DOCUMENTARY

Featured Short Doc: THE CAROUSEL

I’m not sure what it is about B&W films that give me that unsettling yet familiar, soothing feeling after watching. I start feeling slightly unhinged during the viewing process - at once freaked out but at ease. I get this hyper-awareness regarding what cinema actually is. A recording of moments past. Little ghosts forever cemented on celluloid (or more like digital bits and bobs these days). So color me all shades (no pun intended) of emotional instability (but mostly the shade of thrilled) when I watched Jonathan Napolitano's festival favorite “The Carousel”. A short documentary that covers carousel art, a small town in New York and….the Twilight Zone?! Yeah, you heard right. Situated in the small town of Binghamton, NY, is a carousel from 1925...but not just any standard issue merry-go-round. This is one that once inspired the legendary Rod Serling and has since become a portal into something far beyond normal! Don't worry. There's nothing overly eerie about this film. It has an honesty to it and is quite the whimsical concoction of stories. A pinch of childhood nostalgia and a dash of talking television history gives birth to a lovely, low-key profile doc on Rod Serling's life via a carousel in New York. Serling, creator of the forever popular TV show "The Twilight Zone", was from Binghamton, sure, but what does the restoration efforts of an almost 100 year old ride there have to do with any of this? Well, when artists Bill Finkenstein and Cortlandt Hull decided to dedicate the carousel's panel art to Serling in order to honor the local, iconic episodes from the notorious series became relevant - including a memorable one titled “Walking Distance". This particular episode features an overworked career man that visits his hometown and pursues his younger self on a carousel, wanting so badly to tell the boy how important it is to cherish his youth. The storyline echoes Serling's own passion for nostalgia and childhood. The carousel in Binghamton served as massive inspiration for this television homage to saying goodbye to the past and moving on. From the childhood beauty and elegance of a wooden horse spinning in circles forever to the story of human finiteness - the irony is hard-hitting. But you can't deny the magic of such an existence, which is a theme often seen in "The Twilight Zone" and is definitely found in Napolitano's short film tribute: one that is, at once, painfully aware of the past while also continuing to hold onto those memories in the present (ala the presence of Serling's own daughter in the film, Anne). A time capsule or time machine - that's what you will find in "The Carousel". It's all up to how you interpret it. So, what are you waiting for? Take a haunting spin on a merry-go-round in B&W and feel that unsettling yet soothing struggle I often have when escaping into a monochromatic world on film. As I was, you too will be rewarded.  

Some stories are so incredible, so powerful that they must be committed to some form of storytelling. Pen and paper, celluloid film, still image, music, dance, paint, hell even puppetry will do. A medium to bring words to life, birth little legends, and make sure stories are spread and shared with the world.  Now, imagine, you not only have an amazing story to tell, but you have a story to tell that you share intimately with your brother. A story that binds you. A story that must be heard. A story that literally gave life. This is what brothers Jared and Cameron Wohl share and it’s an inspirational gift to us all that they committed their story to film.  So, what’s the story behind their documentary "65 Percent"? At age 13, the younger of the two brothers, Cameron, was diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disease affecting his liver. Ten years later, when things took a turn for the worse, doctors declared that he would need a liver translate in order to live. Unfortunately, with the high demand for organs and a long waiting list, doctors had to pose another idea. What about a living-donor transplant? Fate would have it that his older brother, Jared, would be a match and would willingly give up over half of his own liver in order to save his brother’s life. In 2014, the transplant surgery was a success and last year, this insanely touching story of sacrifice, family, and survival was told in a documentary depicting the entire family’s journey through the process. Hence: "65 Percent". The brothers’ initiative The Wave Set is a non-profit organization that not only successfully crowdfunded to raise money for the production of "65 Perfect" but also now functions as a means to inspire second chances at life through educating and spreading awareness of the vital importance of organ donation. Their slogan, “We are Vital to Each Other”, couldn’t hold more truth to it. As humans, we need each other. We are bound by one major common thing: existence. And as a cinema lover, I’m beyond proud to see that the medium of film was chosen to visually give us that vital reminder.  Getting to attend the screening of "65 Percent" during the inaugural Indie Street Film Festival last July was something truly special to witness. Both their family and the local NJ community filled the theater with such an abundance of support and it was an honor to meet the Wohl brothers and see their success in action. If you didn’t get a chance to catch the film during its festival run, well, it’s your lucky day. Today, on April 26th, their story is shared with the world for FREE on Youtube. Amazingly enough, both brothers were born on this day - THREE years apart. Another unbelievable cherry on top of a well deserved celebration of life. So, here’s to Jared and Cameron - to a wonderful year of accomplishments and to many, many more to come. Do your part, watch the film (it’s only a short 50 minutes long and remember: FREE) and then head over to The Wave Set’s official site to donate or register as a donor. Spread the word, share the love! 

