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Miami to Austin and Making Documentaries Better: Offsite Spouting

Miami to Austin and Making Documentaries Better: Offsite Spouting

This past week has been kind of a haze for me, as I attended my final Miami International Film Festival screening Sunday night — delayed due to a fire alarm at the 18-screen Regal South Beach — and then did not sleep but two hours (on the plane) before arriving in Austin the next morning (traveling North by Northwest to South by Southwest). From then on I never really caught up with sleep, mostly due to my lack of control over transportation and lodging, and I dozed off at least a bit in more films than not. Meanwhile, much of what I did see all the way through I wasn’t into enough to say anything nice about, so I’ve abstained from writing on a lot of films, probably for the best. I can always revisit and report at a later date, though. For now, here’s some of the stuff that took my work elsewhere in the past few days:

My final wrap-up of MIFF for Cinematical, from which here is an excerpt:

With dramas, basic and conventional is more typically frowned upon and that may be why Larysa Kondracki’s ‘The Whistleblower’ hasn’t caught on more than an equally humdrum documentary about Kathryn Bolkovac might. But it’s not bad, has a lead performance from Rachel Weisz that’s not much different from her Oscar-winning work in ‘The Constant Gardener’ and is ultimately successful as both a specific true story of human trafficking and a representative of the broader issue of disaster capitalism.

I have two SXSW reviews up at Cinematical, as well. This is from my post on “The City Dark”:

Compared to ‘King Corn,’ ‘The City Dark’ is a less informative and seemingly less crucial doc, but on an aesthetic level I enjoyed it a lot more. It has a kind of abstract and new age-y tone, rendered by the jangly ambient techno score by The Fishermen Three and Cheney’s quiet, contemplative voice-over narration. In ways it’s vibe reminded me as much of Michael Madsen’s sci-fi-like ‘Into Eternity’ as it does an innocently inquisitive film like Josh Fox’s ‘Gasland’ (though ‘The City Dark’ has none of the scares of those recent doc favorites).

And here is part of my review of “Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop”:

If I had to complain about anything, and it’s somewhat appropriate with this film to be bitchy, it is actually too funny for a crowd that big. From the opening, in which the talk show host gives a surprising celebrity sighting to a star-homes tour bus, the audience could not quiet down. It’s just one hilarious bit after another, and I missed many of those bits. So, I can’t wait to see the doc again to fill in gaps. Also, it’s just plain worthy of multiple viewings.

Finally, a big hit this week apparently, my latest Doc Talk column at Cinematical asked “How Could Documentary Cinema Change for the Better?” I’m thinking of expanding on this section of the piece, dealing with what conceits are overused of late:

Simpler responses to the question include specific suggestions, some a matter of taste, such as wanting less dependency on talking-head interviews (this is Sciretta’s primary pet peeve), less bell-and-whistle motion graphics (Cinematical’s own Wiliam Goss agrees with this one) and less “Ira Glass faux-ironic style voice-over narration (Rowles). Filmmaker Scott Leamon raises the necessary show-don’t-tell issue, complaining that “visual integrity rarely compliments the quality of the narrative.” UGO’s Jordan Hoffman would like to see a tighter market, stating, “Not every artist, musician, architect and political figure needs a feature length documentary, even if they did march for civil rights.”

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