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.
The Warner Archive Collection is releasing True Justice: Bryan Stevenson’s Fight for Equality (DVD: $14.99), coming on January 21. Emmy-winning filmmakers Peter, George, and Teddy Kunhardt’s feature documentary follows lawyer and founder of the Equal Justice Initiative Bryan Stevenson through his experiences as a capital defense attorney and advocate for community-based reform. As a young lawyer in the 1980s, Stevenson witnessed firsthand how courts unfairly applied the death penalty based on race and the Supreme Court ultimately declared that racial bias in the administration of the death penalty was “inevitable.” An intimate portrait of a remarkable man, the film chronicles Stevenson’s work in Alabama, the birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement and home to the Equal Justice Initiative, as well as the early influences that drove him to become an advocate for the poor and the incarcerated. The documentary release is timed to the feature film opening of Warner Bros. Pictures’ Just Mercy, a new drama based on a memoir written by Bryan Stevenson, which stars Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Foxx, and Brie Larson.
A stunning sensory experience and cinematic meditation on humanity’s massive reengineering of the planet, Anthropocene: The Human Epoch (DVD: $29.95, Blu-ray: $34.95) is slated for release on January 14 from Kino Lorber. A years-in-the-making feature documentary from the award- winning filmmaking team of Jennifer Baichwal, Nicholas de Pencier, and Edward Burtynsky—Manufactured Landscapes (2006) and Watermark (2013)—the film is narrated by actress Alicia Vikander. Anthropocene follows the research of the Anthropocene Working Group international body of scientists, who after nearly 10 years of research argue that the Holocene Epoch gave way to the Anthropocene Epoch in the mid-twentieth century as a result of profound and lasting human changes to the Earth. Bonus features include an interview with Edward Norton.
The Criterion Collection’s March 2020 slate kicks off March 10 with the Blu-ray debut of the 1961 black-and-white classic documentary Salesman (Blu-ray: $39.95), a radically influential portrait of American dreams and disillusionment from Direct Cinema pioneers David Maysles, Albert Maysles, and Charlotte Zwerin, which focuses on four dogged door-to-door Bible salesmen as they travel from Boston to Florida on a seemingly futile quest to sell luxury editions of the Good Book to working-class Catholics. Also making its Blu-ray debut on March 17 is Spike Lee’s provocative 2000 satire Bamboozled (DVD: 2 discs, $29.95; Blu-ray: $39.95), a scathing indictment of racism in American pop culture that follows a TV writer (Damon Wayans) who hits on an explosively offensive idea of bringing back blackface for a dehumanizing stereotype show. Arriving March 24 is Mikhail Kalatozov’s visually exhilarating 1957 Soviet-cinema landmark The Cranes Are Flying (DVD: $29.95, Blu-ray: $39.95), the Cannes Palme d’Or-winning story of couple who are blissfully in love until the eruption of World War II tears them apart. Also coming on March 24 is John M. Stahl’s 1945 Hollywood masterpiece Leave Her to Heaven (DVD: $29.95, Blu-ray: $39.95), a stunning Technicolor melodrama in which novelist Richard Harland (Cornel Wilde) finds the perfect woman in Ellen (Gene Tierney), a beautiful socialite who initiates a whirlwind romance that soon reveals monstrous depths. Arriving March 31 in a new 4K restoration, director-producer-star Barbra Streisand’s 1991 drama The Prince of Tides (DVD: 2 discs, $29.95; Blu-ray: $39.95) is an emotionally wrenching adaptation of Pat Conroy’s bestselling novel about a man (Nick Nolte) summoned to New York by his his sister’s psychiatrist (Streisand) after his sibling attempts suicide. Also slated for March 31 is James Whale’s beloved 1936 Show Boat (DVD: $29.95, Blu-ray: $39.95), an adaptation of Oscar Hammerstein II and Jerome Kern’s immortal musical version of Edna Ferber’s sprawling novel that stars Irene Dunne, Helen Morgan, Hattie McDaniel, and Paul Robeson, who performs a soul-shaking rendition of “Ol’ Man River.”
Kino Classics has just released Hitchcock: British International Pictures Collection (DVD: 3 discs, $39.95; Blu-ray: 2 discs, $49.95), a compilation of early films by Alfred Hitchcock made during his time at the height of the British film industry that showcase the master filmmaker’s command of the medium and the unique visual style that would soon bring him to the attention of Hollywood. Before he became known as the “Master of Suspense” in Hollywood, Hitchcock had already established himself as a precociously talented filmmaker in England. Included here are four silent films—the atmospheric boxing drama The Ring (1927), sprightly comedies The Farmer’s Wife and Champagne (both 1928), and The Manxman (1929), a love triangle set on the Isle of Man—as well as the 1931 feuding family sound feature The Skin Game. Bonus features include a “Hitchcock/Truffaut: Icon Interviews Icon” archival audio segment with Hitchcock and Francois Truffaut, as well as audio commentaries by film critic Nick Pinkerton and film historian Farran Smith Nehme.