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May
28
    

20,300 years old. Frozen solid in the permafrost of Upper Siberia. Protected by reindeer-herding nomads. The Discovery Channel’s Raising the Mammoth (2000) and Land of the Mammoth (2000) trace the excavation and investigation of the Jarkov Mammoth from its discovery in 1997 to its study through present day.

Click here for the full review by Mark Nichols.


 
May
28
    

“I kind of died somewhere along the way,” says the dignified gentleman in a beret, a sort of Jewish-Beatnik Alistair Cooke. He had gone in search of something that had been missing all his life, and in gaining it, lost a part of himself too.

In 1955, a 34-year-old gay Jewish painter who had grown up in Brooklyn, the son of Polish immigrants, landed a Fulbright scholarship and trekked into the Peruvian Amazon with his sketch pad and camera. Though he would later visit other jungles and tribal peoples in Borneo, Bali, and the Congo, and all but settle with the natives of Asmat, West Papua (the Indonesian part of New Guinea), it was this early trip that most changed his life and inspired a pair of documentary filmmakers to shoot him.

Click here for the full review by David Loftus.


 
May
28
    

Jazz, a new documentary by Ken Burns, is a celebration of a unique American art form and of the people that made it. Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong, John Coltrane, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, and Dizzy Gillespie—these are the illustrious names that fill the history of jazz. Burns begins at the beginning—in New Orleans—then traces jazz’ history from Dixieland to Avant-Garde, from the East Coast to the West Coast, from predictable ensembles to totally free improvising. Jazz wants to re-introduce the viewer to this grand, uniquely American art form; it wants to remind the viewer just how special a Charles Mingus is; and it wants to remind the viewer of the contributions and sacrifices that African Americans have made to bring this music to the culture.

Click here for the full review by Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.

Episode Guide


 
May
28
    

Made in 1993 with the help of grants from the Austrian Department of Education and Art, and the County of Upper Austria, this film received limited theatrical release in the U.S. five years later and subsequent video sales due to the popularity of the 1997 Hollywood release of “L.A. Confidential”—which not only made up-and-comers of stars Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce, but brought the man whose books inspired it to a deservedly larger circle of readers.

Click here for full review by David Loftus


 
May
28
    

Hoop Dreams wades deep into the murky waters that surround basketball recruiting from high school to college.  As Spike Lee informs a group of players at a basketball camp, they are a commodity to the recruiters and will only be valued as long as they are useful.  To make it, in fact, a player has to be more than good or even great.  They need to be aggressive, subservient to overbearing coaches, exceed academically, and be oblivious to life outside of basketball.  It also helps to have a supportive family that is willing to sacrifice money, time, and personal needs to make sure you make it.  That such devotion is a perversion of human nature, or that it coldly leaves the less than perfect behind, is beside the point.  That’s the way it is.

One of the fascinating aspects of Hoop Dreams is the way it spontaneously unfolds, the viewer never quite sure what will happen next.  The film follows two young basketball players, Arthur and William, at home, at school, and on the basketball court.  The filmmakers have chosen two players who may go far, but no one can be sure.  Director Steve James expresses a certain faith, nonetheless, that an interesting and meaningful story will develop.  This approach gives the film an open structure: although the film stops when Arthur and William finish high school, it could have easily followed them through college and beyond. 

The casual unfolding of the film also helps James achieve a great deal of depth, building layer after layer of meaning.  Arthur attends St. Joseph’s High School on a partial scholarship, a school that offers him a better opportunity to develop as a ball player.  Soon, however, his family can no longer afford even partial payments and Arthur is sent back to his neighborhood school.  The viewer, at this point, probably makes a moral judgment about schools that toy with the lives of athletes when it is in their interest, only to drop them when it isn’t.  This state of affairs, however, becomes cloudier due to the complications within Arthur’s family.  His father leaves, and only later do we find out that he has developed a drug habit, explaining the lack of funds for St. Joseph’s.  This comes as a surprise because the father is well-spoken, and seems to accurately understand the difficulty of his son’s potential success.  This layering of meanings shatters stereotypes and assumptions.

