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Thread: Docnyc 2020

  1. #1
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    Doc nyc 2020

    DOC NYC 2020


    Film lineup (for list see General Film Forum thread)

    The program includes new films on John Belushi, Pope Francis, Bill T. Jones, Jamal Khashoggi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Frank Zappa, and perhaps more interesting people you have never heard of. For full lineup go to the festival website at or click on the logo below.

    Reviews follow in this Filmleaf Festival Coverage thread below for reviews of these film:

    76 Days (Hao Wu, Weixi Chen, Anonymous 2020)
    9/11 Kids (Elizabeth St. Philip 2020)
    Acasă, My Home (Radu Ciorniciuc 2020)
    Crock of Gold: A Few Rounds with Shane MacGowan (Julien Temple 2020)
    El Father Plays Himself (Mo Scarpelli 2020)
    Mayor (David Osit 2020)"]Mayor (David Osit 2020)

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 11-23-2020 at 06:17 PM.

  2. #2
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    EL FATHER PLAYS HIMSELF (Mo Scarpelli 2020)



    Mo Scarpelli's documentary chronicles the production of a narrative film that's set in the Venezuelan Amazon and directed by a young filmmaker who casts his nonactor father in the lead role playing a version of himself of years past.
    Mo Scarpelli, a director and cinematographer with a knack for hybrid cinema, likes to turn her camera on people wielding cameras
    - Sheri Linden, HOLLYWOOD REPORTER.
    Mo Scarpelli slyly spies on the making of a movie in the wilderness, the Venezuelan Amazon, that's a very self-reflective kind of thing: a young man making a feature about a version of his wild, raucous father that stars his actual wild, raucous father. And what is this woman director doing shooting with her own camera all these men, particularly these two very attractive men, the bushy-haired, light grey bearded father and the handsome young twenty-something son with the pretty eyes and the impossibly stylish haircut at the center?

    But Roque (Jorge Roque Thielen), the father, is an alcoholic. Is director son Jorge (Jorge Thielen Armand) one two? He lets Roque get drunk on rum for a drunken scene and that goes on, and he gets drunk with him. Is this reciprocal embarrassment? Yet while we may be embarrassed, they don't seem to be. The only point of conflict comes when one of the crew points out that Roque might derail the whole shoot by objecting to how the film depicts him and refusing to continue.

    The idea that this is some kind of "Heart of Darkness" situation seems trumped up to me, if the director intends to plant it in our minds. Roque has sudden explosions when he's drunk (used in Jorge's film) but then quickly subsides and much of the time seems quite cooperative and mild. The cycle starts to feel familiar, and the tension dissipates. Indeed the question arises: how do we know this isn't all made up, a fiction film that's a film-within-a-film? We don't know what Roque is really like. How much of an actor is he? Is that even ever real rum? What does seem enduringly credible is that, as Jonathan Romney says in his Screen Daily review, "El Father" Roque is an "old-school macho with a mile-wide streak of exhibitionist narcissism."

    Unfortunately - the film's major flaw - Mo doesn't fill us in on anything but the gross outline of the film Jorge is directing, which, by the way, he seems to be making up as he goes along, or at least only revealing to his father scene by scene, just before the next one, day-by-day. But we do know that Roque lived in the Amazon for a time when, among other things, he was involved in illegal gold mining, and that is depicted here, including some violence during the shooting of which Roque damages a finger.

    But isn't this all too incestuous? Obviously Mo is at least in some sense part of the crew. Once when Jorge (in Roque's opinion, apparently) takes too long setting up a shot and ruins the mood, Roque says, "Mo's probably got all the shots you wanted, ask Mo!" and one of the people who's constantly present, wither a cast member, as appears, or/and also one of the essential crew, Rodrigo Michelangeli, is listed as one of this documentary film's producers. This is an interesting, juicy situation, but I just can never altogether quite buy into it. But you may like it if you like watching handsome Latin American men of different ages contemplating their navels in wild landscapes.

