JWR Articles: Preview - American Documentary Film Festival 2014 (Directors: Julie Cohen, Theodore Ushev, Uli Gaulke, Roger Ross Williams, Oliver Stone) - March 6, 2014
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American Documentary Film Festival 2014

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Third time’s the charm

Judging from this year’s program for the American Documentary Film Festival, audiences are in for a marvellous array of productions small, medium and large tackling all manner of topics that will inspire, amuse, enrage and lead to countless post-performance discussions long after the final fade to black.

Hosted by Natalie Brunell (KESQ News Channel 3) and Patrick Evans (CBS Local 2), the opening night gala will truly be something to sing about. Theodore Ushev (who is no stranger to JWR: The Man Who Waited/L'Homme Qui Attendait based on the Franz Kafka story and music by Arvo Pärt is a gem of animation excellence—cross-reference below) gets the first word with his short film, Gloria Victoria (relying this time on Dmitri Shostakovich for the musical impulse).

The main feature will be Julie Cohen’s I Live to Sing. Imagine what might happen when an all-white opera school is obliged to allow black students into the ranks in post-Apartheid South Africa. Will the next Jesse Norman please stand up? Palm Springs patrons will be able to judge for themselves as soprano Linda Nteleza, tenor Makudupanyane Senaoana and baritone Thesele Kemane perform live after the screening.

Already reported in these pages (cross-reference below) no one will want to miss seeing Uli Gauke’s As Time Goes by in Shanghai as a fascinating troupe of aging Chinese jazz musicians make their way to Rotterdam’s North Sea Jazz Festival—“A Closer Walk with Thee” of the highest order.

The news has been full of the persecution of homosexuals in Uganda in recent weeks. Roger Ross Williams pulls no punches as he chronicles the devilish work done by America’s religious right to promote fear, hatred and loathing of the “different” among them in Africa. God Loves Uganda proves succinctly that the ruthless exploitation and systemic bullying so brilliantly depicted in 12 Years a Slave is not going away anytime soon (cross-references below).

Somewhat akin to Eleanor Lindo’s Touching Wild Horses and John Zaritsky’s The Wild Horse Redemption, these magnificent creatures come under the further scrutiny of Suzanne Mitchell as she follows another selfless animal defender in Running Wild: The Life of Dayton O. Hyde.

And for those who love a surprise and have full confidence in the festival’s artistic trust, don’t miss Monday’s “Mystery Screening” replete with an award-winning, under wraps celebrity.

Other highlights include:

  • Episodes 6 and 10 from Oliver Stone’s Untold History of the United States (for good reason did his South of the Border make its way onto JWR’s Best of 2010 Awards list, cross-reference below).
  • Echoing the general thrust of Oren Siedler’s portrait of living life on the lam with her dad (Bruce and Me), Jonas Rasmussen’s Searching for Bill digs deep into the whys and wherefores of another career con man.
  • Opera fans will be treated to a second look behind the scenes as careers are nurtured, this time at the Academia Teatro alla Scala where Massimo Donati’s and Alessandro Leone’s Opening Act (Furiscena) captures the stories of up-and-coming singers who dream of musical nirvana (not dissimilar in its thrust to the battle to win a permanent place with the Berlin Philharmonic: Trip to Asia: The Quest for Harmony).
  • Charles Wilkinson’s Oil Sands Karaoke employs homemade music as the salve to sooth the soul even as life in Fort McMurray is given an up-close-and-personal look while the controversy surrounding the harm such industry can do is debated without rhymes (and sometimes reason) around the globe. Or is that activity just another chapter from An Inconvenient Truth?
  • From Finland, Mike Mattila’s Chimeras follows the fortunes of fledgling Chinese artist, Liu Gang, as his largely unknown work gets a sudden boost thanks to a showing in an upscale gallery even as longtime favourite Wang Guangyi’s career is moving to its coda.

With such an enticing variety, it will be hard to imagine any seat left empty for those lucky enough to attend AmDoc’s 2014 edition. JWR

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