While William’s family situation seems more stable, it is far from uncomplicated.  His father, a car dealer who has left his family, attempts to renew his relationship with William in the wake of his success.  His older brother, once a basketball player with potential, has taken the role of father and advice giver upon himself.  His endless admonishments and recriminations toward William become overbearing, but he remains sympathetic because of his own dire plight.  Basketball, his one hope to reach beyond his immediate environment, has left him psychologically scarred, and he now seems destined to live out a life filled with dead-end jobs.  William, perhaps because of the pressures from those around him, seems to continually underachieve, perhaps afraid of risking too much, failing, and becoming a carbon copy of his brother.

Hoop Dreams lasts for three hours but it is doubtful that the viewer will notice the length.  Instead, having developed strong ties to Arthur and William, viewers will probably find themselves wishing they could follow both young men into adulthood.  This doesn’t mean that the viewer enjoys everything that happens in the film. The viewer would like both men to succeed, but their social handicaps and the cutthroat tactics of recruiting tinge the dream with dark shadows.   Hoop Dreams is a complex film that deeply explores the hopes and pitfalls of inner-city life, leaving the viewer with a number of troubling questions about the future of thousands of young men like Arthur and William. 

Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.
doanechristine@msn.com

Credits

Steve James—Director/Producer/Editor
Frederick Marx—Producer/Editor
Peter Gilbert—Producer/ Cinematography
Gordon Quinn—Executive Producer
Catherine Allan—Executive Producer
Bill Haugse—Editor
Ben Sidran—Music Composer


 
May
28
    

It takes little imagination to understand why Roko and Adrian Belic had problems financing their film. It would focus on a type of music—throat-singing—that few had ever heard of, and be filmed in Tuva, an isolated region near Mongolia that wasn’t even on the map. Worse still, the camera would follow one Paul Pena—a relatively unknown blind blues singer who had taught himself throat-singing—as he interacted with Tuvan culture. The brothers weren’t particularly surprised that no one was interested, but neither were they dissuaded. So with little money and a rag-tag crew who wanted to work on the film for nothing, they booked a flight to Tuva.

Click here for the full review by Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.


 
May
28
    

Nearly everyone has heard of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and probably knows a child who has it. This isn’t surprising since approximately six million children, or two per every classroom, are currently taking stimulants to modify behavior. It is also likely that many have been in heated debates about ADHD and medication. Are doctors too quick to prescribe medication? Are we replacing discipline with medication? Will medication change a child’s personality? Are the pharmaceutical companies unfairly promoting the use of Ritalin and Adderall?

Click here for the full review by Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.


 
May
28
    

Frontline received unlimited access to the Santa Clara, California juvenile court system to study four cases over the course of a year. The cases of Shawn, Jose, Marquese, and Manny are presented against the backdrop of changing attitudes about how to prosecute juvenile offenders. California, for instance, was in the process of considering Proposition 21, a law that would insure that many juvenile offenders would be tried as adults.

Shawn is from a middle class neighborhood in Los Altos. His crime: attempting to kill his father one Christmas night. Jose, often homeless, has been arrested for a gang related beating death. Manny, previously convicted of rape, attempted—with fellow gang members—to murder four people. Marquese is the only non-violent offender of the four. He is being charged with theft and already has seven other felonies on his record. Two possibilities exist for each case: being tried as an adult, or remaining in the juvenile system.

Defenders fight to keep their clients in the juvenile system. The juvenile system seems less harsh, with more possibilities for rehabilitation. Prosecutors fight to have them tried as adults by asking the hard questions: is it really possible that Shawn was sleepwalking when he attempted to kill his father? Doesn’t Jose’s involvement in a brutal beating death cross a certain line? Don’t Manny and Marquese’s repeated infractions show that rehabilitation has failed in the past?

