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Tuesday, Feb 28, 2012
"The paranoid hysteria [about The Spook Who Sat by the Door] only confirms that I did something that was worthwhile," says Sam Greenlee. "If they'd given me an Academy Award, I'd have to figure what I did wrong."

“The original title was ‘The Nigger Who Sat by the Door,’” remembers Sam Greenlee. “But when Dick Gregory brought out this book called Nigger, I figured he had taken the sting out of it.” And so the writer of The Spook Who Sat by the Door decided on a “much more subtle” title, as “spooks” refer to blacks, CIA agents, and “the armed revolution by black people [that] haunts white America, and has for centuries.” Greenlee’s memories are among the most vivid in Christine Acham and Clifford Ward’s documentary, Infiltrating Hollywood: The Rise and Fall of the Spook Who Sat by the Door, which premieres on the Documentary Channel on 28 February. As he and other participants—including actors J.A. Preston and David Lemieux, as well as editor Michael Kahn and Berlie Dixon, widow of director Ivan Dixon—it becomes clear not only how difficult it was to make the movie, but also how clever and committed they were to getting it made.


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Tuesday, Feb 28, 2012

Late last year, Nuon Chea, better known as Brother Number 2, was charged with war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide, in a UN-based court in Phnom Penh. On the second day, the prosecution played a clip from a documentary, Thet Sambath and Rob Lemkin’s Enemies of the People.


The film uses multiple interviews with Nuon Chea, conducted over years, to tell the story of the Khmer Rouge from a distinctly, agonizingly personal perspective. Sambath begins by remembering his father’s murder. “They arrested him and took him to the rice field. They killed him by thrashing by knives,” Sambath says. “He did not die immediate. He very, very suffer. My brother, he watch.” Now a senior reporter with the Phnom Penh Post, Sambath has spent years seeking answers to the question that has shaped his life: “Why the killing happened.” His film includes interviews with several killers, now living un-special lives in villages, as well as Nuon Chea. As these interview subjects sift through memories, they sound variously true and delusional, fragmented and self-serving, working their way to confessions in roundabout ways. You can’t know whether this is a function of fading memories, confusion or deliberate obfuscation. “Frankly,” one says, laughing weakly, “Without the wine, we wouldn’t dare kill people.” At the same time, the film’s compositions insist on the layers of storytelling, showing multiple frames within frames, arranged in camera lenses and mirrors, doorways and monitors. The effect is complex, brilliant, and devastating.


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Tuesday, Feb 28, 2012

“Mr. President, Mr. Future President,” says Mahboubeh Abbasgholizadeh, a researcher and women’s rights activist, “For crying out loud, we have minds, we have powers of discernment, we know how to live, how to spend, how to behave with our husbands, how to dress.” Her assertion is one of many made in We Are Half of Iran’s Population, the documentary that Rakhshan Bani-Etemad put together in the months just before the 2009 elections in Iran. The hope was that women’s voices might be heard by presidential candidates, that their concerns would be addressed. The filmmaker explains that she had been asked many times before why she made films, and who saw her work. And so she made a film with a specific audience in mind.


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Thursday, Feb 23, 2012
Astute and engaging, Racing Dreams shapes the families' experiences into an increasingly complicated story, about how kids grow up and how adults affect them.

“If I’m not racing, I’m not happy,” says Brandon Warren, “That’s all I really care about.” Currently a world-class kart driver, Brandon hopes to break into NASCAR when he’s old enough. His grandparents, Katy and Phil, share his enthusiasm, and as they travel to races during the World Karting Season, they spend their time with other, equally dedicated families. Brandon is one of three kids profiled in Racing Dreams, directed by Marshall Curry (whose If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front is a 2012 Academy Award nominee for Best Documentary). Astute and engaging, Racing Dreams shapes the families’ experiences into an increasingly complicated story, about how kids grow up and how adults affect them.


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Tuesday, Feb 21, 2012
When she first meets Queen Farah, filmmaker Nahid Persson Sarvestani remembers her own past.

When she first meets Queen Farah, filmmaker Nahid Persson Sarvestani remembers her own past. One of the revolutionaries who took to the streets to cheer the banishment of Farah Pahlavi and her husband Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran, in 1979, Sarvestani was then targeted by the Ayatollah’s regime. She escaped to Sweden, where she pursued a career as a documentary maker, and now, in an effort to understand her own journey—from a child who admired the queen on television to revolutionary to an exile—Sarvestani asks Farah if she might film her. “Something about her still intrigues me,” she says. Their evolving relationship is revealed in their film, The Queen and I, available on Link TV and online beginning 21 February. As they become what she calls “friends,” Sarvestani comes to appreciate Farah’s complicated life and admire her persistence under duress, even to like her. She finds that they “share a profound longing for the Iran we both love and dream the same dream, to touch its soil again.” The trick here is parsing the “Iran we both love.” While both women deplore the ongoing rigid religious rule and efforts to keep citizens—especially women—ignorant, they remain split on the efficacy and benefits of a monarchy.


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