Reality Film-making

A View of the Documentaries

Humans love a good story, but we yearn for good and true stories
with a much greater hunger. In the world of filmmaking, it’s
documentaries that fill the truth niche, and for documentaries,
it’s the film festival circuit that acts as a stable serving tray.
Our own film fest is no different, and this year, there are more
than 30 documentaries being served, including an impressive 12
world premieres and four American premieres.

momkiss.jpgPerhaps the leader in American premieres
is The Killer Within, Macky Alston’s stirring, gripping piece about
esteemed University of Arizona environmental psychology professor
Bob Bechtel, whose hidden history as a dormitory murderer — and
quick freedom after an insanity ruling — is revealed for friends,
family, and colleagues before the lens. This is excellent
documentary work in which a simple man’s scary story washes over
the viewer as strongly as it washed over his own relatives, aided
by creepy music from the Kronos Quartet and insight from confused
mental health professionals.

Other American premieres include United Gates of America, a
revealing, hilarious look by writer Charles Leduff and director
Alex Cooke at the folks who live in gated communities in Bush
country; The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema, a film geek fave best
explained in D.J. Palladino’s “Premiere Vu” (page 45); and Glimpses
of Heaven, a 67-minute film by Michael Oved Dayan about people from
horrid pasts who’ve blossomed into great citizens.

For a glimpse at the good old days, go see the world premiere of
Jack Taylor of Beverly Hills. As the style-creating tailorshop
owner who dressed the Rat Pack, Monty Hall, the Duke of Windsor,
Elvis Presley, and everyone since — and who’ll be in attendance for
the screening — Cecile Leroy Beaulieu’s touching and meaningful
portrait of Taylor, his family, coworkers, and fans also serves as
a primer on male fashion and why coming generations no longer have
men to look up to.

The most moving documentaries in this year’s slate deal with
disease and individual attempts to live normally through physical
hardships. In Adam Bardach’s Living with Lew, screenwriter and
aspiring director Scott Lew battles the ravages of Lou Gherig’s
disease as he directs his first feature film. As Lew’s condition
worsens, his spirit remains unfettered, acting as a testament to
making the most out of life. That’s the similar theme of Darius
Goes West: The Roll of His Life, Logan Smalley’s ode to his friend
Darius Weems, a 19-year-old from Athens, Georgia, who has Duchenne
Muscular Dystrophy, the number-one genetic killer in the world that
takes its victims’ lives by their early twenties. Weems wants MTV’s
Pimp My Ride show to fix up his “raggedy wheelchair,” so his
friends decide to take an RV out west to California and get the job
done. Meanwhile, Weems’s raps — which served as his correspondence
to MTV — are interlaced in the film between shots of the
inspirational young man’s dips in the ocean, hot air balloon rides,
river rafting trips, and becoming a media sensation. Both are world
premieres, and both Lew and Weems will attend the screenings.

Always a hotbed for intriguing stories, Africa gets multiple
treatments in this year’s fest. There’s the poignant Taking Guns
from Boys, Jessie Deeter’s journalistic take on the difficult
disarmament project in Liberia, where young men have waged war on
each other for decades. There’s Ayamye by Eric Matthies and Tricia
Todd, which is about bringing bicycles to Ghana and how much of a
positive impact that project has for rural living. Both films are
world premieres.

Another must-see world premiere is Quantum Hoops, Rick
Greenwald’s story about the Cal Tech basketball team that lost 240
games in a row. Since Cal Tech finally won a game a couple weeks
back, Greenwald is making some last-minute additions to the film,
so it will be entirely updated. There’s also Finding Kraftland, the
story of Richard Kraft’s quest with his son to rediscover his
childhood while managing Hollywood’s biggest composers; Do It for
Johnny, about trying to get a script to Johnny Depp; henry, about
abortionist Henry Morgentaler, who’ll be in attendance; Season of
the Samurai, about a Japanese baseball team that plays in the
California minor leagues; and Swimming in Auschwitz, featuring the
stories of six Holocaust survivors.

But of all the documentary premieres, Natalie Sanderson’s Lost
Souls has the most people excited. Entered originally in the local
filmmaker series, the doc — about the illegal trafficking of
Nepalese art — was so good it was elevated to the main level.

Of course, there are plenty of reasons for seeing non-premieres
as well. Worth adding to your true story list are also Crazy Love,
a Sundance favorite about a truly insane relationship between a
married man and young nymph. A political/war double feature will be
had with Can Mr. Smith Still Get to Washington Anymore?, about a
nobody’s attempt to run for Senate, which opens for The Ground
Truth, a film shot by American soldiers whose director, Patricia
Foulkrod, is coming to the Arlington screening. Two films already
receiving much acclaim are A Very British Gangster, about an
English crime boss, which premiered at Sundance, and The Trials of
Darryl Hunt, an 18-year epic about a black man who was convicted of
raping a white woman yet maintains his innocence. It is shortlisted
for an Oscar in feature docs.

And these true stories aren’t just for show, either. There are
industry judges who will be selecting the best documentary in the
festival and presenting that award on closing night. And once
again, the Fund for Santa Barbara will be presenting a $1,000 cash
prize with its annual Social Justice Award, which honors the film
that most effectively details such issues.


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