    As can happen, it's several clips of archival home movie footage that are the most haunting thing in the film. They show little boy Jorge with young father Roque, playing with a dog, and in a hammock, and cute little Jorge looking at the camera and delighting in being photographed, looking forward to being on the other side of the camera as he is now - but while now still being photographed, as he's working, by this camera-voyeur . And in the hammock, with the cat, perhaps the one Roque recounts his son sneaking in past customs, and Roque just as cute as his son is now. The switching around of roles does give one teasing, pleasant pause. As does the final shot, of Jorge standing with suitcase in a beautiful sun-drenched room, apparently waiting to go off on this very adventure. Sly indeed. Nice one, Mo. Or should I say Juan (Soto, the editor)? I also liked the sound design, and the lack of music and the strange little recurrent beeping sound in the closing credits.

    El Father Plays Himself, 105 mins., debuted at Nyon, Switzerland (Visions du Réel) Apr. 2020, also Wilmington, NC (Cucalorus Festival) Nov. 11, 2020. Screened for this reviEw as part of DOCNYC, NOV. 11-19, 2020, New York.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 11-23-2020 at 03:20 PM.

  3. #3
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    76 DAYS (Hao Wu, Weixi Chen, Anonymous 2020)



    A world full of life, even when people are dying in droves

    Raw and intimate, this documentary, mainly shot inside hospitals, captures the struggles of patients, families and frontline medical professionals battling the COVID-19 pandemic in Wuhan in the first intensive days of the outbreak and two and a half months of the local lockdown. With extraordinary immediacy the camera eye captures the tireless empathy of the hospital staff.

    We almost never see any medical personnel not in protective gear and the first sight is of a group of hospital workers, bundled up like Martians. Some of them have names and cute pictures drawn with sharpies on the back of their coveralls. There is no shortage of images of intubation scars, corpses being wheeled away, and patients and family members desperate and crying. But the overwhelming memory is of patience and kindness. There seems to be no time for prima donnas or nasty people, or they're edited out. Words like "grandpa," "grandma," "uncle," and "auntie" echo over and over and over giving the sense that in this large, impersonal, modern city (of a mere 11 million) it's just one big family.

    There are patients, mostly older (but one who dies at "only 60" is noted, sadly), who are immobile and cannot speak or are urged not to, to save their energy. But the camera tends perhaps as if by default to linger on the rarer ones who are never very ill, but are kept in hospital in quarantine and for observation. There are several old men who are restless and wander around at night and try to leave and are captured and brought back; and there's a warning that if they're uncontrollable the police will be summoned (a threat?). One speaks, though abed, turned on his side, in his clothes, as some are, insisting he wants to die now. He's in pain, why should he live? And they balk at the isolation from spouses or family and say the room is like a prison. There's life in the old boys yet. Staff reassure them that there are many of them present to help, and they are their family now.

    To help the old guy who wants to die, and is crying, a staff member calls his son and has him urge his father to buck up, reminding him he is a Communist Party member. He is wearing a dark cap in fact out of a socialist realist mural. "What has that got to do with it?" the old man says. "I'll be a Communist Party member when I'm dead!" But the staff member and the son push this theme, perhaps with success. The aim is to get the man hopeful and eating again.

    One remembers the talk of food, of all the local dishes the recovered, leaving patients promise to prepare for the staff members when it's all over, and the cheering and warm goodbyes when they leave. The young woman who has a baby in the hospital, which is kept there when she is brought home. The vigorous, closely examined baby, the best eater on the ward. The mother and father preparing their little flat for the baby, waiting to be called. And they are called, and they are waiting at the door of the ward, the mother excited, hoping their baby will be pretty. "Pretty?" her husband says. "What about healthy?" "We know she's healthy."

    Late in the film we do see the face of a head nurse, seated at a desk, pulling cell phones and s few personal effects, grandmothers' jade bracelets, from a small bin, the record of the dying, and she patiently calls the family, asking them to come and pick these up. We see her carry one such item downstairs to the outside barrier where she greets a weeping daughter with the objects, apologizing profusely, with "I'm so sorry we could not save her. We did our best. We tried everything we could."

