Saturday, January 12, 2013

Dor's Documentary 2012 Wrap Up Post AKA HOLY SHIT, WHAT A GREAT YEAR FOR DOCS!

You may have already rolled your eyes at how thoroughly and sanctimoniously I bragged about how many "older" movies I caught up on in 2012, the statistic I am actually most proud of is how many documentaries I saw this year, theatrically no less.   If there were any doubt in the past, I can safely say the documentary film has emerged as my very favorite genre.

I saw 104 documentaries in theaters this year.  Not all of them were released. Most of these were at film festivals.

I mention that number so that you can see the personal experience behind my statement that it was an utterly fantastic year for documentary film - both industry-wide and just personally, for me.  The latter can be attributed to three awesome institutions:

Full Frame

My third visit to the intimate haven for non-fiction in Durham NC introduced me to treats like Beauty is Embarrassing, Samsara, and How to Survive a Plague.  But even lesser-publicized gems like Radio Unnameable, Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet and the inexplicably underrated Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare are films I might have missed had I not made the trek down there. Can't wait to return to this laid back doc-lovers paradise for another four days of non-fiction bliss this April!

Hot Docs

This has been on my Film Festival bucket list for some time, thanks to my Toronto BFF Alison's insistence that it's a veritable utopia for a doc fan like me.  Well, like she often is, Alison was dead right.  While I couldn't spare the vacation days to do Hot Docs the right way, I did squeeze in a 10-movie weekend there by flying up after work on Friday and back before work on Monday.    It's only thanks to that quick trip that I saw standouts like the energizing We Are Wisconsin and the devastating Call Me Kuchu. This year, I vow to stay longer.


A documentary film festival six blocks from my apartment, in the best city in the world, held at my favorite movie theater the IFC Center?  The only way this could be more tailored to me personally is if they had a competition category for just short films shot by cats, for or about cats.  (They don't. Not yet. But you get my point.)  Standouts there? West of Memphis, Shenandoah and No Business Like Show Business.  That last one the a gorgeously-shot story of a troupe of yodeling Swiss farmers and the drama that comes along with rapid success.  Pretty great stuff.


Now, before I get to naming my favorite documentary films of 2012 (and a few to watch for in 2013) I've got some special categories I added, 'cause I can.

Most criminally under-seen: 

Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare follows a number of industry professionals from journalists to doctors to expose how the business of healthcare in the US is incentivized to keep people sick, and the growing numbers of people motivated to change that.  I was expecting this to be political and complicated but I found it to be surprisingly hopeful and relatable.  It deserved a better title and much wider audience.

Best at piquing my interest in a subject I didn’t care about:

Indie Game: The Movie – great job of making the world of independent video game development totally dramatic and compelling
The Zen of Bennett – I knew nothing about Tony Bennett but I loved watching him  record his duets album
Jiro Dreams of Sushi - I don't eat fish at all but this movie was so well-done that I found myself a bit hungry for it

Biggest “Holy shit this really happened” Jaw Droppers:

Queen of Versailles

The Imposter

The Final Member

Biggest Disparity between Appeal of Subject and Film Quality

Meaning – films that weren’t bad at all, but also weren’t quite as compelling or good as their subjects.

Searching for Sugarman


Central Park Five

But now, without further ado...

My Favorite Documentaries of 2012:

In no particular order!

Planet of Snail – tender, beautifully-shot tale of an unconventional couple and how they enrich each other’s lives daily

Jiro Dreams of Sushi – made sushi appealing for this non-fish eater by delving into the honor, family, hard work and utter craftsmanship behind the Michelin-rated restaurant in Japan

Samsara – Triumphant, non-narrative, life-affirming, gorgeous film that reminds me I am not traveling enough

How to Survive a Plague – Equal parts maddening and inspirational story of Act-Up, the organization formed to fight AIDS when the US government wasn’t doing enough

The Invisible War – devastating, emotional and comprehensive film exposing the prevalence of rape in the military as well as the systemic issues that keep perpetrators from being reported and prosecuted as well as that keep survivors from receiving proper care.  Well-deserved Sundance 2012 Audience Award-winner.

The Zen of Bennett – Charming, sweet, and superbly-produced portrait of a living legend

West of Memphis – Frustrating, satisfying and totally necessary conclusion to West Memphis 3 case exposing the dark side of humanity and the toll that took on the lives of three innocent young adults

Beauty is Embarrassing – A delightful, quirky film that oozes with as much creativity as its subject, artist Wayne White.

Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet – Hugely inspirational story of a guitar prodigy whose musical career was seemingly cut short by Lou Gherig’s disease.  Wonderful story of a loving family and a man who uses music as a way of survival.

The House I Live In – Dense, intelligent, thought-provoking look at the war on drugs and its impact on economy, race and family in the US.

Honorable mentions! Other notables include The Revisionaries, The Law in These Parts, Marina Abromovic – The Artist is Present, Indie Game, Brooklyn Castle, $ellebrity, The American Scream, Only the Young

My “best of” list would have looked very different if I could’ve included a number of films that won’t be released til next year.  As such…

The four reasons 2013 will also be a great year for docs:

Far Out Isn’t Far Enough: The Tomi Ungerer Story

The Act of Killing

Call Me Kuchu

Vivan las Antipodas!

1 comment:

  1. I love that the 4 films you mention for 2013 are all things you saw in Toronto either at TIFF or Hot Docs