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Eye-Opening Documentaries

Eye-Opening Documentaries

The sheer number of documentaries being made, and released,
these days is daunting. Some are frankly amateurish or cover subjects that
aren’t worthy of feature-length exploration, but others are truly out of the
ordinary. I’m a latecomer to The Girls in
the Band,
but I’m happy to report that it’s making a return engagement to
several Laemmle Theatre screens this Friday in the Los Angeles area.

a sucker for stories about vaudeville, big bands, and jazz, but by any measure
Judy Chaikin’s loving documentary is a standout. She not only chronicles the
careers of forgotten female musicians but places them in the continuity of jazz
in the 20th and 21st century. The interviews with such hearty
veterans as Clora Bryant, the late Marian McPartland and Peggy Gilbert (among
many others) are priceless, and the vintage film and television clips are icing
on the cake. But this is no mere nostalgia trip: it’s a valuable examination of
our musical culture that comes right up to the present day, celebrating such
talented women as the International Sweethearts of Rhythm, Mary Lou Williams,
Melba Liston, and Toshiko Akiyoshi. Watching The Girls in the Band is a rewarding experience; I’m glad it’s
getting another round of exposure on theater screens. Learn more HERE.

Miss World
by Cecilia Peck is a compelling, empathetic profile
of a gutsy Israeli woman, Linor Abargil, who has taken a shattering chapter in
her life—suffering a brutal rape just before being crowned Miss World—and used
it as a springboard to help other women around the globe. She encourages them
to speak out and free themselves of the shame so many feel after being violated…yet,
as we learn, she is still fighting her own emotional battles. Peck’s intimate
portrait showcases an unusually forthright woman who is both crusader and
victim. Brave
Miss World
is still touring the film festival circuit, and opens Friday at Laemmle’s Town Center in
Encino, California. You can watch the trailer and learn how to
consider sponsoring your own screening HERE.

The growing number of reports detailing
miscarriages of justice, and the work of groups like The Innocence Project, shed
new light onto criminal cases that once were considered open-and-shut. The Central Park Five, made by Ken
Burns, Sarah Burns and David McMahon, is one explosive example of this.
Hollywood even dramatized such a story in the underrated Hilary Swank vehicle Conviction. At one time, if I’d heard
the phrase “cop killer” applied to someone I would have written him off without
a second thought. Stephen Vittoria’s impassioned feature Mumia: Long Distance Revolutionary goes past the headlines to
document an inflammatory case involving a radical journalist who continues to
ply his trade behind bars. Mumia Abu-Jamal also refuses to allow bitterness to
overcome him, even after endless years on Pennsylvania’s Death Row. You don’t
have to agree with Abu-Jamal’s politics to admire his work ethic—or his
eloquence. This is truly an eye-opening experience. The film is currently
available on DVD through First Run Features and is also available for download
on iTunes.Visit the website to learn more.

Last year I served as president of the jury at
the Biografilm festival in Bologna, Italy. My fellow jurors and I agreed that
the “best in show” was a remarkably well-told account of a unique human being: a
young guitar phenom whose career was cut short by Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Despite
doctor’s dire  predictions, Jason is
still very much alive years later, thanks to his own will power and the tireless
efforts of his family and friends. Jesse Vile’s life-affirming Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet is available
on DVD from Kino Lorber, and is also available for streaming on iTunes.You can
learn more and watch the trailer HERE.

I only wish I had time to watch more documentaries, which
thanks to new distribution streams are so readily available. For now, I’m happy
to spread the word about these four, which are well worth your time.

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