Tag Archives: Documentary

Being Hal: An Interview with Amy Scott by Kent Hill

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There is no denying that a good percentage of the films we count today as iconic, came from the 70’s. With the birth of the easy riders and raging bulls, it would be the first and last time filmmakers would enjoy true creative freedom, as well as being able to present personalized films to the movie-loving audience at large.

Now. When we think of the 70’s, the new Hollywood, there are the usual suspects that come to mind. But, there is a name that, for whatever reason, has been absent from the list when it leaks from the tongues of cineastes the world over. That name is the name of Hal Ashby. One of the great individualists to come out of his era, Ashby’s cinema is at once quietly profound and intensely calm. He was an artist that saw the world for what is was – in its entire obnoxious, absurdist best, Ashby captured the beautiful frailty of the moment, no matter how strange, or violent, or sensual, or funny.

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Still, with all the freedom they enjoyed, the filmmakers of the 70’s were far from immune from the ‘tampering of the suits’. Ashby, like his contemporaries, raged against the ludicrous interference and mindless nitpicking of the powers that control the content that comes to a cinema near you. And, in fighting for his vision, he was labelled troublesome, rendered weary and eventually would succumb to a career that watched him bravely, and perhaps at times foolishly, burn the candle at both ends.

Amy Scott has produced, at last, the grand portrait of a man who made some of the defining films of his generation – or any generation from that matter. With the blessing of Ashby’s estate she as unearthed a veritable trove of Ashby gold, from letters to recordings of the man himself – telling it like it is, or was, or perhaps someday will be.

Hal is a documentary that has been on the road to find out. I for one can’t wait for you to see it – I for one, am just glad it’s out…

WOULD YOU LIKE TO KNOW MORE:

http://hal.oscilloscope.net/

https://www.facebook.com/halashbymovie/

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GORDON’S ALIVE! : An Interview with Lisa Downs by Kent Hill

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Flash Gordon was a staple of many an 80’s child’s cinema-going experiences. It was the first of its kind – as far as bringing a comic-strip to the big screen with all that campy, comic-booky, over-the-toppy goodness that would later manifest in films, stylistically related, like Dick Tracy and Sin City.

Life after Flash however, is not purely a retrospective documentary that deals with the making of the movie from script to screen with a lot of talking heads in between. No, what director Lisa Downs has brought forth from the void is a touching, insightful, and thought-provoking picture, which is more than simply a look back at Flash Gordon, but more so the impact of the movie both on the world and also on the people who came together to make this legendary hero flesh and blood.

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At the center of this awesome maelstrom is Sam J. Jones – the man who would be Flash – or, more appropriately, the man who is Flash. Jones’ story which really makes up the film’s core is both cautionary, touching and inspiring. Here is a man who was, like in many Hollywood stories, plucked out of obscurity and hurdled at maximum velocity on a collision course with international stardom. So where did it all go wrong?

Well – this man is not going to spoil it for you. I really urge you, when and where you can, to check out the first of Lisa’s ‘Life After films’. It is at once a treat for fans of Flash as well as this beautiful and moving tale of how hope survives even in the face of total annihilation. You’ll watch, you’ll smile, you’ll cry, you’ll put on Flash Gordon as soon as you’ve finished watching.

LET THIS BE KNOWN FOREVER, AS FLASH GORDON’S DAY!

 

WOULD YOU LIKE TO KNOW MORE:

https://www.facebook.com/lifeafterflash/

https://www.facebook.com/lifeafterthenavigator/

https://www.lifeafterthenavigator.com/

Space Operatic: An Interview with Stephen van Vuuren by Kent Hill

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I applaud anyone who makes their way on this crusade, some might say foolish crusade, to make a film. It can be a long, arduous, laborious. And thinking on that word laborious, now consider making a film that has to be stitched together using over 7 million photographs with animation techniques pioneered by Walt Disney on Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. No CGI. And I know that sounds sacrilegious in this day and age where a film without CGI is like a day without sunshine.

However, the film that Stephen van Vuuren has, albeit laboriously, constructed In Saturn’s Rings, is a unique master-work that is as beautiful and immersive on the small screen I watched it on as I can imagine it being played in its large format form.

Sparked by Cassini‘s arrival at Saturn in 2004 and the media’s lack of coverage, van Vuuren produced two films. Photos from space missions — including images of Saturn taken by Cassini — were included. But van Vuuren was not satisfied with the results so he did not release them.

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While listening to the Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barber one day in 2006, van Vuuren conceived the idea of creating moving images of Saturn based on a pan-and-scan 2.5-D effect. The technique involves creating a 3-D perspective using still photographs.

