Tag Archives: Documentary

Bisbee ’17

23 Sep

‘Bisbee ’17’: Company called up the cattle cars, a deadly ‘deportation’ for its striking workers

 

For his riveting documentary “The Act of Killing” (2012), Joshua Oppenheimer tackled the grim matter of a 1960s Indonesian massacre by providing cameras to the heads of the militias and hit squads doing the killing, so each could make a film reenvisioning their involvement. In “Bisbee ’17” Robert Greene captures something similar in a mining town just miles from the Mexican border and down the road from the O.K. Corral. Just as America was entering the First World War and metal production was key – namely copper, the motherlode of Bisbee – a miner strike drew the ire of townsfolk, who armed themselves, rounded up the 1,300 agitators and activists, put them in cattle cars and sent them off to the New Mexico desert, dumping them with steep odds of survival.

That inhumane act has become  known as the Bisbee Deportation. Many of the “deported” workers in 1917 were foreigners, what we today would label as “undocumented.” The town back then was pretty much set up and run by the Phillip Dodge Corp., which brought in the sheriff from Tombstone to spearhead the roundup. The mining camp now is a ghost town; what remains is a strip mall epicenter and 5,000 residents, with a complexion representative of the white industrialist settlers and the native and brown people who toiled under their demands. The town was divided back then on the Brisbee Deportation and remains so, and that’s where Green strikes his vein: For the centennial, the town stages a reenactment, which Green films in perfectly choreographed sequences, interspersing interviews with descendants, including those of a brother who rounded up his own sibling and the first Latino woman to win local election. Yes, Brisbee then and now proves to be something of a microcosm.

Beyond the rote talking heads, the film’s something of a dreamy cinematic wonder, be it the stunning shots of scarred and gutted land framed by Jarred Alterman’s lens, the mood-sparking score by Keegan DeWitt or the pain-streaked folk songs sung by the re-enactors.

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11 Apr

‘The Peacemaker’ Shows Another Side Of A Cambridge Pub Owner

Padraig O'Malley, the subject of the new film "The Peacemaker." (Courtesy Central Square Films)closemore

Opening this Friday at the Coolidge Corner Theatre, James Demo’s absorbing documentary “The Peacemaker” boasts plenty of local flavor but also dips into such international hot zones as Israel, Iraq and Nigeria. What begins as a chronicle of a man on a mission, resolves into an intimate portrait of a complex, yet resolute soul who’s gone through a series of life altering transitions — some of which, are none too palatable.

The peace negotiator of the title and man in question, Padraig O’Malley cuts a striking figure. Tall, lanky and in his mid-70s, he’s blessed with a handsome square countenance and steely blue eyes. If there was a casting call for intensity, O’Malley would be exactly what they’d be looking for. Continue reading

The B-Side

14 Jul

‘The B-Side’ Brings Pioneer Cambridge Photographer Elsa Dorfman Out From Behind The Camera

A portrait of Elsa Dorfman from July 2007. (Courtesy Neon) 

The latest documentary from revered local filmmaker Errol Morris is essentially a love letter to his longtime friend and fellow Cantabrigian, Elsa Dorfman.

“The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography” profiles the life of the woman who spent more than 30 years profiling others in her studio. She was a pioneer of photography, best known for her 20×24 inch Polaroid portraits. Given that Morris’ lens has been trained on such diverse and idiosyncratic subjects as pet cemeteriesrenown cosmologist Stephen Hawking and an off-kilter Holocaust denier, “The B-Side” may seem something of a whimsy by comparison, but it’s Morris’ most intimate and warmest output to date.

Elsa Dorfman. (Courtesy Neon)
Elsa Dorfman. (Courtesy Neon)

Morris first met Dorfman when she photographed his son — then 5, now 30 years old — and has had the urge to make this film for some time.

“I’ve known Elsa a long, long time,” Morris says in a conversation with Dorfman on her back patio just outside Harvard Square. “I had the idea for this movie for a while, and when I told Elsa she was skeptical.” Continue reading

I Am Jane Doe

12 Feb

A Portrait Of American Avarice, ‘I Am Jane Doe’ Brings Backpage Controversy To The Screen

Jane Doe 3 and her mother in Boston during the filming of "I Am Jane Doe." (Courtesy R. Schultz/50 Eggs)closemore

For anyone with a young daughter, the testimony by victims of human trafficking and their families in the new documentary “I am Jane Doe” will come as a bone cutter. Others too will be palpably moved and more so, outraged by the willful complicity of Backpage in helping relegate underaged girls into a purgatory of prostitution, drugs and physical abuse.

