage; in any case, he fabricated an elaborate network of subordinate agents and convinced the Nazi command to accept his lies as truth right to the end of the war. This true-life spy caper is enlivened with scenes from old Hollywood films (Our Man in Havana, Mata Hari, et al.), imaginative visuals and music by Brian Eno and Sparklehorse. —MM

Ito—A Diary of an Urban Priest—(Finland; 111 min.) The film chronicles a series of confessions to a boxer-turned-Buddhist monk who counsels people not in temples but rather in bars and other urban settings. The soul-baring is raw and honest, as are Ito's personal struggles (priests are people, too), but the meditative subplots fail to answer the ultimate question: What does it all mean? Maybe we're not supposed to know. —LS

Regretters—(Sweden, 60 min.) What happens when you change your mind after sex reassignment surgery? Orlando and Mikael are two Swedish men who became women, then had second thoughts—and changed back. The camera records them in conversation with each other, an effective conceit arising from the film's origins as a stage play with actors playing their parts. This arrangement highlights the commonalities of such a rare predicament, but the emotional and, yes, physical complications arising from each man's decisions are uniquely his own. It's interesting to see how much society's changing attitudes about homosexuality and gender roles affected their decisions, separated as they are by a generation. —MM

click to enlarge Restrepo
  • Restrepo
Restrepo—(U.S.; 93 min.) "Holy shit. We're not ready for this." That's how one American soldier in the 173rd Airborne's Battle Company feels when he first sees the fearsome Korengal Valley in eastern Afghanistan, considered in 2007 to be "the most dangerous place on earth" and the site of his platoon's 15-month deployment. Filmmakers Sebastian Junger (author of The Perfect Storm) and Tim Hetherington follow the soldiers as they push into the valley to construct and defend Operating Base Restrepo, where for most of the year they live under constant assault in harsh conditions, emotionally strung between the extreme highs of firefight-induced adrenaline and the extreme lows of boredom, fear and loss. What emerges is an evocative, illuminating meditation on loyalty, courage and, ultimately, love. —BD

12th & Delaware—(U.S.; 80 min.) A silent war of attrition is being waged on an unassuming intersection in suburban Fort Prince, Florida. On one side sits A Woman's World, an abortion clinic, and on the other, a Pregnancy Care Center dedicated to stopping the work of its neighbor clinic at any cost. The filmmakers largely confine their shooting to the corner in question, which limits their access to the lives of the women who come seeking counseling. Their focus is the battlefield and the tactics each side employs to outmaneuver the other. There's a gesture toward balance on the part of the filmmakers, but the most provocative footage, to them and the audience, is the lengths the abortion opponents will go to for their cause. —MM

Pelada—(U.S.; 92 min.) Disclosure: Raised on Indiana basketball, I've never kicked a soccer ball in my life. Discovery: You don't have to know anything about soccer to love this film. The filmmakers—three of whom were top-ranked collegiate soccer players at Duke or Notre Dame—travel to 25 countries in search of pick up games—but also in search of themselves. The auditorium was packed for Pelada's world premiere at South by Southwest last month and when you see the film, you'll know why. See related story, page 17. —LS

Notes From the Other—(Spain; 13 min.) This 13-minute narrated short questions the ideas of truth and identity in comparing the ardor of Ernest Hemingway impersonators—meaty, silver-haired white men in T-shirts or fisherman's sweaters—with the famous author. However, Hemingway was reportedly not above impersonation himself. As a 25-year-old upstart writer, Hemingway impersonated the wounded victim of the annual running of the bulls in Pamplona, the festival that became central to The Sun Also Rises. Director Sergio Oksman's films include Goodbye America (2006), about Al Lewis, who portrayed Grandpa in The Munsters.LS

The Player—(Netherlands, 85 min.) Director John Appel's father was a gambler, and not just with money—he couldn't resist taking risks, for example, with the family's car, whether by loaning it to perfect strangers, parking it in tow-away zones or driving it with his eyes closed. Appel tries to understand his father's fate-tempting compulsion by interviewing a graying horse track bookie, a jailed con artist and an obsessive casino habitu. This patient, cumulative study doesn't arrive at any great revelations, but it does show what these marginal characters and his father have in common: a pathologically low boredom threshold and extreme dissatisfaction with safe, quotidian lifestyles. —MM

SUNDAY

click to enlarge Waking Sleeping Beauty
  • Waking Sleeping Beauty
Waking Sleeping Beauty
—(U.S.; 86 min.) Longtime Disney hand Don Hahn uses his insider's knowledge and access to private home movies to tell the story of how the Disney animation division revived itself after falling into senescent irrelevance in the 1970s as Roy Disney sold amusement park tickets. New technology, new firms (Pixar) and new blood (including a very young Tim Burton, briefly glimpsed) combined to produce titles like Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King. The first half of the film is more interesting than the later sections, which devolve into a blow-by-blow account of the rivalry between the suits, chiefly animation chief Jeffrey Katzenberg and Disney CEO Michael Eisner. —DF

The Most Dangerous Man in America—(U.S.; 94 min.) This Oscar-nominated doc tells the inside story of Daniel Ellsberg's famous revealing of the Pentagon Papers in 1971, an attempt to stop the Vietnam War by revealing the pattern of presidential deception behind it. This is a thorough, important history and civics lesson about a Pentagon insider's Road to Damascus moment along the path to anti-war activism. There's an air of self-aggrandizement behind Ellsberg's incessant pontifications, but the film is a must-see for, if nothing else, its use of White House audio recordings of an increasingly unhinged Richard Nixon and his inner circle of advisors. —NM

A Film Unfinished—(Germany, Israel; 88 min.) In 1942, Nazi film crews made a "documentary" study of the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto, not long before they sent its residents to the gas chambers of Treblinka. The hour-long film they emerged with was designed to show the inhumanity of the well-heeled Jews toward their less fortunate brethren, but as this documentary reveals, the shots were staged propaganda. The incriminating extra footage that director Yael Hersonski uncovered is fascinating, as are interviews with survivors, but the film's larger points are sometimes confusing and contradictory, and it's overly preoccupied with repetitively capturing the Nazi perpetrators red-handed in the act of staging their shots. —MM

How to Fold a Flag—(U.S.; 85 min.) There's little in the way of startling revelations in this account of four soldiers home from the war, but it's quietly moving nonetheless. Seven years after "shock and awe," the film's veterans find that the world is increasingly going about its business while the fighting continues and the men battle their psychic wounds. The film's very existence shows directors Michael Tucker and Petra Epperlein keeping faith with the grunts who starred in their first Iraq doc, Gunner Palace, which was produced in the heady early months of the invasion. See interview with Tucker on page 20. —DF

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