Category Archives: Documentary

Gurrumul review – stirring and soulful ode to Australia's most important voice

Paul Williams’ must-see documentary about the late, great musician does justice to a life lived between two worlds

In a scene in the Shawshank Redemption, Red (Morgan Freeman) contemplates the sound of Mozart: “I’d like to think they were singing about something so beautiful it can’t be expressed in words, and it makes your heart ache because of it.”

Those words returned to me while watching the writer/director Paul Williams’ new documentary about the late, great Indigenous Australian musician Gurrumul Yunupingu. How could a documentary possibly do justice to a voice like that? Against the odds, perhaps, the film succeeds: a rich, dense, stirring and soulful work, laced with footage of many of his performances, from jamming at home to playing in front of adoring concert crowds.

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Source: gad

Conectifai! Filming a digital revolution in Havana

The latest Guardian documentary finds out what happened when Cuba’s phone company installed wifi routers in 18 public parks

“Pork crackling with wifi!” Welcome to the park in Havana where public wifi makes for a new kind of meeting place.

In 2016, ETECSA – the only telephone company in Cuba – installed wifi routers in 18 public parks across the country. For many Cubans, this meant being able to go online for the first time. Our latest documentary paints a portrait of the social gathering hotspots these parks have since become. Every day crowds of people with smartphones, tablets and chairs turn up to cluster together around the wifi antennas, to a soundtrack of people shouting “conectifai!” (meaning “connection!”). It gives everyone the opportunity to contact loved ones, explore social media, upload photos and find internet dates – activities that reveal much about a rapidly changing Cuba.

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'It needs to make you uncomfortable': the opioid documentary set to shock America

The Trade is a new docu-series focused on the stories of addicts, their families and the law enforcement officials trying to curb the epidemic that kills 91 Americans a day

Fifteen minutes into The Trade, a new docu-series about the US opioid crisis, a woman is seen injecting heroin in a dingy Atlanta hotel room.

“I hate this shit,” she mumbles as the drug takes hold.

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Source: gad

The cult of Mary Beard

How a late-blossoming classics don became Britain’s most beloved intellectual. By Charlotte Higgins

The first time I saw Mary Beard, I was 17. It was 1989, and she was speaking at a joint open day for the Oxford and Cambridge classics faculties. She was utterly unlike the other speakers, who, as I recall them, were Oxbridge dons straight from central casting: tweedy, forbidding, male. Instead of standing at a lectern like everyone else, she perched rakishly on the edge of a desk. She was dressed in a vaguely hippyish, embroidered black dress, and a cascade of black hair tumbled around her shoulders. Greg Woolf, now director of the Institute of Classical Studies at the University of London, recalls another one of those open days, in the early 1990s. “I spoke, and then another big hairy bloke like me spoke. And then Mary came on and said: ‘Well, you’ve heard what the boys have got to say.’ And you could see that she’d already won everyone’s hearts.”

Everyone who has met Beard seems to have a story about encountering her for the first time – usually involving her rigorous intellect, her total lack of formality, and her sense of mischief. One of her former students, Emily Kneebone, remembers supervisions – one-to-one or two-to-one teaching sessions – at Newnham, the women-only Cambridge college to which Beard has been attached for most of her adult life, first as a student, then as a don. She would teach from a chaise longue: “At first she’d be in a normal position, but as the hour progressed she would gradually slide further and further down so you could only see her feet.” One junior colleague still remembers Beard introducing herself, at a conference almost 25 years ago, with the overture, “Give us a fag, darlin’.”

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Cézanne: Portraits of a Life review – engaging primer paints strong picture of celebrated artist

Cinema’s latest exhibition tour chronicles of the painter’s shift from impressionist-influenced work to a revolutionary and individual vision

After a stream of films about user-friendly artists such as Monet, Goya and David Hockney, the estimable Exhibition on Screen series tackles the slightly tougher subject of Paul Cézanne, taking its cue from the touring Cézanne Portraits show which is nearing the end of its run at the National Portrait Gallery in London. Because of the show’s organisational history, there’s an interesting transnational flavour to the comment, with curatorial input from France (intense) and the US (scholarly) alongside the careful Brits.

The format of these films is by now well-established, operating with watchmaker-level precision: slow, swooping shots of the artist’s environment, letters and the like voiced with full throated emotion (here by the familiar molten-honey tones of Brian Cox), and leisurely inspection of the paintings themselves in situ.

