Detropia

Last night, at a special event in conjunction with the AFI FEST, the nominees for the 2013 Cinema Eye Honors were announced. And once again, the titles contending for the ten feature categories, all of which focus solely on nonfiction films (to make up for the Oscars’ minimal recognition), represent the year’s best in documentaries. As someone who professionally concentrates on docs elsewhere, I tend to feel kinda useless or redundant when Cinema Eye names its nominees, because now when someone asks me what’s great this year I can just point to their list of 31 features. Of course, some of these films are only up for specific honors, like those for original music score and graphic design, and may not be quite as necessary as the six up for the top award or the 10 nominated for the Audience Choice Prize (which sadly, for publicity-sake, lacks a Justin Bieber movie like last year). Also, I could name a bunch of exceptional docs that haven’t been recognized, such as This is Not a Film, The House I Live In, Under African Skies, Beware of Mr. Baker, Last Call at the Oasis, The Queen of Versailles, Girl Model (though its directors are up for Downeast) and The Invisible War. Still, I’m very excited that one of my top three nonfiction films of the year, The Imposter, is one of the most-nominated titles, while I’m even more ecstatic that the CEH could bring more attention to brilliant, lesser-known works like Only the […]

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One of the most difficult Oscar categories for pundits (let alone regular folk) to predict is the one for feature documentary. And this year more than ever it’s going to be hard to pick the five nominees, because changes to the rules of qualification and voting have given the race an extra element of complication: there is no precedent for how things turn out with this particular selection process in place. In a way, it’s a wide-open field with no certainty that higher-grossing films or more issue-oriented titles or discernibly cinematic works have the greater chance at a nod. Some expected the number of contenders to be cut in half as a result of the new rules; instead it grew, much to the chagrin of branch leader Michael Moore. And until the annual shortlist narrows them down to 15, we have 130 eligible films to choose from. But most of those docs aren’t plausible nominees. Many of the kind that Moore gets upset about for paying for a screen rental to qualify aren’t likely to go all the way. So they qualified. Now they have to be good and popular enough for people to notice.

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Detropia opens on an abandoned residence being demolished as a wax-faced local reporter stands by, reporting on what most people in his audience already know – Detroit is an emptying, broken city, and it’s hard to imagine that will change any time soon. Detroit was once America’s most thriving city, a sprawling metropolis that was home to America’s most bankable manufacturing system, automobiles. But these days, the giant city (Detroit itself is a stunning 139 square miles) is home to something very different – a giant unemployment rate, a fractured citizenship, and the very real possibility that it will go bankrupt. Documentary directors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady (Jesus Camp, The Boys of Baraka) attempt to tackle the many issues facing Detroit in their film, drawing from different perspectives to form a complete and complex picture of why Detroit is, as one of their subjects grimly announces, “never coming back.” With the automobile industry decamping for cheaper labor and bigger factories in other countries (mainly Mexico) and the constant threat of competitors (China and Japan specifically), Detroit has become a ghost city, one where nearly 90,000 houses lay vacant, one where their own mayor (Dave Bing) proposes a plan to relocate citizens from failing neighborhoods into ones more prone to survival in a desperate bid to keep the city operating. Detroit is, in short, a very unhappy city.

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published: 04.17.2014
B-
published: 04.17.2014
D+
published: 04.17.2014
B-
published: 04.16.2014
B+

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