News

PBS Video Releases Timely Doc on Artificial Intelligence

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.

Cohen Media Group to Release Powerful Doc “Serendipity” on February 4

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’s Doc “The Last Pig” Newly Available for Institutional Purchase

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 Releasing Offbeat Doc “Wrinkles the Clown” on January 7

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.

 

Kino Lorber to Release Acclaimed “After Parkland” Doc in February

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.

“True Justice” Documentary Slated for January 21 from Warner and HBO

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.

“Anthropocene: The Human Epoch” Documentary Coming January 14 from Kino Lorber

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.

“Leave Her to Heaven,” Spike Lee, Maysles Brothers, “Show Boat,” Streisand and More on Criterion Collection’s March 2020 Slate

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.”

“Hitchcock: British International Pictures Collection” Available Now from Kino Classics

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.

Video Librarian 2019 Best Documentaries

The following list, selected and compiled by Video Librarian staff, honors the best new documentaries reviewed in the magazine and online during 2019. Unless otherwise noted, titles are available from most distributors.

California Typewriter

(Gravitas Ventures, 104 min., DVD: $19.99, Blu-ray: $24.99)

Filmmaker Doug Nichol’s stylish paean to typewriters features commentary from aficionados including author David McCullough and actor Tom Hanks. (VL Online-12/18)

Catwalk: Tales from the Cat Show Circuit

(Gravitas Ventures, 75 min., DVD: $16.99, Blu-ray: $12.99)

Canadian filmmakers Michael McNamara and Aaron Hancox serve up an entertaining cat-watching documentary that follows a series of regional competitive cat shows while also profiling attendant personalities—human and feline. (VL-9/19)

Chasing the Moon

(PBS, 3 discs, 390 min., DVD: $34.99 [$64.99 w/PPR from www.teacher.shop.pbs.org], Blu-ray: $39.99 [$64.99 w/PPR])

Coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing, filmmaker Robert Stone’s three-part PBS-aired American Experience documentary series recreates the epic race to mount a manned mission to the Moon and return the astronauts safely to Earth. (VL-11/19)

Chef Flynn

(Kino Lorber, 82 min., DVD: $29.99 [$349 w/PPR from kinolorberedu.com]). 

Cameron Yates’s fascinating collage-like portrait centers on young culinary wunderkind Flynn McGarry, who was creating pop-up restaurants in L.A. and New York City by the age of 14. (VL-5/19)

The Cleaners

(Film Platform [www.filmplatform.net], 95 min., DVD: $295)

Addressing the proliferation of false, inflammatory, and pornographic material in social media postings, this disturbing documentary by filmmakers Moritz Riesewieck and Hans Block looks at the titular “cleaners”—workers (often from poor backgrounds) who make split-second decisions on what can and cannot be posted on the web. (VL-5/19)

Country Music

(PBS, 8 discs, 960 min., DVD: $99.99 [$250 w/PPR from www.teacher.shop.pbs.org], Blu-ray: $129.99)

Filmmaker Ken Burns delivers another epic chronicle of American culture, combining archival photos/footage, talking-head interviews, narration by Peter Coyote, and lots of music, to trace the history of country music. (VL-11/19)

Crime + Punishment

(Good Docs [http://www.gooddocs.net], 112 min., DVD: $129: public libraries; $349: colleges & universities)

A controversy surrounding the misuse of the NYC police force to increase city revenues is the subject of filmmaker Stephen Maing’s unsettling documentary, which focuses on quota policing and how it has led to systemic racism in practice. (VL-9/19)

The Devil We Know

(Atlas, 88 min., DVD: $14.99 [w/PPR:$95: public libraries; $395: colleges and universities from Tugg, http://edu.tugg.com])

In this harrowing documentary, filmmaker Stephanie Soechtig presents a case study of harm involving a toxic chemical used in making Teflon products and subsequent corporate malfeasance by DuPont in withholding knowledge from the public. (VL-9/19)

Free Solo

(National Geographic, 100 min., DVD: $19.98)

Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi’s Academy Award winning documentary focuses on daredevil Alex Honnold and his quest to scale Yosemite National Park’s famous 3,200-foot granite wall—known as El Capitan—without a rope or any other safety equipment. (VL-5/19)

Hot to Trot

(First Run Features, 88 min., DVD: $24.95)

Director Gail Freedman’s open-hearted ballroom dance documentary follows two same-sex dance partner couples who are preparing for the 2014 Gay Games. (VL-5/19)

I Am Evidence

(Passion River, 85 min., $24.99 [w/PPR: DVD: $95: public libraries; $395: colleges and universities from Tugg, http://edu.tugg.com])

Filmmakers Trish Adlesic and Geeta Gandbhir’s documentary addresses a tragic scandal involving cases of sexual assault, noting that thousands of completed rape kits have been stockpiled for years across America with no further action taken. (VL-1/19)

The If Project

(Collective Eye [www.collectiveeye.org], 88 min., DVD: $50 [$125 w/PPR]: public libraries; $295 w/PPR: colleges & universities)

