Directed by Rex Miller and Sam Pollard, Citizen Ashe is a thoroughly engrossing documentary about the professional and personal life of tennis pro and activist Arthur Ashe. The film follows his journey from his humble beginnings in Richmond, Virginia, to his rise in a sport dominated by white men, to the Civil Rights era and to his unfortunate early demise due to AIDS related pneumonia. Ashe bridged the divide between the white and black communities with his entrance into the world of professional tennis. He broke barriers as a black man in the sport but knew that ruffling feathers would keep him being accepted. However, the calling to activism grew within him and he took strides to be more outspoken about the plight of his community. He used his platform to speak out about civil rights and the AIDS epidemic and to encourage the next generation of tennis players. The documentary was made with the blessing of his widow Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe and includes interviews with his brother, his mentee John McEnroe and more.
Citizen Ashe recently premiered at the 2021 AFI Fest as part of the Documentaries programming. The film hits theaters in early December followed by a broadcast premiere on CNN and streaming on HBO Max.
If you visit the island of Peleliu in Palau, you’ll find a quiet, tropical oasis. But had you been there over 75 years ago during the Battle of Peleliu, you would have encountered utter chaos. The site of one of the most brutal battles of WWII, many Americans perished in Peleliu, some never to be recovered. That’s until Dr. Pat Scannon came along. Determined to repatriate American MIAs who lost their lives there, he started Project Recover, a grassroots effort to search for the more than 80,000 Americans who went MIA during WWII, with a particular focus on searching the waters and the island of Peleliu for the remains. Every step of the process is handled with the utmost respect for the deceased and their families.
Several years ago Project Recover was the subject of a fascinating 60 Minutes segment. And today we have a full-length documentary for us to better understand and appreciate this patriotic mission.
Directed by Chris Woods, To What Remains chronicles the 2018 recovery mission and takes viewers on an emotional rollercoaster. It features veterans, in particular one who fought in the Battle of Peleliu, and details the ripple effects this trauma had on the servicemen. Some survivors visited the island, some preferred to leave it in the distant past, and all were haunted by the deaths of their fellow servicemen who remained MIA. The documentary features stunning imagery of underwater missions. At times the film felt disjointed and I would have liked to have learned more about the planning and execution of the recovery missions. However, it’s an important piece, especially for anyone with an interest in WWII and American military history.
To What Remains recently premiered at the 2021 AFI Fest as part of their Documentaries programming slate. It hits theaters early December. Visit the film’s official website for more information.
Any woman who has grown up in a culture that prizes male heirs over female children know all too well the pain of being a father’s disappointment. Diana had a great relationship with her Vietnamese father during her childhood in the Czech Republic. However, when, after three miscarriages, her mother finally got pregnant again, their relationship came to an abrupt end. Diana’s father left the family, looking to start again in hopes of continuing the bloodline with his name.
Love, Dad/Milý Tati is a heart-wrenching short film about a young girl who remembers her dad and the bond they had before it was cruelly taken away. It’s beautiful, poetic and deeply melancholic. Directed by Diana Cam Van Nguyen, it tells the story through letters, memories and gorgeous cut paper art.
I was quite moved by this 13 minute film. I’m the third of a string of daughters born to a man who desperately wanted a son. I was lucky that my father never expressed any form of disappointment in only having daughters but I did feel the pang of guilt when the family name died with him.
Love, Dad/Milý Tati premiered at the 2021 AFI Fest as part of their Shorts Competition.
Based in Mexico City, forensic cleaner Donovan Tavera does the work that few others are willing to do. With the highest respect for the deceased, Tavera will come into a home and clean up the aftermath, offering loved ones one of the final steps in the healing process. Directed by Louise Monlaü, The New York Times documentary short The Death Cleaner/El limpiador, paints a portrait of a unique businessman who offers a compassionate service. This short is available to watch on YouTube (player embedded below).
The Death Cleaner/El limpiador premiered at the 2021 AFI Fest as part of the Shorts Competition.
The confederate flag flies boldly in front of Edisto River Creamery & Kitchen in Orangeburg, South Carolina. In a time when other markers of the South’s confederate past were being torn down, the owner of the creamery sought to take down this confederate flag. However, the flag pole and its commemorative marker sit on a tiny plot of land owned by a vocal member of a local Sons of the Confederacy chapter. Meltdown in Dixie is a short documentary directed by Emily Harold, chronicles the legal battle that ensued between the flag opposer and the flag owner. The creamery is now permanently closed but during filming it was open and struggling with backlash from the local community. The documentary treads very carefully, not casting judgement on either side and giving everyone a platform to speak. If anything it offers an insight into a disturbing mindset that still persists today.
Meltdown in Dixie premiered at the 2021 AFI Fest as part of their Meet the Press programming.