    Outside where we get rare glimpses there is only a limited sense of the intensity, perhaps, some would say, brutality of the lockdown that's going on, the millions of people confined, containers of food seen being delivered to them somehow, we don't know how, from outside. All that, and the complex, perhaps uneven, logistics of it, is not the subject of this film. But we realize this, however intense and richly human, is only a very partial picture of these events; there is enough material for a decade of Wuhan documentaries. Do we have the courage, patience, and humanity for that, exhibited by these remarkable filmmakers?

    It's true this film lacks strong organization or a satisfying trajectory and in that perhaps it is "raw" as some have called it. But the overwhelming impression is of the humanity and courage of the emergency staff whose sense of dedication has kept them here, in the hospital contamination ward, hour after hour, at the peak so intense they are able to rest only sitting on benches. We are kept there, with dedication. This is not a study of medical procedures, or public health programs - though they must have worked. One of the year's important and notable documentaries.

    76 Days, 93 mins., debuted at Toronto Sept. 2020, showing or scheduled for at least a dozen other festivals, including DOCNYC Nov. 11, in connection with which it was screened for this review. Documentary feature audience award at AFI. Metascore 80. David Sims in his review in The Atlantic calls this "a first draft of a history that's still being written." A MTV Documentary Films release, 76 Days launches in virtual cinemas US starting Dec. 4, 2020.

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 11-23-2020 at 03:32 PM.

  4. #4
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    ACASĂ, MY HOME ( Radu Ciorniciuc 2020)



    An idyllic but illegal life in the wild is derailed

    In journalist Radu Ciorniciuc's well-received debut documentary feature, a Roma family, father, mother and their nine children (mostly boys) is forced to abandon a carefree life in the wilderness/swamp of the Delta Văcărești (astonishingly, right next to Romania's two-million-plus capital city of Bucharest) once the authorities decide to turn the whole area into a nature park. This is by now a familiar story, and we have several recent film variations. We naturally think of Matt Ross's Captain Fantastic (2016) and Debra Granik's Leave No Trace (2018) and this time we also, especially, should look back at Crystal Moselle: The Wolfpack (2015).

    As one learns not from this film, which avoids commentary, but from Ioana Moldovan, "A Life of One’s Own: My Home," published recently in Romania-Insider, it all started when Gică Enache, the dad here, lost his job at a factory in the 1990s, ended up in prison after getting into a fight, and then went away for a while to live in the delta. (He's still a drinker, and he acknowledges that he smokes too much.) Moldovan tells us Enache built a "proper house" in the delta, "with a garden and animals," and later "decided to stay," sticking by that even after later "slipping into acute poverty."

    By the time we see the family, which he must have amassed recently, they live in a shack built of cloth draped over a delicate wood frame. The early and most celebrated and what Ciorniciuc at first thought should be the only part of the film focuses on the boys' life in this swamp where they swim and catch fish (which they eat or sell) or birds (which they keep or play with) and depicting this, the director's camera is, in Moldovan's words, "wonderfully fluid."

    It may be foolish of me not to have realized at first this was a Roma (gypsy) family; the mother's style of dress may give that away. But no one seemed to mention it until I came across the word somewhere. Moldovan writes that this identity "adds to the danger" of the family's "being shown as 'the other,'" and she notes the film mostly avoids that but "even they cannot resist" providing "sun-soaked shots" of the "scantily clad, barefoot" boys "catching fish with their mouths and roaming the canals." She thinks while that's fine (even if it's romanticizing), it may take away from a deeper examination of whether any project to live freely off the grid is ever possible and if so, under what conditions, and so on.

    Quite true, no doubt. And we have to be content with the sensuality and spirit of the "wonderfully fluid" early moments. Things turn bad after that, and Ciorniciuc sticks with it, never losing his remarkable access to the family and whatever's happening to them. Notably, the authorities know Gică and are on a first name basis with him; after all, he's been there for three decades, and however idyllic a natural preserve this is, it's awfully close to Bucarest. Ciorniciuc uses a satellite pan to show the closeness of city and nature area. The parents are hiding the kids, though, and when they all get wind that social services is coming, the boys run off and hide in the reeds till nightfall. At first there's talk of making Gică's presence officially sanctioned. The main guide acknowledges that Gică knows the species there better than anybody; so do the kids. But bureaucracy, whose intricacies we don't see, has quite other plans.

