TO OSCAR OR NOT TO OSCAR?
Library Journal managed to snag review copies of four of the Academy Award–nominated films for 2013 Best Documentary Feature. The Gatekeepers (Sony Pictures Classics), about Shin Bet, Israel’s secret service, is still making the rounds of theaters and won’t be released on DVD until later this spring. Check out Sony’s schedule of screenings. The awards ceremony will be broadcast on Sunday, February 24.
How To Survive a Plague. color. 120+ min. David France, Public Square Films, dist. by IFC Films, www.ifcfilms.com. 2013. DVD UPC 030306983493. $24.98. GENDER STUDIES/HIST/AIDS
How To Survive a Plague grabs viewers with a snap of the first frame and takes them on an emotional journey. New York City was ground zero long before the events of 9/11. Wisely eschewing narration, the film employs news/historical footage and interviews to verify the violent gay-bashing that occurred in the 1980s in reaction to the AIDS epidemic. The program also reinforces the place in history that women had in swiftly stepping up, with no apparent reservation, to help and to assume leadership. If the film appears to depict panic and war, it is because that was the pervasive mood. Newly empowered activists organized and protested quickly and effectively, asking the right questions with in-your-face and battle-ready gravity. Meetings and demonstrations show a desperation rarely seen in modern history. VERDICT How To Survive a Plague deserves the accolades and attention it is receiving, not only for its exposure of a hypocritical society but also as documentary filmmaking at its finest. This film is not easy to watch—nor should it be. Essential viewing for adult audiences and a must purchase when the DVD is available on February 26.—Gerald A. Notaro, Libn. Emeritus, Univ. of South Florida Lib., St. Petersburg (LJ 2/15/13)
Five Broken Cameras. color. 90+ min. In Hebrew & Arabic w/ English subtitles. Emad Burnat & Guy Davidi, Alegria Prods. & Burnat Films Palestine/Guy DVD Films, dist. by Kino Lorber, www.kinolorber.com; www.kinolorberedu.com. 2013. DVD UPC 738329093525. $29.95; public performance $299. INT AFFAIRS
Palestinian farmer Emad Burnat never considered himself a cinematographer. Nevertheless, over the course of five years and five cameras, Burnat’s stunning raw footage cataloged escalating emotions, the loss of childhood innocence, and the birth of righteous anger in the residents of the occupied West Bank village of Bil’in who adopted the nonviolent strategy of civil disobedience, à la Henry David Thoreau and Mahatma Gandhi, to resist the encroachment of Israeli settlers onto their farmlands and olive groves. Five Broken Cameras poignantly explores their struggles in a controversial geopolitical context, the parameters of which, sadly, are in no way shocking to informed individuals on either side of the dispute. What is truly unique in Burnat’s documentary, captured from his “illusory” position of security offered by the camera’s lens, is its ability to personalize the struggles of those caught up in the hotly contested middle ground. Bonus features include interviews with directors Burnat and Davidi as well as Davidi’s short film Keywords. VERDICT Five Broken Cameras is a remarkable achievement in filmmaking. It offers edifying insight sure to resonate with anyone interested in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and human rights.—Brian Odom, Birmingham, AL (LJ 2/15/13)
The Invisible War. color. 97+ min. Kirby Dick, Fork Films & Chain Camera Pictures, dist. by Cinedigm & Docurama c/o New Video, 800-314-8822; www.newvideo.com. 2012. DVD ISBN 9781422922002. $29.95. Closed-captioned. MILITARY STUDIES/ SOC SCI
This newest film from director Dick (Outrage; This Film Is Not Yet Rated) hits hard at the U.S. armed forces as he scrupulously details the culture of sexual abuse against women that exists in all branches of the military. He documents the problem through numerous on-camera interviews with women who were raped and expands to examine the systemic blame-the-victim attitude as seen in such cases as Tailhook (1991) and the incidents involving the U.S. Air Force Academy (2003). Interviews with senior military personnel in charge of prevention programs illustrate the woeful inadequacy of their efforts and their willful ignorance. Dick does an outstanding job of balancing the stark reality of facts and statistics against the emotional impact on victims and their families. The viewer learns that over 20 percent of female veterans were sexually assaulted while on active duty and sees the pain suffered when their claims are ignored. The mental anguish lasts far longer than the time in service and goes deeper than the physical trauma to feelings of extreme betrayal and loss of trust. The Invisible War educates as it angers. VERDICT This extremely well-done production presents a critical educational opportunity for libraries of all sizes.—Catherine Gilmore, MLS, Portland, OR (LJ 2/15/13)
Searching for Sugar Man. color. 87+ min. Malik Bendjelloul, Red Box Films & Passion Pictures in assoc. with Canfield Pictures, dist. by Sony Pictures Classics, www.sonypictures.com/DVD. 2013. DVD UPC 043396413665. $30.99; Blu-ray UPC 043396413634. $35.99. Rated: PG-13. MUSIC
Detroit singer Sixto Rodriguez (b. 1942) released a couple of records in 1970 and 1971 that sank without a trace in the United States. Not so in South Africa, where, unbeknownst to Rodriguez, he became a superstar, his rebellious streak inspiring a generation of young musicians who provided the soundtrack to the overthrow of apartheid. He was also nearly a complete mystery in South Africa, information about him limited to lurid but false legends of his onstage suicide. In 1996, investigative journalist Craig Bartholomew-Strydom tracked Rodriguez down, still living in Detroit, working at manual labor, and raising three daughters. When Rodriguez was invited to tour South Africa a few years later, everyone, even his backing band, remained skeptical that he was really the same guy. Six triumphant sold-out concerts and four subsequent tours proved he was. Bonus items include an alternate commentary track, interviews, and a making-of featurette. VERDICT This astonishing, moving, and wonderfully told story is essential for all libraries. Buy the Sony Legacy sound track, too.—John Hiett, formerly with Iowa City P.L. (LJ 3/1/13)