Nominees for the 92nd Academy Awards ceremony to be held February 9th have been announced. Of the five Best Documentary nominees, two are currently available on DVD. For Sama (PBS, $19.95), directed by Waad Al-Kateab and Edward Watts, tells the personal story of a young Syrian mother’s perseverance through the siege of Aleppo. Honeyland (Universal, $24.99), directed by Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov, follows Hatidze, who cultivates honey in the mountains of Macedonia using ancient beekeeping traditions, but must deal with a family of nomadic beekeepers who disregard her advice and threaten her livelihood. Of the remaining three titles, two are Netflix documentaries. In filmmakers Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert’s American Factory, hopes soar when a Chinese company reopens a shuttered factory in Ohio, but a culture clash threatens to shatter an American dream. And in Petra Costa’s The Edge of Democracy, political documentary and personal memoir collide in an exploration into the complex truth behind the unraveling of two Brazilian presidencies. The final nominee is director Feyas Farrad’s The Cave (available to buy for personal use beginning January 14 on Amazon Prime for $14.99), a National Geographic documentary about the Syrian war that takes viewers inside the subterranean hospital known as the Cave, where pediatrician and managing physician Dr. Amani Ballour and her colleagues Samaher and Dr. Alaa have claimed their right to work as equals alongside their male counterparts, contending with daily bombardments, chronic supply shortages, and the ever-present threat of chemical attacks.
On January 14, PBS Video will release In the Age of AI (DVD: $24.99). It’s been called “The New Space Race” and is a favorite topic of Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang. This time it’s China taking on the United States, and the race is to seize control of a technology with the potential to change everything—the way we work; how we play; how our democracy functions; and how the world could be realigned. FRONTLINE explores some of the ways in which our world is being re-shaped and re-imagined by the technology of artificial intelligence, whose development has been compared to the industrial revolution and the discovery of electricity as an epochal event in human history. The film explores both the peril and the promise of this ascendant technology—tracing the battle between the U.S. and China to harness its power; examining fears about what AI advances mean for the future of work; and revealing how AI algorithms are ushering in an age of both great problem-solving potential and of new and troubling threats to privacy and democracy. In the Age of AI explores how this new technology will transform our world—and some of the ways it already has.
A renowned artist, forced to confront her own mortality, turns the exploration of her health crisis into a unique cinematic work in the new documentary Serendipity (DVD: $25.99, Blu-ray: $30.99), releasing February 4 from Cohen Media Group. The award-nominated fil m is multimedia French artist Prune Nourry’s moving study stemming from her own breast cancer diagnosis. Nourry has gained international recognition for her thought-provoking, educational and often humorous projects exploring bioethics through sculpture, video, photography, and performance–with her prime focus on women’s bodies, fertility, and gender explorations. But at the young age of 31, a cancer diagnosis turned Prune’s world upside down–and forced her to turn her penetrating artist’s eye on herself. Executive produced by Angelina Jolie and Oscar-nominated director Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan), the film also features one of the final screen appearances by the late renowned French director Agnès Varda. Extras include “Conversations at The Quad with Director Prune Nourry.”
Tugg Edu is releasing Allison Argo’s documentary The Last Pig (DVD: $75: public libraries & high schools; $350: colleges & universities; digital rights available; https://educate.tugg.com/titles/the-last-pig), a lyrical meditation on what it means to be a sentient creature with the power to kill. Deeply immersive, the film follows a farmer in his final year of slaughtering pigs. Through sparse, intimate musings, the farmer reveals his growing conflict over a life spent “peddling in death.” Following Bill Comis’s soul-baring personal journey, in his last year farming pigs, as he struggles to reinvent his life, and deals with ghosts that will haunt him forever, The Last Pig raises crucial questions about equality, the value of compassion, and the sanctity of life.
Magnolia Home Entertainment is releasing filmmaker Michael Beach Nichols’s offbeat documentary Wrinkles the Clown (DVD: $26.98) on January 7. In late 2014, a low-res video of a person in a clown mask emerging from underneath a sleeping child’s bed appears on YouTube. The description below the video claims that the clown is named “Wrinkles,” that he lives in southwest Florida, and that he’s been hired by the child’s parents to frighten her for misbehaving. The video goes viral. Soon, more mysterious videos of Wrinkles scaring children appear online, along with a phone number to hire him for “behavioral services.” Wrinkles becomes internet lore – a whole genre of YouTube videos of kids filming themselves calling him appears online, and over a million messages are left at the number. Voicemails range from disturbing to hilarious to terrifying: parents use the number to terrify their children, kids who are obsessive fans of creepy clowns reach out to make a new friend, children threaten to inflict wildly creative violence if he comes anywhere near them. But who is Wrinkles, and why is he doing this? With incredible access to the mastermind behind the mask, Wrinkles the Clown is a cryptic and playful exploration of these questions, as well as an inside look at myth-building and the unpredictable spread of imagination in the Internet age.
On February 25, Kino Lorber will release the highly acclaimed documentary After Parkland (DVD: $29.95). In the days immediately following the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14, 2018 that killed 17 people, filmmakers Emily Taguchi and Jake Lefferman began filming with students and families whose lives were forever altered. They included senior David Hogg, who became the public face of a student movement to end gun violence; freshman Brooke Harrison, who was in the first classroom attacked; Andrew Pollack, the father of 18-year-old Meadow, who was killed after being shot nine times; and the loved ones of 17-year-old Joaquin Oliver, including his parents Manuel and Patricia, girlfriend Victoria Gonzalez, and friends Dillon McCooty and Sam Zeif. Filmed over the course of the spring, summer, and fall following the tragedy, After Parkland weaves together candid, in-depth interviews, vérité footage, and personal videos and photos to chronicle moments both intimate and defining, as families navigated the unthinkable and rose to challenge the nation to end gun violence.