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Camino Skies

An entertaining group of walkers on this famous pilgrimage
This film follows a group of New Zealanders over a wide age range who are walking the approximately 800km journey along tracks, roads and even highways. They are determined, and make good company for us as viewers. You can imagine that changes in weather, and the sheer amount of walking makes us pleased that we are indeed watching them. As you would expect, various health issues come up, along with blisters and injuries, but the audience in the cinema are hopeful that all will reach the final destination. I do have one feature of the film that annoyed me. The cinematographer seemed to deliberately use shaky camerawork, in the belief that gave a more dramatic feel to the proceedings. Well, it didn't. Much of the film did not have shaky images, and those images were often very enjoyable. Pity. Overall though, a very interesting coverage, and not overlong.

Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché

Difficult film to review
I went to see this film following a strong review in Melbourne (Australia). However, I thought that it was very poorly assembled as a film. It seemed that the film's makers were keen to include absolutely everything they could find, and the choice of order for all these clips was baffling as well as non-stop. I will be the first in the queue to see another film made to cover the astonishing life of Alice Guy-Blache - she deserves better than this attempt.


A film for everyone
This is a great film. It is a documentary assessing how we can manage the Earth in the next 20 years. He is an amiable (but committed) host, who takes us through the ways we can improve our planet and, it is structured as a "visual letter to his 4 year old daughter". He travels far and wide to gather his evidence and it is a well-structured "journey". I saw this film in a packed-out cinema in Melbourne (Australia) and we initially thought that we had come into the wrong cinema because there were so many children with their parents present. Asking the parent beside me, she said that she brought her children because they needed to know about this film. I can add that these children were indeed very interested in the unfolding story. It is not perfect, but it comes close, that's for sure. His presentation is quite innovative, and also engaging. Certainly an important documentary to see.


A great journey through an amazing country
Before seeing this film, I heard that it had an interesting history. It was to be shot in Pakistan, because Afghanistan was considered too dangerous. However, the director was not allowed to make it in Pakistan, so he sent most of his crew home, and just a few hardy folks went with him into Afghanistan itself, because he did not want the whole project to be wasted. As a viewer, I was very pleased indeed with the result, but quite nervous along the journey that's for sure. He had a mission to accomplish, and we watch as his perceptions of the country change, and, as the film progresses, we all begin to see what these people actually consider to be important. He has to adjust (and does so) in order to have any likelihood of succeeding. Watching this gradual realization of what he must do is fascinating. The mix of people, both old and young, is very engaging, and we also try to work out how we would interact with these people in the situations encountered. The towns and countryside of Afghanistan also play a vital role in the story, much of it being mountainous desert. So the film has a great mix of tense relationships, coping with a foreign culture and an unforgiving environment, handled with skill and a lightness of touch. Definitely worth the journey.

All for One

A fascinating "ride"
Let me state at the outset that I am not a bicycle rider. However, I do enjoy "long form" documentaries on the big screen. Earlier this year, I saw "Le Ride" and thought it to be fantastic. "All for One" is not in its class, both in storytelling and presentation, but it is most enjoyable, entertaining, and is several places, terrifying. The story is essentially a history over several years of the Australian financed cycling team "Green Edge" and we follow many of the managers, drivers (several of whom seem to be closer to daredevils as far as I could tell - why there aren't more crashes involving support cars mystified me) and of course the cyclists themselves. The cyclists are case studies in determination and commitment, and the parents we meet are really engaging and supportive people, even though they must be deservedly concerned about the nature of this sport. We almost had to close our eyes on the cobblestone sections of some of these races - just amazing! The actual production of this film was a little patchy, because it cut from one scene or interview to another at a pace possibly meant to mirror the hectic scenes they were reporting. I found this excessive cutting to be annoying. However, the two cyclists they chose to "feature" in the film were marvellous choices (I will say no more.), and we learnt a lot about a very expensive sport which we will never experience in our lives.

