ReelPolitik

Race, Class and Warfare at Tribeca

  • By Anthony Kaufman
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  • April 25, 2013 10:33 AM
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One of the most powerful new documentaries at this year's Tribeca, Dan Krauss’s well-crafted and compelling investigative expose "The Kill Team," hits all the right buttons: political injustice, moral outrage, and emotional catharsis. Of all the films I've previewed from this year's festival, Krauss's is one of the most important; for the purposes of political heft, "The Kill Team"--along with the upcoming release "Dirty Wars"--provides some of the most damning evidence of the atrocities and injustices of the U.S. military that we've seen on screen since America's War on Terror began.

Bulgaria Year Zero: "Sofia Last Ambulance" Careens into U.S.

  • By Anthony Kaufman
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  • February 15, 2013 11:54 AM
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I can't heap enough praise on "Sofia's Last Ambulance," a Cannes 2012 prize-winner that's having its U.S. premiere tonight as part of MoMA's Documentary Fortnight program. Combining a refreshing formal inventiveness with a searing sense of post-Communist malaise, the film follows three paramedics on duty in Bulgaria’s capital city--it's equal parts urgent real-life chronicle and meditative long-take art cinema. Picture Fredrick Wiseman directing The Death of Mr. Lazarescu. I wrote about the film and a couple of other Eastern European standout docs in this week's Docutopia column at SundanceNow, and I thought it was worth highlighting again here for its ingenious mix of experiential verite filmmaking with incisive political critique.

In Tale of Migrants, Gael Garcia Bernal Traces Path of "Dayani Crystal"

  • By Anthony Kaufman
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  • January 18, 2013 12:16 PM
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Of the many issue-oriented docs at Sundance this year, the first day's screenings brought the world premiere of "Who is Dayani Crystal," a well-crafted documentary about the plight of Latin American migrants. Produced and featuring Mexican star Gael Garcia Bernal, I was initially suspicious about his role in the documentary. But as the film unfolded, I found the actor's easygoing presence to be a helpful guide into the lives of the thousands who make the often ill-fated journey to cross into the United States each year.

Healthcare Docs Face Crowded Marketplace in Trying to Remedy the System

  • By Anthony Kaufman
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  • September 26, 2012 11:34 AM
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If Iraqumentaries dominated the nonfiction form half a decade ago, and the global economic crisis has been the de rigueur topic of late, a new subject is currently coming into favor: the state of America’s healthcare system. This month alone, three documentaries are being released that touch on the dire state of the medical industry and Americans’ not-so-well-being, as I report in this week's Docutopia column: Bobby Sheehan’s Doctored, which opened in New York last week, Peter Nicks’s The Waiting Room, which opens today, and Susan Froemke and Matthew Heineman’s Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare, which hits theaters next weekend.

Making the Past Urgent Again: David France's Thrilling "How to Survive A Plague"

  • By Anthony Kaufman
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  • September 19, 2012 10:17 AM
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For my latest Docutopia column at the SundanceNow blog, "You Are There: Docs in the Moment," I address the thrilling AIDS doc "How to Survive Plague," which provides an almost real-time chronicle of history as if it was unfolding at this very moment. The film, which opens theatrically this Friday, puts the viewer smack dab in the middle of the struggle to combat the AIDS virus in the 1980s. Using archival footage culled from some 700 hours of video, the movie presents an urgent, you-are-there account of those who worked within the advocacy group ACT UP.

My Top 8 at Toronto Fest 2012

  • By Anthony Kaufman
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  • September 13, 2012 11:47 AM
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Because I was reviewing films for Screen Daily at Toronto, the films I saw were a diverse bunch, guided somewhat by my preferences, but also by the needs of an international trade magazine. Therefore, I caught one too many midnight movies (i.e. "Aftershock") and may have lost the opportunity to see some of the big-ticket premieres. Regretfully, I missed "Argo," which would have been a perfect movie to report on for ReelPolitik, and despite the best intentions of Ben Affleck, I am suspicious about its depictions of Iran's Islamic Revolution. But it'll have to wait until its release.

"Special Flight" Takes Off with Powerful Tale about Detention

  • By Anthony Kaufman
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  • June 13, 2012 8:25 AM
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One of the best films playing at this year's Human Rights Watch International Film Festival, and a recent award-winner at Full Frame, is Swiss filmmaker Fernand Melgar's profoundly affecting "Special Flight," which follows a group of close-knit illegal immigrants awaiting deportation in a Swiss detention center. The movie presents a deeply humanistic portrait of the men, hailing from Kosovo to Kinshasa, as well as their kind Swiss caretakers. But the genteel surroundings and tender treatment belie the painful hypocrisies of their situation. The Swiss system might have a pretense of civility, but as the increasingly disgruntled detainees eventually discover, they're screwed from the start. One inmate says it best: "We get overfed, but we're deprived of our freedom."

Protest Songs: "Under African Skies" and the Power of Music Docs

  • By Anthony Kaufman
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  • May 9, 2012 11:34 AM
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There are no shortage of music docs out there, and more than a few also intermingle song with notions of political protest ("Sing Your Song," "Amandla: A Revolution in Four Part Harmony," "The Refugee All Stars"). And while I'm not necessarily a fan of the genre, I was particularly moved by two new films that tackled the role of musical artists and Apartheid-era South Africa at Sundance this year, "Searching for Sugar Man," which opens later this summer, and "Under African Skies," which is getting a limited release, starting this weekend.

"God Bless America": A Rollicking Liberal Revenge Fantasy

  • By Anthony Kaufman
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  • May 8, 2012 11:24 AM
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Going into Bobcat Goldthwait's murder-spree social satire "God Bless America," which is opening in theaters this week, I was highly skeptical. We've been down the road of murderous social commentaries before (see "Natural Born Killers"; actually, don't). But never taking itself too seriously, this slighty outrageous, breezy exercise in renegade violence is an angry liberal's wet-dream-come-true -- a tale of vengeance for NPR listeners everywhere.

The Top 5 Documentaries at Tribeca

  • By Anthony Kaufman
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  • April 25, 2012 8:57 PM
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"The docs are good," says one industry insider, on two separate occasions, as I pass them by during the Tribeca Fest over the past few days. Indeed, I saw a handful of the nonfiction competition films at the fest, and I can confidently say that six were strong. I saw two dramatic films that I thought were worth my time (more on those in another post), but based on the advice of others, the docs were far and away superior to the narrative films on display. Here's a rundown of my top 5. But I could also have mentioned "The Flat" and I heard great things about "Ballroom Dancer," as well.

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