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Documentary Indie

Insights from home entertainment industry experts. Home Media blogs give you the inside scoop on entertainment news, DVD and Blu-ray Disc releases, and the happenings at key studios and entertainment retailers. “TK's Take” analyzes and comments on home entertainment news and trends, “Agent DVD Insider” talks fanboy entertainment, “IndieFile” delivers independent film news, “Steph Sums It Up” offers pithy opinions on the state of the industry, and “Mike’s Picks” offers bite-sized recommendations of the latest DVD and Blu-ray releases.

January 03, 2011
‘Picture Me’ Tells the Tale of the Model

Ole Schell and Sara Ziff delve into the modeling world with their documentary Picture Me: A Model’s Diary, due Jan. 11 on DVD ($24.99) from Strand Releasing.

The film follows model Ziff as she travels around the world, modeling for such companies as Tommy Hilfiger, with then-boyfriend (and co-director) Schell.

“The film kind of happened by accident,” Schell says. “I had just come out of NYU film school and started to date Sara Ziff. She was starting her career as a fashion model and I was just sort of tagging along with her everywhere she went …. with no real intention of making a film.

“I was shooting a lot of home video footage. I would go with her to the Bahamas or to Morocco and edit together these clips for her. My father is a film journalist and said you have something interesting here — a fly-on-the-wall look into the modeling industry.”

Juxtaposed with those home videos are interviews with models, who were given cameras to create their own video diaries, as well as with others in the industry, such as designers and casting directors.

“At first I didn’t know what we were sort of trying to tell,” Schell explains. “Then these issues kept arising that Sara faced. Then we realized that almost all the girls faced these issues: age, money, objectification, sexual malpractice. Every girl faces [them] at one point or another in their career.

“Every time one of these issues came up, we interviewed other models about the issues. The film took a long time to make, so these issues kept showing themselves and rearing their head.”

Ziff adds, “I think the film is really unique in that it is a really inside look at the industry from the model’s perspective. I think Ole and I were trying to give as unfiltered a look at the industry as possible.”

While one model speaks of being sexually mistreated during a photo shoot, another model’s interview was cut from the film because the model was working at the time and was afraid it would jeopardize her career, Schell and Ziff say. They say the point of their film, and Ziff’s raison d'etre, is to achieve better working conditions for models.

“It’s sort of opened a lot of eyes, especially for people in the fashion industry,” Schell says. “Models have come up to Sara after screenings in tears.”

The DVD also includes footage from the film’s premiere at the Gen Art Film Festival.

By: Billy Gil

November 22, 2010
Hefner Exposed in New Doc

Hugh Hefner and Brigitte Berman

Hugh Hefner considers himself a “humanist.” He thinks gay people should be allowed to get married and serve in the armed forces. He understands that the Tea Party is reflective of people who are fed up with the government, but thinks another side of it is bigoted and “a little nutty.”

If those sentiments sound surprising, Brigitte Berman’s documentary Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel should be an eye-opener. The film comes to DVD Dec. 7, from Phase 4 Films, at $29.99.

Berman in 1981 made the film Bix: ‘Ain’t None of Them Play Like Him Yet,’ about jazz musician Leon Bismark “Bix” Beiderbecke, whom Hefner loved, as an avid jazz fan (Berman also directed the Academy Award-winning 1985 documentary Artie Shaw: Time Is All You've Got). He released Bix on DVD on his Playboy Jazz label, thus beginning a relationship that culminated in her asking Hefner to make a film about him.

“I got to know him over the years and got to know there was so much more to him than the Playboy side,” Berman said.

He gave her unprecedented access to him and files covering his life and career.

“What I didn’t expect was that it would turn out to be a special kind of documentary and reveal a part of my life many people didn’t know about,” Hefner says. “It’s very rewarding.”

Berman interviews a wide array of celebrities and others to discuss the legacy of Hefner, which may have been forgotten by some in the age of Internet pornography and Hefner’s TV show “The Girls Next Door.” Sex therapist Dr. Ruth Westheimer, former playmate and TV personality Jenny McCarthy, rock star Gene Simmons, comedian Bill Maher, actor James Caan, and singer Joan Baez are some of the famous folk that appear to explore the impact made by Hefner’s Playboy empire. Through perseverance, Berman also was able to get the participation of Reverend Jesse Jackson (who was interviewed in the pages of Playboy in 1969 because of Hefner’s unwavering support for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.) and George Lucas.

Berman’s rough cut of the film was seven-and-a-half hours long. She showed Hefner another early cut of the film, who then approved, sending Berman to make her final 124-minute version. The end result paints a complex picture of Hefner as a man who fought against repression and McCarthyism, who wanted people to have a healthier view of sex, who didn’t get enough affection at home as a child, who had a failed marriage before deciding to start Playboy.

The film plays almost as a progression of attitudes toward sex, race and censorship during the 20th century. Controversies followed Hefner throughout his career, including the publication of a Ray Bradbury story in which the future sees homosexuality as the norm and heterosexuality as a perversion; his arrest when relatively tame photos of actress Jayne Mansfield were deemed obscene, perhaps in retaliation for editorial defense of pioneering, controversial comedian Lenny Bruce; and his “Playboy Penthouse” TV show, a seemingly innocuous late-night variety show that featured a then-revolutionary view toward race, with both black and white party guests and featured artists, and mixed-race groups that would be turned down from other shows.

“Hugh Hefner’s name evokes a kneejerk reaction almost immediately,” Berman says. “The young people who don’t know too much about him [see the film and] are amazed, and even people in their 40s. But the older people who are set in their ways who don’t like him, who absolutely do not like him … they see it as an unbalanced film.”