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Generation Wealth review – moneyed elite get skewered in mixed documentary

Latest film from Queen of Versailles director Lauren Greenfield is at its best when examining consumer capitalism but suffers from an uneven tone

Lauren Greenfield skewered the fall from grace of two members of America’s moneyed elite in the brilliant Queen of Versailles, and returns to similar territory in Generation Wealth. This time her target is the entire edifice of consumer capitalism and concept of modern wealth, making for an ambitious essay documentary that is often brilliant but is let down by a parallel focus on Greenfield’s own family and career which becomes too sentimental and stretches the film out beyond its natural length.

The misdirection of the family and personal sequences is frustrating because otherwise, when Greenfield is talking about other people, she’s superb. Returning to the subjects of her photography from the last 25 years, she presents a cast of rogues demonstrating the psychological tragedy of wealth. We drift in and out of their lives, with Greenfield musing on wealth’s catastrophic impact personally, nationally and globally. A real highlight is former hedge fund manager Florian, an over-confident German who shouts when he gets excited and is living in exile, unable to return to the US for fear of prosecution for fraud.

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Source: gad

Our New President review – fake news buffet slyly links Trump with Putin

An audaciously assembled film , made up entirely of Russian state news clips and user-generated videos, is a fascinating and necessary curio

Russian-American director Maxim Pozdorovkin delivers a sly slow-burning oddity in this documentary about Russia’s love for Donald Trump, made up entirely of state news clips and bizarre user-generated videos. It’ll annoy many with its refusal to take a stance beyond the absurdity of it all, but that lack of easy outrage makes it a true original. An important documentary for our times too, taking us deep into the heart of a bubble far from our own.

Related: Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind review – loving documentary misses bigger picture

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Sundance 2018: #MeToo movement set to colour first post-Weinstein festival

Films on sexual abuse and gender equality and a star-studded rally for ‘respect’ will headline a festival instilling tighter security measures

The #MeToo movement is set to hit Park City, Utah, this week as the 2018 Sundance film festival kicks off with a planned rally for “respect” and a schedule filled with female-fronted narratives.

It’s the first major film festival to take place after the slew of allegations against disgraced producer Harvey Weinstein and the ensuing culture shift in the industry will probably have an effect. One of the most-anticipated premieres is Seeing Allred, a documentary about lawyer Gloria Allred whose clients include women who have spoken out against both Weinstein and Trump.

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The Final Year review – Trump looms over poignant portrait of Obama’s farewell

Greg Barker’s respectful film, shot behind the scenes at the White House, documents the end of an era – and the shock of what happened next

There is an unintentional sadness to this film from Greg Barker. It’s a respectful documentary about Barack Obama’s final year in the US presidency, and everyone in front of and behind the camera clearly assumes that the baton is about to be euphorically passed on to Hillary Clinton. This feels like a feature-length season finale to TV’s The West Wing.

The title reminded me a little of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s essay collection We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy – yet that sense of an ending is very different. The mood here is not complacency exactly, but with hindsight we can see a kind of innocence, or even naivety, as everyone earnestly goes about their legacy-defining projects as the hour of Hillary’s coronation draws near. When we witness Donald Trump’s victory in the final 10 minutes, the film seems to go into shock, to become numb, like the people whose unassailable political superiority it had been quietly celebrating. Barker is unable to look back and reassess the story he has been telling. Things change, and there’s incidentally an uncomfortable moment at the beginning when Aung San Suu Kyi is glimpsed placidly waving: a globally revered Good Thing.

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Source: gad

Slave trader’s home, slum, des res: the stories of one house raise restless ghosts

Studying the past of one terraced Liverpool home for BBC2’s A House Through Time has brought Britain’s real history to life

All old houses are haunted. Not by ghosts but by the lives of others. Because to live in an old house is to share your most intimate space with the dead. Houses live longer than people and the harsh fact is that we are just passing through. Our homes, the most acutely personal places in our lives, come to us secondhand, and invisibly link us to people we have never met, people to whom we have no association other than a single shared connection to place.

I have been thinking about this recently because I spent last autumn engaged in a unique television experiment. We set out to discover if it was possible to take a single house and, through old newspapers, documents in the archives and whatever other clues or scraps of evidence we could find, tell the story of all the people who live there; from the day the first resident turned the key in the front door, all the way up to today.

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Source: gad