Street Fight (2005)

Impression: A well paced and interesting documentary, that’s basically directed as a thriller about the real political race for the Mayor of Newark, New Jersey. The filmmaker is definitely taken by Corey Booker, the young idealist moving to the rough part of town wanting to make a real difference. And it’s hard not to be. He is charismatic and passionate and seems sincere. The scenes where he gets into arguments with either hostile or apathetic opposition in front of the the corner store or at the local radio station, are particularly effective.  The people he encounters outside the store feel tired and cynical about politics and like they have heard all the politician promises before, but Booker is able to spout off facts about the corruption of the current city government that make them listen and by the end agree with them. At the radio station he is faced with made up rumors about himself, which the hosts repeat with quite a bit of conviction and vitriol. But he is able to disarm them and at the end get them on his side.  Just by using words and persuasive arguments. The filmmaker follows Booker around and documents all kind of dirty tricks the incumbent plays to make it a lot harder for the challenger to win, from painting over and taking down his signs around the city, to spreading false and ridiculous rumors, to intimidating business owners or city workers who show support for him. The cinematography is pretty gritty and shaky, but it just contributes to the gritty street feel of the movie.  But while a couple of times the point is made that this race is unlike any other, it makes it very clear how easy it is for this kind of abuse of power and desperate clinging to power to go on in all levels of politics. In the end, definitely biased in the favor of Booker, but very well directed and shot film about an exciting political race.

Facts: A documentary about the machinations and dirty dealings behind the 2002 political race for the Mayor of Newark between a young idealist and an old likeable but corrupt politician who does everything in his power to stay in power.

Extra: This movie was an Academy Awards nominee for Best Documentary Feature in 2005. March of the Penguins was the winner that year.

Presumed Guilty (2009)

Impressions: Mexican documentary about the inner workings of the legal system, might seem like a relatively dry topic, but it was actually fascinating, and compelling throughout. My favorite thing about documentaries is coming across one on a topic I know nothing about, and would not have even contemplated seeing, until I was already there. “A Great Day in Harlem” was another great example of this. This film follows a guy accused of murder through the whole ordeal including living in prison, his appeals, and a face-off with the witnesses. Some of the processes are mind boggling, especially the witness face-off, and the fact that once convicted no amount of evidence can convince anyone of anything is frustrating.  The two young lawyers who took on the case, use the filmmaking process itself as a tool in their fight to free an innocent man. Very interesting and really well done, you should see it! If you ever had your doubts, this one definitely makes you not want to end up in a mexican prison!

Facts: Two young Mexican lawyers fight to free a man convicted of a crime they have ample evidence he did not commit.

Extras:  I originally had very brief notes which I wrote in 2009 after seeing this film at TIFF. In order to write a more meaningful opinion, and jog my memory some,  I looked at the wikipedia page on it. It’s apparently become the most watched documentary in Mexico, breaking box office records, and was eventually banned in 2011, causing it to be even more popular. It would be very interesting to see what someone from Mexico thought about it. The system and the process were all very new to me, and made me wonder if it’s common knowledge that this is how the system works.

Hong Kong Trilogy (2015)

Impressions: Directed by Wong Kar-Wai’s cinematographer, experimental/documentary about Hong Kong. Sounds great, right? Well…. It was more than a little rough separating the movie from the fact that Christopher Doyle was either drunk, on drugs or just crazy during his suuuuuper long, completely incoherent introduction, and his girlfriend/producer was obnoxious. He even attempted heckling his own film standing up in front and yelling things to the audience during the opening sequence, which thankfully could not be heard because the sound was turned up pretty high. Finally they settled in on the stairs one person over from me and watched the whole movie from up there instead of in their specially reserved seats. I should note that I adore the cinematography in Wong Kar-Wai movies and this one had some beautiful shots too.  The idea behind it is not bad, either: have  Hong Kong residents of different ages tell stories from their lives and have this be the audio to his cinematography. Now, I understand it was supposed to be experimental, and maybe I just don’t get it, but it was completely incoherent and seemed to be made up of random footage he took at different points and then spliced together with no rhyme or reason. Shots of the Umbrella Revolution could have been interesting, but instead it switches to a random fictionalized sequence about a teacher leaving his kids on a field trip to go get beer, and a stereotypical rich kid spending all his time with his nanny and missing his parents. This was my least favorite movie of the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival.

Facts:  Experimental documentary in which Hong Kong residents of different ages tell stories from their lives on the audio track, while the visuals are unrelated shots of the city.