To her credit, Berman includes the points of views of those who don’t agree with what he does, such as Pat Boone, who call him a pornographer, and several feminist thinkers, who offer complex criticisms of his work — in a clip from a 1970 episode of the “Dick Cavett Show,” feminist Susan Brownmiller hilariously says she would believe Hefner supported women’s rights “the day [he was] willing to come out here with a cotton tail attached to [his] rear end.”

However, Hefner feels the film portrays him accurately and says he doesn’t mind the negative comments about him.

“Each person has their point of view, but it’s people expressing their opinions,” he says. “That is the nature of America. That’s half of why I started the magazine in the first place.”

Though the film does overwhelmingly portray Hefner positively, as a freedom fighter of sorts, he would be the last person to want to censor any of its negative aspects.

“My folks were very repressed and puritanical,” he says. “I saw the hurtful side of that. I recognized that long before I started the magazine.

“From the very beginning, I thought I was fighting the good fight for things that really matter. I think that the focus of the documentary … is the part that people don’t see. They see the playmates, the centerfolds … they don’t see the good writing in the magazine and the impact it’s had in terms of race and the women’s movement and the changing of law regarding the human condition.

“I really don’t have any secrets. I said it before, my life is an open book — with illustrations.”

By: Billy Gil

July 14, 2010
DiCaprio, Gorbachev and Others Support ‘Crude’ Director

Joe Berlinger
Joe Berlinger

Some big names have come out against Chevron’s totally crappy effort to have the filmmakers of Crude, a documentary depicting the environmental damage done in Ecuador and the lawsuit between its indigenous people and Chevron, turn over more than 600 hours of footage to Chevron via subpoena.

The Cinema for Peace Foundation (CFPF) and some of its notable participants have come out in support of filmmaker Joe Berlinger and his attempt to overturn the court order to turn over the footage. Those participants include Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Mikhail Gorbachev; actors Leonardo DiCaprio, Susan Sarandon, Natassja Kinski and Bill Nighy; and filmmakers Woody Allen, Ken Burns and Michael Moore, among others.

In a press release, the CFPF call the subpoena “an attack on documentary filmmaking and investigative journalism, First Amendment rights,” and a threat to “the ability of journalists and filmmakers to guarantee confidentiality of their sources.”

Crude depicts how about 30,000 indigenous people of Ecuador are seeking $27 billion in damages and reparation from Chevron for contamination. The film received the International Green Film Award this year, presented to Berlinger by DiCaprio and Gorbachev.

Judge Lewis A. Kaplan May 6 approved a subpoena requiring the filmmakers to present their raw footage and turn it over to Chevron. Berlinger appealed that decision, and June 8 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled Berlinger will receive a full appellate hearing July 14.

Cinema for Peace has existed for nine years, asking members of the international film community to highlight films that promote peace and tolerance.

Crude is on DVD from First Run Features. Read Angelique Flores’ review and interview with Berlinger

By: Billy Gil

July 14, 2010
Magnolia Gets Rights to ‘I’m Still Here’

Magnolia Pictures has acquired the rights to Casey Affleck’s directorial debut, I’m Still Here: The Lost Year of Joaquin Phoenix.

The film depicts a year in the life of Oscar-nominated, beard-wearing, bizzaro actor Joaquin Phoenix as he announces his retirement from filmmaking in the fall of 2008 to focus on, oh God, rapping.

Whatever you think of his new guise as a homeless Eminem, Phoenix is one of the best actors around — check out his 2008 film Two Lovers, co-starring an also excellent Gwyneth Paltrow, on DVD or Blu-ray from Magnolia for another excellent performance from the (former?) actor.

The movie comes out in theaters Sept. 10, in what MTV.com says will be a limited release followed by a wider release a week later. There’s no word yet on a DVD release.

By: Billy Gil

July 13, 2010
Lynch Offers Self Portrait to Raise Funds for Doc

In yet more David Lynch news, a documentary about the auteur will be financed by online contributions from his fans, who will in return for a $50 contribution receive a limited edition artwork created by Lynch.

Donors to the work become “members” of the LYNCHthree project, as it is called. Members will receive ongoing newsletter updates about the film and will get the opportunity to access exclusive footage from the film once it has begun production. Donations can be made at www.lynchthree.com.

The film is the third part of a series of films about Lynch, director of such IndieFile favorites as Mulholland Dr. and Blue Velvet. LYNCH (one) came from 700 hours of footage compiled while Lynch was making his most recent movie, Inland Empire, and behind-the-scenes footage from that film made the second film in the series, LYNCH 2 (that sounds appropriately Lynchian). This third film comes from the same director as the previous two in the trilogy, who goes by the name ‘blackANDwhite’ (no relation to the Michael Jackson song, as far as I can ascertain). There’s no word yet on a DVD, Blu-ray or official digital release.

“This new form of financing allows filmmakers the opportunity to make the films they want to make without the constraints placed on them by the traditional system,” blackANDwhite said. “Having waited three years to begin the final segment in the LYNCH series, we hope that people are excited to be a part of our journey.”
Sounds a bit like Radiohead’s “pay what you like” program for the release of In Rainbows in 2007.

Speaking of David Lynch and music, after much legal wrangling today marks the official release of Dark Night of the Soul, the album produced by Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse for which David Lynch sang on a couple of tracks as well as created a 100-plus page book of photographs to accompany the music. IndieFile is listening to Sparklehorse’s underloved It’s a Wonderful Life album today in remembrance of that band’s Mark Linkous, who died this year.

If you like, read a past interview I did with David Lynch here, when he released his Lime Green Set in 2008. I can tell you nothing is as surreal and wonderful as hearing David Lynch say your name.

By: Billy Gil


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