Doug Block – The D-Word
LAST TRAIN HOME: It’s almost astonishing that this is director Lixan Fan’s first film. It’s not just the elegant camerawork under very physically trying circumstances, but his strong empathy for each of his characters, even when they’re in conflict with each other and acting out in pretty reprehensible ways.
THE AUDITION: Susan Froemke, one of our greatest documentarians, takes us behind the scenes of auditions at New York City’s Metropolitan Opera. The most involving competition doc I’ve seen since Spellbound, the performances actually turned my wife and I into opera fans.
THE WAY WE GET BY: …by Aron Gaudet and Gita Pillapilly. One of those documentaries that seems to be about one thing (three Maine elders who greet soldiers at the local airport as they leave or return from Iraq), but turns into something far deeper and more profound: a meditation on loneliness, aging and mortality. The characters stuck with me far after the lights went up.
Doug Block’s most recent film is The Kids Grow Up, a follow-up to 51 Birch Street, about his relationship with his daughter and only child, Lucy, focusing on her last year at home before leaving for college. Block is also the founder and co-host of The D-Word, a worldwide online community for documentary professionals.
Jay Cheel – The Documentary Blog
THE COVE: At this point, I think the inclusion of The Cove on any year-end list is pretty much a no-brainer. It’s a perfect mix of social/political/environmental commentary, character study and engaging filmmaking. It embraces genre filmmaking in an exciting way.
NEW WORLD ORDER: Luke Meyer and Andrew Neel’s follow up to their live action role playing film Darkon focuses on another set of Average-Joe’s-by-day playing hero-by-night. New World Order profiles the modern day conspiracy theorist, and it’s refreshing to finally see a film that puts the theories on the back burner, making for an interesting, humorous and occasionally sad character profile.
BEST WORST MOVIE: Although I initially had my reservations, Michael Stephenson’s Best Worst Movie proved to be more than a mere love letter to the cult classic Troll 2 and its legion of fans. In fact, the fandom is pretty much a side note as Stephenson chooses to focus on the bizarre horror film’s star George Hardy; a charming dentist who’d always dreamed of being an actor and has just now discovered the legions of followers who admire his ‘performance’ in the film. Definitely a fun watch with a lot of heart.
Jay Cheel runs The Documentary Blog with Sean Dwyer, and is an avid fan of Werner Herzog, the Maysles and Errol Morris.
Raphaela Neihausen – Stranger than Fiction
VALENTINO: THE LAST EMPEROR: Matt Tyrnauer makes a stunning directorial debut, having honed his story sense as a writer at Vanity Fai and surrounding himself with talent such as cinematographer Tom Hurwitz and editor Bob Eisenhardt. Anyone who expects a doc about fashion to be superficial will be happily surprised by this film’s layered exploration of relationships, craftsmanship and artistry.
FIXER: THE TAKING OF AJMAL NAQSHBANDI: Director Ian Olds follows up his superb Iraq documentary Occupation: Dreamland with this moving look at Afghanistan. The film offers tremendous insight into the way foreign conflicts are reported, and it has an extra timeliness in the wake of the recent Taliban kidnapping of journalists.
FOOD, INC: This film has received such wide acclaim that I considered swapping it out for something less prominent. But let’s give credit where it’s due to director Robert Kenner. Along with his skillful cameraman Richard Pearce and the team at Participant Media, Kenner has created a highly engaging film on a crucial issue. It makes you think differently about the supermarket the way Jaws made you think differently about the ocean.
Raphaela Neihausen is the executive director of the Stranger than Fiction doc series, hosted by Neihausen and Thom Powers.