February 22, 2013
By Steve Hallock This year's menu of Oscar-nominated short documentaries offers not only compelling viewing but also hope for those who despair over the decline of a robust, independent press that serves as investigative watchdog over government, business, and society. Not only are some newspapers going out of business, but those remaining - other than a few major city dailies - are eliminating investigative reporting teams and closing foreign and national bureaus. Broadcast television, meanwhile, long ago saw its special reports and foreign bureaus wither as the networks and the cable brethren exponentially increased sports and entertainment fare.
February 7, 2013
I HAD THE PLEASURE of interviewing activist/filmmaker Byron Hurt recently about his new documentary, "Soul Food Junkies. " Hurt will screen and discuss the film Thursday during a free event at Community College of Philadelphia. More than a documentary, "Soul Food" explores a son's deep love for his father, who refused to abandon the culinary tradition's high-fat and calorie-heavy dishes even when his health was threatened. Hurt's film takes a historical, cultural and culinary journey to the origins of soul-food traditions and their complex connection to black identity.
January 28, 2013 |
COME OSCAR night, the favored "Lincoln" may not be the film making a speech. Ben Affleck 's "Argo," co-produced by George Clooney and Grant Heslov , followed up its Golden Globes win by taking the top honor at the Producers Guild Awards on Saturday. Other nominees were "Les Miserables," "Zero Dark Thirty," "Beasts of the Southern Wild," "Django Unchained," "Life of Pi," "Moonrise Kingdom," "Silver Linings Playbook," and "Skyfall" - or basically every good movie that came out this past year.
January 23, 2013 |
PITTSBURGH - FrackNation is a new documentary that attacks opponents of fracking for oil and gas, but it also raises a bigger question: Is it possible to criticize environmentalists without being a tool for big industry? Fracking - or hydraulic fracturing - is a method of stimulating oil and gas from deep underground that has led to a historic boom in U.S. production while also stoking controversy over its possible impact on the environment and human health. FrackNation , an independent documentary produced by Los Angeles-based filmmakers Phelim McAleer and Ann McElhinney, addresses the issue from an unusual perspective.
January 6, 2013 |
On the first day of 1863, as the Civil War raged on, President Lincoln proclaimed all the slaves in the rebellious Confederate states to be "forever free. " With his Emancipation Proclamation, whose 150th anniversary the United States celebrates this week, Lincoln made the end of slavery a Civil War goal. As PBS's ambitious documentary miniseries The Abolitionists shows, Lincoln's words came at the end of a decadeslong antislavery campaign led by a tiny group of activists whose fervor alienated them from the mainstream of American life.
January 6, 2013 |
JERUSALEM - The Mideast conflict has done little to help Israel's image in the world, but the way local filmmakers deal critically with the Israel-Palestinian issue has won wide international praise - and this year, recognition from the top of the movie industry. Two Israeli-produced documentaries about the conflict have been shortlisted for possible nomination in this year's Academy Awards. Few Israeli films have contended in the Best Documentary category before. The shortlisted films represent rare recognition of foreign entrants in a category dominated by American productions.
December 14, 2012 |
"THE CENTRAL PARK FIVE" makes the sardonic point that exoneration rarely gets the same frenzied publicity as conviction, and takes a small step toward redress. Its documentary subjects are the five boys-turned-men (Yusef Salaam, Korey Wise, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, Antron McCray) railroaded in 1989 for the beating and rape of the so-called Central Park jogger, and of course there is much shame to be conferred in this story on police and prosecutors. They buried evidence, coerced confessions, and proceeded with prosecution even when it must have been obvious to them (the DNA didn't match)
December 11, 2012 |
New box sets are always plentiful this time of year - appropriate and pleasing gifts for the music lover on your shopping list. This season, though, we sense extra urgency in the release patterns as the "packaged goods" music business continues its decline. Labels are bundling more crown jewels into "complete" collections of CDs. And dishing some true-blue rarities, music and music videos (on DVD and Bluray) so long gone, there'd been speculation the stuff might not even exist anymore.
December 4, 2012 |
LOS ANGELES - The anti-bullying film "Bully," the climate-change study "Chasing Ice" and the AIDS chronicle "How to Survive a Plague" are among 15 features on the short list for the Academy Award for best documentary. Other contenders announced Monday are the Ethel Kennedy documentary "Ethel," the health care exploration "The Waiting Room" and the music portrait "Searching for Sugar Man," tracing the fate of acclaimed but obscure 1970s singer-songwriter Rodriguez. Members of the academy's documentary branch will narrow the list to five nominees.
November 16, 2012 |
AN UNDERFUNDED New York City middle school is the main focus of "Brooklyn Castle," the uplifting documentary story of how a chess program transforms the lives of inner-city students. Director Katie Dellamaggiore profiles Intermediate School 318, where teacher Elizabeth Vicary's after-school chess program had such a powerful effect on children that it became part of the curriculum and produced national champions. What becomes of a program so demonstrably successful and obviously effective?