SLIFF 2012 Documentaries
Narrated by John Leguizamo, this compelling documentary – which premiered at Tribeca – offers a gritty look inside the recruitment of top-talent baseball players from the Dominican Republic. Miguel Angel Sanó and Jean Carlos Batista are among 100,000 teenagers vying for a handful of coveted contracts with baseball teams. As they turn 16 years old and become eligible to sign, each must navigate a fiercely competitive system if they are to lift their families out of poverty and achieve their dream of playing Major League Baseball. The film – co-directed by Jonathan Paley, a Washington U. graduate – takes viewers inside this never-before-seen world for an intense look at the cost of the American dream. Kenneth Turan of the LA Times says “Ballplayer” is “an eye-opening look at a flawed, potentially exploitative system and how it is being gamed from all sides of the table.”
With co-director Paley.
Band of Sisters
Inspired by Vatican II (a 1962-65 council of Catholic bishops) and the great social movements of the 1960s and ‘70s, U.S. nuns left their convents, found their mission with the poor, and grew in their spirituality – often to the chagrin of the Vatican hierarchy. Against this backdrop, “Band of Sisters” follows Sisters Pat Murphy (now 82) and JoAnn Persch (77) for four years as they lobby, cajole, plot, and pray for the rights of immigrant detainees. With its diverse cast of sister-characters (including a housing CEO, peace activist, alternative health-care provider for the poor, and organic farmer) “Band of Sisters” seamlessly ties the past with the present. Like its characters, the film proves both surprisingly lighthearted and inspirational.
With director Fishman.
Beauty Is Embarrassing
Hilarious, irreverent, joyful and inspiring, “Beauty Is Embarrassing” examines the life and times of one of America’s most important artists, Wayne White. Raised in the mountains of Tennessee, White started his career as a cartoonist in New York City. He quickly found success as one of the creators of the TV show “Pee-wee’s Playhouse,” where he designed some of the most arresting and iconic images in pop culture. Most recently, White’s word paintings, which feature pithy text statements crafted onto vintage landscape paintings, have made him a darling of the fine-art world. The film uses White as its narrator and draws excerpts from his latest creation: a gut-busting one-man show. “The creativity grows like kudzu,” says the New York Times. “And it yields a thousand blossoms…. But this exuberant documentary’s most affecting message concerns a timelessly profound verity: the value of roots, humor, family and old friends.”
With subject White.
Betting the Farm
A group of Maine dairy farmers – dropped by their national milk company – launch a cooperatively managed milk company in a bid to save their farms. Owned by the farmers and committed to paying a sustainable price for their milk, the company offers hope for the future of small farming. But faced with slow sales and mounting bills, can the farmers hang together long enough for the gamble to pay off? “Betting the Farm” follows three frank-talking farmers – Aaron Bell, Vaughn Chase, and Richard Lary – and their families through the tumultuous first two years of MOO Milk. With intimate access to their triumphs and disappointments, the film gives audiences a rare glimpse at the real lives of American farmers at a crossroads. The Washington Post observes that the film captures the farmers’ “struggles with sensitivity and painterly beauty, including a Greek chorus of cows that observes the action with serene implacability.”
Between Two Rivers
“Between Two Rivers” explores Cairo, Ill., a historic river town isolated at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, where North meets South in the heartland of America. The film sets the city’s dark and turbulent past against the backdrop of the latest crisis to afflict the community: the record-breaking floods of spring 2011, when the rising rivers threatened to engulf the town. In addition to candid contemporary interviews, the documentary features archival footage that captures the town at the height of explosive racial tensions in 1969, when Cairo witnessed the last pitched battles of the civil-rights movement. “Between Two Rivers” considers the long-term impact of the violent civil unrest, economic boycotts, curfews and martial law that so deeply divided the community. Following the film, Carbondale’s Stace England and the Salt Kings perform their concept album “Welcome to Cairo, Ill.” in its entirety.
With co-directors Jordan and Cartwright, subject Jay Manus, and a performance by Stace England and the Salt Kings.
