Summer 2006by Williams Cole
Behind the Times
No one ever said that the New York Times was cutting edge regarding trends (in fact it’s practical wisdom that if a cultural trend is written about in the Times, it’s over). So when David Carr in his Monday column recently wrote about “the current surge of politically inflected documentaries” one can only hope that it was a backup topic and that he didn’t just have this revelation. While Fahrenheit 9/11 a few years back showed that, if timed right, explicitly political films do make money, for years politically motivated films have been making inroads and even becoming an essential part of the information culture as traditional news becomes more ridiculous and sensational. Not all will have An Inconvenient Truth-style advertising and promotion muscle behind them, but in-depth and often well-done films on most topics in the news can be found through a quick search on Amazon.com and Netflix or via the growing number of documentary-related sites.
One such new “club” is Ironweed (www.ironweedfilms.com), which caters to those with a proclivity to sociopolitical films and links them to house parties, discussions and organizations that focus on issues in the film. For a monthly fee they send you a DVD and information on how to get involved (this month they are featuring film about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, precisely as the situation is getting even worse). Docurama.com, the online documentary specialist, is taking another approach by creating the “Docurama Film Festival I,” an attempt to group together compelling films from the past and present that might have been lost in the ever-increasing shuffle. The premiere “festival” features The Police Tape and Doing Time: Life Inside the Big House from groundbreaking documentary filmmakers Alan and Susan Raymond, as well as historical accounts like The Wobblies and Broken Rainbow, an Academy Award winner about the forced relocation of 12,000 Navajos in the 1970s.
Of course, the problem is—and will always be—how to promote these films in the chaos of information. Sure, Gore and Moore can get a lot of money behind them and, therefore, their films will get into a lot of theaters and generate that much more press. Most films aren’t that lucky. But it goes without saying that any attempts are welcome to sustain and deepen the place of sociopolitical film in America. And, hey, I guess we can only be hopeful that the Times “breaks” this story a few more times in the coming years.
The Blood of My Brother * *(opens June 30 at Cinema Village)
This taut, elegantly shot film shows an intimate aspect of the war in Iraq from the perspective of an Shia family who lost a son and are immersed in an insurgency fuelled by Mehdi militias. Andrew Berends spent over six months with the family who are at once grieving and angry with both the US occupation and the new Iraqi administration at that time. Berends’s access and evident commitment creates a portrait that is the perfect complement to films that have logged important time with the US military, like Garrett Scott and Ian Olds’s Occupation: Dreamland. But while the dead US soldiers are featured most nights on CNN and Fox News, the deaths of Iraqis, scores of whom die most every day, often only get a cursory mention on the news ticker. The Blood of My Brother shows how one of those killings not only feeds the culture of martyrdom that is only growing in Iraq but the seething anger that is looking for an outlet.
Contested Streets: Breaking NYC Gridlock (DVD available at contestedstreets.com)
As you bump people along a narrow sidewalk, almost get hit by a Hummer crossing the street, or get dizzy from the fumes from stopped traffic, you should be curious how other cities in the Western world are handling the crisis of cars and congestion. Not surprisingly New York is quite behind the times and we are suffering from the lack of open space as well as from the sheer primacy of cars in an environment where that should be far from the case. Contested Streets presents a solid overview of the history of NYC streets and how Robert Moses, who didn’t even drive, planned the New York area as a place to move autos while cities like Copenhagen, Paris and London have worked for decades to decrease auto traffic and create more public space. The time might be right to start closing off some streets to cars in our city, widen the sidewalks, and to sit down and take a deep breath.