Donna Summer achieved a level of fame and adoration that few singers have been able to attain. “Love To Love You”, “Last Dance”, and “She Works Hard for the Money” were all major hits and became anthems for sexuality, indulgence and feminism. Despite her incredible celebrity, Donna Summer had always been an enigma. Fiercely private, when she wasn’t on stage Summer was off-limits.
Directed by Roger Ross Williams and Summer’s daughter Brooklyn Sudano, Love To Love You, Donna Summer gives viewers a peak at the real woman behind the iconic image. The documentary is comprised with archival footage from performances, television appearances and home movies along with a few scenes of Brooklyn Sudano in present day interacting with her family. There is no real narration, instead Summer’s story is told primarily through audio interviews with family members and some archival interviews from Summer herself. The film does address her religious beliefs and the controversy surrounding them during the 1980s.
Love To Love You, Donna Summer isn’t as revelatory as it promises to be and leaves the audience with more questions than answers. Donna Summer was and continues to be an enigma and although this documentary gives us a look at her celebrity and personal life, it does so in a fairly biased and roundabout way that will ultimately leave viewers unsatisfied.
Love To Love You, Donna Summer had its US premiere at the 2023 SXSW Film Festival and will be released by HBO in May.
The True Crime world is messy. Over the past several years, a spring of podcasts, YouTube channels, Facebook groups and message boards have popped up giving True Crime fanatics a place to indulge in their favorite mysteries. The creators who run these accounts are passionate about what they do and often self-taught in the art of investigative journalism and content creation. However, their work falls into a gray area where good intentions and questionable objectives converge. And while the intention is to be helpful, the process can also be hurtful, especially when the True Crime content creator oversteps boundaries.
Documentarian Chris Kasick’s film Citizen Sleuth profiles one True Crime podcaster whose investigation into a local case begins to unravel. Emily Nestor is the host behind the popular True Crime podcast Mile Marker 181 which is devoted to the investigation of the mysterious death of Jaleayah Davis. Nestor is a fantastic storyteller and with her podcast she expertly wove a tale of small-town intrigue and police negligence. Her goal with the podcast was to solve a murder but her years of investigation ultimately led her down a different path.
Citizen Sleuth navigates some murky waters when the documentarian becomes part of the story. And just like Nestor’s podcast, this documentary evolved into something different than what was originally intended. Nestor is fascinating. She’s vulnerable and raw. Her story makes for a compelling watch.
Citizen Sleuth had its premiere at the 2023 SXSW Film and TV Festival.
The image of the blond, slim and white Barbie has been seared into our collective minds. With the Greta Gerwig movie starring Margot Robie on the horizon, Barbie has stepped back into the limelight as an important yet frivolous part of American culture. But what about Black Barbie? While the first ever Barbie doll was released in 1959, it took until 1980 for the debut of a Black Barbie. In fact, throughout history dolls have predominantly been white. When the toy industry pivoted to creating and marketing dolls with different skin colors, it was revolutionary. It’s still a work-in-progress and we’re many years from dolls being truly representative and the white Barbie to be considered the default “regular” Barbie. But Black Barbie… well she made some really important strides.
Twelve years in the making, Lagueria Davis’ debut film Black Barbie: A Documentary is an ambitious exploration of the impact Black Barbie has had over the past four decades as well as an examination of the complexities of racism and representation. Davis’ aunt, who worked for Mattel from the mid 1950s until the 1990s, was the inspiration for the project. She is interviewed extensively along with two notable Barbie designers, including Kitty Black Perkins who designed the first Black Barbie, as well as various other experts and commentators. Interviews take place on colorful and vibrant sets making it look like the subject is in a makeshift doll house. Various Barbie dolls are used as puppets in fun animation sequences
What really impressed me about this documentary is how it approaches its subject from so many angles. It’s not just a historical documentary on the history of Black Barbie. There are numerous deeply personal, philosophical and psychological discussions about the subject matter that are all done in a way that add something important to the conversation. All of these elements are pieced together in a way that keeps the audience engaged. You don’t have to even be interested in Black Barbie to be completely engrossed with this documentary. It’s just that good.
Black Barbie: A Documentary premiered at the 2023 SXSW Film and TV Festival.
Photojournalist Amanda Mustard takes on the daunting task of confronting her grandfather about his long history of his sexual abuse of minors all while chronicling the process. In her documentary Great Photo, Lovely Life, co-directed by Rachel Beth Anderson, Mustard has difficult conversations with her mother, her sister and various other victims. It’s clear that the pain her grandfather inflicted on his victims is deep and that this journey is just one step forward.
Cycles of abuse are complex and the road to healing comes with many roadblocks. And this becomes evident in the film. Not only is one big finger pointed at the abuser but there are also many conversations about how his family and community may have played a part in allowing the abuse to continue. One would expect this documentary to be a difficult watch—and it is—but because Mustard makes her family so vulnerable to examination we can’t help become invested in her story and her mother’s story. It’s difficult to analyze the effectiveness of this documentary because each viewer will have their own reaction. Expect to be put on a roller coaster of emotions.
Great Photo, Lovely Life had its world premiere at the 2023 SXSW Film and TV Festival and will be released by HBO later in the year.
During her time at the White House as First and Second Lady, Claudia “Lady Bird” Johnson recorded an audio diary chronicling all of the major events that happened. Everything from John F. Kennedy’s assassination, to her husband President Lyndon B. Johnson’s inauguration, the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Act and her own personal endeavours including her Beautification Campaign and environmental efforts. Lady Bird Johnson was a staunch supporter of her husband and LBJ often leaned on her for her wisdom and the recordings reflect their strong bond.
Directed by Dawn Porter, The Lady Bird Diaries is based on the ABC podcast In Plain Sight: Lady Bird Johnson and Julia Sweig’s book Lady Bird Johnson: Hiding In Plain Sight. The approach to this documentary is very simple. There are no interviews or commentary, just Lady Bird’s audio recordings matched with archival footage and illustrations. There are a couple interjections, including some insight from a longtime personal assistant. But otherwise this is Lady Bird telling us her stories.
Porter do a great job crafting a collection of highlights which range from major historical events to Lady Bird’s personal triumphs and struggles. I quite enjoyed hearing stories and watching footage of the LBJ family personal life including Lucy and Lynda’s weddings and the births of their children. LBJ himself looked so happy being a grandfather. While the documentary is inherently biased because it is coming from just one perspective, I appreciate that it didn’t shy away from some heavy subject matter like the Vietnam War and a confrontation with Eartha Kitt at a White House luncheon.
The intention with this documentary is clear. Lady Bird Johnson’s legacy should be recognized and the person to bring her back into the spotlight is Lady Bird herself.
The Lady Bird Diaries had its world premiere at the 2023 SXSW Film and TV Festival and will premiere on Hulu at a future date.