SLIFF 2012 Documentaries
Focusing on filmmaking’s unsung heroes – casting directors – “Casting By” takes viewers on a fast-paced journey through the last half-century of Hollywood history and offers an entirely new perspective. Pioneers such as Marion Dougherty and Lynn Stalmaster were iconoclasts whose exquisite taste and gut instincts helped to usher in the New Hollywood. Thanks to the influence of the new medium of television, they broke away from the traditional typecasting of Hollywood and brought unconventional actors such as James Dean, Dustin Hoffman, Bette Midler, and Gene Hackman to the screen. SLIFF alum Donahue (“Guest of Cindy Sherman”) combines interviews with actors and directors – including Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen, Clint Eastwood, Glenn Close, Robert Duvall, Jeff Bridges, Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, and John Travolta – with archival material to shine a revealing spotlight on Hollywood’s most unheralded profession.
With director Donahue and cinematographer Peter Bolte.
Charles Bradley: Soul of America
Beginning on its subject’s 62nd birthday, this inspiring documentary follows the journey of Charles Bradley during the transformative months leading up to the release of his debut album, “No Time for Dreaming.” Despite serious hardship – abandonment as a child, homelessness, the death of his brother, constant poverty – Bradley never gives up on his lifelong dream to be a professional singer. Encouraged by Grammy-winning producer Gabriel Roth and musician Tommy Brenneck, Bradley moves away from the James Brown covers he’s performed for nearly a half-century and instead focuses on finding his own unique voice. Bradley’s heartfelt songs and impassioned performances resonate with audiences, and “No Time for Dreaming” became one of the best-selling independent records of the year, landing on Rolling Stone magazine’s Top 50 albums of 2011.
An African-American senior citizen makes elaborate art out of peach seeds. With director Copeland.
Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope
Have you ever imagined a place where Vulcans and vampires get along and wizards and Wookies can be themselves? Welcome to Comic-Con San Diego. What started as a fringe comic-book convention for 500 fans has grown into the pop-culture event of the year, a gathering that influences every form of entertainment and draws more than 140,000 fans. Morgan Spurlock (“Super Size Me,” “The Greatest Movie Ever Sold”) explores this cultural phenomenon by following the lives of six attendees – two hopeful artists, a comic-book dealer, a costume/creature designer, and a fanboy/girl couple – as they descend on the ultimate geek mecca. The film features one-on-one interviews with Comic-Con veterans who have turned their passions into professions, including Stan Lee, Joss Whedon, Frank Miller, Kevin Smith, Matt Groening, Seth Rogen, and Eli Roth. SLIFF also features Spurlock’s “Mansome” (see Documentary Features).
With subject Skip Harvey.
Danland: A Pornumentary
Unflinching in its portrayal of the amateur-porn world, “Danland” offers an insightful, unsettling look at our collective desires and fears about love and sex. Having spent much of his career shooting amateur gangbang videos in the basement of his suburban Virginia home, Dan Leal (aka Porno Dan) exults in his nomination for an AVN Award. But Dan also has a conflicting desire: He’s looking for real intimacy, an actual committed relationship. Deciding to give up starring in his own films and concentrate on living a cleaner personal life, Dan turns blissfully domestic as he renews his relationship with an ex-girlfriend. But the lure of his old life is too strong, and soon enough Dan is back to partying hard and having sex on camera.
With director Berger.
The filmmaker recognizes himself in the narcissistic behavior of his 90-year-old grandpa.
Deadline in Disaster
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.
“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.
“Defiant Requiem” tells the compelling story of the Nazi concentration camp Terezin. Led by imprisoned conductor Raphael Schächter, the inmates fought back with art and music, struggling to maintain their humanity by staging plays, composing opera, and using paper and ink to record the horrors around them. This creative rebellion reached its peak when Schächter taught a choir of 150 inmates one of the world’s most difficult and powerful choral works, Verdi’s Requiem, re-imagined as a condemnation of the Nazis. The choir would ultimately perform the Requiem in front of the Nazi high brass and the International Red Cross, and sing to them what they dare not say. For more than 10 years, conductor Murry Sidlin has dreamed of bringing the Requiem back to Terezin. Now, through soaring concert footage, powerful survivor recollections, sweeping cinematic dramatizations, and evocative animation, “Defiant Requiem” – narrated by Bebe Neuwirth – brings the incredible story of this artistic uprising to life.
With director Shultz.
Dignity Harbor: A Home Away from Homeless
One of nine documentary nominees for the 2012 Student Academy Award, “Dignity Harbor” chronicles a group of homeless people living in an encampment along the Mississippi River in downtown St. Louis. In the shadow of the Arch, several makeshift communities – Hopeville, Sparta, and Dignity Harbor – are erected when work begins to fill the tunnels under Tucker Boulevard, displacing many homeless. In Dignity Harbor, the self-appointed mayor promises a safe environment – women are especially to be welcomed – and the residents work cooperatively to cut wood and build rudimentary shelters. But conflicts inevitably arise, tempers occasionally flare, and everyone struggles to survive the harsh St. Louis winter. Although the utopian dream finally dies for good when the city bulldozes the shantytowns, not all is lost, with several of the residents moving to more permanent housing.
With co-director Gualdoni and Virginia Shelton, director of Special Projects for the Homeless, Catholic Charities Community Services.
Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey
When classic-rock band Journey searched for a replacement for iconic lead singer Steve Perry, few would have predicted Arnel Pineda would emerge as the group’s new frontman. A Filipino who led a hardscrabble existence on Manila’s streets since age 13, Pineda comes to the attention of Journey guitarist Neal Schon when he views YouTube videos posted by a friend of the singer’s. Listening to Pineda’s covers of rock classics, Schon recognizes a clear similarity to Perry’s powerfully unique vocals and flies the singer from Philippines to San Francisco to audition. Miraculously, Pineda lands the gig, but the dream sometimes proves a nightmare. The stress of fronting a legendary band on a world tour – and replacing its defining member – places a heavy burden on Pineda, and converting skeptical fans is a challenge.
“Elemental” follows three outsiders who are obsessed by nature and driven by a deep desire to change the status quo. Rajendra Singh, an Indian government official gone rogue, mounts a national crusade to save the Ganges River. Activist Eriel Deranger leads a David-vs.-Goliath fight against the oil giants who are destroying her homeland in the Canadian Tar Sands. And Australian inventor Jay Harman is attempting to halve the world’s energy consumption by mimicking natural systems. Although separated by continents, each character is part of a global story about water and climate change – like the natural world, their work is interconnected. Going beyond the issues to reveal the public triumphs and emotional scars of life on the front line, “Elementals” tells an inspiring story of unsung environmental heroes.
With co-director Vaughan-Lee.
For 35 years, ragtime musicians from across the world have journeyed to Peoria, Ill., to battle for the title of World’s Greatest Old-Time Piano Player. They come from all walks of life: a hearing-impaired administrative assistant from Champaign, Ill.; a Native American author, professor and self-taught pianist who can’t read music; a 17-year-old phenom who dazzles his adult counterparts; the self-styled “Perfessor” of ragtime history; a machine operator who practices on old upright pianos in church basements; and a professional ragtime player whose primary performance venue is nursing homes. These players remind the world that ragtime, the first truly American popular music, shouldn’t be forgotten.
With co-directors Zimmer and Holle, and musical performances by subjects Faye Ballard, Ethan Uslan, and Four Arrows (a former St. Louisan).
A profile of the longtime bartenders at the Santa Anita racetrack, with a Scott Joplin soundtrack. With director Mullins.