Documentary

Life through the lens

Ross McElwee brings 'Photographic Memory' to the PFA

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Lost in space

A new doc reveals 'the greatest film never made' -- Jodorowsky's 'Dune'

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FILM It's so seldom a film of major scale and budget is made without at least some standard commercial aspirations — however misguided — that the rare exceptions seem as curious, improbable, and wonderful as unicorns. (And about as useless, any bottom-line-oriented producer might say.) We're not talking Heaven's Gate (1980), Ishtar (1987), or Battlefield EarthRead more »

Shooting straight

An actor prepares for several comebacks in 'Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me'

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Constructing change

Despite bureaucratic frustrations, an innovative high-school program elevates lives in 'If You Build It'

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arts@sfbg.com

FILM Two of the most deep-rooted national-character-defining American tropes are a) that we are a profoundly self-reliant people, and b) the Horatio Alger myth that anyone can go from "rags to riches" if they have a good heart and a tireless work ethic.Read more »

Brutal murder, wrenching trial: HBO's must-see doc "The Cheshire Murders"

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It was, people said, Connecticut's version of the In Cold Blood murders. In July 2007, Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her two daughters, 11-year-old Michaela and 17-year-old Hayley, were murdered by a pair of strangers — Steven Hayes and Joshua Komisarjevsky, who'd picked the family at random — while patriarch William Petit lay bound and beaten in the basement of their suburban home. He survived; the women perished either at the hands of their attackers or in the fire the men set to cover their tracks.

Clearly, the bare facts of the case — which took place in Cheshire, Conn., a bedroom community near New York City — are horrific enough, without considering any of its other elements. But The Cheshire Murders, created for HBO's Summer Documentary Series by married filmmaking team Kate Davis and David Heilbroner (2010's Stonewall Uprising), reveals that the deaths may have been preventable if only police had intervened; a frantic bank teller dialed 911 after observing a frightened Jennifer Petit withdrawing a large sum of money for the waiting Hayes. Or, perhaps the family would have been spared if Komisarjevsky and Hayes, men with long rap sheets, had been more closely monitored by their parole officers and drug counselors — or had received better mental-health care during their respective troubled childhoods.

But all the "what if" scenarios in the world can't restore three lives — or fill the void felt by those they left behind. Using revealing interviews that explore the many facets of the case, deft editing, and a sensitive yet questioning tone, The Cheshire Murders is a both thought-provoking and disturbing viewing experience. I spoke with Davis and Heilbroner ahead of the film's Mon/22 HBO debut. Read more »

Live to tell

A new doc unearths long-lost Detroit band Death

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Aquarius rising

Free your mind and surrender to 'The Source Family'

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FILM Under the guidance of charismatic, luxuriously-bearded leader Father Yod (once named Jim Baker, later known as YaHoWha), the Source Family operated one of the country's first health food restaurants. They lived in a Hollywood Hills mansion, wore flowing robes, assumed dreamy new names, meditated, and studied Father Yod's custom blend of Eastern and Western philosophy and mysticism.Read more »

Help fund Goldie winner Jamie Meltzer's latest doc!

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When I last spoke with filmmaker and Stanford assistant professor Jamie Meltzer, it was at the 2012 Guardian Local Outstanding Discovery (a.k.a. Goldie) awards ceremony. I selected him for that honor — the Goldies are meant to recognize up-and-coming artists who are making impressive work but haven't yet gotten widespread recognition — based on the two documentaries of his I'd seen: 2003's cult favorite Off the Charts: The Song-Poem Story, and 2012's Informant, about a prickly activist-turned-FBI-informant-turned-Tea-Partier, which premiered at the 2012 San Francisco International Film Festival.

Well, chances are, that widespread recognition is soon to come Meltzer's way. Informant was picked up by Music Box Films for distribution (look for it late summer or early fall in the Bay Area), and his latest project, Freedom Fighters, sounds highly promising: "The film follows three exonerated men from Dallas, with 57 years in prison served between them, as they start their own detective agency to look for innocent people who are still behind bars," Meltzer wrote in an email late last week. "It's a documentary detective film — a documentary noir, if you will." (NPR broadcast a story about the men on April 16; listen here.)

I called him up to learn more, including details on the Kickstarter he just launched to help fund the next phase of shooting.

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Local filmmaker's '50 Children' doc debuts on HBO

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San Franciscan Steven Pressman makes his filmmaking debut with 50 Children: The Rescue Mission of Mr. and Mrs. Kraus, an informative documentary about Philadelphia residents Gilbert and Eleanor Kraus — grandparents to Pressman's wife, Liz Perle — who hatched a daring plan in 1939 to rescue 50 Jewish children from Nazi-occupied Austria. The hour-long film airs Mon/8 on HBO.

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Where were you?

New San Francisco AIDS doc We Were Here is an act of emotional archeology, digging up often astonishing tidbits about life during the onset of the epidemic 

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marke@sfbg.com

FILM Amid the worshipful bromides that attended the 100th birthday of zombie Ronald Reagan on Feb. 6, gay blogger Joe.My.God. helped bring back to light a transcript of a 1982 press briefing Q&A session between Reagan administration spokesman Larry Speakes and journalist Lester Kinsolving. It's the first known time that AIDS was brought up at the White House.Read more »