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Nonfiction. Wilkerson, Gardner, Eisenberg, More

Also: Eames, Dragonslayer, Pianomania, The Other F Word and more.
The Daily

Even as I carry on updating the entry on DOC NYC, there's quite a lot besides going on in the field of nonfiction filmmaking. Last week, both the International Documentary Association and Cinema Eye Honors announced the nominations for their respective awards, and yesterday, Cinema Eye unveiled "a new, periodic award called the Hell Yeah Prize, to be given to filmmakers who have created works of incredible craft and artistry that also have significant, real-world impact. The inaugural Hell Yeah Prize will be presented to Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky for their HBO Documentary Films trilogy Paradise Lost, which played a critical role in securing the release from prison of the wrongly prosecuted and convicted West Memphis Three."

And the other day, when I pointed to Dennis Lim's review of Travis Wilkerson's An Injury to One (2002), "one of American independent cinema's great achievements of the past decade, just issued on DVD by Icarus Films," Mac left a comment calling for more work from Wilkerson. Well, Travis himself swung by to reply: "I've made a bunch of films this year! Distinguished Flying Cross was recognized at both du reel in Paris and Yamagata, it also opened Madrid. Pluto Declaration has been making the rounds with Orbit, and my contribution to Far From Afghanistan just showed in Japan and on line, and should premiere with the whole omnibus soon. Plus, I am working on a new feature (or two)."

Very good news indeed. Meantime, Jason Livingston suggests that "the ecstatic reception of Wilkerson's film 10 years ago can be best understood in relation to American independent and avant-garde landscape cinema (James Benning, Bill Brown, Deborah Stratman, to name a few), because Injury doesn't neatly fit into a history of labor-advocacy movie-making. There is, of course, a great, rich tradition here, from the Workers Film and Photo League of the 1930s to the 60s-based California Newsreel, and much of the long-form direct cinema that followed, favored by fellow travelers like Barbara Kopple. Yes, Wilkerson takes a few cues, most clearly establishing a solidarity in lineage by structuring the film with workers' songs (notably assisted by a handful of indie rock luminaries strongly associated with the Midwest, like Will Oldham, Jim O'Rourke, and Low). But there is something about the film's commitment to a study of place and a legacy of violence and pollution in specific spaces, that may better explain its appeal. In this sense, Injury is as much a wake-up call to present-day landscape lyricists as it is a throwback to smoky union halls."

Also in the new issue of the Brooklyn Rail, Benjamín Schultz-Figueroa and Aily Nash look back at on this year's Views from the Avant-Garde at the New York Film Festival, Leo Goldsmith reports from MoMA's Mapping Subjectivity: Experimentation in Arab Cinema from the 1960s to Now, Part II, and Rachael Rakes: "When Film Forum presents a retrospective of [Robert] Gardner's work later this month — four feature-length documentaries, Dead Birds (1965), The Nuer (1971), Rivers of Sand (1973), and Forest of Bliss (1986), and several well-known shorter works including Deep Hearts (1981) and Sons of Shiva (1981) — the 86-year-old director will appear in person, and the ensuing Q&A would probably make a great ethnographic film in itself — he's not known to suffer audiences lightly." Above: Gardner interviews Frances H Flaherty, wife of Robert.

"The cinema of Daniel Eisenberg makes the present waver," writes Jeffrey Skoller in the introduction to his book, POSTWAR: The films of Daniel Eisenberg. "His films reverberate across time, bringing the events of the past into a present constituted by constant flux. In his work, Eisenberg is preoccupied with the ways past events continue to accrue new meanings and power as they move through time, across cities, continents, political and personal geographies. These rigorously formal films are timepieces that are at once documents of the dynamic present, and an interrogation of the meanings produced from the materials our culture uses to connect to the flow of time." To celebrate the publication of the book, the San Francisco Cinematheque is screening Persistence (1997), "which combines footage of a circa-1946 war-devastated Berlin shot both by US Army cameramen and Roberto Rossellini in the creation of his Germany Year Zero, with Eisenberg's own documentation of that city in the early 1990s."

