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SXSW: Tread

In 2004, Marv Heemeyer drove his bulldozer through Granby, Colorado destroying building after building. He carefully selected his targets. These were the townspeople whom he felt had been the cause of many injustices against his beloved muffler shop. Marv’s bulldozer was no ordinary machine. He’d modified it to function like a military tank and created an impenetrable seal armed with it cameras and semi-automatic rifles. He was on a suicide mission. Before that fateful day in June, Marv recorded his suicide note with incredible detail about his motivations behind. The rampage lasted for over 2 hours and no matter how many attempts by the local police force made to thwart his efforts the fact is that they couldn’t. A simple miscalculation was his undoing. Ultimately no one was killed in the incident, except for Marv, but it took years for his victims to recover from the loss. The event made national headlines before it was eclipsed by President Ronald Reagan’s death the next day. 

Director Paul Solet’s Tread is a compelling and slick documentary about this little known event. It explores Marv’s motivations for the rampage and features many interviews with his targets and also his girlfriend at the time. His family refused to speak on record for the project. Solet also recreates many key scenes with actors. The rampage itself is a thrilling reenactment done with very little CGI. The filmmaking crew created their own version of the modified bulldozer for those scenes.

I have mixed feelings about the film. Visually its stunning but perhaps a bit too slick. I usually don’t care for reenactments but these were tastefully done. I thought the film overall was a bit too polished with some fancy drone shots and slow motion action sequences that felt unnecessary. I did however appreciate the archival footage as well as Marv’s audio recording which juxtaposed with all the interviews made it feel very balanced. With that said, I was rooting for Marv the whole time. I’m not sure if that speaks more to my own feelings or to how Marv was portrayed in the doc.

In the end, Tread was for me a thrilling revenge story that probably should have been something else entirely.

Tread had its world premiere at the 2019 SXSW Film Festival as part of their Documentary Spotlight series.

SXSW: Salvage

They say one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. This is absolutely true for the residents of Yellowknife in Northwest Territories, Canada. Home to one of the last open landfills in North America, the Yellowknife dump is a salvager’s delight. These prospectors hunt for objects they can reuse and recycle. Some of the items thrown away are brand new or in perfect condition, others need some TLC. In a town with a long history of gold and diamond mining, these salvagers find treasure in their own unique way.

Director Amy C. Elliott’s documentary Salvage is an intimate portrait of a community in flux. In one of the most isolated areas in North America that’s ever changing with increased government regulation and population growth, the livelihood of these salvagers is in jeopardy. Elliott’s film explores three aspects of this community: the individuals who salvage and their personal motivations in doing so, the dangers of salvaging with exposure to sharp objects and disease and the government officials who are trying to control the landfill to protect the citizens. 

Elliott’s film delivers a powerful message about wastefulness and resourcefulness but doesn’t do so in a heavy handed way. The audience is left to come to their own conclusions about how what their own approach to trash and recycling. Part of the fun of watching the film is learning about the individual salvagers and watching as they discover treasures at the dump. Some of the items include wedding dresses, brand new clothes with the tags still on them, Halloween costumes, glass jars, 60 lbs of bagged vermicelli, scraps of wood, antiques, toys, moccasins, photo albums and much more. 

One of the biggest takeaways from this film for me was how lazy we are as consumers and the stigma that surrounds resourcefulness. The term “microcosm” is thrown around a lot in the film and Yellowknife dump truly is a microcosm of the community but it’s also a microcosm of society and the inherent dangers with progress. We lose something important when we’re not able take care of ourselves, our community and our planet.

Salvage is a fascinating documentary and viewers will gain perspective on what it means to be part of a consumer culture.

Salvage had its world premiere at the 2019 SXSW Film Festival as part of their Documentary Spotlight series. Stay tuned as I’ll be interviewing the director Amy C. Elliott for this site!

SXSW 2019 Film Festival: My Picks

The 2019 SXSW Film Festival starts next week and I’m thrilled to be attending this year for the very first time. Many thanks to SXSW and Rotten Tomatoes for this amazing opportunity. I’m furiously building my itinerary with plenty of great films, panels, interviews and new experiences. Follow me here and on my social media for all the details.