Are documentary films and all things non-fiction your thing? Well, you’re in luck! If you’re planning on being in the NYC area anytime between Feb. 16 through Feb. 26, the Museum of Modern Art’s 2017 Doc Fortnight is the place to be! The 10 day festival kicks off tomorrow and will feature 20 feature-length films and 10 doc shorts, including 4 world premieres and many more US premieres. Check out a breakdown of the entire schedule and get more info on what the MoMA's Doc Fortnight has to offer over on IndieWire now!

Featured Short Doc: Zack Godshall's THE BOATMAN

Simplicity. Sometimes all it takes is the oft-emotionally jarring grit of reality to form a story that will linger long within both your mind and your heart. The true story in filmmaker Zack Godshall's short documentary "The Boatman" brings us into that kind of narrative realm. A beautiful little doc, "The Boatman" follows the story of Joseph and Selina Gonzales as they approach their wedding anniversary and reflect back on years of living outside the flood walls of Yscloskey Beach, LA. With intense yet soft spoken power, this story had me crying my eyes out by the end. Though I do have an emotional weakness for the elderly, this film goes far deeper than that. It's more than just a tale of an old man, the loss of eyesight and his unfinished boat. It's a portrait of an aged, weary couple, one that has seen and lived through so much, that has managed to hold onto their continuing sense of love, perseverance and endurance. After losing a daughter as well as living through Hurricane Katrina, these two still find a cause for celebration. And what a reason to celebrate - it’s their 71st wedding anniversary! It's all very much like a strange, beautiful little flower born from saturated soils caused by Hurricanes, death, health issues and just life in general. If you don't have your tissues out and handy by this point, feel free to just use your shirt sleeve because if this all doesn't dig deep into your soul, you probably don't have one. In the end, it doesn't matter whether this film was perfect or not (by the way, it's pretty perfect). What matters is the joy of knowing that this story is preserved on the medium of the moving image for years to come. Jump aboard and watch "The Boatman" NOW!  

Featured Short: "Tapes From The Revolutionary"

What happens when a documentary turns the camera back on itself? Or when its subject tries to hijack the film? In the rather unconventional Scottish short doc "Tapes From The Revolutionary", we see one such result of these unexpected escapades. The man behind the camera? Edinburgh-based filmmaker Scott Willis. The man that’s supposed to be front of the camera? Self-proclaimed communist revolutionary and camcorder aficionado, Andy. The result of the two artists’ clashing visions? Total understated genius. Quite the character, Andy was filming with a Hi-8 camcorder when Willis found him. Intrigued by the footage on Andy's tapes, Willis decided this exploration into why and what we film would be a good subject for a documentary. Well, it seems Willis may have underestimated the supposedly simple man with an old camera. What he discovers is that Andy is someone constantly fighting for that seat in the saddle behind the camera, hands on reins and riding off into a cinematic sunset of his own choosing. Willis is a trained filmmaker and Andy? Well, he fancies himself quite the documentarian. In the end, this 16-min short is bizarrely humorous, surprisingly poignant, and all a touch philosophical. Filling in the cracks are musings about the filmmaking process that keep revealing themselves in the most enjoyable, offbeat ways. A film that seemed to have somewhat of a defined purpose at the beginning suddenly goes off the rails, becoming increasingly experimental and all the more memorable in its quirks. With glimpses of Andy as well as the Willis of today and flashbacks of a young Willis from the past, what we get here is a self-awareness to film as a medium. By studying the subject of the film, the filmmaker starts to study himself and why he chose to even make films in the first place. Analog and digital cameras both reveal an underlying message on the evolution of the role of the lens. The storytelling choices Willis then puts into play create a sort of playground to show and be shown. Guards are down, the fourth wall is broken and a 360 degree film is born. If you appreciate experimental docs, film reflexivity, and the role of storytelling in general, this absurd yet lovable little short is a total must watch. Its extensive run on the international festival circuit should be enough to prove that Willis is certainly a talent to keep on your radar! In the end, two "directors" with two very different visions weave quite the tale, leaving the audience wondering, why do we choose to document our lives? What should we show? Who is our audience? What is it like seeing the world through someone else’s eyes? Find out by watching "Tapes From The Revolutionary” via Indie Street now!  

