Posts Tagged ‘documentary


Film and Music at R&D

Welcome to R&D.

Kaka‘ako has seen a resurgence as of late. There are tons of redevelopment plans in the works, but even more noticeable is the emergence of a network of artists and artistic expression in the neighborhood. Driving along Pohukaina Street and even along parts of Ala Moana Blvd you can see the cool handy work of Pow Wow Hawai‘i as their public murals grace the walls of businesses and construction sites throughout the area.

It’s in this urban environment that Interisland Terminal opened R&D, a collaborative/creative cafe furthering their mission of presenting international contemporary art, design, and film while also advancing the role of the arts in innovation. R&D serves up coffee and free wifi, but don’t be fooled, this isn’t a Starbucks. Tables and chairs are all modular and can be setup or rearranged to accommodate a variety of different groups and collaborative work. And if you need some inspiration or something to get your creative juices flowing, art and design books line the walls for perusal (and purchase).

Music Docs Fest @ R&D

As part of their year round programming, Interisland Terminal showcases certain films or puts on film series at R&D; which is what brought me there this past Tuesday. This week they are currently presenting Music Docs Fest, a documentary series of four stories that dive into the artists and music that has defined their lives and ours.

The four films in the series are:

  • Charles Bradley, Soul of America (Tue Sept 25)
    The incredible rise to fame of 63-year-old aspiring soul singer Charles Bradley, whose debut album took him from a hard life in the Brooklyn Housing Projects to Rolling Stone Magazine’s top 50 albums of 2011.
  • Big Easy Express (Wed Sept 26)
    Folk rock and bluegrass musicians Mumford & Sons, Old Crow Medicine Show and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes travel together by train from San Francisco to New Orleans in the spring of 2011.
  • Blank City (Thu Sept 27)
    During the punk rock stage in the late ’70s, downtown New York experienced a wave of “Do it yourself” independent filmmaking.
  • Shut Up and Play the Hits: The Final Days of LCD Soundsystem (Fri, Sept 28)
    On April 2nd 2011, LCD Soundsystem played its final show at Madison Square Garden. Documenting this once in a life time performance and an intimate portrait of James Murphy as he navigates the lead-up to the show, the day after, and the personal and professional ramifications of his decision.

Charles Bradley, Soul of America

Can you feel it? The emotion in the man’s performance is infectious.

I had the opportunity to check out the opening night film of the Fest, Charles Bradley, Soul of America. What drew me to the film was the sound of Bradley’s voice and the seemingly effortless way he puts emotion into his singing as well as his amazing rise in popularity as a musical artist. The film does not paint an easy picture for Bradley as he left home at an early age and moved around a great deal. Through all his struggles he discovered that he had a talent for singing and went by the alter ego “Black Velvet” covering James Brown songs. It was under this auspiciousness that Bradley was discovered by Gabriel Roth of Daptone Records which would eventually go on become Bradley’s producer and record label.

The most intriguing thing I took away from the film was that Bradley’s career seemed to have taken off when he changed from impersonating James Brown and began singing his own, more personal songs. His songs give him a uniqueness and personalization that I think was missing from his alter ego. The talent seemed to always be there, but the feeling and soul that he puts into his own music is something I think that the audience responds to. I know I certainly picked up on it.

Screening @ R&D

R&D setup for film screenings.

As a venue for films, R&D is a nice intimate space. As I mentioned earlier, seating is modular so the space was configured for film presentation with the screen towards the front of the cafe, blocking the windows and light from the street. The screen is big enough so that everyone in the room should have a pretty good view of the screen and the sound projection is audible and clear no matter where you’re sitting. Speaking of sitting, single seats were arranged on the lower floor with tables and chairs setup on the upper floor. As for seating capacity, it looked like the space could comfortably accommodate an audience of 25, though I’m sure it could handle double that (depending on what the maximum occupancy is).

The one quibble I did have was with the chairs/seats. They are rectangularly shaped, made of wood, and when not in use are stacked up against the wall and used as shelf space. Sitting on them for an extended period of time may not be the most comfortable experience since there is no back to your seat or padding. However, if you’re engrossed in what you’re watching, you probably won’t even notice.

On the whole it was a great experience and I look forward to future film exhibitions at Interisland Terminal’s R&D.

The Music Docs Fest continues tonight at R&D with the 7pm screening of Blank City and concludes tomorrow night with Shut Up and Play the Hits. R&D is located at 691 Auahi Street, right around the corner from Hank’s Haute Dogs.


