Science, Fraud and Documentary

Tribeca film fest plans to show an anti-science, fact-denying hoax that actually costs lives. VAXXED, akin to Dinesh DeSousa’s OBAMA 2016, denies scientific evidence, established fact, makes fraudulent claims, and is utterly indifferent to the truth. It claims vaccines cause autism and the Festival wants us to think this is a “controversy” rather than a fraud. The Festival has it on its program.
Maybe the FACT of climate warming is a controversy in need of a good forum like Tribeca when the issue is what to do about it.
What to do about this film is to protest, boycott, and warn others. Children’s lives are at stake. The unvaccinated can and do die of preventable diseases and they allow those diseases to persist and spread. The film’s claims are wrong. It’s main “champion” is a doctor who lost his license for his failure to abide by the scientific method and promoted bogus research as true. Tribeca’s failed to do the least bit of fact-checking and seems eager only to draw a crowd, no matter how misguided the message.
This Festival is heading for the recycling center, which is where the wayward and deluded go now that, in this election year, all the handbaskets to hell are overflowing.
Let Tribeca know those of us in documentary film study do NOT support hoaxes, lies and frauds masquerading as “controversy” and exploiting documentary conventions to do it.

Alcatraz and Ai Weiwei: The Scene of the Crime

You get the idea that this is a bad place right away.

Alcatraz with Angel Island in the background.

Alcatraz with Angel Island in the background.


Discarded, but a black and white reminder of just how stark this place can be.

Discarded, but a black and white reminder of just how stark this place can be.

Set like what should be a jewel in the middle of San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz, the island, is nothing but rock and Alcatraz, the prison, nothing but misery. The free audio tour, with the voices of former guards and prisoners, recreates what it would be like to an inmate and it’s not a pretty picture. Cells are tiny, places to roam or exercise or read are miniscule to non-existent.

Ai Weiwei has been to jail. In China. For alleged tax-evasion. The two documentaries about him, Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry and Ai Weiwei: The Fake Case, give a vivid sense of his art, politics, humor, decency, integrity and status as a thorn in the side of a near totalitarian government. He can’t leave the country but this exhibit exploits that fact. He has created an installation of multiple works that remind us how international and relentless the pressure on political dissent is. From the colorful dragon that snakes through half of the building where prisoners were allowed to work to the Lego-based images of scores and scores of political prisoners around the world, Weiwei draws us into a world we would rather forget and reminds of just how high a price dissent, protest and militant activism often entails.

The dragon's head wlecomes us to the former prisoners' "work" area.

The dragon’s head wlecomes us to the former prisoners’ “work” area.

A reminder of  the thin line between in and out, free and captive, liberty and oppression.

A reminder of the thin line between in and out, free and captive, liberty and oppression.

The Lego images are of far more people than most of us have heard of; Weiwei has culled them from around the world. The small pieces of interlocking tessera reassemble people whose lives have been torn apart, whose existence has been minimized and whose identities have been demonized. Some are prisoners no longer such as Nelson Mandela, while others, like Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden occupy liminal spaces within or beyond prison walls. Weiwei gives them a vivid, fractured presence that we must actively reassemble and integrate in our own minds as we wander in this desolate workspace, a void in the spirit world of life.

One of the large arrays of images in the work space. There are five such arrays in all.

One of the large arrays of images in the work space. There are five such arrays in all.


Chelsea as she might be seen today were she not in prison for helping expose the secret acts of our government's war on civil liberties and privacy in the name of a war that seems to perpetuate the very thing it seeks to eliminate: terrorism.

Chelsea as she might be seen today were she not in prison for helping expose the secret acts of our government’s war on civil liberties and privacy in the name of a war that seems to perpetuate the very thing it seeks to eliminate: terrorism.

Alcatraz: Nowhere To Go

Alcatraz: Nowhere To Go

Boyhood: Too Good to be True?

A few years ago, when Jonathan Franzen’s new novel, Freedom, came out, it got rave reviews and I thought, “If everyone loves it, it is either far too middle of the road or far too heavily marketed.” I was wrong. It’s an amazing novel and that’s a separate post, but I learned my lesson: sometimes the vast majority of critics can be right about the same thing and Boyhood is another example.
The film amazes. I kept saying, wow, they’ve done a great job with make up and special effects, only to pinch myself and say, No, those changes are real. Does it matter? –About as much as the difference between documentary and fiction matters, which is probably less than we often think but enough to be important. Every fiction is a doc to some degree. It captures parts of the world and the life of actors at a given moment. Here the doc degree is quite great. But the maturation or aging isn’t the primary point: it’s how the characters all evolve over time and do so in something closer to real time than we have ever seen in a fiction before. We can each assess each character’s evolution, and I just want to note that Patricia Arquette’s may be the most challenging to assess. She doesn’t get the big moments with Mason (Ellar Coltrane) like Ethan Hawke, his largely absent dad does. Hawke opines about everything to this young boy becoming man, but Arquette keeps the family unit intact and above water, at the considerable expense of frequent moves, prioritizing her effort to become a professor, and surviving some very abusive men. Why is she not a fount of wisdom, however well-intentioned and misguided or self-serving (as Hawke’s often is)? Why is she the suffering, self-sacrificing but also self-advancing mom who doesn’t bond very well with her kids, and even less with her daughter than her son? Linklatter’s Delpy character in his paris trilogy always struck me as a bit strained and I feel a similar lack of deep connection here.
That said, this is a spectacular film. “Problems” with women characters–giving them the density and complexity of their male counterparts–is hardly unique to Linklatter and he does, to his great credit, not make Arquette one-dimensional by any means. It’s just the complexity to Hawke’s errant dad is more overt and engaging, and seems to be where Linklatter’s instinctive energy is most fully realized.
I suspect this will be a film we’ll a lot more about at Oscar time.

A review of Raya Morag’s Waltzing with Bashir: Perpetrator Trauma and Cinema

This review article just came out in Studies in Documentary Film. DOI: 10.1080/17503280.2014.900954. pp. 1-5 |

This link should take you to it on Taylor and Francis’s website:
http://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/cMgHpXnZNKSA659jRRZx/full

Below is another version of the link. It may show an ad, which is beyond my control.
I hope one works for you. It’s an important book.

Les Blank

Les was a great filmmaker and friend. He will be missed.

I had the honor of hosting his reception of a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Mendocino Film Fest, a little fest up the N. CA coast, and doing a q/a with him.

Having done this with Haskell Wexler the year before and worrying more about getting a word in than getting him to open up, there was just a bit of anxiety with Les who is prone to the laconic but after a clip from The Blues According to Lightnin’ Hopkins and a little appreciation of his subtle, non-verbal thematics, he lit up and talked freely of his wilder days of parties and partying and his film aesthetic of respect, appreciation and open-endedness. It was a great event and one I will cherish now that he is gone.