Reiterating a suggestion I previously made… if you’re a filmmaker/producer/distributor reading this, and your film is streaming on Netflix, please let me know. Netflix unfortunately doesn’t have what I feel should be a more efficient search/sort method, and it can be quite a chore trying to find something worth watching. So, help me out if you can.
The same goes for non-filmmakers. If you stumble across any titles that you think should be featured in this series, let me know!
Without further ado, here is this week’s list of 5:
1 – The much-discussed feature documentary Dark Girls, directed by Bill Duke and D. Channsin Berry – a film that’s more like a discussion with the audience, with the end goal being to hopefully get to some core of the shadeism/colorism issue that’s long plagued, not just the African American community, but people of color the world over. Although it’s unquestionably a work that’s targeted specifically at black Americans.
Consider it more of a continuation of the dialogue we’ve been having on this blog and elsewhere, for as long as I can remember. And no matter how aware, thoughtful and progressive you might think you are, you’ll be surprised to realize just how deep your/our own prejudices are, and where they are rooted; where your/our own standards of beauty come from (both men and women), and why we make the choices that we currently do.
So I won’t be surprised if it’s, for some, a moment of self-discovery – a revelation which might lead to your own tackling of your own prejudices, head-on. And even if you aren’t able to completely be rid of them, you’d at least now be aware that they exist, which might then influence the choices you make, after seeing the film.
And even if you don’t reach some form of self-realization, you will (hopefully) come to understand just how deep some of the wounds really are.
You could think of it as an extended, and necessary *family* therapy session.
The hope I’m sure is that the conversation doesn’t end once the film ends, but that it continues, and that the post-screening conversation is just as honest and raw, as the declarations made within the film.
Director Duke is developing a follow-up to the film that will look at the colorism issue from the other POV – that being of the lighter-skinned black girl/woman.
2 – The Trials of Muhammad Ali, a documentary from Kartemquin Films (the producers of Hoop Dreams, The Interrupters and more), directed by Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Bill Siegel (The Weather Underground).
The powerful documentary examines the life of Muhammad Ali beyond the boxing ring to offer a personal perspective on the American sporting legend. Investigating Ali’s spiritual transformation – including his conversion to Islam, his resistance to the Vietnam War draft, and his humanitarian work – the film connects Ali’s transcendent life story to America’s struggles with race, religion, and war in the twentieth century.
Ali’s toughest bout, his battle to overturn the five-year prison sentence he received for refusing US military service during the Vietnam War. Brash boxer Cassius Clay burst into the American consciousness in the early 1960s, just ahead of the Civil Rights movement. His transformation into the spiritually enlightened heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali is legendary, but this religious awakening also led to a bitter legal battle with the U.S. government after he refused to serve in the Vietnam War. This film reveals the perfect storm of race, religion and politics that shaped one of the most recognizable figures in sports history.
The Trials of Muhammad Ali had its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, won the ABCNews VideoSource Award at the IDA Documentary Awards, and was nominated for Outstanding Independent Motion Picture at the NAACP Image Awards. It was an official selection of Festival Do Rio, Seattle International Film Festival, Traverse City Film Festival, AFI Docs, Montclair Film Festival, and Melbourne International Film Festival.
The film was released theatrically last year by Kino Lorber, opening in New York at IFCCenter, before going on to play in additional markets including Los Angeles, Atlanta, Dallas, Washington DC, Seattle, Philadelphia, Chicago, Toronto, Boston, San Francisco and many others.
3 – It’s one of two recent high-profile documentaries on LGBT rights in Uganda – the other being Call Me Kuchu, directed by Katherine Fairfax Wright and Malika Zouhali-Worrall, which documents the daily lives of David Kato – the first openly gay Ugandan man – and three fellow “kuchus” (LGBT Ugandans).
I’ll also add Wanuri Kahiu’s Jambula Tree, a South African-Kenya co-production currently in development, which also puts a spotlight on the treatment of LGBTs in Uganda. Although Kahiu’s film is a work of fiction, based on a short story that won the Caine Prize for short stories in 2007.
Roger Ross Williams’ feature documentary and feature directorial debut God Loves Uganda tracks the Ugandan pastors and their American counterparts who spread “God’s word” and evangelical values to impressionable millions in the title country. The film is inspired by Williams’ own roots in the African American Baptist church, as he says he sought to explore a place where religion and African culture intersect, adding further:
“I am interested in the exploration of religion in Africa, with the goals of understanding and healing. I am the son of a pastor, the brother of a pastor and I spent my life growing up singing in the gospel choir of my family church. I want to get to know, and comprehend African cultural views. I want to explore the Western media’s portrayal of Africa. I want to know what it is about the lives of the Ugandan people which inspires such deep faith. I want to make a film possessing complexity and depth.”