Juvenile cases are complicated by the fact that half of the offenders come from dysfunctional families. Jose, Marquese, and Shawn have parents with substance abuse problems. Jose has often lived on the street and Manny found his only sense of belonging in a gang. Even when the juvenile system steps in, they may place the youth back into an unbalanced family situation. Even when the system seems to help someone, it provides only the barest of safety nets afterwards. How does the reformed youth, for instance, get a job when they have a felony record?

Frontline has offered a penetrating look at four youths, one juvenile court system, and the general problem of juvenile justice. During the filming, California passed Proposition 21, legislation that would probably have altered each of these cases. The legislation has left judges with less room to consider special circumstances for violent offenders, and assures that many youths will be tried as adults. While this change may represent current social attitudes toward juvenile crimes, it is far from clear that this legislation will better aid the rehabilitation of young offenders. Juvenile Justice offers little hope for youths like Shawn, Jose, Marquese, and Manny in the future.

Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.

doanechristine@msn.com


 
May
28
    

When undercover Detective Frank Lyga saw a gun pointed toward him from another car window, he drew his weapon and shot twice, killing the driver. Soon he knew that he was in big trouble. The occupant had been Kevin Gaines, an off-duty police officer and also a member of the LAPD. To make matters more explosive, Gaines was an African American. In the wake of the Rodney King and O.J. Simpson trials, the situation was ripe for controversy.

The story of corruption within the LAPD will strike many as a contemporary version of L.A. Confidential. It is the old story of dishonest police officers on the take, abusing their power, and living beyond their means. Unlike L.A. Confidential, however, this story is real. For the past several years the LAPD has been involved in a massive intra-department scandal involving a road rage shooting death, connections to the infamous Death Row Records, and theft of confiscated narcotics. Through interviews with police officers, district attorneys, and community activists, FRONTLINE pieces together this strange and disturbing tale of present-day corruption on the LAPD.

Click here for the full review by Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.


 
May
28
    

Recent blackouts in California have made national headlines. To many people, this situation is a little difficult to comprehend—California is hardly a poor state. Even more odd, the problem only promises to get worse during the upcoming summer heat. While the impact of too little electricity and rising utility bills would seem to have vast implications for the economy, the White House has shown little inclination to get involved. FRONTLINE gathers the complex strands of Blackout by talking to Governor Gray Davis of California, Vice President Dick Cheney, federal and state officials, and a number of Texas energy brokers from Enron, Duke Energy, and El Paso.

Click here for the full review by Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.


 
May
28
    

From the Bronx to the Buddha is the story of Mike DeStefano or “Mikee D,” stand-up comic, former drug addict and gangster, and AIDS spokesperson, “survivor.” Mike DeStefano is a guy whose face you might see in a Spike Lee “joint,” except with depth. And it’s his sincere depth of character that carries this hour-long docu-“stand-up”-drama.

Viewers do not know many Mike DeStefano-types as the focal point of documentaries. Usually they are in works of fiction, as shallow tough-guys, Italian-stallions, and here, there is the real thing. His crass and blunt nature is sincere and does not appear overdone. Later, however, when his stand-up and what we are seeing as “real-life” and behind-the-scenes overlap, the piece becomes somewhat redundant. Much of the stand-up is race-jokes that you’ve heard already. Bronx to the Buddha, at times, seems transparent, like you know what is going to happen from the onset, but as it proceeds, it and DeStefano mature.

The most compelling part of the film is definitely the final half-hour. DeStafano, a long term non-progresser or LTNP has seemingly triumphed over the AIDS virus without medication and without treatment. He speaks of Buddhism assisting in his survival and of his rejuvenated spirit.

I wish that the lives of his wife and best friend who succumbed to the AIDS virus could have entered into the piece more, which would have made his triumph even more extraordinary. There is a too-brief mention of his wife, herself a drug addict, and it takes too long to get there.

Stylistically, there are a few scenes with a psychologist that are, at best, campy. The roaming “man-on-the-street” camera in which DeStefano himself stars, engaging himself with passerbys in comedic skits are interesting. It is a unique experience to have the subject of a biographical documentary take on a role that is clearly more than just talking head and biographical footnotes; he exists as a character and as a faux-producer.

