Art as a Weapon (2012) [San Diego Film Week 2017]

Made in 2012, Art as a Weapon is a documentary about using street art to publicly send a message, may it be of peace, hope, a political one, or any other messages sent to the mass public by way of graffiti, paintings, etc.  The film follows an art class in Burma learning to use art with the most effectiveness and contrasts this with American street artist Shepard Fairey.  Directed by San Diego documentarian Jeffrey Durkin, the film mixes the Burmese school students’ scenes with scenes shot in San Diego while artist Shepard Fairey was in town painting a Buddhist monk on the side of a building.

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The Illinois Parables (2016)

Deborah Stratman’s experimental film considers the wide scope of the American experience through a narrow prism of eleven chapters from Illinois history.

The production considers the eerie near-erasure of the land’s ancient inhabitants – the Cahokia Mounds are shown with scant explanation of their relevance, while Native American culture is viewed in the tacky stagnation of a museum diorama and the expulsion of the Cherokees is encapsulated in a street sign called “Trail of Tears Road.” The rise and fall of outsider communities is also considered in the relatively brief period of the Icarian utopian commune of French immigrants and the rise of Joseph Smith’s nascent Mormon movement (as well as Smith’s death and the burning of the Mormon temple in Nauvoo). Stratman brings in archival footage of the devastating 1925 Tri-State Tornado and stages a re-enactment of the televised re-enactment of the murder of Black Panther leader Fred Hampton by law enforcement.

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Frankenstein The Real Story/The Real Wolfman (DVD)

Halloween has come early this year! Lionsgate has graced horror fans with a ton of really interesting documentaries from the History Channel and A&E Network in America. For folks that always wanted to know the “Real” story behind “Frankenstein” and “The Wolfman,” well this is where you can turn. Truth be told, the entire double disc DVD set garners an array of forty five minute documentaries, with the Frankenstein topic taking center stage. With all three documentaries clocking in at 178 minutes in length, it’s a treasure trove for individuals that love Frankenstein and Mary Shelly. Featured in the first disc is “In Search of the Real Frankenstein,” “Frankenstein,” and “It’s Alive! The True Story of Frankenstein.” Oddly enough while all three documentaries can sometimes become repetitive, they offer up a unique look at Frankenstein with different angles and approaches.

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Eero Saarinen: The Architect Who Saw The Future (2016)

One of the most influential figures in post-World War II architecture was the Finnish-born Eero Saarinen, whose neo-futuristic vision created some of the most striking design accomplishments of the 20th century. Peter Rosen’s documentary, which aired on PBS’ American Masters, offers a satisfactory oversight of Saarinen’s career.

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Pet Fooled (2016)

Kohl Harrington’s documentary takes a harsh look at the questionable ingredients and frequently shabby quality control in today’s pet food industry. The film argues that too many dog and cat owners gets distracted with user-friendly marketing to notice that many of the canned and packaged foods being served to their pets are nutritionally dubious and fail to meet the basic dietary needs despite generous promises of being healthy. Even worse, the lack of care in the processing of these foods resulted in the poisoning deaths of pets and the uncontrollable grief of the owners that felt guilty in feeding their beloved creatures contaminated food. But it appears that no one is keeping an eye on this sector.

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Joe’s Violin (2016)

ACADEMY AWARD NOMINEE – Kahane Cooperman’s short documentary “Joe’s Violin” is a touching, emotional, and pretty extraordinary portrait of the value of objects, and how music can touch us and bind us together as human beings. Centered on Holocaust survivor Joe Feingold, director Cooperman explores how Joe spent most of his young life struggling to survive in concentration camps. Despite all logic indicating that he bring along bare necessities like food or clothing, Joe kept his beloved violin with him throughout his life. A now 91 year old Joe donates his violin to a Bronx music school, and he reflects on his life as young Brianna Perez prepares to perform with it.

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Beware the Slenderman (2017)

In 2009, the horror fiction website Creepypasta helped create one of the more popular modern boogey men of horror. While many people expected the newest boogeyman would be born on film or television, aptly enough he was born on the internet. Much to the surprise of everyone, the Slenderman (an enigmatic fictional monster whose ability to lure children in to the woods and collect them for nefarious purposes) became much more than a simple meme. He was a pop culture sensation, and out of him spread a cult of loyal fanatics. One of the most infamous cases involved the incident of two twelve year old girls who lured their best friend out in to the woods and attempted to stab her to death as a means of appeasing the slenderman.

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Hotel Coolgardie (2017) [Slamdance Film Festival 2017]

I’m pretty surprised at how entertaining and compelling Pete Gleeson’s documentary “Hotel Coolgardie” ends up being. It has such a weird and odd premise that threatens to be so dull and monotonous. But by the end of the movie I was more than thrown in to this surreal situation and cared about the two focal points of the movie Lina and Steph. It doesn’t have a huge social message or political aspirations but is a pleasantly engrossing tale about two foreigners in a new land, both of whom struggle to adapt amidst a large lifestyle of sexism, xenophobia and alienation. You’d think a premise for a documentary of this ilk would be reserved for art house movie fodder, but the fact it has happened for years is so fascinating and makes you wonder who else has walked in to Hotel Coolgardie.

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