Their Finest

Not quite what I expected
This film is a story of the scriptwriters who produced movies during World War 2 to show to the British public, so, as other reviewers have said, it is a film within a film. However, I did not find the overall experience very satisfying. The acting is fine by many of the players, although there was a tendency to caricature which I found unnecessary. I should emphasize that there are some highlights too, including the rescue, and a scene in a cinema, both towards the end of the film. Very good! Overall though, I felt that the continuity of the story lines did not work all that clearly, and, in particular, there are a few "surprises" in the script which I felt were a negative to the flow of the plot. It seems odd to say (given that there are two film scripts within the story) that I think the script writing needed more work.

Le Ride

What a marvellous documentary
Way back in 1928, a team of four riders (three from Australia, one from New Zealand) took part in the very gruelling Tour de France. The normal size of groups taking part was ten, so this group were seen as most unlikely to succeed, and were expected to withdraw early in the race. This documentary is a re-enactment of that effort, using historic bicycles, and along as close a route as possible (Lots of roads have changed over the intervening years.) as the 1928 event. The leader of this small modern group is a most engaging host, and very determined. You don't have to be a cyclist to enjoy the ride, so to speak. The session I went to see did have a huge number of people who looked like cyclists in the audience, and they were nudging each other, and gasping at many points in the ride. If you have watched the TV coverage of this event, you will know just how scenic and eventful the race can be, and we are guided through it by a committed and clear commentary.The documentary is so well structured and so engagingly presented, that all audience members seemed to be really enjoying it. Some use of aerial photography, and generally very good camera-work on the ground is also pleasing.

The Dying of the Light

A really important historical film
This film traces the full history of motion pictures (even "lantern" shows) and describes the ways technology, public preferences and entrepreneurial spirit have changed over the last two centuries, placing the newest way of viewing stories on screen (namely digital projection) into a clear context. Much of the film's commentary is provided by film projectionists, ranging in age from their 20s to their 80s, mostly men, but definitely not all!! We "tour" several derelict theatres and drive-ins, often with a projectionist who worked there. However, most of the theatres are still in operation, and the projectionists turn out to be engaging hosts, and explain pretty well their responsibilities while largely being unseen, and how committed they were to "doing a good job". As you would expect, there are quite a few sad edges to these reminiscences. The overall tone, however, is very relaxed and informative, especially if you have ever projected humble 16mm films (as I have done to Science classes many years ago), or take the opportunity to look into projection rooms whenever the rare opportunity arises. This film was screened on "Art House Theatre Day" and I saw it in the best known art-house theatre in Melbourne, which screens in 35mm, 70mm and up to 4K digital.

St. Peter's and the Papal Basilicas of Rome 3D

Spectacular Buildings of the Vatican
This documentary covers four iconic buildings of the Catholic Church . It begins with an interesting introduction involving Pope Francis ceremonially opening doors, and then goes on to describe each of the churches in more detail, including historical information, distressing events in their history (such as fires) and an unguided tour of each of them. The buildings are very empty when we go through them, so we have access to all parts of each of them. (In fact, you hardly ever see any chairs/pews at all.) The camera-work is critical to the success of this type of film, and, unfortunately, it is quite mixed. The actual images are crystal clear, and there is no use of shaky hand-held photography. It is more that there is very little variety in its presentation. We have a mixture of aerial shots of each building as our helicopter flies over each district, then we seem to do almost the same thing inside the buildings. It means that we never linger very long over anything, zooming in or out to the next ceiling or tabernacle or fresco, etc. The narration is also mixed - I saw the film in English, and the male narrators were, like the cinematography, lacking in variety of expression. The female narrator was more engaging. The outside aerial views of the districts are interesting, but the interior work does not do justice to the subject matter, in my opinion.

Wide Open Sky

Astonishing commitment
This is quite a story. You will follow the activities of an inspirational choral music teacher, as she travels through several towns in north-western New South Wales (Australia). She has to develop a mass choir of school children for a special concert held each year in one of the larger towns in this area. Partly because of the large distances involved, partly because very few of the students have any knowledge of choral music whatsoever and partly because of the economic circumstances of the area, the challenges are great. However, the audience at the screening I attended found the whole process extremely absorbing, and engagingly told. As well as the leading music teacher, there are quite a few other adults involved, and they too are really interesting, and vital to the success of this venture which she has undertaken for ten years. The interviews with the children themselves are also beautifully handled. Many have repeated interviews as they progress, and there are a small number of them who are featured in more detail to represent the experiences of the whole group, and they are excellent choices. On top of all this, technically the film is very good. You could have expected low budget wobbly hand-held cinematography, but you do not get it. The film is shot and edited with great skill. Excellent.