At Hell on Frisco Bay, Adam Hartzell recommends three documentaries, beginning with Jason Cohn and Bill Jersey's Eames: The Architect and The Painter, a portrait of "a couple speeding past the Zeitgeist of the 50s, having to negotiate the respect Ray wanted and Charles wanted for Ray within the patriarchal narratives demanded of the times." Adds Ray Pride at Newcity Film: "Amid the trove of archival material uncovered are Ray's tens of thousands of photographs, adding to the marvel of their shared creativity and productivity. It's eyes-wide-open stuff." Adam's other recommendations are Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey and Judy Lief's Deaf Jam, "a celebration of American Sign Language poetry that doubles as a primer of Deaf Culture, triples as a personal story of Israeli and Palestinian friendship, quadruples as a snapshot of the economic impact of our immigration law, and multiplies as many, many other things." It "will possibly be the best film I see all year."

Dragonslayer, winner of the Grand Jury Award for Best Documentary Feature at this year's SXSW Festival and named Best International Feature at this year's Hot Docs in Toronto, as Pamela Cohn notes at the top of her interview with its maker, Tristan Patterson, for the BOMBlog, is, as Karina Longworth phrases it in the Voice, "a lyrical and formally audacious documentary portrait of Josh 'Skreech' Sandoval, 23-year-old wastoid pro-skater with corporate sponsors, a place in the unofficial skateboarding hall of fame, a gorgeous teenage girlfriend, a history of crippling depression, and no permanent place to live." Dragonslayer's "essayistic, episodic approach makes it an odd duck on a nonfiction circuit still dominated by straightforward, talking-head heavy issue films. Nothing like a traditional social-issue doc, Patterson's one-of-a-kind hybrid captures a socio-historical moment with the kind of charged authenticity that only comes from a willingness to embrace contradictions: It's discursive and hypnotic, laconic and urgent." More from Sam Adams (Time Out New York, 3/5), Jeannette Catsoulis (NYT), Glenn Heath Jr (L) and Eric Kohn (indieWIRE).

A "gentle portrait of aural genius," Lilian Franck and Robert Cibis's Pianomania "follows Steinway & Sons' chief technician, Stefan Knüpfer, through a series of piano repairs and calibrations during the months, hours, and seconds leading up to star recitals in the famed Vienna Concert House," writes Joseph Jon Lanthier in Slant. "Knüpfer's subtle charisma feels more suited to a beefily human New Yorker article than a documentary film: Teutonically bug-eyed and sporty, he realizes the whims of the showboating Lang Lang, the goofy Alfred Brendel, and the shrewd, monk-like Pierre-Laurent Aimard with a kit of prongs and ratchets, as well as an interminable fascination with acoustic minutiae…. And yet he isn't a musician; whenever his fingers cross the keys of an instrument he's worked on, they seem hesitant, unwilling, or unable to trespass the realm of hammers and glissandos that belongs only to the virtuoso." More from Sam Adams (TONY, 4/5), Manohla Dargis (NYT) and Brian Miller (Voice).

"Dedicated to proving that punk rockers can not only procreate but also follow through with the aftercare, The Other F Word invites a cross-section of aging bad boys to dish on the demands of fatherhood," writes Jeannette Catsoulis in the New York Times. "But what begins as an amusing fluff piece ('Daddy's messed up,' mumbles one woozy subject after dropping his gurgling infant) slowly emerges as a compelling and often touching peek at punk paternity." More from Jesse Cataldo (Slant, 1.5/4), Rob Harvilla (Voice), Eric Kohn (indieWIRE), Nathan Rabin (AV Club, C), Matt Singer (IFC), Michael Tully (Hammer to Nail) and Alison Willmore (Movieline, 6.5/10).

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""The cinema of Daniel Eisenberg makes the present waiver," “waiver”? really? Wherefore art thou, “Sic”?
Thanks, Chuck. I’m just going with the simple correction instead.
I wasn’t suggesting the error itself was yours: I’m guessing it came from the press release you quoted. I haven’t seen the book itself.
Evidently, it comes from the actual introduction in the book itself — hope they catch that!
Nonfiction rules. Every single one of the films profiled in this post sounds more interesting, subject-wise, than any feature film coming out between now and the end of the year.

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