    So here's how this story differs from the films mentioned earlier. Unlike the family of Captain Fantastic, which is in a remote region, and the father-daughter team of Leave No Trace (the latter gets caught and resettled in a house like Gică's; we experience the pain of this), this one is less remote and not totally hiding. It's a little like the family of Wolfpack, whose seamlessly-united sequence of six boys the close-together male siblings here reminded me of - except the kids here are so numerous and so largely undifferentiated I kept trying, in vain, to count them in any given scene. What's very different is that while Gică's kids are learning a lot about local nature and how to live off it, as do the boys in Captain Fantastic,, the latter kids are also being impressively home-schooled, provided with in-depth cultural literacy.

    Gică's boys, when they're sent to school - which we see, and a scene of four of them of widely varying sizes all in the same classroom being roll-called is an eye-opener and a sign of the director's continuing access in the new urban environment - turn out to be not only uncultured but illiterate, and not even able to count from one to five. The signs are clear that Gică was neglectful, as if his constant lying around and swearing weren't clear signs of that. The fact that he and his wife are passionately dedicated to their brood isn't enough.

    Probably, in all cases, the kids who grow up in such environments reach a point when, however intoxicating the intimacy among themselves and with nature - or, in the case of The Wolfpack, with their pursuit of creative activities and immersion in their vast film library, they've had enough and want to be part of the world and of society. One might remember Running on Empty, where River Phoenix's character has to abandon his beloved political fugitive parents and brother because he's too gifted not to attend a musical conservatory; it would be criminal not to. The daughter in Leave No Trace has to admit she can't sneak back to the wild as her father wants to. The Wolfpack provides a different, and rather unique, situation. They've not been living in the "wild" but in a crummy public housing apartment in the Lower East Side of Manhattan which their father won't let them leave. But they have a remarkable rapport with each other and their involvement in film becomes a serious vicarious involvement in New York, and the world. When they all in varying degrees break out, they're surprisingly well prepared. They are a filmmaking team, and also studiously stylish and good at public speaking, ready to accept their Oscar, or, at least, Best Documentary at Sundance and a well-attended Q&A at Lincoln Center.

    It's obvious when Gică and his family are sent to the city and put in a house that it's not going to work. They are surrounded by people whose racist hatred of Roma people is intense, and the family lives up to their negative expectations. Being without a clue how to maintain an orderly, clean household, they're banished to more primitive public housing, lacking even electricity. The poverty was bad enough in the delta, but here it's worse. The eldest boy, Vali, goes to live with a 15-year-old girl he gets pregnant. Again, there is access: we see him beg her to get an abortion: she won't. He and his father start fighting. These kids are on the wrong side of the law, and they have no qualifications or motivation. It's a contrast to the Wolfpack or Captain Fantastic siblings. They do retain their smiles, at least the younger ones do.

    I'm not sure Ciorniciuc erred in not going deeper. I think he went as deep as the situation allowed. We have to appreciate this film for its dynamic picture of the family and its courage in sticking with it even when things become dramatically different and go sour. There should be a follow-up. It will be very far from the paradisal water-babies and running tribe in the film's "wonderfully fluid" and prize-winning cinematography, glimpsed again for one brief sad nostalgic moment at the end. The director, astonished at getting into Sundance, seems headed toward a bright future, and has also been raising money to help the family.

    Acusă, My Home, 86 mins., debuted at Sundance Jan. 2020, where it won the world documentary cinematography award, showing at over a dozen other festivals in Cluj, Prague, Munich, Cartagena, and other locations, screened for this review in connection with DOC NYC (Nov. 11-19, 2020).hiding the
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 11-23-2020 at 03:45 PM.