The Tentmakers of Cairo

A Fascinating Insight into Egyptian Culture
This documentary features a group of extremely talented male "quilters" and their shops/workshops in a fascinating laneway within the suburbs of Cairo. Make sure that you read the film summary above in IMDb so that you can get more out of it than I did on this first viewing. We had an informative Q&A with the director after our screening in Melbourne (Australia) and I wished I knew what he said before I had watched the film, because I thought it was a film about "tentmakers" but it is more an observation of the ways the local artisans (in this case), their families and friends manage to keep their lives bubbling along while three major upheavals in Egypt took place. The film was made over three years, and they provide a commentary on these events, share their difficult times, and bring up their families. Even the televisions seem to be essential parts of the film. There is also a welcome international artistic component to the story which adds richness to the story. You will enjoy some of the local "colourful" characters and passing motorists too.


Not as good as the story deserved
The true story of the suffragettes in England is a compelling one, but I felt that this film did not make the most of its opportunities. While it was bleak in tone, the continuity was also uneven, and I fear this and other storytelling failures may be the result of a lacklustre director not making the most of excellent location setups and some very good actors. The director should also have taken much closer control of the cinematography, which was truly awful. Deliberate hand-held jerkiness, lots of "soft" focus shots, meaningless cutaways and a generally poor quality were very surprising. However, if you are tempted to leave the cinema early, do not do so - the way the final couple of minutes are delivered is sensational.

Putuparri and the Rainmakers

A really good documentary
This film will be important to historians in years to come, because it documents about 50 years in the lives of a group of aboriginal people living in and around Fitzroy Crossing in Western Australia. This period includes the land rights claim periods, and many changes in the living arrangements and cultural practices of these people and their extended families. There is cause for both optimism and pessimism throughout the events portrayed, but the mood is mostly positive. We enjoyed this experience, and really felt for the various players. The film is enhanced by a large number of old images and archival movie footage which show us how the key players change over this long period of time. The trips to the "waterhole" are most revealing. As well as the excellent performance by the lead actor and narrator, we also enjoyed "Spider" (who has a pivotal role) and "Buster" (a small but important role, in my opinion).There were a few places where the narrative was a little less clear, but I guess that may be caused by a lack of documented material for these scenes. I feel certain that there are parallels with other indigenous peoples in other countries too. Definitely recommended.

London Road

Yes, if like me, you see this film without knowing anything about its content and presentation, you should find it astonishing. As you can see from the plot summary in IMDb above, the story is a true one, in Ipswich in Britain, where five murders occurred not that many years ago. These events were then taken up by the National Theatre, and now as a film. There are a wide range of characters in the street (London Road) and they all have their own words used to make the dialogue. However, it is the presentation and delivery of the story that makes this film so riveting. My only reservations were the handling of two of the central characters which seemed a little far-fetched, but these are minor quibbles in a film which will be very differently delivered on the screen from what anyone would expect. Some of the imagery in the crowd scenes is especially noteworthy. Definitely recommended for art-house film fans, and the large crowd in Melbourne at the screening I attended seemed to be most impressed by its audacity.

Andlit norðursins

Fascinating life journey of a photographer
This film is a summary of the life of a photographer, who has visited several communities in the Arctic (especially in Iceland and Greenland) over decades. Each time he has gone, he has taken lots (and lots) of photos, and documents the changes to these societies very well. He has a particular passion for black and white photography, and a preference for film over digital. That said, there are many, many stunning images of the striking scenery of these countries, as well as those of the characters, families and communities he visits for us. It is clear that he is well- known to these peoples, and they enjoy his company, even though his own lifestyle is quite different from theirs. The changes occurring in these communities and in their people is clear for all of us to see, and each of us has to develop our own reactions to what is told. While some images will be challenging for some people, there is nothing in this film that is gratuitous - we have no doubt about where the future is going. The film's title tells us that. We even see some spectacular volcanic scenery in one segment. It is 90 minutes well spent watching the big screen images of these countries, their agriculture, towns, wilderness and lifestyles with a person who has the passion and knowledge to make it work.

