The exploitation of animals in society and the food industry, in particular, is a problem most consumers don’t want to face or consider but a protest movement against the practice is growing larger every year thanks to hard-hitting documentaries like Myriam Alaux & Victor Schonfeld’s The Animals Film (1981), Shaun Monson’s Earthlings (2005), and Robert Keener’s Food, Inc. (2008) – all of which expose the mass production of animals for food. Tackling the same subject but taking a completely different approach to it is Gunda (2020) by Russian filmmaker Viktor Kossakovsky, which dispenses with voice over narration, a music score or any on-camera interviewees. Instead, it focuses a sow named Gunda and her piglets, a few chickens and some cows over a brief period on a farm before they become “products.” The concept may sound uninteresting and tedious but Gunda is not really a traditional documentary by any stretch of the imagination and the result is a completely engrossing, emotional drama with animals as its main characters.
The story goes like this. German director Werner Herzog made a bet with aspiring filmmaker Errol Morris that if the latter ever completed the film he was working on – which was inspired by a news story about the mass relocation of the graves from a California pet cemetery – he would eat his shoe. Morris did indeed complete his film, which was called Gates of Heaven (1978) and, true to his word, Herzog boiled and ate his show at the film’s premiere in Berkeley. Filmmaker Les Blank recorded the event and turned it into a documentary short entitled Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe in 1980. Continue reading
Imagine living in a remote area where there is no running water or electricity. There are also no established roads or available food nearby or even much protection from extreme temperatures in the winter and summer. You can also forget about any local services like a doctor or policeman or mail carrier. We’re not talking about America here but a desolate region of Macedonia where life is a daily hand-to-mouth struggle.
Winner of the Grand Jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival in the World Cinema Documentary category, Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov’s Honeyland is a remarkably intimate and engrossing human portrait of Hatidze Muratova and her 85-year-old mother who live in primitive conditions in the deserted village of Bekirlija, Macedonia. Although it is essentially a documentary, it has the feel of a scripted drama made with non-professional actors who are playing themselves. Continue reading
Man-on-the-street interviews can often be unexpectedly hilarious, insightful or surprising if the interviewer is a prankster like Triumph The Insult Comic Dog or a non-traditional reporter such as an anthropologist, professional prostitute or ….a pair of nuns. The latter, in fact, are showcased in the 1968 documentary, Inquiring Nuns, which is not an oddball stunt but a sincere attempt to capture some honest responses about the human condition via two unlikely interviewers. It was produced by Kartemquin Films, the non-profit documentary collective that was founded in 1966 in Chicago by Gordon Quinn, Jerry Temaner and Stan Karter and has produced such acclaimed work as Hoop Dreams (1995), Vietnam, Long Time Coming (1998), the PBS miniseries The New Americans (2004) and The Interrupters (2011). Continue reading
2018 is turning out to be another great year for critically acclaimed and commercially successful documentary features that might end up as Oscar nominees in that category. Morgan Neville’s Won’t You Be My Neighbor? on children’s TV host Fred Rogers, Julie Cohen and Betsy West’s RBG, a portrait of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Three Identical Strangers, Tim Wardle’s disturbing odyssey of male triplets separated at birth are just a few of this year’s success stories and are still enjoying long theatrical runs in cities across the U.S. I also predict a similar enthusiastic reception for Cristina Costantini and Darren Foster’s Science Fair, an insider look at the annual Intel ISEF (International Science and Engineering Fair), which attracts the most gifted science students from high schools around the world. Continue reading