Skip to content

TagDocumentaries

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.

Free Puppies! The True Story of Rescue Dogs

Directed and produced by Samantha Wishman and Christina Thomas, Free Puppies!: The True Story of Rescue Dogs explores the lives of abandoned and neglected dogs in the rural South and the extraordinary efforts made to rescue them and to control the ever-growing population in the community.

This documentary focuses primarily on the work of Monda Wooten, a small business owner and city commissioner for Trenton, Georgia, who has made it her life’s mission to help rescue dogs in her area.  We follow along as Wooten and other rescuers as they work with locals to get dogs spayed and neutered and to place abandoned dogs in loving homes. 

This film really touched my heart because my dog Rollie is a rescue from a rural region of West Virginia. He and another dog were abandoned on the side of the road and with the help of a nice lady they were rescued, fostered and ultimately transported up to New England where they were adopted.

A rescue puppy arrives on transport and meets her new owner at the Vince Lombardi Service Station in NJ, as seen in Free Puppies!, a film by Samantha Wishman and Christina Thomas. A First Run Features release. (Photo courtesy of First Run Features)

The work Wooten and the rescuers do is invaluable, especially all of their efforts to make spaying and neutering affordable for low-income families. In the doc we see a veterinarian whose sole job is to spay and neuter which keeps her overhead costs down so she can offer the service to these communities. This is such a fantastic idea.

Free Puppies! will take viewers on a gentle rollercoaster ride of hope and heartbreak. It’s both rewarding to see the rescuers at work and sad to see the state of things. This film offers an abundance of empathy for both the dogs and the people in the community.

Free Puppies! is distributed by First Run Features. It hits theaters across North America on August 12th, 2022. Visit the official website for more details.

The Unmaking of a College

Directed by Amy Goldstein, The Unmaking of a College chronicles a turbulent time in Hampshire College’s recent history. The title is a play on The Making of a College, a book written about Hampshire College in Amherst, MA and its alternative approach to higher education. Over the years, the school has suffered from one financial crisis after another. When the new president Miriam Nelson was instated in 2018, it quickly became clear that Hampshire was being set up to be shut down. This documentary follows the most volatile days in Nelson’s administration when students staged a sit-in to protest and spark talks about the school not taking a freshman class for 2019. 

While the subject matter is fascinating in its own right, this documentary was hard to get through. It meandered aimlessly and it became difficult to follow the thread of the story. Interview subjects were positioned in awkward places and some had projected video footage on their faces which seemed unnecessary. It distracted from the important things they had to say. If the film was trying to be quirky, it definitely failed in that regard. With that said, there were some redeeming moments in the documentary. The footage of the sit-in, student talks, meetings and an interview with alum Ken Burns were definite highlights.

The Unmaking of a College is available from Zeitgeist Films on DVD, Blu-Ray and digital VOD.

SXSW: We Feed People

“Food is an agent of change.”

José Andrés

World renowned chef José Andrés’s humanitarian efforts are the subject a new documentary by director Ron Howard. We Feed People chronicles Andrés and his team at the World Central Kitchen as they provide much needed food to communities suffering from aftermath of natural catastrophes. 

Andrés is a remarkable chef in his own right with 30 restaurants in the US, several cookbooks, his own cooking show and bragging rights for introducing Spanish tapas to the American dining scene. But his work as a humanitarian has elevated him to veritable hero status. The story begins with the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Andrés heard of the disaster and traveled there to help provide food to Haitians in need. He realized that not only was food necessary for disaster relief, these people needed real meals, not just shelf-stable rations. Andrés realized that meals that could be made on site, were easily transportable and were part of the already established local cuisine would bring sustenance and comfort to the people. The documentary captures the work of the World Central Kitchen in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Marica, Guatemala after a volcanic eruption, the Bahamas after Hurricane Dorian, Arizona during COVID and more.

If We Feed People is the official application for Andrés’s future Nobel Peace Prize it’s a good one at that. Howard’s documentary clearly demonstrated that Andrés is one of the great humanitarians of our time. However it does not glamorize Andrés. We witness the stress, the financial burden and the many challenges that come with the important work Andrés has done. This film will move audiences to tears and hopefully inspire some to take on their own philanthropic cause.

We Feed People is awe-inspiring and simply brilliant.

“I’m good in seeing opportunity when others see mayhem.”

José Andrés

We Feed People had its world premiere at the 2022 SXSW Film Festival. It’s distributed by National Geographic Films.

SXSW: Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story

Directed by Frank Marshall and Ryan Suffern, Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story is a joyous celebration of the famed music festival and its home base. Started in 1970 by George Wein, who also founded the Newport Jazz Festival, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival has celebrated music of all types, exposing its attendees to a rich and diverse array of performers. New Orleans has always been a cultural center for music and art and the festival pays homage to that. The documentary tells the history of the festival and shares performances from the 50th anniversary in 2019. There is also archival footage of festivals past and interviews with notable artists. Performers include Earth, Wind and Fire, Al Green, Irma Thomas, Ellis Marsalis and family, and more. I could have done without the performances by Katy Perry, Pitbull and other more popular entertainers as I felt that was an attempt to appeal to a wider audience. I wanted to see more of the indie artists and legacy performers instead.

This is not a historical biography and there is just a smattering of background and context offered. Instead, the documentary takes the viewer into the world of the festival as though they were stopping at the different stages and tents to take in the various offerings. There is also a lot of appreciation for New Orleans , its history, its music and its people.

Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story had its world premiere at the 2022 SXSW Film Festival. It’s distributed by Sony Picture Classics.

%d bloggers like this: