SLIFF 2012 Documentaries
Surveying the facial hair of specimens ranging from Jack Passion, America’s greatest beardsman, to director Morgan Spurlock, who displays his own mustache, stars Will Arnett and Jason Bateman take a hilarious look at men’s identity in the 21st century. Models, actors, experts, and comedians – including Zach Galifianakas, John Waters, Paul Rudd, and Adam Carolla – weigh in on what it is to be a man in today’s world. Guys’ idiosyncratic grooming habits are thoroughly combed over as men finally take a long hard look in the mirror. SLIFF also features Spurlock’s “Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope”
Whiskers of a different sort are featured in this short: When Mr. Lee, an adopted stray cat, routinely disappears from his South Carolina home for days on end, his owner creates a camera designed to fit around the feline’s neck.
The Nine Muses
Using Homer’s epic poem “The Odyssey” as a narrative reference point, “The Nine Muses” is an essayistic meditation on chance, fate, and redemption. Structured as an allegorical fable set between 1949 and 1970, the film features nine overlapping musical chapters and mixes archival material with original scenes to create a stylized, idiosyncratic retelling of the history of mass migration to postwar Britain. In addition to Homer, “The Nine Muses” employs the writings of a wide range of authors, including Dante Alighieri, Samuel Beckett, James Joyce, John Milton, William Shakespeare, Dylan Thomas, Matsuo Basho, T.S. Eliot, and Li Po. ArtForum asserts that the film “extends, complicates, and enriches the definition of documentary,” and the Observer writes: “‘The Nine Muses’ wraps the viewer in literature, music and archive footage, summoning up a mood rather than a story that reflects on the immigrant experience and the violence of displacement with a majestic grace.”
Of Two Minds
“Of Two Minds” explores the extraordinary lives, struggles, and triumphs of three people living with bipolar disorder: stylist Cheri Keating, architect/artist Carlton Davis, and writer/journalist Liz Spikol. More than 5 million Americans are diagnosed with bipolar disorder, but the issue is especially personal for co-director Lisa Klein, whose sister was diagnosed with manic depression in the early 1990s and committed suicide in 1994. Blending vérité footage with intimate interviews, the film takes viewers through both the exhilaration of the manic highs and the crushing despair of depression. Although each of the characters tells a unique story, they share many bonds: family traumas, divorces, suicide attempts, fears of intimacy, threats of work discrimination. And all have an intense desire to present more to the world than a diagnosis. Far from a clinical study of mental-health issues, “Of Two Minds” is a vibrant canvas of emotions, featuring unflinchingly honest personal accounts and moments of surprising humor.
Oma & Bella
“Oma & Bella” is a documentary portrait of two elderly Jewish women in Berlin whose connection to the past, engagement with the present, and hopes for the future are intricately entwined with the food that they make. As the film – made by Oma’s granddaughter – follows the pair on their daily routines, Oma and Bella’s lucidity, sense of fun, and constant back-and-forth are infectious: Although the women have faced extraordinary challenges, they retain the ability to laugh. Pounding veal, peeling carrots, rolling blinis, and hacking apart chicken, Oma and Bella relate their stories – of fighting as partisans in the woods, of raising a child as a single mother in a hostile country, of going to nightclubs to regain a lost adolescence. Defiant survivors of the Holocaust, Oma and Bella retained their humanity against overwhelming odds by using humor as an answer to sorrow and by depending on the love for their families and each other.
Orchestra of Exiles
“Orchestra of Exiles” explores the four-year odyssey of prodigious Polish violinist Bronislaw Huberman, which culminated in the founding of the orchestra that would become the Israel Philharmonic. Before the Nazis came to power, Huberman was focused only on building his own monumental career, but witnessing Hitler’s agenda was a call to action that Huberman could not ignore, and during the darkest days of anti-Semitism and Nazi aggression, he struggled heroically to get Jewish musicians out of Europe to found the Palestine Philharmonic. Huberman’s extraordinary efforts saved hundreds of Jewish families from the approaching Holocaust, and his achievements changed the landscape of cultural history. Director Aronson, a native St. Louisan, was Oscar®-nominated for “Sound and Fury.”
With director Aronson.
