Spettacolo (2017)

If there can be autobiographies, why not autodrama? Every year a rural Italian town writes and performs a play; what began as a means of recording history evolved into social commentary. It was never satire merely for laughs but what happens when meanings and motivations change? The irony is in the meta.

The purpose tradition serves is as varied as opinions about it. While it can preserve culture and thus unify a community, the very same can seem burdensome. There’s no easy answer to whether you should stick it out to protect history from being lost to modernity or embrace the future, which threatens/ promises to assimilate everything you’ve always known.

Since documentary filmmaking is mostly decisions about what to include, editing will spin a situation in a certain direction. Not that the tourists who visit the annual production don’t interpret things from their own perspective but surely for people to tell you about themselves in their own words goes beyond mere ritual…

Helvetica (2007)

A movie about a font?? The history and evolution of typefaces is surprisingly complex. That we hardly (if ever) pay this one any mind is a testament to its prevalence. Some graphic designers love it; some hate it. But none can deny that its utilitarianism filled a void. Far beyond the fact of its existence, this fascinating documentary explores the nature of artistry and the creative process, the function of design and the impact of marketing, which is equally indicative of and influential to our culture.

Saving Banksy (2017)

Whether or not you appreciate graffiti or even have a creative drive, existential questions arise about the nature of Art– mainly appropriation– and its place in Society.

Current street artists are generations of graffiti painters emerging from a covert subculture of gangs and indiscriminate vandals. To embellish a blank surface, they risk being shot/ stabbed by gangs or arrested by the authorities, one artist being imprisoned for 8 years.

The most famous street artist is the elusive, Banksy, who rose to prominence in San Francisco for images featuring simple yet poignant social commentary. Since few murals aren’t painted over to satisfy city officials who threaten massive fines and put liens on any property that leaves the images intact, they’re being removed to sell at galleries. Now fans were confronted by a new and confusing issue: vandalism and tagging of Banksy’s graffiti.

Trying to donate any of the world’s iconic pieces to a museum is a challenge (e.g. time constraints, artist permission, funds for scaffolding and lead abatement upon removal of historic material, transport, restoration, etc.), which is the primary focus of this film. “I have people who want to buy it for seven hundred thousand dollars but I can’t give it away for free.”

By the way, the DVD’s special feature– a deleted/ behind the scenes featurette– is interesting as a documentary in and of itself.

Grizzly Man (2005)

A fair & balanced tribute to a quirky guy obsessed with wildlife, especially bears. To some he was a troubled soul seeking purpose; to others he seemed inspirational. To a few he was simply a nuisance. No matter how you regard his passion, there’s no doubt he died doing what he loved: living like a Grizzly.

The Imposter (2012)

How does a foreign man suddenly end up a U.S. citizen, welcomed into the family of a long- missing child? While it’s impossible to fully understand the grief of those keeping vigil by the window, waiting for a phone call that may never come, it is curious that every expert agrees there are many loose ends. Is it merely that hindsight is 20/20 (as the old saying goes) or is there a more sinister explanation? Though the testimony of an identity thief certainly isn’t everything, it seems to corroborate the suspicion of at least one specialist…

Masterfully crafted, the details of this publicly documented incident are recounted chronologically by a rotation of several family members, some government employees, a smattering of friends/ neighbors and one relentless private investigator. During the lengthier portions of each person’s story, voiceover serves as narration for actors’ portrayals of the events being described. By the end of the film you have about as much information as everyone involved to decide for yourself what you think happened.

Won’t You be my Neighbor? (2018)

“If you take all of the elements that make good television and do the exact opposite, you have ‘Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood’. Low production values, simple set, an unlikely star. Yet, it worked.” –Margaret Whitmer While the documentary itself is not particularly remarkable, the subject should never be forgotten. Yet that’s what makes its simplicity perfectly […]

I am Elizabeth Smart (2017)

Intermittent narration by none other than the titular now-public figure herself both reminds us this is a real live person and assures us of her survival. Her story in her own words is empowering without reducing it to a sensationalized “ripped from the headlines” dramatization. After so much time in forced isolation Ms. Smart is voluntarily coming forward and speaking out. We owe it to her to listen.

Who the #$&% Is Jackson Pollock? (2006)

Provenance—the backstory behind the acquisition of a piece of fine art—is crucial to determining its value. Needless to say, the idea that a trucker could end up with the work of a legend is appalling. This documentary chronicles the story of retiree, Teri Horton, who bought the ugliest paining she’d ever seen from a thrift store so she could present it to a friend, who needed cheering up; it was meant to be an oversized dart board. Eventually, it was assimilated into a collection of junk for her yard sale. An art teacher happened to remark about its distinct style, to which Ms. Horton replied, “Who the #$&% is Jackson Pollock?” Despite the fact that the iconic artist was known to give away his art, which has been found in many unlikely random places, despite a forensic art specialist verifying fingerprints and analyzed paint samples, no one is willing to acknowledge a foul-mouthed, back woods, blue-collar worker is suddenly in possession of the genuine article.

Tim’s Vermeer (2013)

Who better to orchestrate the collaboration of Art, Science and History than famed magician, Penn Gillette? This film documents every detail of the ambitious undertaking of his friend, Tim, who by reconstructing the creation of a classic painting in painstaking detail, uses an analysis of History to actually rewrite it. It absolutely must be noted that the previously unknown details, which come to light in no way detract from the exquisite beauty of Vermeer’s artistry. Rather, they illuminate both his ingenuity and exceptional grasp of composition.

The Five Obstructions (2003)

Frequently bleak but always visually daring filmmaker, Lars von Trier gets the director of his favorite film to remake it with specific impediments, which von Trier chooses along the way. While such a creative project may seem strange, I remember numerous art classes in which a professor’s imposed obstructions—though infuriating at the time—pushed me to create in ways I never expected because I wasn’t challenging myself to push past the obvious. Isn’t that the essence of creativity? However, the social/ emotional dynamic between the two filmmakers is ultimately what holds the viewer’s attention.