  5. #5
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    9/11 KIDS ( Elizabeth St. Philip 2020)

    ELIZABETH ST. PHILIP: 9/11 KIDS (2020)


    Focusing on the kids Bush was reading to in Sarasota when 9/11 happened

    As you may recall, because it was a most memorable day, when President George W. Bush learned for certain that the US had in effect suffered a major terrorist attack - his chief of staff Andrew Card whispered in his ear that the Twin Towers had been hit by a second plane, and it was a big one - he was in a classroom in Sarasota, Florida. It was the second grade at Emma E. Booker Elementary School, and it was to promote improved reading for his No Child Left Behind program. This class had scored well. Except for one Latino, his parents born in Cuba, they were all black. Director Elizabeth St. Philip, a Canadian, has chosen to come to Sarasota in 2018-2019, when these students are now 25 or 26 years old, to see where they are now. Could this have been the starting point for a resonant, searching look at America? Not certain. In the event, it's not very searching - and involves a lot of talking heads - but it is revealing: of what it's been like since 9/11 growing up black in America. Perhaps we know this. But closer looks are always timely, especially now. And we wish this film had looked closer at Lazaro Dubrocq and Tyler Radkey. They are among the six of the 17 who are covered, but we could have learned more.

    We could go into all the details about this event, as this film to some extent does, but they are beside the point. Yes, it's good to know the kids were going through a reading exercise called The Pet Goat (not a book, and Bush was not reading it) supervised by their teacher, Kay Daniels. They saw the President turn red in the face and look very uncomfortable, but remain politely - and reassuringly - in his chair till The Pet Goat was finished. He said a few encouraging words before he got up to take on the responsibility of confronting 9/11. His attempt at calm comportment, notably mocked by Michael Moore in his 2004 Fahrenheit 9/11, does not, after all, seem entirely misguided, in the circumstances. It makes some sense that the maintenance of a calm demeanor was paramount, even if the students remember he looked very agitated, or as if maybe "he had to pee." On the other hand, Bush may simply have been frozen, not what you want of a leader in a national emergency. Director Philip ought to have noted the ambiguity of this moment, not just passed over it. But if President Bush had continued to remain calm and do nothing, if the country had remained restrained and calm and left the management of foreign terrorism to the intelligence services - and acted promptly on their advice - the world would be better off today than it has been by the pursuit of two destructive major wars that have devastated and disrupted the Middle East. And we have things like the Patriot Act, and a more repressive, fearful country. Nobody in this film considers those aspects. One student, La’Damien Smith, is now a PFC in the Army, patriotic and ready to be "deployed."

    The US has not taken major steps toward a more just society. What about the class today? One is dead. Megan Diaz is disabled by gunshot wounds. Confined to a wheel chair, as a woman who was battered by her husband for four years, she has become a motivational speaker for women in this situation. Another was seriously harmed by a police attack and has, nonetheless, gone to jail. Another, perhaps the most haunting of all, is Tyler Radkey, whose case deserves more attention, as does Lazaro Duborcq's. The latter says he grew up essentially as a foreigner here, since when he was young his command of English was imperfect. His parents let their mortgage payments lapse, he says, to pay for his college education, and he has become a chemical engineer. He has the patriotism of a first-generation American and the heightened awareness of one so directly connected to 9/11, and so we see him visit the 9/11 memorial in Lower Manhattan by himself, and look around. (It's impressive.) But he notes ruefully and correctly that if he and his parents had come along now, they would not be allowed to live in this country at all. America has strengthened the barriers, even though as Lazaro and his parents acknowledge, the immigrants will come in from the south, over or under or around any wall, because they have no alternative.

    As for Tyler Radkey, look at the photo of the kids in the class for Bush's visit and you'll see him. He is in the middle of the front row, sitting taller than anyone else, his eyes open and ready, a smile on his face, his hair in stylish corn rows. Even then he was stylish, and he had everything going for him. One of the girls confesses she was in love with him then. He tested high for academic ability and he was an athlete. His mother has row on row of sports trophies. But he had a wild streak and got in trouble. And that, in the ghetto, means hanging out with the wrong people. This led to several years in state prison. When we meet him, he has a job and is attempting to turn his life around. But he is guilty of driving while black. A police officer pulls him over for not having his seat belt attached. This, of course, for a while man would mean a ticket, or a warning. For Ridley it leads to more jail time.