Filmmaker Kathlyn Horan’s documentary focuses on a writing program for prisoners at the Washington Corrections Center for Women—co-founded by Seattle police officer Kim Bogucki and third-time offender and former cop hater Renata Abramson—that is intended to slow or even stop cycles of dysfunction and lawlessness. (VL-5/19)

The Kleptocrats

(Passion River, 82 min., DVD: $24.99 [$299 w/PPR from edu.passionriver.com])

Sam Hobkinson and Havana Marking’s documentary shines a spotlight on one of the most astonishing political scandals to impact Asian politics: the connection between a Malaysian banker (and money launderer), Malaysia’s prime minister, and the Martin Scorsese film The Wolf of Wall Street. (VL-9/19)

Learning to See: The World of Insects

(MVD/FilmRise, 69 min., DVD: $19.95, Blu-ray: $24.95)

Filmmaker Jake Oelman’s documentary focuses on his father, American psychiatrist Robert Oelman, who left the U.S. in the early 1990s and moved to Colombia, where he explored the rainforests in Colombia, Peru, and Ecuador, discovering and photographing obscure insect species. (VL-3/19)

Life in the Doghouse

(MVD/FilmRise, 84 min., DVD: $19.95, Blu-ray: $24.95)

Director Ron Davis’s documentary goes behind the scenes of a unique dog shelter and adoption center operated by South Carolina horse trainers/equestrians and couple Danny Robertshaw and Ron Danta. (VL-7/19)

Maiden

(Sony, 97 min., DVD: $25.99, Blu-ray: $31.99)

Filmmaker Alex Holmes’s exciting documentary mixes archival footage with insightful interviews and wry social commentary featuring Tracy Edwards and other members of the first-ever all-female crew to enter the grueling nine-month open sea Whitbread Round the World race. (VL-11/19)

Mike Wallace Is Here

(Magnolia, 91 min., DVD: $26.99)

Director Avi Belkin’s documentary profile of iconic 60 Minutes correspondent Mike Wallace (1918-2012) combines hard-hitting interview clips and insightful commentary from those who knew the influential newsman. (VL-11/19)

Of Love & Law

(Frameline [www.frameline.org], 94 min., in Japanese w/English subtitles, DVD: $20: individuals & public libraries; $295: colleges & universities w/PPR)

Filmmaker Hikaru Toda’s documentary focuses on Osaka law firm partners and gay couple Masafumi Yoshida and Kazuyuki Minami, highlighting complexities within Japanese society by following the men’s interesting client lineup. (VL Online-11/19)

The Rest I Make Up

(Women Make Movies [http://www.wmm.com], 79 min., DVD: $89: public libraries; $395: colleges & universities)

Filmed over a span of approximately 10 years by filmmaker Michelle Memran, this documentary offers an endearing snapshot of Pulitzer Prize finalist and Obie Award-winning Cuban-American playwright María Irene Fornés. (VL-3/19)

Screwball

(Greenwich Entertainment, 105 min., DVD: $24.99)

Director Billy Corben’s documentary takes a sardonic look at a Miami-based doping scandal and the suspicious “anti-aging clinic” run by dodgy “doctor” Anthony Bosch that served as a pipeline for performance-enhancing steroids for both high-school and professional athletes. (VL-9/19)

This Is Home: A Refugee Story

(Bullfrog [www.bullfrogfilms.com], 91 min., DVD: $350)

Filmmaker Alexandra Shiva’s documentary centers on four Syrian refugee families who are resettled in Baltimore by the International Rescue Committee but face an eight-month timeline to become economically self-sufficient—a ticking clock that creates anxiety for the newcomers. (VL-1/19)

Tickled

(Magnolia, 91 min., DVD: $19.99)

This procedural-style documentary from New Zealand-based narrator and director David Farrier and co-director Dylan Reeve reveals an unusual dark underbelly to a story about a “competitive endurance tickling” contest that involves flights to Los Angeles, four-night hotel stays, and $1,500 in cash for participants. (VL-9/19)

Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am

(Magnolia, 120 min., DVD: $26.99)

Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winning author Toni Morrison (1931-2019) is paid tribute to in filmmaker Timothy Greenfield-Sanders’s documentary, which features commentary from Angela Davis, Oprah Winfrey, Walter Mosley, and Fran Lebowitz. (VL-11/19)

That Way Madness Lies…

(First Run Features, 101 min., DVD: $24.95)

Filmmaker Sandra Luckow offers a unique look into mental illness and how schizophrenia shakes apart family life, focusing on her own brother, a self-employed machinist who developed an atypical delusional disorder while entering middle age. (VL-9/19)

Wildland

(MVD/FilmRise, 77 min., DVD: $19.95, Blu-ray: $24.95)

The worsening wildfire season in the U.S. is at the center of this powerful documentary that profiles subjects with checkered pasts—including prison time and drug addiction—who join a firefighting training program that was also completed by filmmakers Alex Jablonski and Kahlil Hudson. (VL-7/19)