Opening in theaters this month this month amid a flurry of festivals are some noteworthy docs. Connie Field's Have You Heard from Johannesburg, a sprawling, seven-part, ten-years-in-the-making series about the history of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, comes to Film Form in New York. The project is a counterpart, of sorts, to the monumental Eyes on the Prize, Blackside's definitive series on the American Civil Rights Movement, which Field herself explored in her 1994 Academy Award-nominated film Freedom on my Mind.
Also coming to the big screen are Michel Gondry's The Thorn in the Heart, a personal take on his family; When You're Strange, Tom DiCillio's doc about The Doors; and Oceans, DisneyNature's follow-up to its 2009 box office smash, Earth. Jacques Perrin and Jacques Cluzaud, director/producer and co-director, respectively, of the 2002 hit Winged Migration, helmed Oceans.
Opening: April 2
Venues: Roxie Cinema/San Francisco; Elmwood TheaterBerkeley, CA; Rafael Film Center, San Rafael, CA
Film: Breath Made Visible
Dir./Prod./Wtr.: Ruedi Gerber
Distributor: Argot Pictures
Breath Made Visible is the first feature documentary about the life and career of Anna Halprin. The film takes its audience from Halprin's initial explorations of dance in her childhood to the experimental performances conducted on a dance deck under Californian redwood trees, through her spectacular tours in Europe, her withdrawal from the stage due to illness, and, finally, her triumphant return.
Opening: April 2
Venue: Village East/New York City
Film: The Thorn in the Heart
Dir./Wtr.: Michel Gondry
Distributor: Oscilloscope Laboratories
The Thorn in the Heart (L'Epine dans le Coeur) is filmmaker Michel Gondry's personal look at the life of Gondry family matriarch, Michel's aunt Suzette Gondry, and her relationship with her son, Jean-Yves. Michel examines Suzette's years as a schoolteacher and her life in rural France. During the course of filming the documentary, Michel unearths new family stories and uses his camera to explore them in a subtle and sensitive way.
Opening: April 9
Venue: Anthology Film Archives/New York City
Film: It Came from Kuchar
Dir.: Jennifer M. Kroot
Distributor: Indie Pix
It Came from Kuchar is a hilarious and touching story of artistic obsession, compulsion and
Long before YouTube, there were the outrageous, no-budget movies of underground, filmmaking twins George and Mike Kuchar. George and Mike grew up in the Bronx in the 1950s. At the age of 12, they became obsessed with Hollywood melodramas and began making their own homespun melodramas with their aunt's 8mm camera. They used their friends and family as actors and their Bronx neighborhood as their set. Early Kuchar titles featured in this film include I Was A Teenage Rumpot and Born of the Wind.
In the early 1960s, alongside Andy Warhol, the Kuchar brothers shaped the New York underground film scene. Known as the "8mm Mozarts," their films were noticeably different than other underground films of the time. They were wildly funny, but also human and vulnerable.
Their films have inspired many filmmakers, including John Waters, Buck Henry, Atom Egoyan, Guy Maddin and Wayne Wang (all are interviewed in this film). Despite having high profile fans, the Kuchars remain largely unknown because they are only ambitious to make movies, not to be famous.
It Came from Kuchar interweaves the brothers' lives, their admirers, a history of underground film and a "greatest hits" of Kuchar clips into a mesmerizing stream of consciousness tale.
Affectionately directed by one of George's former students, Jennifer M. Kroot, It Came From Kuchar will introduce you to the amazing Kuchar brothers--two brothers who love to make movies and continue to inspire others.
Opening: April 9
Venue: Cinema Village/New York City
Film: Nobody's Perfect
Dir.: Niko van Glasow
Distributor: Lorber Films
One of the thousands of Germans born with deformities caused by the drug Thalidomide, filmmaker Niko van Glasow confronts his disability head-on in this extraordinary documentary, which follows his search for 11 other "Thalidomiders" willing to pose naked for a book of photos. With a darkly humorous touch, and no deference to political correctness, the film explores the sensitivities and feelings of the disabled in a way rarely seen on film.
Opening: April 9
Film: When You're Strange: A Film about The Doors
Dir./Wtr.: Tom DiCillio
Prods.: John Beug, Jeff Jampol, Peter Jankowski, Dick Wolf
Distributor: Rhino Entertainment/Abramarama
When You're Strange: A Film about The Doors is the first feature documentary about
The Doors. When You're Strange uncovers historic and previously unseen footage of the illustrious rock quartet and provides new insight into the revolutionary impact of its music and legacy. Directed by award-winning writer/director Tom DiCillo and narrated by Johnny Depp, the film is a riveting account of the band's history.
The film reveals an intimate perspective on the creative chemistry between drummer John Densmore, guitarist Robby Krieger, keyboardist Ray Manzarek and singer Jim Morrison--four brilliant artists who made The Doors one of America's most iconic and influential rock bands. Using footage shot between the band's 1965 formation and Morrison's 1971 death, When You're Strange follows the band from the corridors of UCLA's film school, where Manzarek and Morrison met, to the stages of sold-out arenas.
Opening: April 14
Venue: Film Forum/New York City
Film: Have You Heard from Johannesburg
Dir./Prod.: Connie Field
Have You Heard from Johannesburg is seven documentary stories, produced and directed by Connie Field, chronicling the history of the global anti-apartheid movement that took on South Africa's entrenched apartheid regime and its international supporters who considered South Africa an ally in the Cold War.
