Posts Tagged Documentary
When I found out that the folks over at Ironbound Films had made Évocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie, a documentary about one of the most unique television hosts from the 1980s, I was intrigued. Then when I learned the documentary was going to have its world premiere this month at the Tribeca Film Festival, I was fortunate enough to email interview one of the three creative forces (and directors) from Ironbound, Jeremy Newberger.
Tim O’Shea: Was it hard to track down folks that had worked on the production of his show, or are many of them still active in the industry today?
Jeremy Newberger: Finding the producers of “The Morton Downey Jr. Show” was easy. Getting them to overlook twenty years of repressed rage and therapy bills was a little trickier. Most of them are still in production on everything from theSPEED Network to “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.” Show creator Bob Pittman is now CEO of a little company called Clear Channel.
There are few cultural obsessions that annoy me more than the public’s fascination with finding out the so-called truth about the JFK Assassination. Was the event a tragedy? You bet. But a sure fire way to get me to flip a channel is to be a documentary about the event. There’s only one person that could get me to watch a JFK Assassination-related documentary: Errol Morris. Damn you, New York Times, you sucked me in with this OpDoc.
Here’s hoping Morris dedicates himself to a larger related project on the subject. In the interim, I could watch Tink Thompson tell stories all day long. The man can work a camera.
Thanks to a reader, Stephanie Williams, who wrote in to make me aware of an interview with documentary maker Ken Burns that aired on a WPSU-TV program called Conversations from Penn State (hosted by Patty Satali). [Full disclosure, in contacting me, though she did not specify her association, I assume that Williams is somehow connected to the show. Either way, I'm appreciative of her making me aware of the show.]
I’m not a big fan of Ken Burns documentaries. They are important projects that are thorough and well researched, no doubt. But they are just too dry for me. Maybe I need to revisit them, particularly given my affinity for baseball–and his project of the same name.
The basic concept of the Please Subscribe documentary (“Please Subscribe follows YouTube celebrites David Choi, Happy Slip, Daxflame, and Tay Zonday as they discuss how online media and YouTube has affected each of their lives and the face of entertainment.“) sparked my interest fairly quickly. The documentary, made by CJ Wallis and the Soska Sisters, hopes to play at several film festivals in the near to long term. I recently conducted an email interview with Wallis. In addition to this documentary, according to Wallis: “I recently directed/edited/conceived the forthcoming Sarah Slean music video and am currently in development on my debut feature film, Frank Flood. The girls are getting a ton of attention for Dead Hooker In A Trunk and are currently in development on two scripts. I also have some original music under the label Elective, which is also going rather well.”
Whenever I discover a gap in my television/pop culture culture, I have an immediate need to fill that gap. Aviva Kempner‘s documentary, Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg, was an important person and project I knew nothing about. To fill this information chasm, I contacted Kempner for an email interview. As detailed at the Cielsa Foundation website: “Ciesla Foundation produces and distributes award-winning films about strong and important, but often unknown, Jewish heroes. Its mission is to educate and inform audiences about social and public interest issues of the past and present through storytelling and filmmaking….Award-winning filmmaker Aviva Kempner, whose credits include Yoo-hoo, Mrs. Goldberg, Today I Vote for My Joey, The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg, and Partisans of Vilna, is Ciesla’s director and founder. Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg chronicles the “humorous and eye-opening story of television pioneer Gertrude Berg. She was the creator, principal writer, and star of The Goldbergs, a popular radio show for 17 years, which became television’s very first character-driven domestic sitcom in 1949. Berg received the first Best Actress Emmy in history, and paved the way for women in the entertainment industry.” My thanks to Kempner for her time. I hope the interview motivates you to donate to the foundation and to Kempner’s efforts.
Tim O’Shea: I’m sure you have many ideas for subjects to pursue, but after wrapping 2002′s Today I Vote for My Joey how many concepts (ballpark figure) did you consider and set aside before deciding upon Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg?
Aviva Kempner: I was thinking about doing a few dramatic scripts and did not get much further than research. I also had a couple more documentary ideas but none were fundable at first glance. Another one did receive research funds and am now happily back on working on that film on The Rosenwald Schools. Once I went to the Jewish Museum in New York’s exhibit of Jews Entertaining America and saw the Molly Goldberg living room I knew that was my next film project.
Back in January 2009, I had the pleasure to interview Morgan Dews about his documentary, Must Read After My Death. It was quite enjoyable getting to watch the documentary then, and I was pleasantly surprised when he emailed me this week to let me know his work was available on DVD.
As noted at his website, the DVD (stuffed with great extras) can be bought for $20– and/or snag the original movie poster ($20) from Dews directly (“who gets to keep the proceeds!” Dews was quick to add and offer to sign for an extra buck). To order it, you can send an email to Dews at info AT mustreadaftermydeath.com (I’m trying to spare Dews some spam here, please be sure to place a proper “@” in place of ” AT ” when you email him) to place a direct order with him. Or, if you prefer the comfort of Amazon for $19.99, you can go that route. Other options include watching online at Gigantic Digital for $2.99; iTunes for $9.99; and in the near term–Netflix (soon, according to Dews).
It’s been nearly a year since I watched the documentary, and parts of it were some powerful, it still lingers in my mind. See this documentary, please.
