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TagBiographical Documentaries

Nashville Film Festival: Carol & Johnny

Not all bank robbers are like the ones you see in the movies. Many are petty criminals, just average folks, who are in a financial bind and the idea of a quick payout is just too alluring to pass up. That’s what happened with Johnny Williams. After a stint in jail, he tried to make ends meet for him and his wife Carol as an independent carpet cleaner. When a 1983 car accident sidelined him, he found himself in desperate need of money. Just a few years later he began one of the “longest running strings of unsolved bank robberies in the history of the FBI.” 56 robberies from 1986 until 1994. A slip up landed him and his partner-in-crime Carol in the hoosegow. He got life and she got 20 years.

Directed by Colin Barnicle, Carol & Johnny begins shortly after Johnny Williams was released from jail in 2021. He’s integrating back into society, checking in with his parole officer and living in a halfway house. Carol has been out for years. After suffering from a medical mishap, she continues to thrive with the help of her family and is determined to tell her life story by way of the documentary and a book. 

The documentary interviews both Carol and Johnny, as well as the former FBI officer who tracked and finally caught Johnny. It shares the couple’s individual life stories as well as  Johnny’s incredible criminal career. The film depends a lot on a “will they or won’t they” element regarding a potential reunion between Carol and Johnny.  What the film does effectively is demonstrate that there are two sides to every story and that not everyone is a reliable narrator. It’s not a terribly engrossing film but a good watch for those who enjoy stories about ordinary people in extraordinary situations.

Carol & Johnny premiered at the 2022 Nashville Film Festival.

SXSW: Facing Nolan

Nolan Ryan is one of the greatest baseball pitchers of all time. As a power pitcher he had one of the fastest pitches and broke record and after record, chasing Sandy Koufax’s milestones of most no-hitters and most strike-outs. Many of his records are still unbeaten and could stay that way. He played for the Mets and the Angels but found that his home state of Texas was calling and made the career move to the Astros and eventually the Rangers. He played a whopping 27 seasons. And while he didn’t finish on top, he did have a marvelous career that got better even when he reached his 40s. We don’t talk enough about how much of a baseball legend Nolan Ryan is… and one documentary sets out to fix that.

Directed Bradley Jackson, Facing Nolan is a charming documentary that is sure to please any crowd. At the world premiere, Jackson called it a love letter to baseball and to Texas. This film has a lot of heart and treats its subject with both reverence and tongue-in-cheek humor. Nolan is portrayed as a family man who was extraordinary talented but never let his career take him away from what mattered most to him. His wife Ruth Nolan is an integral part of his success and her story runs parallel to his throughout the film. Talking heads include friends and family, retired baseball players, particularly Nolan’s peers, journalists, experts and the man himself. The documentary does a great job creating both tension and laugh out loud moments. Viewers will come away from this film with newfound appreciation for Nolan Ryan’s extraordinary career.

Facing Nolan had its world premiere at the 2022 SXSW Film Festival.

Note to add: Facing Nolan will be released theatrically June 24th and digitally July 19th. Visit the official website for more details.

SXSW: Fire of Love

“When you can die at any moment… what do you leave behind?”

Directed by Sara Dosa, Fire of Love is a truly extraordinary documentary about two scientists who lived their lives on their own terms.

French volcanologists Katia and Maurice Krafft boldly went where few scientists went before. After marrying in the 1960s, they set out to chase fire, traveling all over the world to study active volcanoes. Katia photographed, Maurice filmed, and together they captured some of the most stunning and frightening images of volcanoes. Over the decades the took calculated risks getting closer and closer to lava flows and craters. To fund their expeditions they would use their footage to publish books and release documentaries. The Kraffts were well aware that their passion would most likely lead to an early demise, which it did in June of 1991.  However, their absolute resolve to pursue their passion enlightened the public about the ways volcanoes work and the real dangers they pose.

Fire of Love envelops the viewer into the world of the Kraffts and gives us a close-up look at the awe-inspiring power of volcanoes. The documentary is composed of archival footage from the Kraffts and a voice-over narration that tells the story of their romance as well as their mutual fascination with volcanoes. The images are truly breathtaking. The writing is exquisite. The Kraffts story will make viewers contemplate what it means to live without fear.

Fire of Love had its Texas premiere at the 2022 SXSW Film Festival. The film is distributed by National Geographic and will stream on Disney+ at a future date.

Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck in Time

“I have written again and again about ordinary people who have tried to behave decently in an indecent society.”

Kurt Vonnegut

One of the greatest writers of the 20th century, Kurt Vonnegut (1922-2007), is the subject of a new documentary by filmmaker Robert Weide and co-directed by Don Argott. Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck in Time is a comprehensive look at the life and work of a brilliant mind through the eyes of a close friend. This documentary has been a long time in the making. Weide had first approached Vonnegut back in 1989 and started filming in 1994. Audiences sees lots of now archival footage of Vonnegut out and about, launching his last novel Timequake, interviews with Vonnegut’s children and nephews and extensive footage of Vonnegut and Weide’s close friendship.

The film explores Vonnegut’s childhood in Indiana, the trauma that drove his creativity after serving in WWII, his family life, his fruitful career as a magazine writer, the publication of Slaughterhouse-Five and much more. Because the filmmaker was a close friend of Vonnegut’s this biography already comes with some bias. I don’t feel like this hurt the film because it watches as a love letter from a friend to a cultural icon than perhaps a straightforward documentary. That adds a layer that fans of Vonnegut will appreciate. It reminded a bit of Martin Scorsese’s documentary A Letter to Elia (2010).

“Vonnegut took huge social, philosophical, existential, and religious issues and filtered them through this great sense of humor, this sort of grounded, simple, Midwestern sensibility. He was a humorist in the same vein as Mark Twain.”

Robert Weide

Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck in Time is distributed by IFC Films and available to rent on demand.

SXSW: Introducing, Selma Blair

Directed by Rachel Fleit, Introducing, Selma Blair chronicles the actress’ battle with Multiple Sclerosis, an incurable disease that attacks the spinal cord and brain. Told through interviews, with Selma Blair herself and others, smartphone diaries and Instagram posts, the documentary puts a human face to this terrible disease. Blair was diagnosed in 2018 and has struggled with a variety of health and mobility issues ever since. In the film Blair is candid to a fault. It takes real vulnerability to share this difficult time in her life. She shares with the viewer her struggle with being a mom, her difficult relationship with her mother and her journey to get chemotherapy and stem cell transplants in an effort to slow the progression of her MS. The film is an intimate and revealing portrait of a unique individual faced with an incredible challenge. One can’t help but be inspired by Selma Blair’s resiliency.

Introducing, Selma Blair had its world premiere at the virtual 2021 SXSW Film Festival. It’s slated to stream on Discovery+.

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