This narrative is reminiscent of a period in African history when Europeans, believing themselves superior, used their religion as a way into the minds and hearts of many, leading to a series of grave and disruptive consequences that are still very much of influence on the status quo today.
God Loves Uganda was produced by Roger Ross Williams and Julie Goldman. The film is a co-production of Full Credit Productions, Motto Pictures, and the Independent Television Service (ITVS).
Williams’ last film, the Zimbabwe-set Music by Prudence, won the 2010 Oscar for Best Documentary Short. The award made Williams the first African American to win an Oscar for directing and producing a film, short or feature (trivia!).
4 – I guess I now have no excuses for not watching Boss – the drama that the Starz network canceled after just 2 seasons, in 2012, despite all the critical acclaim.
I watched a total of 3 episodes from the first season, but just couldn’t quite get into the series. It could’ve just been a matter of timing. There was (and still is) a lot of competition in the drama department on cable TV (both non-premium and premium channels). Although I did previously planned to return and watch both season 1 & 2 entirely, especially since there were a few black actors on the show (including Sanaa Lathan, as well as singer/songwriter/actor Rotimi, James Vincent Meredith. and, T.I.).
Star Kelsey Grammer won a Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series – Drama, for his performance as ruthless Chicago mayor, Tom Kane, who, diagnosed with a dementia disorder, struggles to keep his grip on power in Chicago.
It’s on my Netflix binge-watch list for the weekend:
5 – And finally… ESPN Films, creators of the critically-acclaimed 30 for 30 film series, presents 30 for 30: Soccer Stories, ahead of the 2014 FIFA World Cup. It includes a mix of standalone feature-length and 30-minute-long documentary films from an award-winning group of filmmakers, telling compelling narratives from around the international soccer landscape. In addition, a collection of 10 vignettes about Brazil’s rich culture are featured throughout.
Here’s a breakdown of what is included…
Two feature-length films:
Hillsborough, Directed by Daniel Gordon
25 years ago, on April 15, 1989, the worst disaster in British football history occurred in an overcrowded stadium in Sheffield, England, 150 miles north of London. 3,000 fans flocked through the turnstiles to head to the area reserved for standing, despite a capacity of less than half of that. The result was a “human crush” that killed 96 people and injured 766. Prior to the disaster at Hillsborough, British football was known for the grime of its stadiums, hooligan fans and inadequate facilities, but great change came after the Hillsborough disaster. What emerged is now known as the most rich and powerful soccer league in the world, the English Premier League.
White, Blue and White, Directed by Camilo Antolini; Produced by Juan José Campanella
Although a large number of Argentinian players have found football success around the world, few have made a name for themselves in England’s top league. One notable exception is Ossie Ardiles. Fresh off Argentina’s victory in the 1978 World Cup, Ardiles and his compatriot, Ricky Villa, joined Tottenham Hotspur later that year, when the notion of overseas players was still new to the English league. Helping lead Spurs to victory in the 1981 FA Cup, the Argentinian stars became cult heroes in England. But on April 2, 1982, everything radically changed as Argentinian troops descended on the British-ruled Falkland Islands, asserting rightful sovereignty. A conflicted Ardiles returned to Buenos Aires two days later, his bright future with Spurs suddenly in question.
Six 30-minute films:
Garrincha: Crippled Angel, Directed by Marcos Horacio Azevedo
In Brazil, Pelé is “The King.” But his teammate, Mané Garrincha, is also remembered as the one of the best soccer players of all time. In a country where the sport grants its protagonists such royal deference, Garrincha is the jester- an entertainer who amused crowds and turned soccer into an irresistible spectacle, all while helping Brazil capture two World Cups. This, despite his legs being so bent that early in his career doctors deemed him unfit to play professionally. Match after match, he proved them wrong. But his unpredictable moves were of little assistance after his playing career came to an end. Abandoned by the soccer establishment, Garrincha died a victim of alcoholism in 1983. But his fans did not forget him. His body was brought to a cemetery, in the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro. Garrincha’s relatives had to borrow a grave, which turned out to be too small for his coffin. Thousands of people flooded the tiny burial ground, much more than the place could accommodate. After 49 years of a brilliant career and tumultuous life, the man who turned soccer into a “Beautiful Game” was memorably laid to rest. His legend lives on.