    A spokesman for the community heard throughout this film and a kind of surrogate narrator is local radio personality "Uncle" Ronnie Phelps. He describes how total the cutoff of the black community is, literally across the tracks, and we see it, a typical modern American suburban ghetto. Ronnie points out that only when black men are pulled over for a minor offense do the cops ask to search their car. So they search Tyler's and find some marijuana. He is charged with dealing drugs. The best the public defender can get him in a plea bargain is two years in the state prison. We see him receive this sentence and be handcuffed. So in the second photo of the kids today, he is not present. He is still, somehow, cool. But his life has been derailed. One would have liked more depth about the life of Tyler, considering that St. Philip says in interviews he was the student who had the greatest impact on her.

    Central to the film are several women from the class, especially the showoff-y Natalia Pinkney Jones, with her ebullient spirit, large wig collection, and attempt to make a go of a babysitting agency. In contrast to her, and something new to our era, is Dinasty Brown, a black woman with a lot of ambition to make money, who became a social media entrepreneur after high school, and has achieved that ambition, and shows off her new Mercedes and array of jewelry to prove it.

    Through all these scenes the film keeps returning to Uncle Ronnie at his radio mike. He, like Natalia, provides a constant thread, and what he points out about the class, money, and race barriers in Sarasota is valuable, though some of his remarks just feel like filler. Likewise with the class's original teacher, Kay Daniels. A big, motherly woman, she is the one the grownup kids embrace at the film's staged reunion, and her remarks thread through the film. She seeks to motivate them, calling even the worst bad luck of the group "hiccups." But her admonitions to be tough get repetitious and might have been trimmed back. Black Americans are plenty tough. They need more than that. But "Hold On: Change is Coming" is the theme song of the film.

    9/11 Kids, 88 mins., had a TV and internet release in Canada in Apr. 2020 and showed at Miami Beach (American Black Film Festival) Aug. 21, and was screened for this review as part of DOC NYC (Nov. 11-19, 2020.

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 11-23-2020 at 03:55 PM.

  6. #6
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    MAYOR (David Osit 2020)

    DAVID OSIT: MAYOR (2020)


    Quietly impressive portrait of a Palestinian mayor

    Ramallah, a predominantly Christian Arab city of 57,000 that is impinged upon in all ways by the state of Israel and ringed by Jewish settlements on the hills around, all illegal according to international law, is the de facto capital of the state of Palestine. And so Musa Hadid, the "mayor" referred to in this documentary, is an important figure, known to all and beloved to many. He has much to do, and is frustrated at every turn. The film focuses on Christmastime, and there are preparations under way for a gala outdoor city event of balloons, the climbing down of full-dress Santa Clauses, the lighting of a municipal Christmas tree, and fireworks, which must each take place in order and on cue (they do). There is a discussion of "branding" for the city, which the mayor says just sounds like a slogan to him. (The traffic light near the city hall has smiley faces on its lights.) A new city fountain with a beautiful up-to-date flow pattern has been completed. But there is sewage overflowing again in the valley outside, and Israel won't permit the proper equipment. It has taken decades just to get permission to build a cemetery.

    Musa Hadid looks like an ordinary Palestinian man, middle-aged, neatly dressed, graying (and regretting it a bit), a little paunchy, with an e-cigarette usually between his fingers, calm and ironic - and stressed like crazy though you never see it. But you hear him say near the end "I'll need six years to recover from this." When asked "Physically or psychologically?" he answers, "Psychologically."

    A group comes from Israel for some kind of cooperative activity. The mayor explains why, given the 53 years of Israeli occupation, this project cannot be. Speaking in English, he explains that it is a matter of dignity, which would be surrendered by doing so. Even when Prince William is to come for a visit, the pros and cons of that must be debated. Who invited him? "All our troubles go back to Britain," someone says. But it is decided that since William is not political, and the British royals never have been, and he's coming in connection with sports, it's okay. In the event, the prince makes a smoothly diplomatic speech as he has been bred to do; stands grandly; and behaves graciously. Followed by the filmmakers visiting in other parts of the world Mayor Hadid is seen visiting. He presents the message, explains the occupation, is a quite spokesman to people who so often have no idea of what situation Ramallah and this mayor live in, or even of the Israeli occupation.