Art from Changing Arctic

A really unusual documentary
This film was shown in Melbourne (Australia) as part of a climate change conference, and essentially shows the efforts of about 20 artists who went on a voyage to the Arctic islands for several weeks, and were asked to interpret what they saw in their own fields of expertise. The artists included a well-known writer, sculptors, a choreographer, an audio engineer, photographers, and so on. What was shown was genuinely original, and had a strong but subtle environmental theme. The group were good company for each other, and for us as viewers. The whole "expedition" was put into historical context very well, and included some material originally shot with 16mm film. So we watched sections of slightly grainy pictures changing into striking wide screen scenes, adding to the visual interest. While not a particularly long film (about 60 minutes), it was fascinating, and well directed. Several of the segments are genuinely original, and a couple are quite humorous. It was also a great "big screen" experience, so try to see it this way if you can.


A fascinating "journey"
If you get a chance to see this film (especially on the big screen), take it. You will enjoy an amazing story of three brothers who explore some of the rainforests in Amazonian Brazil, and interact with the locals living there in ways that are unexpected. We found the subtitling in Australia to be especially good for most of the film, and certainly had to concentrate on the unfolding story. This story heads off in unusual (but relevant) directions quite frequently, and the effect of this is to wonder what will happen next. The impacts of different tribes of the native peoples, and the "whites" both in the forests and back in the cities make for quite a tense viewing. The only weakness I found was the last 15 minutes or so, when the clarity of the film's story wandered, and I found it a little disjointed. However, this is a fantastic yarn, with a most satisfying (and somewhat ominous) conclusion.

Cathedrals of Culture

Six short films about Architecture plus ....
This is a long documentary (150 minutes plus) which is made up of six shorter separate documentaries, each featuring a different building, and directed by a different (often well- known) director. They are all narrated very well, and often the "narrator" is the building itself. Most people (even those of us from Australia) will recognize some of these iconic buildings. The cinematography is outstanding, and we really get to know each building during its segment. The individual styles of presentation vary from one segment to another, and, in my opinion, some work better than others, but the very good ones are excellent. One in particular, is quite astonishing. (You will know which one I reckon!) So, if you have a liking for architecture of varied styles and purposes, enjoy design and wonder about how a building can shape its surroundings, this will appeal.

The Man from Coxs River

Unusual, but fascinating documentary
This is a great story about managing wild horses (brumbies) in a vital water catchment within a National Park and World Heritage Area. We meet several passionate people, including a most engaging bush horseman (from a family who have lived in the Cox's River area for several generations), a National Park ranger, and some of their friends and colleagues. It is great to travel with them, even for viewers (like me) who know very little about attracting and mustering horses. The country where they are working is very spectacular, and, if you are unfamiliar with the Blue Mountains World Heritage Area (in New South Wales, Australia not far west from Sydney), it would pay to check out a map prior to seeing this film to see where Cox's River, Katoomba, Megalong Valley and Lake Burragorang are. The cinematography is good, and worked well on the very large screen in the cinema where we saw it. Occasional use of a shaky hand-held camera can be easily forgiven in the circumstances where it was used. I felt that we are seeing a particular set of skills we may not see again. The scenes of the horses near the end of the film, and the information provided about the people (also at the end) are very well done. This must have been a challenging undertaking, both for the horse handlers and the film team.

Gardening with Soul

A great life, inspired by gardening
This film is a year in the life of an aging nun, and we learn much of her life story, her personal philosophy and much of it is put in context within her amazing love of gardening. She is an inspiration to many other folks, and is an engaging person to be with over the 100 minutes of this documentary. The film is divided into the four seasons of the gardens, and I felt that the order chosen was not random. The story is a gentle one, and the film moves along at a leisurely pace, appropriate for the nature of the material. There is one major criticism I had of the film - I found the cinematography very disappointing, and the hand-held work amongst the worst I have seen. (I think much of this was deliberate, but it did not work for me.) The corny use of soft focus, and the repetitive way it is done was also annoying. The director and producer really should have realized that this looked very amateurish, doing a disservice to the story.