Almost 50 years ago, South Africans began to realize that their freedom struggle had to be built in nfour arenas of action: mass action, underground organization, armed struggle and international mobilization. These documentaries take viewers inside that last arena, the movement to mobilize worldwide citizen action to isolate the apartheid regime. Inspired by the courage and suffering of South Africa's people as they fought back against the violence and oppression of racism, foreign solidarity groups, in cooperation with exiled South Africans, took up the anti-apartheid cause. Working against heavy odds, in a climate of apathy or even support for the governments of Verwoerd, Vorster and P.W. Botha, campaigners challenged their governments and powerful corporations in the West to face up to the immorality of their collaboration with apartheid.
This was not just a political battle; it was economic, cultural, moral and spiritual. The struggle came to many surprising venues: it was waged in sports arenas and cathedrals, in embassies and corporate boardrooms, at fruit stands and beaches, at rock concerts and gas stations. Thousands died, but in the end, nonviolent pressures played a major part in the collapse of apartheid and thus in the stunning victory of democracy in South Africa.
The combined stories have a scope that is epic in both space and time, spanning most of the globe over half a century. Beginning with the very first session of the United Nations, and ending in 1990--when, after 27 years in prison, Nelson Mandela, the best known leader of the African National Congress (ANC) toured the world, a free man.
Opening: April 16
Venue: Quad Cinema/New York City; Laemmle Sunset 5/Los Angeles
Film: The Cartel
Dir.: Bob Bowdon
Distributor: Truly Indie
Teachers punished for speaking out. Principals fired for trying to do the right thing. Union leaders defending the indefensible. Bureaucrats blocking new charter schools. These are just some of the people we meet in The Cartel. The film also introduces us to teens who can't read, parents desperate for change, and teachers struggling to launch stable alternative schools for inner city kids who want to learn. We witness the tears of a little girl denied a coveted charter school spot, and we share the triumph
of a Camden homeschool's first graduating class.
Together, these people and their stories offer an unforgettable look at how a widespread national crisis manifests itself in the educational failures and frustrations of individual communities. They also underscore what happens when our schools don't do their job. "These are real children whose lives are being destroyed," director Bob Bowdon explains.
The Cartel shows us our educational system like we've never seen it before. Behind every dropout factory, we discover, lurks a powerful, entrenched and self-serving cartel. But The Cartel doesn't just describe the problem. Balancing local storylines against interviews with education experts such as Clint Bolick (former president of Alliance for School Choice), Gerard Robinson (president of Black Alliance for Educational Options), and Chester Finn (president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute), The Cartel explores what dedicated parents, committed teachers, clear-eyed officials and tireless reformers are doing to make our schools better for our kids.
This movie will force the scales to fall from the eyes of policymakers, education officials, reformers, intellectuals, teachers, and taxpayers. Putting a human face on the harm done by the educational cartel, The Cartel takes us beyond the statistics, generalizations, and abstractions that typically frame our debates about education-and draws an unequivocal bottom line: If we care about our children's futures, we must insist upon far-reaching and immediate reform. And we must do it now.
Opening: April 16
Venue: Quad Cinema/New York City; Laemmle Sunset 5/Los Angeles
Film: Exit Through the Gift Shop
Distributor: Producers Distribution Agency
Banksy is a graffiti artist with a global reputation whose work can be seen on walls from post-hurricane New Orleans to the Palestinian segregation wall in the West Bank. Fiercely guarding his anonymity to avoid prosecution Banksy has so far resisted all attempts to be captured on film. Exit Through the Gift Shop is the story of how an eccentric French shop keeper and amateur filmmaker attempted to locate and befriend Banksy, only to have the artist turn the camera back on its owner with spectacular results. Billed as "the world's first street art disaster movie," the film contains exclusive footage of Banksy, Shepard Fairey, Invader and many of the world's most infamous graffiti artists at work. As Banksy puts it, "It's the story of how one man set out to film the un-filmable. And failed."
Opening: April 22
Dirs.: Jacques Perrin, Jacques Cluzaud
DisneyNature, the studio that brought you the 2009 box office hit Earth, returns with on Earth Day 2010 with Oceans. Nearly three-quarters of the earth's surface is covered by water, and Oceans boldly chronicles the mysteries that lie beneath. Directors Jacques Perrin and Jacques Cluzaud dive deep into the very waters that sustain all of mankind, exploring the playful splendor and the harsh reality of the wired and wonderful creatures that live within. Featuring spectacular, never-before-seen imagery captured the latest underwater technologies, Oceans offers an unprecedented look beneath the sea in a powerful, yet enchanting motion picture.
Opening: April 23
Venue: Quad Cinema/New York City
Film: Behind the Burly Q
Dir./Prod./Wtr.: Leslie Zemeckis
Distributor: First Run Features
Burlesque and vaudeville acts were America's most popular form of live entertainment in the first half of the 20th century--until cinema drove them from the mainstream. To add insult to injury, the art of burlesque became vilified and misunderstood, and was largely left out of our cultural history. By telling the intimate and surprising stories from its golden age through the women (and men!) who lived it, Behind the Burly Q reveals the true story of burlesque, even as it experiences a new renaissance.
Opening: April 30
Venue: Laemmle Sunset 5/Los Angeles
Film: Dirt Hands: The Art & Crimes of David Choe
Dir.: Harry Kim
Distributor: Upper Playground
Director Harry Kim spent eight tumultuous years following a young, near-schizophrenic street artist, David Choe, who devises numerous criminal schemes that make it possible for him to hitchhike across the
globe. Choe skirts the legal constraints of society to "freely" create his art. His nonchalant law-breaking style lands him in jail several times, leading to his eventual demise in solitary confinement in a Tokyo prison cell. He resurfaces with a radically religious agenda and returns home with hope to overcome his criminal temptations and repair his severed relationships.
The filmmaker (who has been friends with Choe since they met at the Korean-American teenage summer camp in 1990) captures the complexity of David's life though a collage work of archived childhood home videos, still photographs, intimate artwork, animation, and eight years of footage shot on the road with the artist.