According to Brian Stelter over at the NYTimes’ Media Decoder (and as confirmed by Discovery Channel’s own press release), Oprah Winfrey “will narrate Discovery Channel’s all-new 11-part series LIFE, set to premiere in March 2010″.
Does she actually need the money and isn’t she running the risk of overexposing herself? OK the latter part of that question is truly absurd, I’ll admit. Once you have the power to set up a school in a foreign country and are in the process of developing your OWN cable channel (no really its her OWN channel as in “Oprah Winfrey Network”) with Discovery (to replace Discovery Health) in 2010, you really cannot be overexposed.
If you have ever heard Oprah introduce Doris Kearns Goodwin enthusiastically (as she did around the time of Obama’s inauguration, when Kearns Goodwin appeared as a panelist) you know that Oprah can even make sedate presidential historians sound as exciting as the day Tom Cruise was hopping on Oprah’s couch. With that kind of voice power and sometimes (seemingly oddly placed) enthusiasm, I must admit I look forward to hearing what kind of intonation she’ll opt for when tackling subjects like “the star-nosed mole that hunts underwater using bubbles to smell its prey, to epic spectacles, including millions of fruit bats darkening the Zambian sky”. I just like to imagine here saying, as a teaser: “Next week’s episode, we visit with the star-nosed MOOOOOOOOOOLE!”
Yep, should be fun.
I really love it when I stumble across a project accidentally and get hooked on the concept immediately. And thanks to iMDB, that recently happened when I learned about director Noah Hutton‘s and producer Sam Howard‘s documentary, Crude Independence. What really struck me about the project was how effectively Hutton and Howard have marketed the documentary through YouTube, Facebook, and Flickr (and other online venues). So, after gathering as much info as I could, I contacted Hutton and Howard to see if they would be interested in an email interview. They were, fortunately.
Here’s the basic background on the documentary:
“Crude Independence is a documentary film about the heartland in the process of transplanting itself, and its new heart is pumping oil. In 2006, the United States Geological Survey estimated there to be more than 200 billion barrels of crude oil resting in a previously unreachable formation beneath western North Dakota. With the advent of new drilling technologies, oil companies from far and wide are descending on small rural towns across the state with men and machinery in tow. Director Noah Hutton takes us to the town of Stanley (population 1300), sitting atop the largest oil discovery in the history of the North American continent, and captures the change wrought by the unprecedented boom. Through revealing interviews and breathtaking imagery of the northern plains, Crude Independence is a rumination on the future of small town America— a tale of change at the hands of the global energy market and America’s unyielding thirst for oil.”
February 2, 2009 Update: Hutton emailed me over the weekend to let me know the documentary, Crude Independence had been selected for the 2009 SXSW Film Festival, where it will be part of “the Emerging Visions competition, highlighting first-time and up and coming filmmakers.” Congrats to Hutton and Howard (along with the rest of the Couple 3 Film crew).
Morgan Dews is a documentary maker that I hope is on the cusp of major success. I’m a documentary junkie, no doubt, and his very personal work, Must Read After My Death, is a fascinating glimpse into the secrets of a family. Here’s a synopsis of the work: “When a Hartford couple turns to psychiatry for help with their marriage in 1960, things quickly spiral out of control. Couples counseling, individual and group therapy and 24-hour marathon sessions ensue. Their four children suffer and are given their own psychiatrists. Pills are prescribed, people are institutionalized, shock-therapy is administered. This is an intimate story in the family’s own words, from an extraordinary collection of audio recordings and home movies, illuminating a difficult and extraordinary time.” The couple? Dews’ grandparents. One of the children? Dews’ mother. Enough background, now on to the interview. My thanks to Morgan for his time. Keep an eye out for upcoming film festivals in your area, if your lucky, they’ll be showing this documentary.
Tim O’Shea: Growing up with your grandmother, did you have any idea the degree of what she and her children endured as a family?
Morgan Dews: None. As I say at the beginning of this film, this is a story that my grandmother never ever talked to me about. I found out about it through the tapes after she died. She would always say, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” This story is basically the opposite of that. She had psychiatrists saying that she should express herself, her doubts, anger and fear. These audio diaries became a place for her to do that. So it really is made up of the worst hours of the worst days of the worst years. In that sense, it isn’t a complete picture of their life as a family, which was, in many ways, quite lovely. It is the secret story of the dark days of a family.
Holy Land Hardball, a documentary directed by Erik Kesten and Brett Rapkin, is set to have its Atlanta premiere at the 2009 Atlanta Jewish Film Festival (AJFF) on January 22 and 23. The 84-minute, 2008 film “follows the dubious formation of the Israel Baseball League (IBL) by Larry Baras, a Boston bakery owner with no sports management experience. Stirred to action by a midlife crisis, Baras recruits a diverse collection of executives and ballplayers for the IBL, the first ever professional baseball circuit in the Middle East. The team’s challenging task is to draw Israelis to America’s pastime, a game they’ve gone 5,767 years without.”
It’s an interesting tale, which I was able to watch thank to an AJFF screener, both from a baseball and family sense. It’s got a comical tinge to the project, for example, as the baseball tryouts were being shown the Talking Heads’ song, Road to Nowhere, was played. Throughout the film, you feel like the effort to form theIBL is doomed, whether it was or not. But that aspect of the tale was secondary to me. For me, it’s a story about loss and the importance of family, and in particular father and son dynamics.