Helen Highly Recommends “Once Were Brothers,” a documentary that was the opening-night film for DOC NYC 2019 and opens in theaters February 21st, based on the story of The Band (Robbie Robertson, Levon Helm, Rick Danko, Richard Manuel and Garth Hudson). For those who don’t know: the Band originally formed as The Hawk, a backing band for rockabilly singer Ronnie Hawkins but came to prominence during its time backing Bob Dylan on tour and later grew into a legend in its own right, widely credited with being on the forefront of three different musical revolutions. Impressively, the Band was one of the first rock groups to appear on the cover of Time.
America is the country that invented the concept of Baby Boomers, and now that they’re aging and so often becoming a problem for their adult children faced with the challenges of elder care or even elder understanding, it should be surprising but is not that other countries are the ones best at addressing the issue in their artistic expression. “The Disappearance of My Mother” is in theaters now and Helen Highly Recommends you see it, whatever gen-letter happens to define you. It’s an Italian documentary by Beniamino Barrese, a young-adult photographer, about his relationship with his aging, ex-supermodel mother, Benedetta Barzini. This film is as full of contradictions as real life – incongruities rarely acknowledged much less captured with the candor of this cinematic memoir that is both shocking and soft.
You have two choices. You’re very unlikely to watch two documentaries about elephants in the next few months. There is The Elephant Queen, which features “magnificent images of majestic animals” and follows a herd of elephants across the Kenyan savanna. By all accounts, that film is gorgeously shot, poignantly narrated and is an inspiring tribute to the power of motherhood. OR, if you want more from your movie than pretty shots of elephants at sunset as they run in slow motion across the plains, you could watch When Lambs Become Lions by Jon Kasbe, a brilliant documentary centered around African elephant poaching, which Helen Highly Recommends – what every documentary aspires to be.
At a time when archives are becoming a meaningful theme in documentary filmmaking – investigated and presented onscreen, almost as characters, rather than merely behind the scenes as research material, Shooting the Mafia is another excellent and compelling addition to the group. This film by Kim Longinotto considers the nature of Letizia Battaglia’s photographic archive – as historical documentation as well as a captivating collection of photojournalism that has risen to the level of art. Sicilian photographer Letizia Battaglia began a lifelong battle with the Mafia when she first dared to point her camera at a brutally slain victim.
Susan Sontag is having a moment 15 years after her death. Or at least in my personal life there has been a moment of Sontag convergence that has led me to write this article. Mostly my intent is to write a film review of the newly remastered re-release of Duet for Cannibals, written and directed by Sontag, released in 1969, screened at the New York Film Festival, and brought back to gorgeous, lush black-and-white life on its 50th anniversary as a Metrograph Pictures Release, starting 11/22, but I also have a personal story to tell.
With his new documentary, “Scandalous: The Untold Story of the National Enquirer,” director Mark Landsman delves into the incredible yet accurate story of the most infamous newspaper in US history, detailing its wild history and its surprising, continuing role in shaping what the news has become and what the enquiring public wants to know. Helen Highly Recommends this film as the timely cure for what ails us all right now as a nation – just the right, ironic cocktail of sexy, smart and shocking, with a cancerous red-dye-number-2 maraschino-cherry garnish.