30 for 30 is Coming Back!

What if I told you that one of the best series on television was coming back this fall; that documentaries don’t have to be boring; and that you’ll learn about a different side to sports.

Along with movies, I tend to watch a lot of television as well. One of the best series on TV in the past few years has been ESPN’s sports documentary series 30 for 30. Initially started as a way to commemorate ESPN’s 30th anniversary; the series chronicled ’30 films, from 30 filmmakers, from 30 years of sports (1979-2009–ESPN’s first 30 years of broadcasting)’. The subject matter covered in the 30 documentaries was diverse and ranged from popular stories (the Boston Red Sox come-from-behind 2004 World Series win) to not so well known stories (Terry Fox’s cancer awareness marathon across Canada).

At the network television upfronts week about two weeks ago, ESPN announced that due to the popularity of 30 for 30 and the other films that they’ve produced under their ESPN Films banner, starting this fall they would bring back the 30 for 30 documentary series for a second edition.

“When we embarked on ’30 for 30,’ we always wondered if there would be 30 good stories,” said Connor Schell, vice president and executive producer of ESPN Films. “Now, I think all of us in this group believe that there is an infinite number of stories.”

(/via NYT’s Richard Sandomir – ESPN Doubles Up on ’30 for 30’ Documentary Series)

Upping the ante on the series this time around, there will also be digital shorts released each month (starting this month, May 2012) and accompanying podcasts with related material as well. As with the first volume of 30 for 30, the series run will span about two years.

When I heard the news that ESPN had decided to produce a second volume to 30 for 30, needless to say I was super excited. I think one of the best things I can say about the series is that you don’t have to know sports or be a sports fan to watch any of the documentaries in the series. The stories that are chosen are stories that I think most people, at the least may have heard of, but may not really be all that familiar with. I remember there were times when I would see previews for a particular doc and would think “that doesn’t sound interesting” and then be totally surprised and engrossed in the show when I eventually watched it.

My two favorite docs in the series to this day are the first two that I caught on TV. They were Straight Outta LA and The Two Escobars.

Filmmaker Ice Cube interviewing rapper Snoop Dogg about Raider culture in Los Angeles in a scene from Straight Outta LA.

Straight Outta LA was put together by rapper/filmmaker Ice Cube and focused on the Raiders and how their 13 seasons in Los Angeles affected minority groups (and gang culture) during that time. When I first started watching football as a kid, the Raiders were a Los Angeles team and as I grew older I knew I eventually heard that they had moved to Oakland–not knowing that that was where they had originated. It wasn’t also till way later that I learned that the owner for the Raiders (Al Davis) was a very outspoken; and was a major factor in taking the Raiders to LA and eventually back to Oakland. Perhaps what hooked me, and in a sense kept bring me back to each new doc in the series, was that the story that was told in the documentary was so engrossing–to hear reflective insight and perspective from people that were there had me hooked. The fact that Ice Cube brought in the social aspect of how the Raiders affected culture in Los Angeles was super interesting as well.

An exhausted Andrés Escobar sets the tone for what is to come in the Colombian soccer documentary, The Two Escobars.

As with Straight Outta LA, The Two Escobars had a similar intertwining of sports and culture; although this time it wasn’t social culture . . . it was political culture. The Two Escobars was a look at Colombian soccer star Andrés Escobar and drug lord Pablo Escobar; the intertwining of crime and soccer in their native Colombia; and the connections between the murders of both men. I’m not a soccer guy so I had never heard of Andrés Escobar; and I knew very little of Pablo (story arc on HBO’s Entourage not withstanding), yet for the entire two hours of the doc I was engrossed in the rise of Colombian soccer, Andrés rise as a star, the intrigue surrounding drug money fueling the team’s rise to prominence, rising US tensions, and the downfall of it all.

Perhaps the “real life” element does add something, but the way these stories are told and the information they provide paints an intimate look at things I knew little to nothing about.