Featured Short: The Shining Star of Losers Everywhere

In a modern world where many of us have been spoon fed to expect certain things out of life, our “honorable mention trophies” and “A for efforts” have gotten so out of hand that it’s easy to get lost in the race to success with no true aim or idea of what we are even chasing after anymore. What’s even at the finish line these days other than exhaustion, oversold acclaim and a dying 15 mins of fame? What if success was truly overrated? As they say, you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take, eh? But what if you literally try your hardest, miss 100% of the shots you DO take and still find yourself a symbol of hope to an entire nation and a success in your utter failure?  Mickey Duzyj's acclaimed Hot Docs winning film, THE SHINING STAR OF LOSERS EVERYWHERE, is a half-animated hybrid short documentary that tells the story of a never ending failure in the form of Haru Urara, a once beloved race horse in Japan with a career-long losing streak and a pink Hello Kitty mask, to be exact. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. But what if you tried and failed - not once, twice or three times - but even more times? What if you had 100+ failures under your..uh..saddle and people STILL loved you? This was to be Haru Urara’s legacy.  A mascot for all wholesome, gosh darn losers everyone, she became a random success in her failures, thanks to a viral news story that spread like wildfire across Japan. She became a fad, a symbol of never giving up, all because the racetrack could not bear sending such a spirited animal to the slaughterhouse. An entire nation had so much faith in both her continuing losses and small chance of winning that her existence even saved that racetrack from bankruptcy!  She came, she ran, she lost - again and again and again. And eventually she disappeared - the end of an era that lives on within this film over 10 years later. Sometimes putting in the effort amounts to nothing. And sometimes that nothing turns into the adoration of thousands of lost souls looking for someone - or something - to show them that it’s okay to lose as long as there is hope, positivity and Hello Kitty. A wonderful mix of traditional, contemporary and animated storytelling methods, Duzyj’s film will envelop you in sheer wonder and fervor with a phenomenon that should have never existed….and yet it did! The irony is, this film has success by the halter and steers its story to first place. However, it couldn’t have done it without one big time loser. Do youself a favor and watch the film, created for ESPN's award winning 30-for-30 series, here.  And while you're at it, you can watch more award-winning shorts (for free!) now on Indie Street!

"Temporary Color" Explores David Byrne and Beyond!

One of my favorite guilty pleasure documentary filmmakers, John Wilson, was hired to follow musician David Byrne on a tour and make a film. Simple enough, right? Well, at the last moment, he decided to make something a little bit different than what was expected of him. The result? “Temporary Color”, a short, whimsical and strange little creation that takes a look at the behind the scenes of the event.....and more. Be warned, it's not so straightforward - this is a story that often steers so far away from the main topic, you aren’t quite sure what you’re watching by the end! But boy is it enjoyable in the quirkiest of ways! Wilson’s crazy documentary repertoire is worth checking out here. From advice on how to act on reality TV to how to remain single, the humor may or may not work for you but it’s so easy to appreciate with its cool, stylistically stripped down look and feel. Hand-held camera work, clunky editing, bad focus, and terrible audio quality all lend "Temporary Color" a throwback quality that gives a big middle finger to the polished films of today. Look at it as a short, more fun version of the Ross Brothers' recent documentary, "Contemporary Color". Convicts, music, sad musings and the film industry are all laid bare in this ridiculous short film absolutely worth the watch!  

Ah, happiness. Such a strange, elusive beast. In the new feature documentary, The Happy Film, filmmaker and designer Stefan Sagmeister explores the emotion by putting himself through a series of self-guided experiments in order to find out if he can manufacture the feeling. For the past seven years, he has been operating on a weekly happiness 1-10 rating scale system and exploring three methods for finding happiness: meditation, cognitive behavioral therapy and psychotropic drugs. The quirky, thought-provoking film born from this endeavor recently premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival. Interested? You can read WIRED’s review of it here.

VOD Feature Review: "Crafting a Nation"

Throughout the past decade, we have seen a massive explosion of new breweries and new brewing experimentations happening within the craft beer scene in America. Beer. It’s delicious. It’s everywhere. And who could complain? Over at Indie Street, we certainly are seeing (and enjoying) the advantages to this new world of endless liquid creativity. In fact, along with the growth of craft beer potential, we are also seeing an influx of inspired new filmic endeavours. While Thomas Kolicko’s “Crafting a Nation” is one of quite a few fascinating, beer-centric documentaries to pop up over the past couple of years, Kolicko’s film is unique. It’s an interesting project because, more so than focusing on the actual beer, it focuses on the stories of the people behind the brew. And not just one story is chronicled, but dozens are told from across the country. Over 40 breweries in the US are featured, from ones just starting up to some of the largest craft breweries like Schlafly, Sam Adams and Sierra Nevada, to name a few. Despite the impressive roster, the primary focus of the film rests on chronicling both the progress and setbacks of two brothers, their dream and the successful opening of their own place, the Black Shirt Brewing Co. in Denver. As we “brewery hop” across America, we constantly return back to their inspiring story. Like finding a new favorite amongst the sea of thousands of new beers, Kolicko’s film stands out because it’s not just about shoving beer-related facts down our throats - it’s about the more personal, more human aspects behind achieving your dreams and following your passions. And well, the beer gives it even more bonus points.  So grab a cold one (or two or three…etc.) and give this week’s inspiring VOD feature a watch!

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