Beware of Mr. Baker
Ginger Baker, arguably the greatest drummer in rock, is best known for his work in Cream and Blind Faith, but he was equally fluent in jazz and introduced the African beat to the West years before any other musician. Baker’s odyssey took him across the world – with stays in Nigeria, Italy, California, and Colorado – and left a trail of divorces and devastation behind. Now 73, Baker remains as irascible as ever. In his fortified South African compound, where he lives with his 29-year-old bride and 39 polo ponies, Baker chain-smokes, ingests copious amounts of morphine, and pugnaciously reflects back on his life. The documentary features interviews with Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood, Charlie Watts, Carlos Santana, Alex Van Halen, and Jack Bruce.
A son pays tribute to his father, a once-famous jazz guitarist from the Fiji Islands. With director Columbus on Nov. 10.
The Bitter Buddha
“The Bitter Buddha” takes an unconventional journey with Eddie Pepitone, a true comic’s comic and a major force in the alt-comedy scene. Although Pepitone is experiencing a middle-aged career surge, he continues to struggle with self-doubt, sobriety, and a challenging family history. Original animation, stand-up excerpts, and engaging interviews with such admirers as Patton Oswalt, Sarah Silverman, and Marc Maron provide insight into the life of a beloved career comedian known as “the guitarist that all the other guitarists go to see.” Offering an unhinged portrait of creativity, enlightenment, and rage, “The Bitter Buddha” clues viewers into one of the best-kept secrets in the scene. The Chicago Reader calls the film “an endearing portrait of a Bukowskian curmudgeon whose story runs deeper than the mystique that surrounds him.”
With director Feinartz and subject Pepitone.
Bones Brigade: An Autobiography
The legendary Bones Brigade was a talented gang of teenage outcasts who completely dedicated their lives to a disrespected art form: skateboarding. For most of the 1980s, this misfit crew – headed by 1970s ex-skateboard champion Stacy Peralta, the film’s director – blasted the industry with a mixture of art and raw talent, becoming the most popular skateboarding team in history. The core unit of the Bones Brigade – Peralta, George Powell, Craig Stecyk III, and groundbreaking skateboarders Tony Hawk, Rodney Mullen, Steve Caballero, Lance Mountain, Tommy Guerrero and Mike McGill – built an empire that covered the world. They dominated contests, made hundreds of thousands of dollars, created the modern skateboard video, and set the stage for a totally new form of skating called street style. Peralta’s previous films include the skateboarding classics “Dogtown and Z-Boys” and “Lords of Dogtown” and the gnarly big-wave surfing documentary “Riding Giants.”
Booker Wright was an African-American restaurant owner who also served double-duty as a waiter in a whites-only restaurant in Mississippi in the 1960s. He became an unlikely activist for the civil-rights movement when he appeared on a 1965 network TV documentary reporting on the changing times in his small town. Booker’s appearance, which exploded myths about blacks’ subservience to whites, set off a chain of events that eventually led to his untimely murder. “Booker’s Place” follows filmmaker De Felitta (“City Island”), whose father directed the original 1966 documentary, as he journeys through past and present-day Mississippi with Booker’s granddaughter. While searching for details about Booker’s courageous life and shocking murder, De Felitta provocatively explores the impact the original TV documentary had on both the local community and his own father. “Even viewers well versed in civil rights lore may marvel at the fresh perspectives it finds,” writes the Hollywood Reporter.
Over the last decade at Intermediate School 318 in Brooklyn, N.Y., something extraordinary has happened: Hundreds of students have learned to play chess, one of the world’s oldest and most complex games, and the school has developed a powerhouse chess team that has won 26 national chess titles — more than any other junior high school in the country. It’s a particularly notable achievement for this Title I school, where more than 60 percent of students are from homes with incomes well below the federal poverty line. “Brooklyn Castle” follows five of the school’s chess-team members for one year and documents their challenges and triumphs both on and off the chessboard. Despite the success of the chess team, the program is threatened by budget cuts, and coaches John Galvin and Elizabeth Vicary must struggle to ensure their students continue to have an opportunity to excel.
With director Dellamaggiore.