Sunday, April 07, 2013

Full Frame Documentary Film Festival 2013: Day Three



Here’s what I saw on Day 3 of Full Frame Documentary Film Festival 2013 on Saturday, April 6th (Oh, yeah – please visit my recaps of Day One, and Day Two):

A WILL FOR THE WOODS
(Dirs. Amy Browne, Tony Hale, Jeremy Kaplan, & Brian Wilson)



This film, one of several at the Festival that concerned North Carolinians, won the Audience Award for feature films and the Nicholas School for the Environment Award. It’s the touching tale of musician/psychiatrist Clark Wang’s dying wish to have a green burial. Wang had been battling lymphoma for 8 years, and was realistic about the disease ultimately defeating him: “I’d like to use whatever time I have left to help set a pattern in our community of going back to really traditional and natural ways of preserving our dead.” While taking us through Wang’s process involving Pine Forest Memorial Gardens in N.C., the doc examines the green burial movement and the ecological issues at hand. Well made and intentioned, A WILL FOR THE WOODS sure packs an emotional wallop and I’m glad those voting agreed.


A.K.A. DOC POMUS (Dirs. William Hecter & Peter Miller, 2013) 

Most folks don’t know the name Doc Pomus, but they for sure have heard some of the many songs he’s written including such major hits as “Viva Las Vegas,” “This Magic Moment,” “Save the Last Dance for Me,” “Little Sister,” and “Suspicion.” I only knew the man through Lou Reed, who was a big friend of Pomus’s and dedicated his 1992 album Magic and Loss to him, so it’s great to have his story filled in with vintage interviews, footage, and photos, along with testimonials from friends and fans such as Reed, Dr. John, Ben E. King, Joan Osborne, Shawn Colvin and his biographer Alex Halberstadt. Unfortunately Hechter and Miller’s biodoc is uneven with many photographs being shown more than once, and some anecdotes being too vague to much impact. 

But the film overall captures the essence of how a polio-stricken kid from Brooklyn became a larger than life figure through his master song writing. Pomus’ brother, Raoul Felder, whose sound-bites may be the most insightful in the film puts it like this: “I suppose at some level, all greatness comes from pain. I think my brother had everything possible going against him in the history of the world from poverty, to illness, to incapacitation, you could not create a worse scenario for failure except that he wasn’t black. And he did as well as he could in that direction too.”

IF YOU BUILD IT 
(Dir. Patrick Creadon, 2013)

This doc, about an idealistic young couple (Emily Pilloton and Matt Miller) teaching a high school design-build class, has a good inspirational can-do spirit. It takes us with Pilloton and Miller, respectively a humanitarian designer and an architect, as they take their class through 3 phases of a project, first building cornhole boards, then chicken coops, and finally building something for the community: a Farmer's Market pavilion for Bertie county, N.C. That the couple do on grants without a salary says a lot about them and their sincerity to try to fix the “broken school system,” as Pilloton puts it. Even the overuse of sped-up time capture montages or the dropped story strands (a thick-accented teenager named Rodecoe is focused on in the first third then fades away), doesn't detract from the impressive accomplishments of these kids. More power to them.

WHICH IS THE WAY TO THE FRONT LINE FROM HERE? THE LIFE AND TIME OF TIM HETHERINGTON 
(Dir. Sebastian Junger, 2013)

Probably the best straight-up biodoc of the Festival. In her introduction, Full Frame Director of Programming Sadie Tillery sadly recollected that Hetherington, who was killed in an attack in Libya in 2011, was a guest at Full Frame in 2010 promoting his excellent doc RESTREPO. 

That film, which I reviewed the DVD of, was co-directed by the maker of this one, Sebastian Junger. A great friend of Hetherington, Junger appears along with members of Hetherington's family, and colleagues, and Hetherington himself from various interviews, to tell us the noted British photojournalist's story and it's stirring as hell. Despite having a new girlfriend and talking of settling down, Hetherington had a HURT LOCKER-like drive to keep going back to dangerous terrain to do his job. Emotionally gripping footage of the actual attack is included, presented in a manner that's not exploitative. It's one unforgettable piece of a profoundly powerful portrait of a man that everybody should know.

PUSSY RIOT - A PUNK PRAYER

(Dirs. Mike Lerner & Maxim Pozdorovkin, 2012)


With a name like Pussy Riot, most folks have heard of this band, but don't know their story. Lerner and Pozdorovkin's thorough doc rectifies that by giving us the background of the Russian feminist punk rock collective and showing how and why two of their members are currently in prison. On February 21st of last year, five members of Pussy Riot ran into Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Savior and performed what they called “Punk Prayer - Mother of God, Chase Putin Away!” before being stopped by church security. Three of them, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, were arrested on charges of hooliganism.

While these women go through the twists and turns of legal nonsense, the other members go into hiding so there's no interviews with any of them. The doc is competently constructed and informative but it doesn't have the oomph this material deserves. In the court footage that dominates the film, we see the women, who when we get to hear speak are funny and articulate, sitting in a glass box in the middle of the court room looking indifferent and bored.

As much as I liked getting the story straight and what it says about the sad state of Russian democracy, too often when watching it I felt just like those detained members of Pussy Riot. If only the doc did what they so wanted to do: think outside of the box.

Check back for coverage of Day Four.

More later...

1 comment:

David P said...

Great work!
From a fellow writer on Film.
For interest sake and a great film resource check out my blog below:
www.dvdcolumnbydavid.blogspot.ca