So what can we look forward to in this upcoming volume II of 30 for 30. No official list has been posted and there are only a few details available right now, but from the Volume II trailer here are potential glimpses of what may be in store for us:

  • Some type of doc about the economic shock faced by pro athletes who can no longer afford to live the high life after their life in sports.
  • The story of the North Carolina State Wolfpack’s 1982-1983 basketball run and eventual NCAA championship win. If you’re any kind of college basketball fan, they always show clips of the final shot of this game during commercials during the NCAA tournament every year.
  • A doc about the Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan skating controversy preceeding the 1994 winter Olympics. We all remember the story, but I’m sure a closer look 18 years later will make for a great story.
  • And here’s the one I’m most interested in . . . a documentary about two sport athlete Bo Jackson. The guy played football and baseball and was one of the best running backs to use in Tecmo Bowl. I can’t wait to watch a story about him.

You’d be hard-pressed to find high quality programming such as this anywhere on television right now so be sure to check out 30 for 30 Volume II when the series starts again this fall. I really wanted to embed the trailer for Volume II here, but instead you’ll have to go to to watch it instead.

Have you watched any of ESPN’s sports documentary series 30 for 30? If so, what was your favorite episode?


Special Pass Giveaway: The Kids Grow Up

I think when people hear the word “documentary,” they tend to have already formed an opinion about any film that fits into this genre. I’m not going to lie, sometimes I myself fall into this prejudicial trap as well. However, I’ve been trying to broaden my horizons recently by seeking out a few docs that I personally find interesting, hoping to become a more well rounded moviegoer. It started last year with seeing Art & Copy at HIFF, then continued this year with two totally opposite films: Restrepo and The People vs George Lucas (still want to see Exit Through the Gift Shop).

Outside of these docs, nothing else really showed up on my radar till we were asked to participate in hosting a Q&A for a documentary coming out titled The Kids Grow Up. Good thing we accepted this challenge . . . otherwise we would have missed out on a really remarkable film.

With his 17 year old daughter entering her final year of high school, documentarian Doug Block focuses on this final year before she leaves to go away for college. Looking back on his daughter’s growth as well as interviewing various family members, we get a glimpse into one family’s emotional journey and something that most college parents can relate to–saying goodbye.

In full disclosure (and as preparation for the Q&A on Friday), we were able to watch the film in advance of it’s theatrical run here in Honolulu. As I mentioned previously, I thought the film was engrossing and remarkable. You definitely get to see an intimate look into the lives of the Block family (Doug, Marjorie, and Lucy). However, what really drew me into the film was the lighthearted way the film unfolded. Here you have a very real and emotional subject matter with parents getting ready to experience the ‘empty nest’ which could potentially push viewers away. Yet there is just the right amount of humor interjected at various points throughout the film to make it fun, engaging, and relatable.

Another aspect that I enjoyed was the editing of the film itself. Using hours of footage throughout Lucy’s life, the film is edited in such a way where experiences that Lucy encounters at an older age are contrasted with video of her at a younger age. It is through this editing and juxtaposition that gives you a feeling of who Lucy is and how she has grown. In a sense it made me think about the way I felt as a kid and how that differs from the way I think now and definitely gives you a sense how things change as you grow older.

The Red Band Project is partnering with Consolidated Theatres to present a special question and answer session after the 7:20pm screening of The Kids Grow Up at the Consolidated Kahala 8 Theatres. Filmmaker Doug Block and wife Marjorie Silver will be on hand to share their thoughts on the film and take questions from the crowd. Please join us for this very special event (purchase tickets here).

The Red Band Project will be inviting five lucky readers (and a guest) to the 7:20pm screening on Friday for FREE! To be eligible to win just send your name and email to Winners will be selected randomly from all eligible entries and only one entry per person.

Winners will be selected by Thursday evening, December 9.

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Up the Yangtze

What is the first thing you think of when you think of China? Be honest.

Orange chicken?
Knockoff Rolex watches and Louis Vuitton?
Cute little pandas?

As someone who is of part Chinese heritage, I admit, this isn’t quite right. But due to the capitalistic nature of today’s society, all we think about is what we can get for cheap. Where can we get things for cheap? China. We don’t stop to think about how day to day life goes for people who actually have to live it.

The movie focuses on one region in particular, the Yangtze river delta near Hubei, and how the residents of the area are affected by the Three Gorges Dam. It’s pretty painful, watching as farmers & their families of an extremely rural area are pretty much forced to accept the new developments. We meet two young people, “Cindy” (Yu Shui) & “Jerry” (Chen Bo Yu), who are adjusting to this new way of life.