Barbosa – The Man Who Made All of Brazil Cry, Directed by Loch Phillipps; Executive Producers: Jonathan Hock & Roger Bennett
In 1949, Goalkeeper Moacir Barbosa and his Brazilian national team are on top of the world, having just won the South American championship by a score of 7-0. Barbosa is one of the heroes, widely considered one of the world’s best goalkeepers. But everything changed during the 1950 World Cup, played for the first time in Brazil. Before the final game against neighbor and rival Uruguay, the Brazilian Football Confederation was so confident of victory it had made 22 gold medals with the names of their players imprinted on them. With 11 minutes left, Uruguay shocked the estimated crowd of 200,000 at Marcana and scored the winning goal – a goal that is still considered to be the greatest sporting tragedy to befall Brazil. The blame was mostly pinned on Barbosa for being out of position on his goal line, tantamount to Bill Buckner letting a baseball roll between his legs. The country went into a deep mourning, fans committed suicide, and Barbosa was nationally blacklisted. Barbosa was considered cursed and he never played in another World Cup. He rotted away, practically penniless and alone. On July 13th, the 2014 World Cup Final will again take place at the Maracana, giving the Brazilian team the chance to write a new ending into Brazilian folklore.
Ceasefire Massacre, Directed by Alex Gibney and Trevor Bunim
New Jersey, June 18, 1994. Giants Stadium is awash with green as Irish soccer fans arrive to watch Ireland’s opening World Cup match against the mighty Italy. The sense of optimism is infectious. The Celtic Tiger is in its infancy, Bill Clinton’s decision to grant a visa to Irish Republican leader Gerry Adams has propelled the peace process forward and Jack Charlton’s team are walking onto the pitch before 75,000 fervent spectators made up of Irish, Italians and Americans of Irish and Italian decent. Amongst the fans is Irish Prime Minister Albert Reynolds who is sitting with members of an American group who’ve been working behind-the-scenes to end the conflict in Northern Ireland. The electrifying mood is shared by the supporters watching the match in the Heights Bar, a tiny pub in the Northern Irish village of Loughin Island, 24 miles south of Belfast. At the half, the Irish are remarkably ahead 1-0. Shortly after the second half begins, two masked gunmen belonging to a Protestant terror group burst into the Heights Bar. Thirty rounds are fired and six innocent men watching a soccer match were killed. Ceasefire Massacre will reveal how the juxtaposition of the jubilation felt inside Giants Stadium against the horrors of what happened in the Heights Bar, encapsulated the mood of the time. After 25-years of conflict, Ireland and her people longed for peace and prosperity but the brutalities of the violence in the North were never far from the surface. The gunning down of innocent men as they watched a soccer match marked both a low-point and a turning-point in the Northern Ireland conflict; one that would ultimately contribute to the paramilitaries on both sides calling ceasefires just weeks later.
The Opposition, Directed by Ezra Edelman
In the wake of the 1973 military coup in Chile, American-backed dictator Augusto Pinochet transformed Santiago’s National Stadium into a concentration camp where political opponents were tortured and assassinated. Only months later, that same stadium was scheduled to host a decisive World Cup qualifier between Chile and the Soviet Union. Despite protests, FIFA’s own investigation, and the Soviet’s eventual boycott, the Chilean team still played the game as planned, qualifying for the 1974 World Cup on a goal scored against no one.
Mysteries of The Jules Rimet Trophy, Directed by Brett Ratner
Inspired by Nike, the Greek goddess of victory, the Jules Rimet Trophy was awarded to the nation that won FIFA’s World Cup and was among the most coveted prizes in all of sports. It is also the sports prize shrouded in the most intrigue – with the whereabouts of the original trophy unknown to this day. This film focuses on the great prize’s first brush with crime – a Nazi plan to steal the Rimet Trophy from Italy during World War II. The story unfolds like a great caper film, where our hero, Ottorino Barassi, a mild-mannered Italian soccer official, attempts to protect a valued treasure.
Maradona ’86, Directed by Sam Blair; Executive Produced by John Battsek
In the 1986 World Cup, Maradona redefined what is possible for one man to accomplish on the soccer field. Already a figure of notoriety, but with one failed World Cup behind him, Maradona took possession of the international stage in Mexico, the spotlight rarely drifting from him as he wrote an indelible history with his feet and, of course, with a hand from God. Delivered with passion and intelligence, Maradona ’86 is a fascinating, evocative and operatic portrait of Maradona, revealing his inner complexity and contradictions while basking in the joy and passion of his performance on the pitch as he wrote his name on soccer history forever.
Here’s a look at Garrincha: Crippled Angel: