Documentary Channel celebrates Women’s History Month with a series of films. This week’s offerings include Pink Skies and Carpet Racers. The first film concerns the ongoing struggle against breast cancer, focused through “Jump for the Cause,” a group of women skydivers who perform mass dives for money. In 2009, 181 women from 31 countries joined in a jump to raise almost $1 million for breast cancer research. “Don’t be a victim,” says the group’s instructor, “Be the hero.” Just so, Gulcin Gilbert’s film asserts that the best cure for breast cancer is prevention, a point underlined by researchers more than once here. “We live in a very toxic environment,” says Dr. Lauren Swerdloff near the beginning of “And we are able to handle some toxicity. But the environment is probably getting more toxic, more rapidly, than most of us are able to handle it.” To battle that trend, individuals need to watch out for themselves, rather than hoping that government agencies and corporations will come up with answers. The energy, drive, and earnestness of the women skydivers seems a model of pressing ahead in the face of disappointment and difficulty.
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“There’s nothing about that day that was real,” begins Chico Colvard. He means the day that he shot his older sister Paula in the leg. “I do remember distinctly pulling the rifle up and pointing it at her head,” he adds, over photos of the family’s kitchen in Radcliff, Kentucky, circa 1978 as well as footage from The Rifleman a favorite TV show then. He remembers thinking, too, “The rifleman wouldn’t do that.” If Colvard doesn’t remember pulling the trigger, he does remember the sound: “It was just really deafening. I was a kid. I mean up until that moment anyway. I was just a kid.”
Colvard’s documentary, Family Affair, goes on to consider how kids are kids—and specifically, how kids survive terrible situations, here, Colvard’s father’s longtime sexual abuse of all three of his daughters. Premiering 1 March on Oprah Winfrey’s Network, the film is profound, subtle, and relentless as it looks back on his own and his sisters’ childhoods. In interviews with Paula, Angie, and Chiquita, he asks how they’ve come to forgive their abuser, even as you see Chici downing her meds (she’s diagnosed schizophrenic, worries that her rages might affect her own children) or close shots of Paula’s scarred leg, still debilitating even after 22 surgeries and two bone grafts. Colvard doesn’t have to say that he feels guilty over her ongoing pain, or his ignorance as a boy: his sisters kept their horrors from him, hoping to protect him. As Colvard seeks to understand his sisters’ experiences, they can only begin to explain. “All of us had to go in our own directions and we had to go there by ourselves,” one narrates over a series of literalizing images—roads and houses shot from a car. “We’ve all taken our own roads and now these roads are leading back to each other.” Angie adds, “When we all got separated, we lost our lifelines. As dysfunctional as it was. we needed each other.” As they come to see this, they come to see one another differently, their stories coming together and apart at the same time. As much as Family Affair seems poised for revelation, it is at last focused on the sisters’ survival and generosity.
See PopMatters’ review.
Shukree Hassan Tilghman wants to end Black History Month. He’s got his reasons, and most of them are familiar: for one thing, by “relegating” black history to one short month each year, it keeps American histories separate and unequal. For another, it generates a Black History commercial products industry that demeans the very history it means to celebrate. To track his quest, he’s made a film, More Than a Month. And now that film is screening on the last leap-yeared day of 2012’s Black History Month as part of
Maysles Cinema’s Doc Watchers series, followed by a Q&A with Tilghman and Anthony Riddle, Managing Director of the Maysles Institute and descendant of Dr. Carter Woodson, creator of Negro History Week. The film raises serious questions while offering a bit of antic framing, interviewing people with investments in history, then pondering how those investments have come to be. As the film seeks value in Black History Month, to understand the purposes it serves, it also finds value in ongoing debates over it.
See PopMatters’ review.
“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.
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.