After discussion with audiences at IMAX conferences, van Vuuren decided the film title Outside In (the title of the short version) was not a good match for the film’s sensibility. The Giant Film Cinema Association had been publicising the film and surveys it conducted supported this. It was during a discussion in 2012 about the film’s climax where he was describing Earth “in Saturn’s rings” that van Vuuren realized he had found his new title.

Although narration had originally been removed in 2009, by 2014 van Vuuren realized that a sparse narration was necessary for the film. This amounted to 5 pages and about 1200 words in total. After listening to many voice actors one stood out and he asked LeVar Burton (Star Trek: The Next Generation) to be the narrator for the film.

The culmination of these elements, plus a lot of hard work, has resulted in something that is essentially more than a film. Like Kubrick’s 2001 which inspired him, van Vuuren has crafted an experience of what it may by like to drift through the far reaches of space to the planet that has always been the physical embodiment of his childhood fantasies. And I for one am grateful he stuck to his guns and made a movie that, even though it’s not a tale from a galaxy far, far away, it is the universe at its most wondrous…

Ceyda Torun’s Kedi

There’s a ton of films out there that explore humanity’s symbiotic relationships with animals, from the innocuous sweetness of Beethoven to the whimsical fables of Babe. Ceyda Torun‘s Kedi is a brilliant Turkish documentary that focuses on the wild, independent street cats of Istanbul, lovable, curious creatures who have shared countless bonds with the city’s residents since the dawn of time. A handful of individual felines are shown in the spotlight, each with it’s own distinct personality, behaviour traits and each connected to their own human caretaker or friend. They roam free along the streets, alleys, bazaars and canals of picturesque Istanbul, a place where the hum of the old world still survives, only recently encroached upon by the inevitable advance of technology and progress, an aspect which the film comments on and one that has a big effect on these animals. The film is structured simply and wonderfully: each vignette tells the story of a cat, through the words of their human companion, the auditory component, and visually we see these people and this place through their eyes and interactions they have with all those around them. It’s a brilliant, hypnotic rhythm, accompanied by the soothing tones of traditional/electronic hybrid compositions from musician Kira Fontana, and effortlessly creates an immersive, unique atmosphere. You don’t have to be a cat lover to appreciate (but if you aren’t, you’re not cool in my books already) the bond these creatures share with their environment, as it’s fascinating in a scientific way as well, to observe the behaviours, each species intrinsically connected to each other through eons of shared existence. These aren’t docile house cats either, they’ve got the nomad gene through years of genetic memory, yet still function as creatures of habit, and as one girl remarks on camera, “when they’re confined in a house indefinitely, they lose their ‘catness’.” They are an integral, essential part of Istanbul’s soul though, as we see the healing power they have on those who are sad or broken, the therapeutic friendship they provide to all around them, and the way in which they rekindle people’s ‘slowly dying joy of life’, as another character observes, a thought which hit a bit close to home as I heard it. Some may consider this a small or inconsequential film, but make no mistake: this isn’t just ‘a cute cat documentary’, it’s a meditation on some of the core elements of our mindsets and action, relationships and perceptions that many have forgotten in the modern world, and a reminder that animals are more than just furry friends, rather they are an influential force of nature that shape and change our world, as well as us, every day. One of the very best of the year.

-Nate Hill

What began with Weng Weng: An Interview with Andrew Leavold by Kent Hill

When Shakespeare wrote about all the world being a stage, and all the people in it being merely players with their entrances and exits, he was on to something. But it is the line: and one man in his time plays many parts that brings to mind the life and now the burgeoning cinema of Andrew Leavold.

Here is a man for whom movies are a great passion, a grand obsession, and they have been the catalyst for the direction in which he has moved through his life. Beginning with his own video store, Andrew filled the shelves with everything from the opulent and the uniquely obscure. For the better part of two decades he brought awareness and ultimately his love for film to the renting public – but the times, as they are bound to do, started a changin’. The landscape of delivering entertainment to the masses forced the then proprietor of Trash Video to reassess.

Fortunately by the time the demise of the video store descended, Andrew had already encountered the thing that would prove to be the gateway to the next phase in the evolution of him realizing his dream. That ‘thing’ would appear in the form of a little man the world, up until that point, knew simply as Weng Weng; a pint-sized Filipino actor that had been propelled into recognition as Agent 00 in a film called For Y’ur Height Only.

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Andrew’s fascination with the tiny action man would see him embark on a seven year odyssey, returning multiple times to the Philippines in search of Weng Weng and the story surrounding his life and cinematic career. All of this became the basis of the incredible documentary which still continues to evolve; its release bringing to light more and more stories about this petite performer seemingly enshrouded by magic and myth. But The Search for Weng Weng (the film) is only a piece of the adventure. There is now a book, the print companion to the documentary in which Leavold extends and expands upon all he has and continues to unearth.

What I took away from our conversation is that the spark that fuels the fire which burns within us, inspires us, drives us toward that which we seek to achieve can come, at the best of times, from the most unlikely of places. For Andrew, a mysterious video tape catapulted him from one dream to the next, now, he is the filmmaker he thought he would never become. It was a privilege to talk with him and I sincerely hope you will check out The Search for Weng Weng, the book and the film and help Andy continue his work, keeping the dream alive.

Ladies and Gentlemen . . . Andrew Leavold.

Me

 

To get your hands of the book and the film please visit:

https://www.facebook.com/TheSearchForWengWeng

https://www.facebook.com/andrew.leavold

LUCIEN CASTAING-TAYLOR & ILISA BARBASH’S SWEETGRASS — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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Sweetgrass is one of the most beguiling documentaries I’ve ever encountered, a piece of visual anthropology that I can’t compare to anything else. It’s a piece of work that will likely alienate most viewers, but for those with patience and an interest in spare, direct storytelling, this exploration of sheep herders in the Montana wilderness will leave a major impression. While capturing the rituals of the shepherds as they herded their livestock through the Beartooth Mountains, the filmmakers covered stunning landscapes, and braved dangerous weather and the threat of various wild animals, including bears and wolves. As the shepherds make their journey, the film depicts the hardships that they face in their age-old occupation, which seems largely outdated in 21st century America. The film is from the husband and wife filmmaking team of Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Ilisa Barbash, who also created the strangely haunting fishing trawler documentary Leviathan, so if you’ve seen that film, you’ll know what to expect from Sweetgrass. No dialogue, no pandering, no overt messages or speechifying; what you see is what you get.

My thing with cinema is this: TAKE ME SOMEWHERE I’VE NEVER BEEN. Well…I’ve never herded thousands of sheep through rocky and treacherous terrain, and I likely never will. But this film gives you an astonishing sense of how difficult this job is. Honestly…this documentary is a masterpiece of execution, showcasing simplicity at its finest, and offering up stark majesty on a genuinely grand scale. It’s also, intended or not, a deeply hysterical portrait of potential madness, and while the film takes a harshly unsentimental gaze at the shepherds and their animals, it’s never depressing or degrading. Werner Herzog and Terrence Malick would lose their minds over this piece of work, and I’m sort of shocked that Herzog didn’t get to this material first. Sweetgrass is an amazing deconstruction of the demands of the American cowboy and a stunning revelation into the bonds between human and animal. At various points, the camera literally stares into the souls of some of these animals, and it’s in these quiet moments that the viewer might have a religious experience, especially if they’re an animal lover; I was personally left agog by the entire effort. Sweetgrass is definitely up there with Winged Migration as one of the most fascinating animal documentaries that I’ve come across.

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GABE POLSKY’S RED ARMY — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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Fascinating on a historical level, riveting when it comes to the sport being discussed, and compelling in a deeply humanistic fashion, Gabe Polsky’s terrific documentary Red Army examines the intense Cold War relationship between Russia and America, and the various hockey players that were caught up in an international saga of greed, hubris, and outright dictatorship. Literally kept as slaves by their country, Russian hockey players back in that time period were revered by all and had to adhere to an intense training schedule that kept them away from their families for long periods of time. All of their insane treatment is detailed in this sad and scary film that highlights just how difficult it would have been to be playing under the Russian coaching regime back in the 80’s. Red Army primarily focuses on legendary defenseman Slava Fetisov and how he and his various teammates navigated the politically charged waters of worldwide sport during a time of immense uncertainty and volatility. Fetisov is quite the character, and while he provides tons of amazing information and anecdotes, on more than one occasion someone should have reminded him that he was there to make a documentary, not just to have his ass kissed; there are NO off limits questions when you’re the front and center focus of someone’s film. That being said, the exciting hockey footage that Polsky intercuts with his intelligent question and answer sessions with some of the era’s biggest stars commands the audience’s attention, and this is easily one of those movies where if you’re not a fan of the milieu, you’ll still enjoy the film because of how well-crafted it is on a formal level, and how interesting it is as a history lesson. And for any hockey fan or past or current player (I was lucky enough to lace up for 15 years), this will be a fabulous way to spend 80 minutes. And if you’re of a certain age, the names and faces on display will bring back waves of emotion and nostalgia. I know it did for me. Mike Vernon POWER in there, too.

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