Saturday, February 23, 2013


In an attempt to catch up on some last minute viewing before the Spirit awards today and the Oscars tomorrow, last night I watched these two documentaries on Nextflix. I have always loved documentaries, and spent my undergraduate years making them with Ricky Leacock at MIT. There was a bumper crop this year.

HOW TO SURVIVE A PLAGUE was nominated for the Oscar and the Spirit award, and came highly recommended to me, but I was very letdown by the filmmaking. The film is about the AIDS epidemic in the 80s and 90s. The opening ten minutes was actually so bad I stopped watching and switched to the other film, then went back to it. The whole first 30 minutes is very uneven. I'm not sure who the audience for the film is, gay, straight, young, or old, but to me the opening did not inform me of anything I didn't already know from numerous other films, and from having lived through the 80s. The tone was actually very angry, which does not work in the long run.

However, the film gets much better. But the film is still too long, mostly because of a lot of redundancy, and worse, most of the great scenes are news clips that I have seen before. There is not a ton of new material in the film. I would love to have seen contemporary interviews with some of the people involved.

FIVE BROKEN CAMERAS was also nominated for the Oscar. Again, I was let down. The monotonous voice-over by the director made it very hard to watch. I hate it when filmmakers make themselves the star of their own documentary, and in this case, he should have recast himself. Certainly the American version of the film would have been much better if his narration had been translated and performed by an actor instead of having to hear him while reading subtitles. And it probably would get the film out to a broader audience. About the only good thing about the film is that we see what it is like to live as a Palestinian  which is missing from most Western films.

I previously reviewed SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN here, and  INVISIBLE WAR here. (I did not see THE GATEKEEPERS, the remaining Oscar nominee.) Nor have I yet seen CENTRAL PARK FIVE, which was nominated for the Spirit award, and the IDA Doc award. To me, INVISIBLE was by far the best of the ones I have seen.

Congratulations to INVISIBLE WAR, which won the Spirit today, and the IDA award in December  and good luck at the Oscars tomorrow!

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