There are nine documentaries competing for the award for Best Documentary at the RiverRun International Film Festival.
There was not a screener available for me to preview The Queen of Versailles. a riches to rags story about a couple building the biggest house in America, but I have seen the other eight. Overall, it’s a very strong program of films; here are my picks in order:
Ethel. One of my favorites is Ethel, a film about Ethel Kennedy directed by Rory Kennedy, the daughter Ethel was carrying when her husband Bobby Kennedy was assassinated. The documentary makes great use of archival materials – it’s a good thing rich people used to shoot home movies on 16mm film – and it is polished and interesting. I do wish a little more attention was paid to Ethel’s life after her husband’s death, but the film still presents a vivid portrait of her as a strong individual.
Chasing Ice. I particularly like one of the two environmental films in the mix. Chasing Ice documents one man’s incredible photographic quest to document the shrinking of glaciers in different countries. Amazing visuals and a strong story to go along with them.
Love Free or Die. This film covers the skirmishes in the Episcopalian church over ordaining gay bishops and sanctifying gay marriages in states where they are legal. I didn’t learn much from the film because I have heard coverage on NPR and in major newspapers, but for people who are not familiar with the work of New Hampshire Bishop Gene Robinson, it’s a good primer on the issue.
The Boy Who Was a King. I thought The Boy Who Was a King was the most beautifully photographed of the films along with Chasing Ice. The Boy Who Was a King is about the last king of Bulgaria, who is displaced at age 9 then returned as Prime Minister after decades in exile. Let’s just say he has a bumpy ride as an elected official.
Indie Game: The Movie. I didn’t know about independently produced video games for XBOX live, games like Super Meat Boy and Braid and Fez, until I saw Indie Game: The Movie. The first half hour drags a little, but the final hour sails along at an engaging clip. That’s the problem with a number of docs, really, the story is often established in less than 90 minutes, but filmmakers feel compelled to extend the film to what they consider feature length.
Jiro Dreams of Suchi. This film is about an 85-year old man who runs a ten-seat restaurant inside a bland-looking office building in Tokyo that has the best sushi in the world and three Michelin stars to prove it. Lunch there costs something like $360 and must be booked weeks in advance. At little uneven at times but fun to watch.
The Island President. This is the second environmental film in the group and covers efforts of the president of the Maldives to fight rising tides of global warming that threaten his island nation. Unfortunately, the film focuses a little too much on international meetings to develop a stronger storyline that connects viewers to daily lives of the island citizens and challenges they already face.
Detropia. This is the latest film by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, and it looks at the challenges facing Detroit after the collapse of the automobile industry. I loved their film Jesus Camp and think this latest work suffers a bit from not having indelible characters and the striking context that marked the earlier film. It feels a bit underdeveloped.