I would have to clone myself a dozen times to experience a significant chunk of SXSW has to offer. But alas there is only one of me. I did my best to curate a list of films that piqued my interest. I’m focusing primarily on documentaries, movies directed by women, Spanish-language cinema and indie films in general. 60 % of the films screening at SXSW are directed by women which is a fantastic feat. Here is how my current slate of films breaks down:

  • Documentaries: 9
  • Films Directed by Women: 9 (out of 15)
  • Narrative: 6
  • Spanish-Language: 3

Now on to my SXSW picks!

Sunset Over Mulholland Drive

  • Directed by Uli Gaulke
  • SXSW Documentary Spotlight

If you know me it’ll come to no surprise that this new documentary about residents of the Motion Picture & Television Fund home is my #1 pick. I’m a big champion for elderly and the residents of MPTF all have amazing stories to share about their contributions to the entertainment industry. I had the honor of visiting my friend Lillian Michelson at MPTF last year. Gaulke’s documentary follows a group of MPTF residents as they collaborate on new projects. I’ll be reviewing this one over at my classic film blog Out of the Past.

 

The Yellowknife dump. Still from the documentary Salvage.

Salvage

  • Directed by Amy C. Elliott
  • SXSW Documentary Spotlight

Elliott’s new documentary explores the open landfill of Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Canada and the group of townspeople who salvage items from it. Yellowknife dump is one of the only open dumps in North America and regulations to control it pose a threat to the local community. I’m very curious to see what this film has to offer in terms of insights into what the objects we throw away have to say about us as a society. As they say, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Stay tuned as I’ll have an interview with the director as well as a review!

Trailer

 

Tread

  • Directed by Paul Solet
  • SXSW Documentary Feature Competition

What drives someone to the breaking point? Paul Solet’s new documentary Tread takes a look at Marvin Heemeyer, the Colorado man who in 2004 ran a fortified bulldozer through his hometown, systematically destroying homes and businesses. This bizarre case has always intrigued me and Solet’s film offers various perspectives in an attempt to answer the biggest question: why?

 

The Beach Bum

  • Directed by Harmony Korine
  • Starring Matthew McConaughey, Snoop Dogg, Isla Fisher, Stefania Lavie Owen, Jimmy Buffett, Zac Efron, Martin Lawrence
  • SXSW Headliner

There will be big competition for the Headliners at the festival and while I’m happy to watch those at a later date, I can’t pass up the opportunity to see a Harmony Korine film at SXSW! I love Korine’s Spring Breakers and Mister Lonely and am excited for his latest movie. The Beach Bum stars Matthew McConaughey as Moondog, a free spirit who marches to the beat of his own drum. It features a stellar cast! I’m ready for another quirky yet subversive story, Korine-style.

Trailer

 

I am Richard Pryor

  • Directed by Jesse James Miller
  • Documentary Spotlight

Docs about 20th Century entertainers are my jam and I’m hoping to get a chance to see this one about legendary comedian Richard Pryor. I’m especially curious to see how this film explores his life and career in the context of the era.

Trailer 

 

Sister Aimee

  • Directed by Samantha Buck and Marie Schlingmann
  • Starring Anna Margaret Hollyman, Michael Mosley, Andrea Suarez Paz, Julie White, Amy Hargreaves, Macon Blair, Lee Eddy, Blake Delong, John Merriman, Nathan Zellner
  • SXSW Festival Favorites

Inspired by the story of 1920s evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson, Sister Aimee looks like a fun twist on a bit of obscure 20th century history. I reviewed The Miracle Woman (1931) over on my site Out of the Past which stars Barbara Stanwyck and is also inspired by McPherson. Would love to examine how these two films compare with each other and what Sister Aimee has to offer to a contemporary audience.

