SLIFF 2012 Documentaries
Envisioning Home: The Jean King and Richard Baron Story
“Envisioning Home” explores the accomplishments of two imaginative leaders, Jean King and Richard Baron, agents of change in public housing. King, a remarkable homegrown leader, met Baron, a legal aide-turned-visionary planner and developer, during the St. Louis tenant strike in 1968-69. Together, they have changed the face of inner-city life in St. Louis and beyond. By inspiring resident and family empowerment and creating more humane places to live, their work builds vibrant neighborhoods and communities from distressed central cities. The film draws on the duo’s personal memories and features spontaneous conversations between the two both in studio, on the streets, and inside the homes of the new communities they’ve helped create. “Envisioning Home” forcefully reminds viewers that despite stubborn matters of race and poverty, individuals with conviction and vision can make a difference.
With director Epperson, screenwriter/producer Daniel Blake Smith, subjects Baron and King, and Brown School at Washington U. assistant professor Molly Metzger.
Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare
“Escape Fire” tackles one of the most pressing issues of our time: What can be done to save our broken medical system? The film examines the powerful forces trying to maintain the status quo in a medical industry designed more for quick fixes than for prevention and more concerned with profits than with patients. After decades of resistance, a movement to bring innovative high-touch, low-cost methods of prevention and healing into our high-tech, costly system is finally gaining ground. “Escape Fire” follows dramatic human stories and profiles leaders fighting to transform healthcare at the highest levels of medicine, industry, government, and even the U.S. military. The New York Times writes that the documentary “turns an unwieldy, Medusa-headed topic into a convincingly humane argument for change. … Advocating freedom from a system that ‘doesn’t want you to die and doesn’t want you to get well,’ this hard-hitting film leaves us finally more hopeful than despairing.”
At the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts (LACHSA), aka Fame High, talented teenagers reach for their dreams of becoming actors, singers, dancers, and musicians. From the nail-biting freshman auditions to the spectacular year-end performances, “Fame High” captures the in-class and at-home drama, competition, heartbreak, and triumph during a year at one of the most respected and competitive public arts high schools in the country. LACHSA has produced such famous alums as singer Josh Groban, actors Jenna Elfman and Anthony Anderson, and Alvin Ailey dancer Matt Rushing. The follow-up to Oscar® nominee Scott Hamilton Kennedy’s “The Garden,” “Fame High” is a Robert Altman-esque documentary-musical hybrid that follows a group of novice freshman and seasoned seniors struggling to find their voice in both art and life with the help of – and sometimes in spite of – their passionate and opinionated families.
With director Kennedy.
A Fierce Green Fire
“A Fierce Green Fire,” which premiered at Sundance, provides a big-picture overview of the environmental movement by telling stories of environmental activism and profiling an array of engaged people – including Lois Gibbs, Robert Bullard, and Chico Mendes – who strive to save the planet and the future. Chronicling grassroots and global movements over five decades, the film ranges across eras, linking the causes and placing equal emphasis on impassioned activism and explorations of broader ideas and deeper meanings. Taking the suggestion of eminent biologist E.O. Wilson, an advisor to the film, to focus on five of the most dramatic and important events and people, “A Fierce Green Fire” unfolds in five acts of equal length. The Hollywood Reporter writes: “Oscar®-nominated filmmaker Mark Kitchell (‘Berkeley in the Sixties’) winningly spans the broad scope of environmental history in this comprehensive doc, connecting its origins with the variety of issues still challenging society today.”
Getting Up: The Tempt One Story
Internationally known for his innovative artistic style, Tony “TemptOne” Quan is a legendary LA graffiti artist, social activist, and publisher. In 2003, Tempt was diagnosed with ALS, aka Lou Gehrig’s disease, a degenerative neuromuscular disease. Except for the use of his eyes, Tempt is unable to move, breathe, or speak, but his mind and creative spirit are completely intact. Slamdance audience winner “Getting Up” chronicles the efforts of Mick Ebeling to give a voice back to Tempt – and others like him – by bringing together an international group of computer programmers, hackers, and tech anarchists to create an open-source solution. Today, Tempt is not only able to communicate with his family after years of silence but is finally able to draw again, and his new work has been shown around the world.
An experimental dance documentary in which Nannette Rogers-Kennedy shares the story of losing her mother. With director Meyers.