Yu Shui comes from a very poor family living on the banks of the river. They’re basically a farming family, and her parents do not know how to read or write. They send Yu Shui off to work on a cruise ship that caters to wealthy western tourists. She must learn to introduce herself properly in English, as well as know basic service phrases, such as “Enjoy your meal,” and “Have a nice day.” She also must learn the ins and outs of the dishroom, and how to provide backup support to the kitchen staff. She finds her tasks to be daunting and even breaks down at the dishwashing machine one day. She’s definitely out of her element. But her family needs money. They can no longer afford meat and are having trouble coming up with enough money for other basic things. Before Yu Shui heads out for her job on the ship, her mother tells her to not to shy away from buying herself decent meals and clothes, but also to not forget to send money back to them. When Yu Shui innocently asks her mother & father to see her off, her mother replies “No. We can’t read, we might direct you to the wrong ship.” Ouch.

Chen Bo Yu is a different story. He’s a lot more outspoken than the emotional, shy Yu Shui. He’s the only son, and he’s a typical show-off. His main objective: make money. After receiving a $30 tip from the tourists after the cruise, Jerry is exuberant. “F*ck!,” he proclaims. “This is 30 American dollars!!!” He’s on top of the world. Eventually, his outgoingness/overexcitedness comes to bite him in the ass, as a complaint letter is received, accusing Jerry in particular of asking for tips, which he denies. It was all a culture clash/misunderstanding, but it was probably one of many on this trip.

Okay, so, it’s sad enough that we have to watch these two uncomfortable young adults deal with western tourists, right? Well, here’s something else. The water is rising. The cruiseship is apocalyptically called “The Farewell Tour,” one last chance for tourists to see the livelihood of the river delta before it disappears. In unsettling time-lapse imagery, director Yung Chang shows us the rising waters of the river, and how many of the inhabitants, including Yu Shui’s family, must load their few possessions onto their backs and move it to higher ground. In a short time, the river takes over the family home and everything surrounding it. It’s long gone. Soon, I’m sure neon lights will take its place, just another reminder of China’s foray into the uncertain future.


Restrepo: Film and Q&A

Soldiers in Afghanistan's Korengal Valley were fighting in what has been called "the most dangerous place on Earth," sometimes engaging in up to seven firefights a day.

I’m not one to usually go for documentaries. Hell, the last one within recent memory was Art & Copy, a documentary about advertising (and to some extent graphic design). Usually though, the topic of the film really has to interest me in order for me to want to see any particular film. So was the case with Restrepo, a documentary about US soldiers fighting in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley. Also buoyed by several blogs and critics that have been showering praise on the doc, I was very excited to find out that Consolidated Theatres was bringing it in for a release on Oahu.

The Film

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What I liked or found interesting:

  • Politics were not involved. The entire film is shot on the ground with our troops in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley. There are no interviews with politicians, high ranking officials,  generals, or anyone back home. All we get to see are the conditions that these men have to face everyday, the emotions they feel under this high pressure assignment, and their fight for survival in our mission to get rid of the Taliban.
  • The filmmakers show the right footage. Usually in war films the filmmakers like to make things look as realistic as possible, depicting the battlefield as a brutal place where wartime injuries can lead to some pretty gruesome scenes. That is not the case with Restrepo. With the war in Afghanistan still going on, it is currently a war that is fresh in the hearts and minds of Americans. As such, the filmmakers are sensitive to this fact and go out of their way to show us the right footage. Are there scenes of soldiers engaging the Taliban? Are there scenes of soldiers doing crazy things in their downtime? Are emotional scenes between soldiers shown? Is death depicted in the film? The answer to all these questions is ‘yes.’ However they are depicted in a way that is appropriate to the film and respectful to the content that is being presented.
  • The name of the film fits the person and outpost that it is based on. If you watched the trailer (please make sure to watch the trailer) you’ll know that Restrepo was a soldier from the platoon in the film who died while in combat and is also the name of the forward outpost that the soldiers created in the aftermath of his death as a way to honor and remember him. This tenacity and unrelentingness of Restrepo (the man) is carried on throughout the film, in both the nature of the outpost as well as the theme of the film.
  • There was a Hawaii connection. Halfway through the film the soldiers are shown relaxing while they have some downtime and one of them begins to play a song on Restrepo’s guitar. There’s a long intro, but eventually the soldier starts singing and all of a sudden I realize that he’s singing I’ll Never Forget Where I’m From by Justin Young. It definitely was a moment from the film I’ll never forget. All the way in the Korengal Valley in Afghanistan a little piece of Hawaii finds its way there. The song is sung for a good minute and it definitely hammered home the reality of the film for me.

