The Overnighters


2014 is the year documentaries began to take over. At least this seemed to be the case. The most acclaimed fiction film of the year, Boyhood, has primarily been praised for its nonfictional element of showing the actual 12-year growth of its cast. Another critical favorite is Under the Skin, a sci-fi/horror film that prominently features non-actors interacting with its protagonist, unknowingly captured with hidden cameras. Then there’s the footage from The Dust Bowl in Interstellar, the footage from Baraka and Samsara in Lucy and documentary material in Selma, Godzilla and Foxcatcher. Meanwhile, some of the best nonfiction films of 2014 veer into fiction film territory. Although this kind of blurring of real and scripted isn’t new, docs like Robert Greene‘s Actress and Roberto Minervini‘s Stop the Pounding Heart continue to find creative new ways of mixing up modes of storytelling as the most appropriate way of exploring and presenting certain subjects. More and more docs are playing like cinema rather than term papers, giving us works that are thrilling, beautiful, funny, frightening — entertaining as well as enlightening. Even issue films are tending to focus on character study over arguments and data from so-called “experts.” Documentary in 2014 saw few mainstream standouts, but it seems to have delivered more knockouts for those of us who love nonfiction cinema. There were few simple trends, more variety of styles and genres, overall a broad range of exceptional works that made it terribly difficult to determine an ordered ranking of only 14 titles released this year. The following list was compiled […]


Chaz and Roger in Life Itself

We’re halfway through the year, which means there are still a few months left before any movies start looking like Best Picture contenders. But it also means that we’ve already heard about most of the nominees for Best Documentary Feature of 2014. Those nominees won’t be announced until January 15th. The shortlist won’t even arrive until November or December. Yet at this point in the year, with most of the relevant film festivals out of the way, there are titles that are easily seen as frontrunners. One of these, though, is racing way ahead of the competition. According to many in the doc community, a particular film opening this Friday is a definite lock for the Oscar: the Roger Ebert profile Life Itself. It is indeed really great, surely one of the best works of nonfiction this year (see my five star review at Nonfics), but that’s not the only reason it has the race won already. It’s not really the main reason, either. Those I’ve heard from on this matter state the primary factor as being its appeal and connection to the Academy voters. “Every member who received a good review from Roger is going to pick Life Itself,” said Adam Benzine of Realscreen. I don’t know if that’s the safest bet, but there is the fact that Ebert was a huge supporter of documentary filmmakers, including some influential figures in the documentary branch of the Academy. Life Itself features a couple of them, as well as Martin Scorsese, who […]



Small towns are a big deal these days, particularly for documentaries focusing on the disappearance of that part of America. But most of those films are focused on places that are shrinking, where poverty and crime are rampant due to factory shutdowns and other economic causes. The Overnighters shows a different dilemma. Williston, North Dakota, is experiencing a boom in population thanks to a rise in nearby oil drilling and therefore a rise in available jobs. But crime rates also increase along with the growth of towns, and while poverty isn’t technically an issue given that unemployment is officially near-nonexistent and the minimum wage is much higher than required, Williston does have a homeless problem. Its housing market just can’t catch up with the number of people arriving daily, so new residents are sleeping in their cars and filling shopping center lots with their RVs. Pastor Jay Reinke of the Concordia Lutheran Church is one man trying to alleviate the problem by opening the doors of his Congregation to men and women in need of at least floor space and a roof over their head. These are mainly employed people with no other option for shelter, but some are guys who’ve just arrived and have criminal records that Reinke may be willing to forgive so long as it doesn’t keep them from finding work. Unfortunately, not everyone is so merciful. READ MORE

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published: 01.25.2015
published: 01.25.2015
published: 01.25.2015

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