 

Being Impossible

  • Directed by Patricia Ortega
  • Starring Lucia Bedoya, Belkis Avilladares, María Elena Duque
  • SXSW Global

Director Patricia Ortega’s drama explores the intersection between religion and gender. The story centers around a young religious dressmaker who discovers she was born intersex. Her parents kept her corrective surgery a secret and raised her as a girl. I love South American films and the exploration of identity and gender definitely piqued my interest. Would love to see how this compares with Lucia Puenzo’s film XXY (2007). 

 

La Mala Noche

  • Directed by Gabriele Calvache
  • Starring Nöelle Schönwald, Cristian Mercado, Jaime Tamariz, Ariana Freire, Diego Mignone, Gonzalo Gonzalo, Christian Cabrera, Javier Ordóñez
  • SXSW Global – World Premiere

This Ecuadorian/Mexican thriller is about a prostitute trying to escape the seedy underworld run by her mob boss. La Mala Noche is perhaps the darkest film in my line-up and I’m excited to see what director Calvache has to offer!

Trailer 

 

Days of the Whale

  • Directed by Catalina Arroyave Restrepo
  • Principal Cast: Laura Tobón, David Escallón, Carlos Fonnegra, Christian Tappan, Julián Giraldo, Natalia Castaño, Margarita Restrepo
  • SXSW Global

Another South-American film directed by a woman! My fingers crossed that I can fit this one into my schedule. The story follows two friends, graffiti artists, who plan to paint a mural of a whale to cover up a threatening message. I’ve been hungry for more Colombian cinema ever since I watched Karen Cries on the Bus (2011) last year.

 

Nothing Fancy: Diana Kennedy

  • Directed by Elizabeth Carroll
  • SXSW Documentary Feature Competition

Nonagenarian Diana Kennedy has spent the better part of her life researching and documenting the history of food and cuisine in Mexico. This new documentary explores her life’s work which includes nine Mexican cookbooks and her unique lifestyle (she’s lived off the grid since the 1970s!).

 

Sakawa

  • Directed by Ben Asamoah
  • SXSW Visions

I’m fascinated by internet scams and those spam e-mails we all get in our inboxes trying to extort us out of our life savings. This new documentary follows the story of three Ghanaians who are turning to the internet fraud as a source of livelihood. I’m hoping this film touches upon the ramifications of this sort of “career” and how it’s judged, or not judged, in another culture.

 

Qualified

  • Directed by Jenna Ricker
  • SXSW Documentary Spotlight

I love sports documentaries especially when the subject is a woman! Director Jenna Ricker’s new film for ESPN explores the career of Janet Guthrie, the first female race car driver to qualify for the Daytona 500 and Indy 500.

 

South Mountain

  • Directed by Hilary Brougher
  • Starring Talia Balsam, Scott Cohen, Andrus Nichols, Michael Oberholtzer, Naian González Norvind , Midori Francis, Macaulee Rusnak Cassaday, Isis Masoud, Violet Rea, Guthrie Mass
  • SXSW Narrative Feature Competition

Set in the Catskills, this drama tells the story of a family coming apart at the seams. The film’s star Talia Balsam is a big draw for me but I also love that this film is written and directed by a female filmmaker.

 

Show Me the Picture: The Story of Jim Marshall

  • Directed by Alfred George Bailey
  • SXSW 24 Beats Per Second/Documentaries

Jim Marshall photographed some of the biggest names in the history of music: Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones, etc. This new documentary offers a look at the man behind the camera. I love stories about people behind-the-scenes. Pair that with some pop culture history and I’m sold!

 

Strange Negotiations

  • Directed by Brandon Vedder
  • SXSW 24 Beats Per Second/Documentaries

As someone who walked away from a strict, conservative Christian upbringing, I’m fascinated by stories of others who have done the same. Vedder’s new documentary paints a portrait of David Bazan, a former evangelical Christian and member of the band Pedro the Lion.

In Search of Greatness

“The people who achieve real greatness don’t fit the formula at all. They break the mold.” 

Sir Ken Robinson

Playing it safe is stifling. So is being too structured and rigid in your training. For those athletes who’ve climbed to the top of their sport, the key to success has come from several factors that they could and could not control. 