TINY: A Story About Living Small

Tiny Houses and Bigger Ideas
This is an interesting documentary, which has two themes. Much of it follows the building of a "tiny house", which is mounted on a trailer, caravan/motorhome style. These "houses" don't look much like vans, but more like what you would expect from the title, and are very clever in their use of space to achieve this. The other theme of the film is the motivation behind living in such small spaces (nearly all less than 200sq.ft.) in a world of ever-growing house sizes. It is clear that, by and large, the people who promote this kind of living, are committed and engaging. We meet quite a few owners "at home", and a cat seems to play an important role in many of their lives. We saw this film in Melbourne (Australia) and there was a actual-size floor plan on the floor just outside the cinema entrance, of the main tiny house in the film. The screening was unusual too in that quite a few folks stayed in the cinema after the film, to chat about what they had seen. If this topic is of interest, you will enjoy this film.

Levitated Mass

Quite a surprise
Knowing nothing about Michael Heizer (I am Australian) or his sculptures/public art installations, I did not know what to expect from this 90 minute documentary about the installation at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, but it was a great "ride" along the road (literally, in much of the film) to see how the idea was made, when it was started, other works he had done, including some great "holes", mostly in USA. The cinematography was really good, and varied between landscape scale and personal interviews. The directing and the narrating were first class, and we almost felt that we were part of the journey even though we are a long way away. Particularly enjoyable were the encounters with lots and lots of friendly or bemused locals along the way. If you like feature length documentaries, I think this one is a big screen documentary, that's for sure.

The Battle of the Sexes

A pleasant surprise
When I saw this documentary, I expected a story leading up to the famous tennis match (still the most watched tennis match) between Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King, and that certainly happened. What I was not expecting was that this film was so thoroughly researched and put together. A very informative selection of actual interviews and voiceovers led us through the years leading up to "the match" and then afterwards right up till now. There are even short excerpts of other material which were very clever. I especially liked the little animation - watch out for it. In Melbourne (Australia) this was released onto just one screen, but it deserves more. The writers certainly had an obvious agenda, but that did not detract from the viewing experience for me. A very good addition to our stock of historical feature length documentaries.

Ni de jintian he wo de mingtian

A quirky film from Taiwan/USA but very variable
This is a Taiwanese film set mostly in New York, mostly spoken in English, but also subtitled in both English and Chinese. (Some of this English subtitling is delightfully odd - look for the spelling of "rain" for example.) It is largely a series of short encounters, many quite amusing, some sad, and some just puzzling. The settings range between small rundown apartments, little shops and even phone booths. All the time you will be (if you are like me) trying to see where the film is actually "going". We return to the same characters quite a lot (especially the two male leads), and they all play roles we come to expect. However, there is a lightness of touch throughout, which is good. In the screening I attended, this approach was not to everyone's liking, and quite a few folks left during the film (but the majority stayed). Without giving too much away, I especially enjoyed the segments involving the cassette player (yes, an audio cassette), and one involving a ferry. However, like many of these low budget films, there was not enough time and money spent on scriptwriters. I left the screening thinking just what the film could have been if only the script had been better integrated - the whole was a lot less than the sum of its parts.

Computer Chess

A serious disappointment
This film is a good idea, and a couple of the players do a reasonable job with the material. However, I found the whole program was most disappointing. Some care had been taken to use authentic looking computers from the period, but this effort was wasted. It really needed an experienced scriptwriter to check for continuity and irrelevant sections. On the print we saw in Melbourne, Australia, there was even a short section of colour which overlapped a part of the film and left a small hole in the "story". It seemed that they did not have enough material for a feature length film, so they introduced quite a few contrivances to stretch it out, but all they did was to add to the haphazard nature of proceedings. One major contrivance appeared to be used throughout the film so that the result of the final chess game was the one wanted by the writers. Very silly, and an artificial way to produce "surprises" in the story. I was also surprised to see that the Tribeca Film Festival was associated with this film.

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