Some of this year's most enlightening investigative docs and two packages from Criterion join several other specialty releases on the small screen this week. Two social issue docs debut on the TV this week: tonight, PBS's POV has Geoffrey Smith & Roberto Hernández's "Presumed Guilty" and next Monday, HBO debuts "Jesus Camp" filmmakers Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady's "12th & Delaware" (criticWIRE rating: A-). In "Presumed Guilty," two Mexican attorneys, using their client as an example, shine a light on the faults of the Mexican justice system, where there is a presumption of guilt until the accused is proven innocent. Variiety's John Anderson says of the film, "The number of lives endangered in and around "Presumed Guilty" add to the compelling nature of a film that, a first blush, seems like MSNBC weekend jail fare, but slowly evolves into a story of national, and perhaps international, importance." The doc, which premiered at IDFA in 2008, has been making the festival rounds well into this summer.
"12th & Delaware," the "Jesus Camp" filmmakers film about a pro-life organization that attempts to thwart pregnant women's plans to abort their babies at a clinic across the street from where they are stationed, received grand reviews at this year's Sundance. Speaking about dealing with their film's delicate subject matter, the duo said in a iW interview, "It may sound strange to say, but sometimes we felt like we were making a Dogme film with all the restrictions inherent to this project. In terms of influences, we borrowed a little from “In Treatment,” with respect to how to approach an intense, one-on-one counseling session. We were also inspired in some way by Michael Haneke’s “Cache,” a film that builds a sense of mystery and suspense through a specific editing style."
Two Criterion packages get their release this week: Abdellatif Kechiche's 2007 breakout "The Secret of the Grain" ("La graine et le mulet") and a package of writer/director/actor Sacha Guitry films. Kechiche's film follows a Maghrebian immigrant with a big family who sets up a fish and couscous restaurant in a French resort town. Writing on the film, Roger Ebert says, "We leave the movie as we entered, in the middle of things. 'The Secret of the Grain' never slows, always engages, may continue too long, but ends too soon. It is made of life itself." The Criterion set includes interviews with the director and many of the film's players as well as a longer cut of the film's belly dancing sequence. Also coming to Criterion today is "Eclipse Series 22: Presenting Sacha Guitry." The set includes four Guitry films, "The Story of a Cheat" ("Le roman d’un tricheur"), "The Pearls of the Crown" ("Les perles de la couronne"), "Désiré," and "Quadrille." Writing of the auteur, Dennis Lim in the LA Times, says, "The picture of dandyish sophistication, Guitry is often described as a French Noel Coward, though he can also be seen as a counterpart to Orson Welles or Laurence Olivier, those larger-than-life hams who in moving from stage to screen took full control both in front of and behind the camera. Another contemporary who comes to mind, given the dexterity and layered precision of his wordplay, is Preston Sturges."
Don Argott's profile of the idiosyncratic art collection/museum that is being relocated from outside to inside the city limits of Philadelphia, "The Art of the Steal" (criticWIRE rating: B), bows on DVD via Sundance Selects. Writing after the film's NYFF screening (with impassioned Q&A), our own Brian Brooks reported, "During the vibrant Q&A in New York last fall some audience members asked aloud about the perceived lack of access to the work. Barnes set up the foundation to be primarily an educational institution with public viewing of the art receiving a secondary roll. In fact, Barnes expressly forbade the art from being displayed anywhere other than at the foundation...While the film clearly appears to be on the side of Dr. Barnes’ original intent, the filmmakers said they made a significant attempt to include the new overseers of the Barnes Foundation, though without success. Yet they did gain access to PA Governor Rendell and other players that supports the foundation’s relocation. Even so, the filmmakers were still peppered with questions of bias." Marco Bellocchio's "Vincere" (criticWIRE rating: B) puts a secret side of Mussolini's life onto the screen in a fiction feature. Writing at the A.V. Club, Mike D'Angelo noted at Cannes last year, ""Maybe I’m just a sucker for any historical drama that doesn’t go plod plod plod, but so far Vincere is easily my favorite film in Competition this year, despite being one of my least anticipated."
Also out this week are Blu-Ray editions of "Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon" and the complete collection of "Rambo" films. The following films will also receive a DVD release today: "I Need That Record! The Death (or Possible Survival) of the Independent Record Store," "Joan Mitchell: Portrait of An Abstract Painter"the Cannes and ND/NF entry "Home" starring Isabelle Hubbert, a recording of the Julie Andrews/Tony Roberts-starring Broadway production of "Victor/Victoria," CCH Pounder-starring "Rain," and the week's most sensational title: "Everything You Wanted to Know About Gay Porn Stars."
Bryce J. Renninger, an indieWIRE contributor in the New York office, is also the shorts programmer for Newfest and is pursuing a Ph.D. in Media Studies at Rutgers University. He can be reached via Twitter.