Written by: FFT Webmaster | October 6th, 2011
The New York Film Festival has always been a generous and charitable home for exciting new documentaries. This year is no exception, with some of the strongest films in the line-up adding renewed excitement to the non-fiction form. As is the case with the burgeoning of documentaries on both the big and small screen, the genres and subject matter is marvelously varied. In GEORGE HARRISON: LIVING IN THE MATERIAL WORLD, renowned director Martin Scorsese adds to his impressive list of musical documentaries by attempting to lift the veil on the “quiet Beatle”, an esoteric and somewhat secretive man whose interests ranged from music to moviemaking to fast cars to spiritual enlightenment. In the equally inventive PINA, German director Wim Wenders uses cutting-edge 3D technology to showcase the visual expressionism of famed choreographer Pina Bausch. Iranian director Jafar Panahi, whose outspoken films and actions have brought him the wrath of the political and religious establishment in his native Iran, presents a compelling video diary of his days awaiting sentencing in the emotionally involving set piece THIS IS NOT A FILM.
Mixing reality and fiction, a technique so common these days, was still a milestone in the early 1970s, when famed and infamous Hollywood director Nicholas Ray and his cadre of upstate New York film students collaborated on the existential and slightly trippy WE CAN’T GO HOME AGAIN, a “lost film” of the Vietnam War era that is receiving its long overdue release. A companion piece to the film is DON’T EXPECT TOO MUCH by Ray’s widow Susan Ray, a chronicle of her late husband’s stormy relationship with Hollywood and eventual return to the United States after a decade’s self-exile in Europe. In ANDREW BIRD: FEVER YEAR, director Xan Aranda presents us with an intimate portrait of indie rock superstar Andrew Bird as he battles physical and creative fatigue. Of equal musical interest is THE BALLAD OF MOTT THE HOOPLE, a funky phantasmagoria about the iconic British rock band, who shot to fame in the 1970s and then blazed out in a mix of ego, drugs and the rock n roll lifestyle. Lovers of Brazilian beat will respond strongly to MUSIC ACCORDING TO TOM JOBIM, director Nelson Pereira Dos Santos’ bossa nova beat homage to composer/performer Antonio Carlos Jobim, the famed creator of The Girl From Ipanema and other danceable classics.
Films looking at films are always intriguing and always welcome. In CORMAN’S WORLD: EXPLOITS OF A HOLLYWOOD REBEL, director Alex Stapleton has crafted an engaging portrait of the underground producer and director who almost singlehandedly created the independent film movement. In VITO, a loving portrait is conjured of film archivist and gay rights activist Vito Russo, whose highly influential study of gay influences in Hollywood Cinema (THE CELLULOID CLOSET) was a milestone in contemporary gay culture. In the Finnish compilation film SODANKYLA FOREVER, director Peter Von Bagh provides an engrossing survey of 25 years of sound bites and anecdotes of legendary directors and actors who have attended Finland’s most important film event, the Midnight Sun Film Festival.
Documentaries have a unique power to address the social and political ills of our contemporary world and comment on both history and current events. In TAHRIR, Italian director Stefano Savona assembles a riveting day-to-day account of the revolution in Egypt, capturing the anger, fear and resolve of those who made it happen. Celebrated American directors Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky return to the story of three young men falsely accused of murder and recently set free following a bizarre admission of guilt in PARADISE LOST 3: PURGATORY, which now includes a 10 minute epilogue just recently added to reflect the events of the last month. Oscar winning director Oliver Stone, not exactly our most subtle filmmaker, puts the entire 20th century under his cinematic microscope in the hugely ambitious THE UNTOLD STORY OF THE UNITED STATES, a film sure to generate controversy in the months ahead.
Capping off this non-fiction bonanza at this year’s New York Film Festival is the latest masterpiece from legendary documentarian Frederick Wiseman. Well into his 80s, the director again delves into the artifice of show business in the tantalizing CRAZY HORSE, a you-are-there look at the behind-the-scenes drama of Paris’ legendary Crazy Horse erotic cabaret. Sex, voyeurism, hard work, and the objectification of both artists and audiences are all here to dissect as the master filmmaker offers an entertaining yet rueful meditation of the art of desire. Documentary lovers, rejoice and make your way to Lincoln Center before the New York Film Festival closes on October 16. For more information, visit: www.filmlinc.com