The Q&A

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What made the film extra special is that Consolidated Theatres setup a special question and answer session after our screening of the film with two of the soldiers that were stationed with the platoon from the film. Both Sgt Mitchell Raeon and Sgt John Clinard spent about 30 minutes after our film answering questions from the audience. It’s one thing to see a film and think that you understand it, it’s quite another to have people that experienced what happened in the film who were also there, here to tell you that ‘yes, it’s as bad as it looks in the film.’ Hearing they’re personal stories and insight into how things were really made this movie experience special. I can’t begin to imagine what they went through–even though I’ve seen the film.

Several highlights from the Q&A:

  • Both of them thought that the film was an accurate representation of what they went through and would urge anyone to watch the film.
  • This was Sgt Clinard’s first time seeing the film and while he enjoyed it, he was blown away by the number of people that turned out to see the film.
  • Both had respect for the filmmakers Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington both of whom went through the same experience as the soldiers did as well as for the portrayal of the men from second platoon.

If you read this blog post, I highly recommend you watch the trailer and both parts of the Q&A that we recorded (link to part 2 below).


Further Review

Mililani Restrepo Q&A – Part 2 – The official movie website.

Into the Valley of Death – Filmmaker Sebastian Junger’s article in the Jan 2008 Vanity Fair that talked about the struggles of soldiers in the Korengal Valley.

War – Sebastian Junger’s book about his time spent with the soldiers depicted in his film Restrepo.

Film details soldiers’ pain – William Cole’s Honolulu Star-Advertiser article about the film & special screening.


The Bridge

A haunting image.

The Golden Gate Bridge is one of the most photographed monuments in the world. Built in 1937, it’s man’s gigantic feat against the harsh elements of the Bay. Two things come to my mind when I think about the Golden Gate: San Francisco, one of the most beautiful cities on Earth, and the beloved sitcom “Full House.” Two very happy thoughts. Some people look at the bridge and see nothing happy; merely a way out.

This poignant 2006 documentary follows the life and death of some of the 24 souls that decided to end it all on the bridge over the course of one year (2004). Filmmaker Eric Steel naturally released this documentary to much controversy, not only because of the disturbing images, but also because he revealed that he had tricked the Golden Gate bridge committee into allowing him to film the bridge by saying he wanted to “capture the powerful, spectacular intersection of monument and nature that takes place every day at the Golden Gate Bridge.” During the months of filming on the bridge, they had captured 23 of the 24 suicides that took place, hauntingly intertwined with interviews from the family members of the deceased.

But why The Bridge? Maybe they thought, “Hey, if I’m gonna go, I’m gonna go in style.” The Golden Gate bridge seems perfect for those with a flair for the dramatic. But as we learn about these people, it’s really just sad. No big surprises in the types of people featured. Mentally ill, depressed, penniless, self-deprecating and misguided souls. They all left behind mothers, fathers, children, cousins, roomates, and friends who had a whole world of hurt and questions to deal with. Many of them saw it coming already. They had heard it all, the never-ending loop of “I’m just going to end it all.” But like any optimistic human being, they never truly saw it coming. You could feel the helplessness they felt through the screen and the whys & the hows that they’ll never quite understand.

Steel also tracked down bystanders affected by the suicides, which presented an interesting angle to the whole story. He interviewed a family on holiday taking pictures on the bridge near a jumper, and kite surfers in the bay who saw a body plunge near them. I can’t even imagine what that’s like. I personally need a moment to recover from seeing a minor fender bender on the road, so I just can’t wrap my head around that. We see footage of interrupted suicide attempts, where total strangers risk their own safety in order to pull the would-be jumper from the ledge. He also features a first-hand account of the jump from a rare survivor of the 4-second fall. Like many suicide committers, he realized as soon as he let go of the ledge that he wanted to live. He prevented death by falling into the water feet first, but still fractured some of his spine. He recounted the painful cracking of tiny bone fragments that lodged themselves into his internal organs. That’s right, kids. Gross.

I wish more movies affected me the way this did. I love indie documentaries about the mundane and the unpopular, but they often try too hard and don’t always keep my interest. This one, I just couldn’t turn away from. When it finished, I was simply sad. That’s it. Even though they couldn’t have made a film about a more depressing topic, I always love feeling the way I did after it, for lack of a better term, ended.

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