(4) Drone (**1/2 out of 4 - 80 minutes) Here is a somewhat imbalanced report on drone use in warfare by the US military and CIA. Swedish director Tonje Hessen Schei presents somewhat slated investigative reporting on the effects the use of drones and the ways it is changing how conflicts are waged by the US. Schei relates the history of its creation (originally drones were manufactured to aid fishermen locate tuna) continuing to its use in the military-industrial complex shortly after 9/11. Included are interviews, archival footage and simulations to pound home her point that drone operation, by recruited video game enthusiasts, kill innocents thousands of miles from their joysticks. Part of the focus is on the Waziristan region of Pakistan where drone strikes have claimed the lives of innocent citizens as US operators attempt to eliminate terrorists in the region. So fearful are its residents of future attacks, they have placed huge posters of children on rooftops to alert drone operators thousands of miles away to drop their bombs elsewhere. Pakistani lawsuits against the U.S. are pending (good luck with that!). In the US, a damaged former drone operator, Brandon Bryant, now campaigns against the techniques. The fact that his actions have killed over 1,600 people is sobering when considering the US's deadliest sniper Chris Kyle (the subject of last year's film Sniper) killed about 150 or so. The doc is so one-sided that I found myself wanting information about drone warfare employed by other countries. Also, I was bothered by her under-reporting of other issues raised. In the end, although competently filmed, the sensationalized documentary left me as cold as its message.
(5) Spotlight (**** out of 4 - 127 minutes) The opening night film, and the only narrative presented at the festival, is another gem from writer/director Tom McCarthy (writer/director of 2003's terrific independent film The Station Agent and screenwriter for the animated Up from 2009). With a riveting screenplay (co-written with Josh Singer) and an excellent ensemble cast, including Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, Brian d'Arcy and Stanley Tucci, this was the perfect film to kick-off and emphasize the focus and goals for an investigative film festival. Just months after 9/11, another blockbuster revelation literally grabbed the headlines that first appeared in The Boston Globe on January 2, 2002: “ Church Allowed Abuse by Priest for Years”. The Globe's investigative team, know as Spotlight, was responsible for unearthing the abuse which, as it turns out, had been stealthily occurring in Boston for years. The film will bring to mind another great old-fashion newspaper movie, 1976's All the President's Men, as it details the painstaking work to uncover and ultimately bring to print the scandalous misdeeds. They ultimately unearthed about seventy cases in Boston alone and led to the disgracement of Cardinal Bernard Law, the Archbishop of Boston, who was later banished to Rome. The group's efforts earned them a well-deserved Pulitzer Prize in 2003 and since resulted in the revelation of multiple acts of clergy abuse in cities in the US and around the world – a fact that is hammered home in the rolling coda list at the film's conclusion. Spotlight is one of the finest films this year and is certain to be well-represented at next years Academy Awards. The movie opened on a limited release on November 6.
(6) The Storm Makers (66 minutes) (Director Guillaume Suon's documentary looks at human trafficking in Cambodia through the eyes of an ex-slave and was not screened at the festival.)
(7) The True Cost (**1/2 out of 4 - 92 minutes) Director Andrew Morgan, whose narration leaves a lot to be desired, covers the “fast fashion” industry discussing the clothes, the people who make them and the impact it is having on the world. Damning statistics include the fact that the fashion industry is the second most polluting industry in the world (oil is #1); clothes consumption has skyrocketed to 500% over the last two decades; and America is currently producing only 3% of its own clothing (compared to 95% in 1960) with the other 97% being outsourced to developing countries. Bangladesh is offered as an example of the deplorable conditions the ridiculously low paid workers undergo in the sweatshops. Coverage includes the tragedy there in 2013 where a building, previously declared unsafe, collapsed resulting in over 1000 workers killed. The doom and gloom continues as Morgan proceeds to illustrate the devastation of the environment where the cotton demand has added an over abundance of pesticides and the resultant river pollution has led to a significant rise in cancer and birth defects. Landfills are shown in Haiti filled with mountains of discarded non-biodegradable used clothing. Interspersed are the obvious advertising YouTube clips of attractive young females as if to proclaim how cool it is possess the cheap wares purchased at your nearest Target, H and M, Forever 21, etc. The director cuts back and forth and back again as he incessantly hammers home points many of which are not revelations and could have been made easily in less than 20 minutes. Also, I would have liked a discussion of how retailers might send their markups to improve manufacturing conditions instead of being earmarked to their pockets or overall, offer some kind of hope for the rest of the planet. In the end, this film about clothes just might have you immediately disrobe and head for the nearest nudist colony.
opens the festival