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2 EXECELLENT DOCUMENTARIES OPEN FRIDAY 4/13 IN BALTIMORE

I screened "Jiro Dreams of Sushi" and "Bully"  (initially entitled "The Bully Project" while making the festival circuit last year) at last year's SILVERDOCS Documentary Film Festival.  Jiro began a platform release on March 9, while "Bully" opens nationwide on April 13.  Both excellent films can be screened at The Charles beginning today.  Here are my reviews posted on this blog after last year's SILVERDOCS:


"Jiro Dreams of Sushi" (****-82 minutes)
 The restaurant has earned the rare prestigious 3-star Michelin rating and its owner is 85-year-old Jiro Ono who, along with his two sons, has created this culinary eatery gem. American film maker David Gelb provides a fascinating exposé of Jiro and what it takes to receive that rating which, as Japanese food critic Masuhiro Yamamoto points out, will likely disappear upon Yiro's retirement or demise-no matter the effort and talent of his sons to carry on his legacy. A beautiful profile of a man who creates food as art as meticulously as any classical artist, and a fascinating peak into the unique process that helps create and maintain the restaurant's 3-star rating. Gelb includes a soundtrack that utilizes several selections by the renowned 20th century American composer Philip Glass and is the perfect complement to the visuals. The film was bought by Magnola Pictures and a spring 2012 release is planned.

"The Bully Project" (****-94 minutes)
When the Columbine school massacre occurred on April 20 1999, the aftermath included reports that the two young assassins had grown up as victims of bullying. They decided to end the lives of thirteen of their classmates-before turning their guns on themselves. It is unconscionable that it has taken over twelve years for a film such as this to finally address what is unfortunately becoming almost a daily occurrence across this country. Besides the everyday threats of violence by others (metal scanners at school entrances are as common as recess) it seems young people are now killing themselves, and others, in record numbers in order to end years of abuse at the hands of their fellow students. Director Lee Hirsch ("Amandla!: A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony"), who revealed during the Q and A that, growing up, he was also a recipient of bullying, has meticulously created this moving look into this outrageous, and totally preventable, phenomena. He follows five families in five states across The Bible Belt throughout one school year that focuses responsibility, not only on the perpetrators, but also includes parents, administrators, and teachers. One particularly disturbing segment includes school administrators being confronted by the parents of their bullied child after Hirsch manages to film the abuse on a school bus. The school administrators' reaction and their lack of action are almost as scary as the bullying that would eventually lead to tragic results. Moving and powerful, the film was picked by the prestigious Weinstein Company for a nationwide release on March 9, 2012.

ON PBS' "INDEPENDENT LENS" TONIGHT 4/6 at 9:00 PM ON WETA . . .

(My favorite film at last year's SILVERDOCS Film Festival. Here is my review from last year.)

"Being Elmo" A Puppeteer's Journey" (****-76 minutes)
Winner of the 2011 Sundance Documentary Audience Award earlier this year, this delightful heart-warming story of African-American Baltimore native Kevin Clash not only could easily be nominated for next year's Academy Awards, but here's an early prediction that it will win it. The talent behind (inside and under) the beloved Sesame Street character, Elmo, Kevin knew his life calling early on and pursued it to the hilt. He began by putting on puppet shows for his Turner Station neighborhood friends, and then later he received a huge break on a local television show that led to working with the infamous Captain Kangaroo. This ultimately landed him the Muppet gig at the top of the puppet food chain. So curious was Kevin to learn how the Muppets' "skin" appeared seamless that he took a side trip away from his high school's field trip in New York to seek out Muppet builder Kevin Love, who later introduced young Kevin to Jim Henson. One of the more interesting tidbits is the fact Elmo was rescued off the scrap heap when its original human voice (the late Richard Hunt, who gave Elmo a deep caveman inflection) hated the character and asked Kevin in 1984 if he wanted to give it a try. The rest was history. The editing by Justin Weinstein, screenplay by co-director Phil Shane, and score by Joel Goodman are all top-notch that will surely help to put the documentary in strong contention for an Academy Award. You will laugh, you will cry, and you will be amazed at Kevin's incredible journey that began with his backyard puppet shows and now continues with his key role perpetuating the brilliance and joy that Jim Henson's Muppets bring to the world. The film was bought by ITVS and Independent Lens and will hit the theaters on October 21. This one is not to be missed!