Miss Nikki and the Tiger Girls
"Miss Nikki and the Tiger Girls"
"Miss Nikki and the Tiger Girls"  Dir. Julia Lamont, Australia, 2012

Another South East Asian outlaw state is the backdrop for this doc about an improbable girl band. In Myanmar, where pleasure was effectively banned for all but the brutal ruling military elite, the Tiger Girls are a band synthesized by an enterprising Australian and a local purveyor of kitsch pop. At least one of the girls can’t sing at all, and most of them are just a step away from village life than wasn’t anywhere near what we would call the modern world, and most of the country assumes that a girl group is just a front for prostitution.  Like Myanmar, the group is a work in progress, and a window onto the opening of what had been one of the world’s worst dictatorships.  This doc will be nothing if not a curiosity on the festival circuit.

"Money for Nothing – Inside the Federal Reserve"  Dir. Jim Bruce, US, 2012    

Is there a more uncinematic subject? Money for Nothing takes on a subject that you expect might require industrial strength No-Dose. Instead, the filmmakers take us back to the origins of the Fed, which was created to protect American citizens from crises in the financial marketplace. They bring us through history to sharp cuts in interests rates and collapses in the housing and real estate markets which the Fed helped bring about. You’ll look as skeptically at experts as you do at politicians after seeing this doc. But you’ll wonder whether Money for Nothing can have any effect after the presidential election. (Same for Still, this old news is worth watching. You won’t see a quote for this doc from Ben Bernanke, but you’ll find it all over festival programs.

"In the Shadow of the Sun"  Dir. Harry Freeland, UK, 2012

In Tanzania, where there are some 170,000 albinos (and where the 2010 soccer-doc Albino United was filmed), local witch doctors have declared that the body parts of albinos can cure disease or make your business a success. Even more outrageous than this canard is the fact that people believe it. Albinos are chased down and killed, and their graves are robbed. You walk through this doc horror movie with charismatic Josephat Torner, who has survived attacks and describes them in chilling detail.  In his first feature doc, Harry Freeland tells a story that few knew. Even sadder is that it’s not over.

"Winter Nomads"  Dir. Manuel von Sturler, Switzerland, 2012

After winning in Berlin, Winter Nomads has traveled the festival circuit, but still has no theatrical deal in the US – probably due to the fact that it is in French. We journey across Switzerland for months with shepherd Pascal, his partner Carole (a 20-something French woman who left an office job for this life) plus their four dogs and about 800 sheep. The doc’s charm prevails, despite snow, rain, and every other inclement element, with a sweetness and softness to the camera’s view of it all. Intrepid Carole looks like the Bjork of shepherds, but Leon, the puppy who can herd hundreds of sheep with the best of them (carried in her coat pocket when we first met him), steals the show. It’s genuine family entertainment, but is it a road movie, an eco-doc, or a western?

"Smash & Grab: the Story of the Pink Panthers"  Dir. Havana Marking , UK, 2012

A story of a crime wave, told by the criminals who drove cars through the facades of jewelry stores and mostly got away with it. The Pink Panthers take their name from the bumbling Inspector Clouseau series starring Peter Sellers. These crooks are no amateurs. Marking (Afghan Star, 2009) traces their origins to the war that tore Yugoslavia apart and spawned a black market for anything that could be stolen. Most of the thieves are Montenegrins but, as in the movies, nothing produces imitators like success. Smash & Grab is a bracing true crime doc, with plenty of reflections on the mechanics and ethics of crime (no kidding) from alumni of the Pink Panthers, whose identities are animated to conceal them. Detectives in Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates join in the discussion.  And it’s not over, just google “smash & grab” for the latest heists. Somehow I smell a feature remake here, and not only because one of the criminals tells great tales about seducing her way inside the jewelry business. This should be a festival circuit hit.