Thursday, June 8, 2017

From Race to Resistance to Refugees: The 28th Human Rights Watch Film Festival

The 28th edition of the Human Rights Watch Film Festival, running June 9-18 at NYC’s Film Society of Lincoln Center and IFC Center, will be showcasing 21 feature docs and panel discussions (and no fiction films – a smart programming move as the fiction films in past years inevitably ended up the weakest links in the lineup).

Glancing through the program there looks to be a whole lot of timely stuff to choose from, including a “From Audience to Activist” discussion in which “filmmakers, journalists and activists share best practices on how to hold powerful institutions accountable safely and effectively,” and “The Resistance Saga,” an entire day dedicated to Pamela Yates’s award-winning trilogy (1984’s When the Mountains Tremble, 2011’s Granito: How to Nail a Dictator, and this year’s 500 Years: Life in Resistance) that follows the Mayan citizens of Guatemala from their fight for basic rights right through to the first trial in the Americas prosecuting the genocide of indigenous people.


To read my personal picks visit Filmmaker magazine.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Doc Stars of the Month: Davonte 'Dada' Harrell, Reginald 'Junior' Askew, David 'Bud' Perry, 'Raising Bertie'

Margaret Byrne's Raising Bertie (executive produced by J. Cole) is an intimate, six-year journey into the lives of three young, African-American men. Like others their age, Davonte "Dada" Harrell, Reginald "Junior" Askew and David "Bud" Perry face such daunting tasks as finishing high school, finding steady employment and navigating the rollercoaster ride into adulthood. That they attempt to do all this in rural Bertie County, North Carolina—where every odd is stacked against them—is both admirable and enlightening (at least to those of us residing in our urban and coastal bubbles). And it’s what makes these three determined southerners this June’s "Doc Stars of the Month."

Documentary had the honor of speaking with Dada and Junior (between work shifts) and Bud (still recovering from a car accident!) prior to the film’s June 9th theatrical premiere at Maysles Cinema in New York City, through Gunpowder & Sky Distribution and Kartemquin Films. The film also airs on POV on August 28.


To read my interview visit Documentary Magazine.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Doc Stars of the Month: The Sung Family, 'Abacus: Small Enough to Jail'

Abacus: Small Enough to Jail - which has been garnering accolades on the festival circuit ever since its Toronto debut, and was the opening night flick at this year's Full Frame Documentary Film Festival - is equal parts riveting and rage-inducing. Master documentarian Steve James's latest film lays bare the five-year legal drama of the Sung family, Chinese immigrant owners of (NYC) Chinatown’s Abacus Federal Savings Bank, which was accused of mortgage fraud by the limelight-seeking Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance Jr., rendering this community-serving, family-owned-and-operated shop the sole US bank to face criminal charges in the fallout from the 2008 financial crisis. (And despite, ironically, having one of the lowest default rates in the country. Indeed, Fannie Mae even continued to do business with Abacus after the indictment!)

So needless to say, it was a privilege for me to chat collectively by email with this heroic and tight-knit family of six (Abacus founder and patriarch Thomas; his wife, Hwei Lin; and daughters Vera, Jill - both bank executives - Chanterelle and Heather) prior to the film's opening at NYC's IFC Center on May 19 through PBS Distribution.


To read the interview visit Documentary Magazine.

Monday, May 15, 2017

“The Film Gives Viewers Plenty to be Angry About…”: Steve James on Abacus: Small Enough to Jail

Steve James’ documentary, Abacus: Small Enough to Jail, is at once a heartfelt portrait of a close-knit family facing overwhelming adversity and an infuriating indictment of our U.S. justice system gone seriously awry. The film follows the Chinese immigrant Sung family, founding owners and operators of the Abacus Federal Savings Bank down in NYC’s Chinatown, who in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis found themselves locked in a half-decade battle with spotlight-loving Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance, Jr. Though the bank had one of the lowest default rates in the country (with only nine out of 3,000 loans defaulting!), the overzealous prosecutor nevertheless decided to pursue charges — giving the low-income-community-serving institution the dubious distinction of being the one and only bank indicted for mortgage fraud in the fallout.


To read my interview with the legendary Hoop Dreams director visit Filmmaker magazine.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Fighting the Power at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival’s 20th Anniversary

Injustice seemed to be a running theme during the 20th anniversary edition of the always-stellar Full Frame Documentary Film Festival (April 6-9) down in Durham, NC.

Which seemed quite fitting since the state had recently repealed the morally and economically loathsome bathroom bill – while still leaving LGBTQ folks open to discrimination statewide. (And leaving cynical lawmakers to pat themselves on the back for making that NCAA deadline in the knick of time.) So if fighting the powers-that-be is your thing, here are four alternately inspiring and infuriating docs I caught – and you should keep an eye out for in 2017.


To read my list visit Global Comment.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Friday, April 28, 2017

A Conversation With Reggie Watts

The German-born, Montana-raised son of a French mother and an African-American father, Reggie Watts’s worldliness seems bred into his genes. So it should probably come as no surprise that this much-lauded comedian and musician – his latest Reggie Watts: Spatial recently hit Netflix to rave reviews – once used a foreign land to form the basis of a theatrical collaboration.

Produced in partnership with writer/director Tommy Smith, Dutch A/V is a “live-edited environmental film” culled from over 26 hours of footage shot through spyglasses, immersing the viewer in the sights and sounds of Holland. Recipient of the MAP Fund Award, Dutch A/V was work-shopped at IRT Theatre, debuted at the Under the Radar festival back in 2011 – and currently can be sampled on YouTube (I urge all Watts fans to check it out!)



To read my blast-from-the-past chat visit Hammer to Nail.