Call for Feature Essays About Any Aspect of Popular Culture, Present or Past

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Sunday, Apr 22, 2012
Farmageddon argues that the US government's efforts to regulate small farmers' food production are not just misbegotten, but also dangerous.

“Ninety-five percent of what Americans eat, you can’t pronounce and you can’t make it in your kitchen,” observes Joel Salatin. The owner of Polyface Farms, Salatin repeats in Farmageddon: The Unseen War on American Family Farms what he’s said elsewhere—in his books and in the movies Fresh and Food, Inc.—namely, that the US government’s efforts to regulate small farmers’ food production are not just misbegotten, but also dangerous. With Farmageddon, first time filmmaker Kristin Canty brings more evidence to bear, in the stories of farmers who have been harassed by federal and local agencies (the FBI, the USDA, and the FDA, as well as assorted sheriffs’ departments). Linked through their handling by the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund’s D. Gary Cox, these cases include unannounced raids, inspections that turn into seizures, sheep killing, and, in the case of Jackie Stowers (owner of a private food co-op), the armed invasion of the farmhouse she shares with 10 kids and her husband.


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Sunday, Apr 22, 2012

As Gil Guillory sees it, his career is an extension of human history. A former fighter, he now runs USA-MMA, promoting mixed martial arts bouts in Lafayette, Louisiana. “There’s something about beating another man into submission that the world is attracted to,” he says, while you watch a few fighters bouncing on the balls of their feet, shadowboxing and kicking. A percussive beat on the soundtrack punctuates their movements. Framed by doorways and silhouetted, they’re poetic here, at the start of Fightville. They’re also products—of their own lives, of a culture committed to particular masculine and also commercial ideals. “By nature, [man’s] a warrior,” Guillory goes on, “So when you say ‘fight,’ everyone is gonna turn and look.” In his world (the one “attracted to” cage fighting), selling that entertainment is as important as providing it, the show and the look work together. Petra Epperlein and Michael Tucker’s new documentary—which opens 20 April in New York and LA, as well as on iTunes and VOD—considers the effects of this apparent shift—from fighting as primal contest to spectacle for paying consumers—a shift that depends equally on that fighting’s brutality and its poetry.


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Thursday, Apr 5, 2012

“It was just impossible to explain. How do you explain God? How do you explain love?” When she left Hollywood back in 1963, Mother Prioress Dolores Hart remembers, her friends and colleagues were perplexed. And yet, she knew then, when she was a 24-year-old rising movie star, that she was doing the right thing. As recalled by the Oscar-nominated short documentary, God Is the Bigger Elvis, she had appeared in a couple of films with Elvis Presley, 1957’s Loving You and 1958’s King Creole. She had money and fame, a bright career future, and a fiancé, but still, she became a Benedictine nun at the Abbey of Regina Laudis in western Connecticut. The film tells the story simply: Over a series of glamour shots, the Mother Prioress recalls her unexpected opportunity to play opposite Elvis (after she appeared in 1947’s Forever Amber as a child), and then her efforts to find satisfaction in the earthly pleasures that followed. She appeared in movies with Brando and Beatty, Jeff Chandler and George Hamilton, and yet, she found herself yearning for another sort of life. The film includes as well interviews with Dolores Hart’s fellow nuns, who all describe the perfect harmony of their cloistered experience at the Abbey. They eat in silence, they laugh at jokes and toast with wine. The Mother Prioress tends to her parrot Toby and dedicates herself to contemplation and instruction, praying and hearing confessions. “My role is to help the person find hope,” she says, “If you can find hope, you might find faith.”



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Monday, Apr 2, 2012
Scenes of a Crime insists that police process -- their assumptions and tactics -- is crucial in any system of justice, a point also underlined by the currently unfolding Trayvon Martin case in Sanford, Florida.

“It was important to us to have a very clear understanding of what the audience’s experience would be,” Grover Babcock tells Filmmaker Magazine. “We wanted to play with the energy that the audience would be investing in the story in terms of where the tension was, what their suppositions were, and where they thought they were headed.” Just so, the documentary he co-directed with Blue Hadeigh, Scenes of a Crime leads viewers through a complex and increasingly distressing investigation, less of an original crime—here, the death of an infant—and more of the many “crimes” that follow, as the child’s father Adrian Thomas is put through a barrage of interrogations that lead detectives to believe in his guilt.


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Monday, Apr 2, 2012

Scout Finch appeals to everyone. Wise and immature, tomboyish and vulnerable, she’s recognizable even to people who didn’t grow up in segregated Alabama, who didn’t have a scary next-door neighbor and who didn’t have an awesome dad like Atticus. The continuing resonance of Scout’s story is the subject of Hey, Boo: Harper Lee & To Kill a Mockingbird. Airing on PBS’ American Masters, the documentary features a series of interviewees, many quite famous, who describe their sense of likeness and commitment to Scout (James McBride: “She sees the world through child’s eyes with an adult’s understanding,” Oprah Winfrey: “I fell in love with Scout, I wanted to be Scout. I thought I was Scout”). Harper Lee is less available. She retreated from public life soon after the famous film based on her only book was made. She remains rather perfectly the writer whose intentions aren’t performed, for an interviewer who’s asking or an audience who’s projecting. Even as people speculate, imagining both questions and answers for her. Her 99-year-old sister Alice, still a lawyer in the firm their father helped to found, explains Lee’s absence as a choice. “As time went on, she said that reporters began to take too many liberties with what she was saying, so she just wanted out… She felt like she gave enough.” Hey, Boo isn’t asking more of her. But it can’t quite leave her alone, either. 


See PopMattersreview.


Watch Harper Lee: Hey, Boo on PBS. See more from American Masters.


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