Overall, DeStefano is a fascinating, dominant character. His experiences have warranted his crassness and searing personality. And his triumphant nature brings the audience along nicely. He will remind you of so many of your favorite Italian-American characters- a la Tony Soprano and the list goes on and on. “Mikee D”, as he is called throughout the piece, is tough and endearing.

Sushama Austin
Sushamaaustin@hotmail.com


 
May
28
    

Friends Forever, the feature-length debut of Ben Wolfinsohn, follows bandmates and professed “Friends Forever”, Josh and Nate, as they travel across America, spreading the news that rock-and-roll is not dead. Or maybe it is. Or maybe it’s just dying. To be honest, after three viewings, I’m not sure if Friends Forever is trying to save rock-and-roll or kill it altogether. What is clear is that, no matter what, it’s going to go out kicking and screaming.

Click here to read the full review by Mark Nichols.


 
May
28
    

A nyone who has done competitive distance running finds it a challenge to be objective about Steve Prefontaine. He was the Muhammad Ali of the sport: a popularizer, a matinee idol, a big mouth who made promises and usually delivered on them.

He had an aggressive style both on and off the track, running with fierce intensity in the middle of the race to try to break faster runners because he didn’t have that great a final “kick.” When he took the national two-mile record in high school, he shaved seven seconds off the previous mark, and eventually captured seven American records between 2,000 and 10,000 meters. No US runner before or since has had the best times at so many different distances.

Click here for the full review by David Loftus.


 
May
28
    

After 45 years, cinema verité continues to inspire awe and heated debate. The movement began simultaneously in a number of countries—France, England, Canada, and the United States—and has been called a number of things—free cinema, direct cinema, and observational documentary. A number of important filmmakers came out of the movement—D.A. Pennebaker, Albert Maysles, and Jean Rouch—and a number of memorable films—Don’t Look Back, Salesman, and Chronicle of a Summer—stand as the movement’s achievements. Cinema Verité surveys the movement by talking to a number of its practitioners.

The greatest strength of Cinema Verité is that it has gained access to the founders who remain more than willing to talk about the movement. Robert Drew discusses handheld cameras and mobile equipment—tools filmmakers take for granted today—that allowed the filmmaker to follow the story as it developed, shoot without a script, and to gain closer access to the subject(s). Films like Primary (1960) provided unheard of intimacy with candidates John Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey, while Crisis (1963) put the viewer in the midst of a tense showdown between the Attorney General Robert Kennedy and Governor George Wallace over segregation. The looser structure of these films also struck many people as more “real.”

Unfortunately, Cinema Verité only allows a short amount of time for each interview, making it is difficult to gain a sense of the differences within the movement and how the movement developed. The fairly sharp difference between filmmakers like Pennebaker, who remained a passive observer behind the camera, and Rouch, who directly questioned his subjects, is never really explored. The makers of this film seem surprised when Fred Wiseman bluntly states that being objective—a stated goal for many verité practitioners—is impossible. Instead of pursuing this, they let it pass. There is also a strange sequence that connects cinema verité to contemporary fiction films like The Blair Witch Project. While the connection is easy to identify, an interview with the makers of this movie adds little to a discussion about a documentary film style.

Peter Wintonick’s film will serve as a good introduction for those unfamiliar with the movement and offer a chance to see clips from classic cinema verité documentaries. It does a good job explaining the technical innovations that allowed for new methods of filming and provides a good survey of the important players within the movement. The coverage is balanced in that it reviews filmmakers from a number of countries and includes women and at least one African-American filmmaker. It fails, however, to offer an in-depth portrait, or to allow any critical point of view to enter into the fray. Cinema Verité leaves the spectator with an interesting series of interviews that only provide a brief outline of an important movement within documentary film.

Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.
doanechristine@msn.com

Credits
Peter Wintonick—Director/Sound/Editor
Eric Michel—Producer
Sally Bochner—Executive Producer
Doris Girard– Executive Producer