April 22, 2022 marks the 52nd Earth Day, an event that began in America in 1970 and is now celebrated in over 190 countries. Disneynature is celebrating by releasing a new documentary that gives voice to a lovable and vulnerable animal: the polar bear. Directed by Alastair Fothergill and Jeff Wilson, who collaborated on Disneynature’s Penguins (2019), Polar Bear takes us on a grand and enlightening journey with a young female polar bear as she learns how to hunt, play, survive, and eventually, take care of a cub of her own (of course, the filmmakers did not actually follow one particular bear from her cub years to adulthood, but the narration is written to make it seem that way). While the overall structure of Polar Bear isn’t that different from the average nature documentary, it has a heartwarming and personal tone that you might not expect from this kind of movie.
Adam McKay’s “Don’t Look Up” Defines Apocalyptic Anxiety for Post-Trump America in a COVID-Era World. No Nuance Needed.
Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) begins her morning like any other. She makes a cup of tea, curses at herself as she prepares her jam and toast, pops in her earbuds, and plants herself in the observatory at Michigan State. But as she looks out at the stars, she notices something strange, out of place, and beautiful: a comet, fierce and fiery, making its way across the solar system. For a brief moment, Kate experiences the joy of genuine discovery. She’s soon joined in the observatory by her fellow PhD candidates and their mentor, astronomy professor Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio). But after conducting a few calculations, Kate and Randall come to a stomach-churning realization about the comet.
Samarth Mahajan subverts expectations with "Borderlands", a human-focused documentary illustrating the effects of political borders on the Indian subcontinent.
I don’t think that anyone has ever convinced me to change my mind about my political or moral beliefs by using academic theories and 25-cent vocabulary words. However, when someone tells me a personal story, I can’t help but open my mind to new thoughts and ideas. As I participate in and observe political battles on social media, I’ve also learned that it’s easier to communicate with others via storytelling rather than through theoretical explanations filled with progressive buzz-words (which will just make people mad unless they already agree with you). Naturally, then, a narrative film can easily garner sympathy from a wide audience, while a politically-charged documentary will struggle to communicate with audience members who don’t already agree with its message. This is unfortunate, since many narrative films about social justice issues often go all-in with the drama, making the audience feel like they’ve done their part just by displaying an emotional response (as in, “I thought The Help was sad so clearly I’m not racist.”) So, what are some effective strategies that filmmakers can use to educate their audience about social justice issues? Samarth Mahajan gives us some ideas with his human-centered documentary, Borderlands.
It’s strange to think that children born within the last eight years or so will develop their first memories in a world where social distancing and mask wearing are the norm. While most of us have made significant lifestyle adjustments during the pandemic, this group of children has never known anything different. We certainly hope things will have gone back to “normal” by the time this generation comes of age, but there’s no doubt that COVID-19 will have many lasting effects on the world. In the short film “6,480 Days,” writer/director Ran Slavin imagines a future in which the lockdown never ended, and the virus is still a very real threat. The narrator, a young man born sometime after the initial outbreak, reflects on the pre-pandemic world he never knew. But like any good post-apocalyptic vision, “6,480 Days” has a lot more to say about our current fears and attitudes than those of future generations.
Nature documentary “Awaken” is a magnificent cinematic experience, reminding us that humankind is part of a much larger narrative.
Press materials for Tom Lowe’s Awaken describe the film as a documentary that explores “humanity's relationship with technology and the natural world.” Although I didn’t realize it until I was halfway through the film, this description set me up to expect a depressing film about climate change. Of course, it’s more important than ever to educate ourselves on the reality of climate change, but Lowe doesn’t use depressing imagery and horrific statistics to send a message about preserving nature. By using breathtaking montages of our planet’s most exquisite sights, Lowe puts nature itself at the center of the story and positions humanity as an integral part of the natural world rather than an inherently destructive force. The visually stunning and immersive documentary sends a hopeful message of renewal while reminding us of our responsibility as Earth’s caretakers.
Refreshing political doc “Kid Candidate” goes beyond the unconventional candidacy to call out corruption in local government.
Originally published on Elements of Madness.