SINGLE ADMISSION FOR DOUBLE BILL
The Other Josephine
Native St. Louisan Josephine Baker remains justly famous for her scandalous danse sauvage and her banana skirt, but the woman born Freda Josephine MacDonald was far more than an erotic dancer – during her eventful life, Baker was also a film star, singer, decorated member of the French Resistance, civil-rights activist, and adoptive mother to a large multicultural family. Beginning her career as a street-corner dancer in St. Louis, Baker moved first to New York during the Harlem Renaissance and then to Paris, where her massive popularity prompted Ernest Hemingway to declare Baker “the most sensational woman anyone ever saw.” This new documentary – co-written by her son Brian Bouillon-Baker, who also serves as on-screen guide – offers an intimate portrait of Baker, including a visit to her hometown and interviews with friends, family members, and fellow artists.
With director Judith-Gozlin.
As part of double bill celebrating native St. Louisan Josephine Baker, SLIFF features the radiant star’s first film, the silent “Siren of the Tropics,” with live musical accompaniment by the Poor People of Paris. Marquis Sévéro, a rich, lazy Parisian, wants to divorce his wife so that he can marry his goddaughter Denise. But Denise loves André, an engineer employed by the marquis. Filled with jealousy, the marquis sends André to the Antilles and instructs Alvarez, his manager at the site, to prevent the engineer from ever returning to France. When André breaks up Alvarez’s attempt to rape Papitou (Baker), a beautiful native girl, she becomes devoted to André and works to protects him against Alvarez’s schemes
Paul Williams: Still Alive
Musician Paul Williams won Grammys and an Academy Award; wrote Barbra Streisand’s “Evergreen,” the Carpenter’s “We’ve Only Just Begun,” and Kermit the Frog’s “The Rainbow Connection”; starred in Brian De Palma’s “The Phantom of the Paradise”; and appeared on “The Tonight Show” 50 times. But for much of the past 30 years, Williams seemed not to exist. During the singer’s ‘70s heyday, a young Steve Kessler was a devoted fan, and when the filmmaker discovers that Williams isn’t dead, he decides to make a documentary and sets off in pursuit of his reluctant subject. A wistful musical journey that re-introduces a new generation to Williams’ soulful classics, “Paul Williams: Still Alive” is the charmingly self-narrated story of Kessler’s lifelong obsession with the former superstar.
A profile of Rory Lepine, who shot to fame in 1985 when he attacked Winnipeg rock legend Burton Cummings with a beer bottle in a 7-Eleven.
The Perfect Victim
For more than 30 years, three women have languished in Missouri state prison under unjust sentences for killing their abusive husbands. Denied the opportunity to enter the abuse into evidence, each of the women represents a system broken by outdated and media-sensationalized stereotypes. When a better understanding of the “battered woman” syndrome changes legal practices in 2000, a new law enables the parole board to re-evaluate each woman’s case. But nothing comes easy to the women who have been abused twice: first by their husbands and then by the notoriously secretive board that controls their fate.
With director Rohrbaugh, producer Lindsay Nowak, and subject Amy Lorenz-Moser.
Legendary personal documentarian Ross McElwee (“Sherman’s March,” “Bright Leaves”) finds himself in frequent conflict with Adrian, his young-adult son who seems addicted to and distracted by the virtual worlds of the Internet. Hoping to find a means of reconnecting with the uncommunicative Adrian, McElwee decides to revisit his youth, traveling back to St. Quay-Portrieux in Brittany for the first time in decades to retrace his own journey into adulthood. But in setting off in search of a photographic mentor and a former lover, McElwee makes some unexpected discoveries. Variety writes: “With droll wit and fearless instinct for turning an unblinking lens on his life’s minutiae, Ross McElwee continues his Socratic mandate of living a fully examined life with the assured and insightful ‘Photographic Memory’ in which the inevitable sojourn into his past once again helps him understand the present and brace for the future.”
With director/subject McElwee, the Maysles Brothers Lifetime Achievement Award in Documentary honoree.
The Prep School Negro
André Robert Lee and his sister grew up in the ghettos of Philadelphia. Their mother struggled to support them by putting strings in the waistbands of track pants and swimsuits in a local factory. When André was 14 years old, he received what his family believed to be a golden ticket – a full scholarship to attend one of the most prestigious prep schools in the country. Elite education was André’s way up and out, but at what price? Yes, the exorbitant tuition was covered, but this new world cost him and his family much more than anyone could have anticipated. In “The Prep School Negro,” André takes a journey back in time to revisit the events of his adolescence while also spending time with current-day prep-school students of color and their classmates to see how much has really changed inside the ivory tower.
With director/subject Lee.