Summer’s Hot Docs, From Surfers to Schoolkids
by Wendy Mitchell
Whether its “Bowling for Columbine,” “Capturing the Friedmans,” or “Spellbound,” documentary films have recently been burning up the box-office. No longer just for educational TV geeks, non-fiction films are now the buzz topics at dinner parties across the country. As Hollywood churns out inane summer action flicks and disappointing sequels, indieWIRE thought it was the perfect time to look at some of the smarter — and more entertaining — indie docs of the summer. Below are nine of the more noteworthy documentaries that are coming to theaters now through the end of summer.
Director: Paul Hough
What’s next: in theaters starting August 29
Festival track record: awards at Brooklyn International Film
Festival, SXSW, Atlanta, Silver Lake, Edinburgh, Sonoma, Melbourne, and
Texas Film Festival
The lowdown: Here’s proof that docs don’t have to be sedate and boring; this one examine the phenomenon of “backyard wrestling.” Hough doesn’t back away from his subjects; he previously directed segments of “Women of Wrestling” and was behind the controversial Fox Sports special “Reverse Angle,” banned in many states. Likewise, “The Backyard” isn’t for the faint of heart (or stomach), showing the bloodied and battered wrestlers using barbed wire, staple guns, and lightbulbs as weapons.
“Breakfast with Hunter”
Director: Wayne Ewing
What’s next: playing at the IDA’s InFact series in Los Angeles,
Festival track record: CineVegas
The lowdown: Director Ewing gets up close and personal with gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson. The film has footage that chronicles more than 20 years, and displays Thompson’s “normal life” at home, his dealings with politicians and cops, and the making of the filmed version of “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.” Ewing, Thompson’s former road manager and pal, talks to Johnny Depp, P.J. O’Rourke, Ralph Steadman, George Plimpton, and Warren Zevon, among other notables.
“Bukowski: Born into This”
Director: John Dullaghan
What’s next: Magnolia Pictures will release the film starting in
Festival track record: Sundance 2003 in competition, Atlanta Film
The lowdown: This doc, made after Charles Bukowski’s death in 1994, shows some unexpected sides to the writer as well known for his hard living as his writing. Includes interviews with Bukowski as well as Bono, Sean Penn, Harry Dean Stanton, and others.
“OT: Our Town”
Director: Scott Hamilton Kennedy
What’s next: DVD and theatrical release August 15 from Film Movement
Festival track record: awards at Los Angeles, Palm Springs, Aspen,
Heartland, and Santa Monica. Played at Toronto, SXSW, Tribeca, Mill Valley,
Santa Barbara, and MoMA’s Documentary Fortnight
The lowdown: It’s Thornton Wilder meets “Straight Outta Compton.” The film follows a dedicated teacher and group of high school students in Compton, Calif., who decide to mount their school’s first theatrical production in 20 years. Without a budget (or a stage), they decide to update Wilder’s “Our Town” to make it relevant for their community.
“Step Into Liquid”
Director: Dana Brown
What’s next: opens Friday from Artisan
Festival track record: audience documentary award at Maui Film Festival; also played in Tribeca, Newport Beach, and No Dance
The lowdown: Director Dana Brown, son of Bruce Brown (the director of the surfing classic “The Endless Summer”), delivers a modern surfing film, with stunning cinematography and visits to locales from Hawaii to the Irish coast to — surprisingly — sand dunes in China. This artful doc is already being hailed as a new classic in the surfing canon.
“Stoked: The Rise and Fall of Gator”
Director: Helen Stickler
What’s next: opening August 22 from Palm Pictures.
Festival track record: played at Sundance, Melbourne, New York Video
Festival, AFI SilverDocs, Los Angeles, Seattle, New York Underground Film
Festival, Cut & Paste Skateboarding Film Festival.
The lowdown: Helen Stickler worked on this doc for six years, from 1996 to 2002, exploring the rise and fall of Mark “Gator” Rogowski, a hotshot skateboarding superstar who became a murderer. The film uses period footage of Gator skating, and also chronicles the rise of the sport in the ’80s through chats with Tony Hawk and Stacey Peralta, among others. And of course, the film ends with the tragedy that followed Gator’s fame.
“The Same River Twice”
Director: Robb Moss
What’s next: opens September 10 at New York’s Film Forum and will
travel to select theaters
Festival track record: awards at New England Film and Video Festival,
Chicago International Documentary Fest, Nashville; played at Sundance, Full
Frame, Newport, San Francisco, Atlanta, Nantucket, Provincetown, Munich
The lowdown: Director (and Harvard film professor) Robb Moss mixes footage of his (often nude) river guide pals in the carefree 1970s with a look at their lives decades later. Moss’ film, a festival favorite since its premiere at Sundance 2003, is a powerful rumination on the ebbs and flows of life.
“To Be and To Have”
Director: Nicolas Philibert
What’s next: opens September 19 from New Yorker Films
Festival track record: best doc at Valladolid International Film Festival, played at Cannes 2002, Toronto, Rotterdam, Thessaloniki Docs, and a recent Philibert retrospective at MoMA
The lowdown: This latest doc from famed director Philibert was a huge hit in its native France, becoming the highest-grossing doc ever and 2002’s fourth-highest grossing French film. “Etre et Avoir,” as it was known at home, also won a Cesar award, critics’ prizes, and the best doc prize at the 2002 European Film Awards. It chronicles an academic year in a one-room schoolhouse in rural France, giving us a glimpse of precocious (and adorable kids) and their saint-like teacher. Truly touching without being heavy-handed.
Director: Gabriel Baur
What’s next: opens August 22 at New York’s Quad from First Run Features Festival track record: Panorama section at Berlin 2002; winner of best film award at Locarno 2001 Critics’ Week; audience awards at Mostra Lambda Barcelona 2003, Copenhagen Gay & Lesbian Film Festival 2002, and nominated for a 2002 Swiss film award
The lowdown: Using New York drag king night Club Cassanova as its jumping-off point, this doc looks at the world of women who become men (for a few hours or a lifetime), female masculinity, cross-gendered performances, and much more.
[Additional research by Claiborne Smith.]