    This is a quiet, even passive film. It shows but doesn't highlight Hadid's family, or other people, or report on previous mayors, or travel around the country. Sometimes it seems it, and its subject, are simply bland. But there is an advantage in this quietude. Because it is so unemphatic, the enormity of the situation of trying to be an important mayor in a seemingly endless occupation with constant encroachment is something viewers discover more intensely because they discover it on their own.

    There are two big events. Comically, the mayor discovers the city hall has TV that's not plugged in, waiting for someone to decide to order cable. It's needed to observe a big external shock: "that clown's" announcement that the US embassy will be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which the mayor learns of from his priest. This gesture is a huge insult to the Palestinian people and causes great unrest all over the occupied territories. "Have there been any deaths yet?" Mayor Hadid askes. Eventually indeed there are 16 deaths along with numerous injuries reported in Gaza. Trump's thoughtless provocative gesture to please fundamentalist Christians in his base, is doing untold damage here. A quieter American invasion is shown in the usual suspects' outposts, KFC, MacDo's, Starbucks. The town has a modern face, with a nice restaurant near city hall called Café de la Paix.

    The mayor says Israel is constantly invading the city more and more boldly, and the second big event is in invasion of Israel soldiers who break into shops demanding to see their surveillance footage. A fracas with Palestinian youths results, and the soldiers come closer and closer to the city hall. Mayor Hadid show his mettle here, quietly standing his ground and directing others by phone to stay away. He promises not to go out but, in fact, appears for a while on the street helping a journalist blinded by tear gas. There is a terrifying threat of chaos, but the major has not for a moment lost his cool.

    Ultimately this understated film makes you think a lot about what the Occupation is like, without seeing the checkpoint where the mayor reports being insulted by being forced to undress by a 16-year-old IDF soldier, or any fixed battle. We see more of the pretty modern city hall with its sleek mayor's office and automatic window blinds and the new fountain outside with colored lights and Andrea Bocelli and Cynthia Brightman singing "Time to Say Goodbye" ("Con te partire"). But we know what lies in wait. This is a subtly brilliant film that sucker-punches you, slowly, scene by scene.

    Osit, though he is only heard from once, directed, produced and shot the film, He went to high school in Westchester County and college at the University of Michigan, then attended the American University in Cairo, where he studied Arabic.

    Mayor, 129 mins., debuted at True/False Film Festival (Colombia, MI) 5 Mar. 2020, showing at at least a dozen other festivals including Copenhagen (CPH:DOX - Next Wave prize), San Francisco, Maryland, Woods Hole, Melbourne (virtual), Toronto (Hot Docs), Durham NC (Full Frame: grand jury prize there), Zurich, Hamburg and Warsaw. Also included in DOC NYC, covered here. It will be shown at Film Forum in NYC and also on the internet starting Dec. 2, 2020.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 11-23-2020 at 04:04 PM.

  7. #7
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    You don't have to be pretty to be hip (Pogues headline)

    This film has a worthy subject - Shane MacGowan, provocative and gifted Irish singer and song writer of the unique and influential Celtic punk band the Pogues. Though a faded shell now in his early sixties, visibly wrecked from alcohol, drugs and a period of mental breakdown and recently disabled by a broken pelvis, he still clings to life and embodies a fabulous amount of contemporary Irish cultural and worldwide musical history which the filmmaker seeks to draw out and dramatize.

    If this film works for you as it intends, "unashamedly complicit with its subject" as it is, in Jonathan Romney's words, it makes you fall under the spell of the man and his time, and Ireland. It does that starting with an almost fairytale and long ago recreation of MadGowan's small town Irish childhood in Tipperary which takes you back to a nostalgic, picture-book version of young Shane's earliest years and an earlier rural Ireland done with narration, family and archival photos, and fanciful reenactments. With the mood thus set, Temple moves to his subject's cranky, druggy adolescence from age six in London, which included a scholarship at a famous English public school (Westminster), from which he was expelled after two years for dealing drugs. But, by the way, he had started drinking when he was five. And incidentally, this film was co-produced by Johnny Depp, and a recurrent scene shows the two men cheerily drinking together, a pair of disreputable, alcoholic celebrities.