If you’re unfamiliar with Backpage (owned by the revered alternative newspaper company Village Voice Media), it’s a service like Craigslist where people exchange goods and services like sofas, cars, housecleaning and sex (disguised as escort services) with great autonomy. That freedom comes as a result of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (ironically also known as “Great Internet Sex Panic Act of 1995”), which essentially grants online providers impunity for the content posted on their sites by third parties. That said, illegal sex solicitation — minor or not — has to be reported, but Backpage instituted a policy of circumvention to knowingly sanitize posts so they would not get flagged by enforcement authorities, as noted by a former employee whose voice and identity are disguised in the film. Continue reading

Lo and Behold

21 Sep
In Lo and Behold, famed director Werner Herzog takes a look at the digital world's effect on our own reality

Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

In Lo and Behold, famed director Werner Herzog takes a look at the digital world’s effect on our own reality

In 10 micro chapters, Werner Herzog, the director of the classic odysseys Fitzcarraldo (1982) and Aquirre, the Wrath of God(1972), tackles the internet, its rise, and the perils and promise of a connected world. The scope and the questions are nothing new — “Who is going to be liable if a computer makes a mistake?” Herzog asks about self-driving cars — but the filmmaker’s laid-back yet probing style and quest for getting at the human condition is nothing short of infectious, viral, if you will.

The segments, with pointed titles like “The Internet of Me,” “The Glory of the ‘Net,” and, of course, “The Future,” each delve into a different facet of the internet, be it historical or conjecture. Herzog buffers most of the blips with the Dickian question, “Does the internet dream of itself?” The segments that provoke the most are the segments that tackle the downside of being connected. One woman tags the Net as a “manifestation of the Anti-Christ.” The underscoring of that is a family who lost their daughter in a car accident, and the pain that the graphically snapped photos from the scene inflicted on them during their grieving as they were unleashed out onto the web, ever proliferating, unretrievable and unstoppable.

That tale of tragedy becomes the sad underbelly to hypertext inventor Ted Nelson’s optimistic allusion to water as a metaphor for flow of connectivity. Other notable talking heads in the documentary include convicted hacker Kevin Mitnick, and Pay Pal and Tesla entrepreneur Elon Musk. Continue reading

De Palma

23 Jun
Brian De Palma has directed over 25 films in his career, including Scarface, the cult classic starring Al Pacino

Brian De Palma’s career has been a veritable roller coaster of highs and lows. Carrie was a blockbuster, Bonfire of the Vanitieswas a bomb. Mission: Impossible kickstarted a long-running franchise, Life on Mars crashed and burned. More curious perhaps is how some of De Palma’s less successful films are now warmly embraced many years later, with some even ascending to cult status, Blow Out, Scarface, and Body Double to name a few.

Fellow filmmakers and De Palma acolytes, Noah Baumbach (Squid and the Whale and Frances Ha) and Jake Paltrow (Gwyneth’s bro) have crafted a fond rewind of the storied director’s life with their documentary De Palma. In the doc, Baumbach and Paltrow go through each of the director’s films in chronological order and get the suspense-thriller auteur’s perspective on the politics of makings of those movies and the fine line between a masterpiece and disaster.

If you’ve never been a fan of De Palma and his blood-covered output, you’ll at least walk away with respect for the director who, in the documentary, comes across as an amiable raconteur with a huge heart for the filmmaking process as he warmly takes you behind the scenes to show you the tricks of the trade and the taxing challenges of working with mega egos. Continue reading

Weiner

28 May
If you ever watched the riveting behind-the-scenes documentary “The War Room,” you’ve already seen a man snared by scandal mid-campaign. The speed bump Gennifer Flowers dealt Bill Clinton en route to a landslide victory in 1992, however, pales in comparison with the 20-car pileup Anthony Weiner is responsible for in “Weiner,” a beguiling look into the paradoxical and self-destructive nature of a man who, while earnest in his desire to serve the public, remains unable to shake a sex-trolling persona infamously known as Carlos Danger.052716i WeinerThe filmmakers, Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg, must have thought they had a lock on a picture of redemption, with a congressman felled by scandal looking to come back as mayor of New York. Given what’s on the film, Weiner sounds the part, talking charismatically about the quality of education and the ability to earn a wage equal to living in New York. It doesn’t hurt that the seemingly resurgent pol has a wife who’s a senior aide to Hillary Clinton ramping up her political machine for a 2016 presidential run. Continue reading