Gabe Polsky’s documentary In Search of Greatness analyzes the psychology behind sports greatest athletes. In-depth interviews with Wayne Gretzky, Pele and Jerry Rice as well as an examination of other champions from a variety of sports, reveals what it takes to make it. You might be surprised what you learn.

Some of the fascinating revelations in this documentary come from the advancements in technology and training that claim to offer a way to weed out the weak have the potential to miss the best of the best. 

What makes an athlete a champion? These are individuals who have passion, vision and talent. Journalist David Epstein says they require both rage and the ability to learn quickly. They cannot have one without the other. These athletes are perfectionists who obsess over small details and want to fine tune their craft to a greater extent where others would have given up or were satisfied with less. They use doubt as motivation, are highly competitive and benefit from the guidance of mentors but also follow their own path.

Interview subjects

  • Wayne Gretzky – hockey
  • Pele – soccer
  • Jerry Rice – football
  • David Epstein – journalist
  • Sir Ken Robinson – education and creativity expert

Other athletes discussed at length

  • Venus and Serena Williams – tennis
  • John McEnroe – tennis
  • Muhammad Ali – boxing 
  • Tony Hawk – skateboarding
  • Michael Jordan – basketball
  • Tom Brady – football
  • Rocky Marciano – Boxing
Wayne Gretzky
Pele
Jerry Rice

“Our society encourages formulaic approaches to chasing dreams. These icons’ trajectories prove that mastery cannot be manufactured.”

Gabe Polsky

Every helicopter parent out there who seeks greatness for their sports kid and puts them in a rigid program that leaves them overtrained and hating life needs to watch this film. I trained at an athletic center for over 3 years and I would watch these parents yell at their kids for making simple mistakes. If their kid was truly passionate about the sport and a professional career was a possibility, they were doing everything to make it not happen. If they watch In Search of Greatness, they’d learn a thing or two about their harmful behavior.

In Search of Greatness is a fascinating documentary with a ground-breaking message. This is a necessary viewing for anyone interested in sports psychology. Even if you’re not a sports person, the message about passion and the key to success is inspiring for anyone pursuing a career. 

My only complaint about the film is that the subjects in the film are overwhelmingly male, with Serena Williams as a notable exception. I’d love to see a follow-up documentary with a focus on female athletes.

In Search of Greatness will be available on iTunes in April. Visit the official website for more information on how you can host a screening.

Period. End of Sentence.

“Women are the base of any society. And women are more powerful. But they don’t recognize themselves. They don’t know how much power they have and what they can do.”

Menstruation. It’s not a subject people like to talk about but it’s one that shouldn’t be ignored. Director Rayka Zehtabchi new documentary Period. End of Sentence., follows a group of women from a small town outside of Dehli, India. We learn that menstruation in this patriarchal culture comes with a deeply rooted stigma. It’s embarrassing to talk about and the women use dirty cloths or whatever they can get their hands on during their time of the month. They’re not allowed to pray when menstruating and are essentially isolated from their community until their cycle is over. Many young women even leave school shortly after they get their first period.

Alarmed by these findings, a group of students from Oakwood High School in Los Angeles, California, with the help of The Feminist Majority Foundation’s Girls Learn International program, banded together to start The Pad Project. They raised funds for the equipment that would help these women create their own sanitary pads. The inventor of the machine, Arunachalam Muruganatham, trained the women in the art of making sanitary pads. With this knowledge, these women were empowered to not only overcome their shame but to start a new phase in their lives as enterprising career women making and selling sanitary pads in their community. For some of them, this was their first job and a chance to learn a trade and become successful at it and to earn money for their household and for themselves.

Out of all the Academy Award nominated documentaries (short subject) this is by far my favorite. Period. End of Sentence. is a feminist manifesto that demonstrates how empowering women can make a huge difference. It’s moving, endearing and full of hope. This film touched my heart and I hope it’ll do the same for you.

“The strongest creature on Earth is not the elephant, not the tiger, but the girl.”

Arunachalam Muruganatham

Period. End of Sentence. is nominated for a 2019 Academy Award for Best Documentary (Short Subject). The film premieres on Netflix February 12th.

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