Tag Archives: Documentary

Interview: Andrew Neel and Luke Meyer on Darkon

Skip Lipman, star of Darkon: The Movie
Skip Lipman, star of Darkon

When Ian McKellen pretends to be a wizard, he gets $8 million and an Oscar nomination. When a bunch of ordinary working people get together to pretend to be barbarians, warriors, and trolls on the weekend for fun, they get called geeks. Call them instead LARPers – live action role-players – and the subject of Darkon, an overwhelming favorite on the 2006 festival circuit.

In their debut documentary feature, co-directors Andrew Neel and Luke Meyer enter Darkon, a high-fantasy world in which orcs rampage across nations, mages cast arcane conjurings, and dark elves plot in caves. In reality, Darkon is a set of gaming rules, a map of fictional countries, and a series of weekendlong live-action events on borrowed farmland. Players come in homemade costumes, and vie for power and hexes on the map through negotiations, treachery, and intrigue. When that fails, they battle with padded maces and foam swords.

Continue reading Interview: Andrew Neel and Luke Meyer on Darkon

Interview: Bob Ray and Werner Campbell on Hell on Wheels (2008)

hellonwheelsIt was a big few weeks for Bob Ray of Crashcam Films: A second child, a “Best of Austin” award for best emergent filmmaker, and the DVD release of his Roller Derby documentary Hell on Wheels.

The film tells the story of how modern-day rollerderby in Austin almost didn’t happen. For the 300-plus leagues around the world, it’s a lesson in the potential problems and internal politics of getting to the first bout (it’s amazing how many leagues have gone through very similar problems, and how many survive to thrive like both the flat track Texas Rollergirls and the banked track Lonestar Rollergirls.)

Continue reading Interview: Bob Ray and Werner Campbell on Hell on Wheels (2008)

Interview: Joe Berlinger on Crude and Some Kind of Monster

crude-docThere aren’t many celebrity documentarians, but Joe Berlinger is probably on that short list. He established a reputation as director of the groundbreaking crime investigations Brother’s Keeper and Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills and became globally known for his warts-and-warts-and-more-warts-‘n’-all rockumentary, Metallica: Some Kind of Monster. But his follow-up documentary, Crude, drops him into the middle of geopolitics, following the complicated battle over pollution in the Amazon fought between the massed corporate power of the U.S.-based Chevron oil company and the lawyers representing the Ecuadorian tribes whose ancient lifestyle and homelands face devastation. Berlinger describes it as a return to his filmmaking roots, with a minimal crew and almost no external financing. Traveling from Chevron’s corporate headquarters to remote villages in what he called “an area of border disputes and drug runners,” he charts the seemingly endless court case and the ecological genocide that devastates the region.

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Interview: Meredith Danluck on The Ride (2010)

therideThe cowboy isn’t dead – he’s working the PBR, the Professional Bull Riders circuit. It’s big business, a 32-date traveling extravaganza with all the pizzazz of pro-wrestling and millions of dollars – as well as lives – on the line. Yet the bull riders portrayed in documentarian Meredith Danluck’s debut feature, The Ride, don’t just strap on some chaps, throw on a 10-gallon hat, and feign John Wayne for the crowd. When they’re not risking life and limb on the back of a half-ton of angry beef, they’re a bunch of humble ranchers and small-town dreamers, tapping into something iconic about the Old West.

Richard Whittaker: How does an East Coast filmmaker, working for Spike Jonze’s VBS.TV online news network, get to travel with the PBR?

Meredith Danluck: I’d gone to the Indy 500 and had such an amazing time. When I got back to New York, our creative director Eddy Moretti and [producer] Jeff Yapp said we should do more Americana stuff like this. We should go to the rodeo; we should go to the Kentucky Derby; we should just explore all these things that are mainstream but are outside of our hipster radar. Jeff had just run into some cowboys at an airport bar, and they turned out to be from the PBR. The next weekend, we flew to Nashville, went to a PBR event, and after that I convinced both Jeff and Eddy that we needed to make a feature. Basically, I just badgered the hell out of them until they said, “OK.”

Continue reading Interview: Meredith Danluck on The Ride (2010)

Review: The Dungeon Masters

dungeonmastersDirector: Keven McAlester

If a group of friends gets together once a week for years to swap stories and share a meal, they’re sociable. Put a Dungeons & Dragons rule book in the middle of the table, and suddenly they’re written off as socially malformed. Rather than picking apart the world of role-playing games or mocking the players, director McAlester’s documentary takes three gamers and shows how tabletop fantasy fits into their lives.
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Review: Camp Victory, Afghanistan (2010)

campvictoryDirected by Carol Dysinger

The people of Afghanistan, who have endured millennia of invasions, have a saying: “You have the clocks; we have the time.” These words open up this depiction of three years in the forgotten war from a group whose voice is seldom heard – the Afghan National Army.

Dysinger liberates the compromised term “embedded journalism” and uses her incredible access to depict a war of inertia and ancient feuds. As foreign forces come and go, the only constant is the haunting central figure of Gen. Fazil Ahmad Sayar.
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Interview: Matt Harlock and Paul Thomas on American: The Bill Hicks Story (2010)

hicksflaggagWhat’s that old saying about a prophet being despised in his homeland? Until his death in 1994, Bill Hicks was a cultural exile in the United States, a stand-up comedian both cerebral and visceral who poured fiery scorn on corruption and apathy, Reagan Republicans, and corporate whores like Jay Leno. For his effort, he was a cult performer, notoriously censored from The Late Show With David Letterman. But in Great Britain in the early 1990s, when the culturally literate stared in despair at the nation that gave the world the First Gulf War and Carrot Top, he was the best evidence for the defense. Hicks was the angry American whose fury was driven not by greed but by disappointment that things weren’t just better.

Matt Harlock, half of the team behind new documentary American: The Bill Hicks Story, explained, “I was one of the guys who was at university in the UK in the late Eighties, early Nineties, who was handed a sweaty and much-coveted bootleg” of Hicks’ work. For co-director/producer Paul Thomas, the interest was much more professional. Harlock explained, “His job for [Welsh TV broadcasters] HTV and the BBC was to find and bring on new comedians, so he came upon [Hicks] that way.”

Continue reading Interview: Matt Harlock and Paul Thomas on American: The Bill Hicks Story (2010)

Review: Cropsey (2009)

cropseyDirected by Barbara Brancaccio and Joshua Zeman

Everywhere has its myth to scare kids away from the bad places. Along the border, it’s La Llorona near water. In England, it’s the boggart on the moors. On Staten Island, it’s Cropsey at the abandoned asylum. But this unnerving documentary asks: What if Cropsey is real?

The starting point here is the trial of Andre Rand, charged with the 1987 abduction and murder of 12-year-old Jennifer Schweiger on the sleepy island. But just as the community started to connect him to more missing children, and this puny outsider filled the mythical role of Cropsey for the local kids, filmmakers Brancaccio and Zeman aim broader. Their Staten Island isn’t a leafy suburb off Manhattan, but a polluted dumping ground and a secret burial ground for mob corpses.

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Review: Zoo (2007)

zooDirected by Robinson Devor

Bestiality. An act many people can scarcely comprehend how, never mind why, it’s done. But when a man died in 2003 after having sex with a horse, the quiet rural town of Enumclaw, Wash., was confronted with the trans-species taboo. In an elegiac and perturbing exploration of the events, documentary-maker Devor mixes re-enactment and audio interviews with two communities: the zoophiles, who cannot understand why they are shunned, and the families and friends that struggled to understand them.

Continue reading Review: Zoo (2007)