A common criticism often heard in reviewing documentaries is “it’s more of Dateline segment than a movie;” even good investigative journalism does not in itself make a movie. Sometimes “advocacy documentaries” can be forgiven their school-bookishness because the subject is so urgently relevant; their social or political importance overrides their artistic mediocrity. But how do you justify “The Spy Behind Home Plate,” written and directed by Aviva Kempner? This documentary, in theaters now, is more of an answer to a Jeopardy question than it is a movie. Or maybe it’s an entire Jeopardy episode – as chock full of rapid-fire bits of quirky trivia as it is.
It’s Gay Pride month, and we’re coming up to July 4th and Independence Day, so HelenHighly discusses three new documentaries whose hearts beat the drums of freedom, passion and change, and how in each film, art is the catalyst that brings those concepts to life. Helen Highly Recommends “A Night at Switch n’ Play,” “Blue Note Records: Beyond the Notes,” and “Woodstock: Three Days That Defined a Generation.”
Extra Innings, by new, New York filmmaker Albert Dabah is picking up traction as it won Best Feature at the Manhattan Film Festival last month and has also been chosen as an Official Selection at both the Dumbo Film Festival and the upcoming Jersey Shore Film Festival — June 25th, The Showroom Cinema, Asbury Park, NJ. Also look for the film on June 26th at The Screening Room at Congregation Torat El in Oakhurst, NJ.
“17 Blocks,” a documentary by Davy Rothbart, was included in my initial Tribeca Film Festival 2019 pick-list because of the compelling and devastating use of a home-video archive. The film was created due to a chance meeting, in 1999, of two kids at a Washington D.C. public basketball court and director-producer Davy Rothbart. Fifteen-year-old Smurf Sanford and his nine-year-old brother Emmanuel lived in the neighborhood, which is only 17 blocks from the White House but is a dangerous and decrepit part of the city that outsiders typically go to great lengths to avoid. When Emmanuel expressed interest in becoming a filmmaker, Rothbart lent him a video camera.
Walking on Water, directed by Andrey Paounov, is a new documentary about the latest exhibit / production by Christo, the renowned installation artist who transforms environments into experiential artwork, on an epic scale. The film had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, was acquired by Kino Lorber and is getting a theatrical run in the U.S. this spring (beginning this weekend at Film Forum in NYC). Helen Highly Recommends you see it – in a theater, ideally, on as large a screen as possible.
The Quiet One, a cinematic memoir of The Rolling Stones’ bassist, Bill Wyman, opens in New York and Los Angeles on June 21. Also Available On Demand starting June 28. Features never-before-seen footage and photos from Wyman’s extensive archive, collected over his lifetime.