As literature and media consumers, we’re accustomed to reading stories that fit neatly into one of a few familiar narrative templates. Regardless of genre, even the most unique original screenplays can be reduced down to a basic plot formula that we’ve already encountered a million times (according to author Christopher Booker, there are in fact 7 basic plots, hence the title of his 2004 book). The hero’s journey, for one, is proven cinematic gold, as we’ve seen with the Marvel franchise’s takeover of 21st century cinema. This plot structure not only provides us with a thrilling adventure, but it allows us to indulge in the possibility that we, too, could one day be a hero. With social media personalities plastered all over our screens, it’s nice to escape into a fantasy world where the most ordinary people get the chance to prove their moral strengths. This is the kind of fantasy that screenwriter Tom O'Connor created in his Cold War espionage thriller, The Courier. Working with director Dominic Cooke, O'Connor pulls together a variety of historical sources to craft a classic based-on-true-events story that reminds us why we keep going back to the movies.
Outside of a few unfortunate parallels to current events, “Rams” is a quaint comedy/drama with a delightful cast.
Originally published on Elements of Madness
Director Jeremy Sims brings together the talents of Sam Neill, Michael Caton, and Miranda Richardson in Rams, his English-language remake of the 2015 Icelandic film, Hrútar. Rams centers around feuding brothers Colin and Les Grimurson (Neill and Caton, respectively), who have been engaged in a silent-treatment standoff for decades as they keep separate flocks of sheep on opposite sides of their family land. After Les wins the local ram judging contest, Colin and the local vet, Kat (Richardson), make a life-altering discovery. Les’s prize-winning ram is infected with Ovine Johne’s disease, a deadly bacterial disease that could easily wipe out all the local herds. The community’s agricultural department orders all farmers in the area to eliminate their flocks and undergo extreme decontamination procedures, effectively destroying the town’s main source of income. While Les responds by lashing out in drunken rages, Colin devises a secret plan to hold on to his family’s specially bred sheep for a little while longer. At the risk of losing the things they love most, Colin and Les must figure out how to reconcile their differences in the face of unexpected changes and grief.
“Dara of Jasenovac” (Dara iz Jasenovca) is a technical beauty, but leaves us wondering about the purpose and effect of Holocaust films moving forward
Serbia’s official submission for the 2021 Academy Awards, Dara of Jasenovac, reminds us that no matter how many Holocaust films are made, there are important details and individual stories that have not yet been represented on the screen. Directed by Predrag Antonijević, Dara of Jasenovac is the first film about the Jasenovac complex in The Independent State of Croatia during the 1940s, which was run by the fascist Ustase government and used for the systematic murder of ethnic Serbs, Jews, and Roma people. While the film’s protagonist, 10-year-old Dara (Biljana Čekić), is not based on a specific historical person, the filmmakers chose to tell the story from a child’s perspective to emphasize the fact that there were specific camps in Jasenovac for children. The film begins when Dara is first transported to the complex along with her mother, infant brother, and other people from her village. She is subsequently moved through different facilities, gradually coming to understand the evil unfolding around her as those who entered the camp with her are killed one by one. Taking on more responsibility than she should ever have to bear, Dara resolves to do everything she can to keep her brother alive.
Spike Lee brings David Byrne’s once in a lifetime musical experience “American Utopia” to HBO and HBO Max.
Originally published on Elements of Madness
On October 9th, The Broadway League announced, to the severe disappointment of theatre professionals and fans, that Broadway will remain closed until June 2021. It’s difficult to imagine that the musicals, concerts, and plays that have been a New York City staple and a popular tourist attraction for years just aren’t taking place right now. However, even before the pandemic, filmed versions of Broadway shows brought these performances to audiences across the country who couldn’t otherwise afford to experience Broadway theatre. The success of the Hamilton pro-shot, released earlier this summer on Disney+, revealed how these filmed performances can keep the love of theatre alive, even while Broadway remains closed. While film and live theatre are entirely different mediums, and a film certainly cannot replace the experience of a live performance, a pro-shot can create an entirely new perspective on an already amazing show. Oscar and Emmy-winning director Spike Lee has done just that with David Byrne’s American Utopia, which captures a breathtaking, sold-out performance in a way that only film can.
"Our embodied spectator, possibly perverse in her fantasies and diverse in her experience, possesses agency...finally, she must now be held accountable for it."