Going Up the Stairs
Warm, revealing, and often surprisingly funny, “Going Up the Stairs” offers a lively portrait of an unlikely artist. An illiterate 50-year-old Iranian, Akram became a painter unexpectedly when her young grandson asked her to work on a drawing. That simple act tapped into a vast reservoir of creativity, and she soon was producing dozens of colorful primitivist paintings. Initially hiding her art from possibly disapproving eyes, Akram finally tells her Western-educated children about her work, and they enthusiastically arrange for an exhibition in far-off Paris. But there’s a hitch in the plan: To attend her own exhibit, Akram must first obtain permission from her conservative husband – a man she married when she was 8 and he was in his 30s.
An animated documentary on the difficulties of childbirth and motherhood.
Heartland: A Portrait of Survival
“Heartland” offers a moving snapshot of close-knit Joplin, Mo., which must crawl from beneath the rubble and make sense of the widespread loss caused by one of the deadliest and most destructive tornadoes in American history. The film weaves together the stories of nine families as they traverse a now-unfamiliar landscape in the hope of recovering some sense of home. Seamlessly blending together home-movie footage, police dispatches, news broadcasts, and footage shot within weeks after the storm, “Heartland” tells an inspiring story of survival. The story focuses on the efforts of one woman as she sets out to collect and return thousands of photos displaced by the tornado. In some cases, these photos represent all that is left from life before the storm. “Heartland” offers a reminder of what is most important in life: New homes, cars, and clothes can always be purchased, but old memories are irreplaceable.
With director Tremblay and producer Bernard Parham.
More than 100 residents died, thousands of lives changed, and one indispensable community newspaper endured. “Deadline in Disaster” chronicles how the Joplin Globe helped its town find hope in the aftermath of the EF-5 tornado that nearly destroyed Joplin, Mo., on May 22, 2011. The tornado took the life of the Globe’s page designer, and one-third of the staff members lost their homes. Much like the hard-rock miners who settled Joplin, the workers at the Globe faced long hours and difficult working conditions as they uncovered stories from the disaster. Still, the Globe rolled the presses on the night of the storm and refused to miss a beat in the many difficult days that followed. In the film, reporters examine their roles as community watchdog and residents reflect on how their newspaper served as a vital source for mourning their losses and moving forward. With co-directors Pike and Hudnell, executive producer Doug Crews, co-producer Scott Charton, and Joplin Globe reporter Emily Younker.
Her Master’s Voice
In “Her Master’s Voice,” internationally acclaimed comedian Nina Conti takes a journey through the strange, surprising, and often hilarious world of ventriloquism. After the death of her mentor and erstwhile lover Ken Campbell, Conti travels to Kentucky with his puppets on a pilgrimage to Vent Haven, which offers a resting place for puppets of dead ventriloquists. An eccentric genius of British theater, Campbell frequently revived forgotten art forms, and when Conti was just another twentysomething wannabe actress, he presented her with a teach-yourself ventriloquism kit. Conti proved a prodigy, becoming a sell-out act and winning a clutch of major awards. On the road and at Vent Haven’s ventriloquism convention, Conti brings Campbell’s puppets to life, struggling to meet the conflicting demands of her old acerbic partner, Monkey, and the new characters she has been bequeathed.
A profile of an artist who creates incredibly life-like dolls.
High Tech, Low Life
“High Tech, Low Life” follows two of China’s first citizen reporters as they travel the country to chronicle underreported news. Armed with laptops, cell phones, and digital cameras, they develop skills as independent one-man news stations while learning to navigate China’s evolving censorship regulations and avoid the risk of political persecution. The film profiles 57-year-old “Tiger Temple,” who earns the title of China’s first citizen reporter after he impulsively documents an unfolding murder, and 27-year-old “Zola,” who recognizes the opportunity to increase his fame and enhance his future prospects by reporting on sensitive news throughout China. From the perspective of vastly different generations, Zola and Tiger Temple must both balance an evolving sense of individualism, social responsibility, and personal sacrifice. The juxtaposition of Zola’s coming-of-age journey and Tiger Temple’s commitment to understanding China’s tumultuous past provides fascinating insight into both China and news-gathering in the 21st century.
With director Maing and producer Trina Rodriguez.
This screening features a specially prepared extended cut of the “Refugees” episode of the ambitious PBS series “Homeland: Immigration in America,” produced by the local Nine Network of Public Media. Using a more observational approach than the broadcast version, the documentary examines refugee populations in the U.S., focusing particular attention on subjects who now live in the St. Louis area. America admits more refugees than any other country, but the resettlement process is complicated and difficult. Often battling physical and mental scars, coping with a language barrier, and lacking marketable skills, refugees are faced with daunting challenges as they attempt to integrate into American culture. This episode of “Homeland” explores the approaches that work best in assisting refugees as they adjust to their new lives.
With co-directors Kirchherr and Berger, editor Frank Popper, and Anna Crosslin (president and CEO of the International Institute).