    Though over two hours, this "A-list documentary," as Variety calls it, is both a work of art and a charmer and passes smoothly. The time it takes up is good time. The early Irish childhood legend stuff may too literal. But it's also how Temple, who's long chronicled the London punk scene, shows his ability to weave the form of the documentary music bio into an art form - here, Irish-legend folk art. It is highly crafted to look artisanal. Not a moment seems perfunctory. Then, by the time you're halfway through, the anthemic lilt of the Pogue's Irish songs has you crying. Listen to Shane sing with Kirsty MacColl his big hit "Fairytale of New York:" They've got cars big as bars, they've got rivers of gold/But the wind goes right through you, it's no place for the old. . ." It's a different kind of Christmas song, and one of a number of proofs that MacGowan had a voice and words with enormous emotional heft, was a remarkable poet-songwriter. Note: "was." He admits on screen he can't write songs now.

    The music is touching and fine. But filmmaker Julien Temple makes the images their equal, using every trick in the book, weaving the archival and family footage and restagings into a mix literally set in frames or seen through period viewers, on an old Sony Trinitron, or with animations by Ralph Steadman, all blended into one legend, with the wrecked but still pungent MacGowan of today interwoven and telling this story, sadder, wiser, limp, sideways, but always articulate.

    The Pogue's punk revival of Irish song had to be in England to bloom, Shane explains, just as he had to be in London as a young man to devour a rich night life unavailable in Ireland. And the revival and reinvigoration of Irish song did happen. But then, suddenly English soil became unfriendly to anything Irish when the IRA attacks of the eighties created a strong hostility. Then the band went touring, and then some: so many gigs in a year performing went completely stale, as MacGowan is seen declaring in contemporary interiews. 1988 drove him off the deep end and in New Zealand, in a hotel over a Maori graveyard, on speed he says was as strong as a pound of acid, he painted himself and the room all blue. When he returned home, he was committed. His sister, who's the only ordinary talking head here, says he was never the same again.

    The interviews, nicely interwoven, which give MacGowan himself the narrative voice, are at different stages. In his prime as a singer-songwriter, with his terrible teeth, the better to snarl with (now totally replaced, however), leaving a big black gap up front, he seems to get uglier and uglier - and he was never handsome. But clearly he was sharply witty, funny, articulate even today, and then and now, attractive to many women. "Yes, I've noticed," he says. In his heyday they probably found even the bad teeth and the protuberant ears sexy, like the band's provocative name, originally Pogue Mahone, derived from the Irish for "kiss my arse." Somehow even MacGowan's rude provocative air can be winning because of his snuffle of a laugh that conveys digs with a gentler, humorous edge, as when he damns Yeats as an overrated poet: when he's good he's great, but a lot of his stuff is crap, he says; and "You and your fucking questions!" he grumbles repeatedly to a timid admirer/interviewer. In Ireland they were taught to say "fucking" very young and everybody used it, he has recounted, so even the foul language is rendered harmless, or, alternatively, part of inbred Irish anger at being so long under the English thumb. MqcGowan and the film make it clear everything he did is for about Ireland.

    At the film's end you will see MacGowan's 60th birthday celebration in the Irish National Concert Hall by a band full of notable admirers and friends, including Nick Cave, Bono, Sinéad O’Connor, a Sex Pistol and Johnny Depp, and MacGowan presented with an honorary statuette of an Irish lyre by the President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins.

    Be warned: as we said, MacGowan at present is in bad decline from the broken pelvis, much substance abuse (including a period of heroin). The film, as Variety suggests, leaves us with an elegiac feeling despite its subject's still tenacious affirmation of life. Whatever his current state, though, this is one of the year's best and most entertaining music documentaries, and Celtic punk a thing to discover or revisit.

    Crock of Gold: A Few Rounds with Shane MacGowan, 164 mins., debuted at San Sebastien and won its second highest honor there, the special jury prize. It had its North American premiere at DOC NYC. Released in the US by Magnolia Pictures, it Opens Dec 4, 2020 in theaters and on demand.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 11-23-2020 at 04:15 PM.


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