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Thursday, Aug 2, 2012
Gore Vidal, 1925-2012. A great man of letters, Gore Vidal has died. Mr. Vidal was a public figure a la Truman Capote and Norman Mailer, and perhaps Christopher Hitchens. Moreover, he wrote about 25 novels. Nonetheless, he was truly remembered for calling William F. Buckley Jr. a "crypto-Nazi" during a 1968 televised debate.


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Monday, Jun 18, 2012
The Northside Festival in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, beginning on 18 June, features fiction films, music, and art -- as well as a number of terrific documentaries.

“I’m looking for a specific type of girl for the Japanese market,” says Ashley, scouting girl models for the Japanese agency, Switch. She’s explaining her work for David Redmon and Ashley Sabin’s extraordinary documentary, Girl Model. “The girls need to be a certain height, not too tall, cute, young. Young is very important.” Ashley turns her own camera on a few girls as they hold up handwritten papers noting their names and birthplaces. She shoots them with their hair up and down, from the side and from the front. The session—vaguely awkward, tense and brief—introduces a disturbing phenomenon. As much as these slender, big-eyed children (and their parents) hope that the promises of agents will come true, that modeling will help them escape their impoverished small towns, they are, in fact, headed into a business designed to exploit them—in any number of ways.


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Monday, Jun 18, 2012
David Fine's inspiring documentary keeps focused on the season's effects on the first women's basketball team at the American University in Iraq.

“Our women used to cook and farm and milk the cows. There was nothing like sports.” So proclaims a grizzled man on the street, not exactly thrilled by recent changes in Iraq. Still, as demonstrated in Salaam Dunk, those changes are well underway. Filmed in 2009, during the American University’s women’s basketball team’s second season, David Fine’s inspiring documentary keeps focused on the effects on the women, as well as their American graduate student coach, Ryan Bubalo. Introduced one by one, designated by their team numbers, the players share their initial nervousness (some had never dribbled a ball before they joined the team), their frustrations and their evolving commitment to each other.


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Monday, Jun 11, 2012
The families who have lived for generations off the land in Patagonia, Chile, are now facing drastic changes, thanks to plans to build five hydroelectric dams, two on the Baker River and three on the Pascua River.

“That was our objective, there was no other.” Bernardo and Lautaro Arratia are chopping trees, in the Patagonia region of Chile. This is what they want to do, they demonstrate with their focused labor, what their father did, what they’ve grown up doing. Now, however, they’re looking at the end of the future they never doubted, as corporate forces descend on the region with plans to build five hydroelectric dams, two on the Baker River and three on the Pascua River.


These plans look awfully grim in Brian Lilla’s Patagonia Rising, currently screening at New York’s Cinema Village. While the dams provide electricity, they do so in a way that Stephen Hall sees as old-fashioned (other forms of renewable energy are more efficient and forward-looking) and they exact particular costs. Mitzi Urubia, coordinator for the campaign, Patagonia Without Dams, points out that the question of who has possession of the water—Chile or Argentina—is not entirely clear. Moreover, according to Patrick McCully, executive director of International Rivers, the companies in charge are less than truthful about the deleterious effects of large dams, which have been demonstrated by previous large dams, more than 40,000 worldwide: they displace populations (between 40 and 80 million people, mostly in India and China thus far), cause flooding and contaminated waters, wreak havoc with fishing and other livelihoods, spread diseases.


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Friday, May 25, 2012

When the marines of Echo Company 2nd Battalion 8th Regiment enter Afghanistan in 2009, they’re told they’ll be enacting a “new” counter-insurgency strategy. Their commander names their essential contradictions. “Every interaction you have with the people is crucial,” he says, “We have to develop trust in them.” Strapping on gear and loading weapons, they are plainly “experts in the application of violence,” but they’re less equipped for developing “trust.” Within moments, these ideals are dismantled: a marine is badly injured, his buddies run him along a road, the camera jogging behind them. When the corporal dies, 26-year-old Sergeant Nathan Harris steps up. He will be injured too, and Hell and Back Again, airing on PBS on 28 May, follows him home to North Carolina, where he struggles to find sense in what he’s done and how it plagues him. The film cuts back and forth, between the footage photographer-turned-filmmaker Danfung Dennis shot in Afghanistan over months and the diaristic scenes he shoots of Nathan home, talking to the camera, his wife Ashley, and his doctors. In pain and on medication, Nathan seems to be remembering what you see, but the documentary doesn’t pretend to know what he’s feeling. Instead, it observes and draws connections, scenes that show battles or Harris and his team breaking down doors or not quite conversing with Afghan locals, or more plainly showing the effects of action. These involve Ashley as much as Nathan: as she describes their journey as “to hell and back again,” you realize how they’ve paid, again and again.


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