And the annual Guggenheim Symposium honored one of cinema's most iconic filmmaker: the great Werner Herzog. The discussion, led admirably by director Ramin Bahrani (“Chop Shop”), lasted over 90 minutes, which, thankfully, extended past its allotted time as the affable director shared entertaining anecdotes and experiences spanning his nearly 65 years of distinguished fiction and nonfiction movie-making. At one point, the prolific filmmaker mentioned that he was currently completing three films that were already “in the can”. Sprinkled throughout the interview were several clips from his abundant catalog. The evening concluded with a screening of his excellent “Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World” which is due to be released theatrically in August.
(1-Tie) Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You (**** out of 4 - 91 minutes)
(1-Tie) How To Build A Time Machine (**** out of 4 - 82 minutes)
(2) Following Seas (*** 1/2 out of 4 – 94 minutes)
(3) Obit (*** 1/2 out of 4 – 93 minutes)
Who would have thought that a documentary about obituaries would be interesting, or, for that matter, fun. However, director Vanessa Gould accomplishes both in spades. Gould became interested in the subject when she was contacted by a member of the NY Times obit staff for information on the late French sculptor Eric Joisel, her friend and the subject of her 2008 Peabody Award winning documentary Between the Folds. Making a doc involves hard work and a lot of luck. Once filming begins, a film's success or failure often depends on being in the right place at the right time. Here, success was achieved at the time director Vanessa Gould was given full access to the New York Times obituary staff writers which consists of obit editor William McDonald as well as past and present writers Bruce Weber, Margalit Fox, William Grimes, Douglas Martin and Paul Vitello. It turns out there are only a few editorial obit writers in the world. Of course the demise of celebrities, politicians, or anyone who made news in their life would be worthy candidates. However, as McDonald pointed out, “We look for people who changed the way we live.” And about 70 percent of obituaries cover the lives of folks no one has ever heard of. The director offers many examples including the inventor of the Slinky, the pilot of the Enola Gay, an exotic dancer with ties to Jack Ruby and the last surviving plaintiff from Brown v Board of Education. Besides including interviews and archival material, most of the film covers the anatomy of a single day. When Goald arrives for filming, Bruce is in the process of constructing an obit for William P. Wilson. His subsequent research, done over the course of several hours reveals that he was the first television consultant whose decision in 1960 to apply makeup to a youthful John F. Kennedy before his milestone debate with Richard Nixon could have possibly led to JFK's election. Also, time is given to ad exec Dick Rich who was responsible for several landmark commercials in the 60s including Alka-Seltzer and Benson & Hedges. But it is the time the filmmaker spends with Jeff Roth, the quirky eccentric sole caretaker of “the morgue” (which consists of thousands of file drawers containing old photographs, weathered clippings, and advance obits) that elicits the most joy. The overseer of the newspaper's history was so memorable that the audience clapped when his visage appeared over the closing credits. In the end, you'll realize that Obit is more about the celebration of life than the morbidity of its subject matter.
(4) Tower (*** 1/2 out of 4 – 96 minutes)
(5) Zero Days (*** 1/2 out of 4 – 114 minutes)
The latest from prolific Academy Award winner Alex Gibney is perhaps one of his most chilling. Computer hacking, as with mass murder (see above), is becoming an almost daily frightening reality of our modern times. However, this activity is not confined to individuals or groups of individuals intent on stealing information as governments are using the capability to conduct cyberwarfare. After a brief history, Gibney concentrates on the 2008 joint action of the U.S. and Israel (although neither will confirm it) to introduce a computer malware into the Iranian nuclear facility computers at Natanz intent on destroying centrifuges in order to shut down their nuclear capability and growth. What follows was its initial discovery of the “worm” (self-replicating malware meant to spread from computer to computer) which was named “Stuxnet” based on 2 syllables uncovered in the code. How it was uncovered by antivirus experts Eric Chien and Liam O’Murchu of the cyber-security company Symantec Research Labs, is one of the more fascinating aspects of the doc. The unfortunate consequence was that the initial damage was merely temporary as Iran's nuclear program came back stronger than ever. Worse yet, the worm opened a Pandora's Box by ultimately spreading around the globe. After we are presented with a long series of on-camera denials of the covert operation from a multitude of government officials (at one point Gibney frustratingly proclaims “This is really beginning to piss me off!”), the director begins presenting testimony from a number of anonymous whistle-blowers. To protect their identity he combines their information into a script and utilizes an actress (Joanne Tucker) to read it showing her onscreen by using an eerie digital filter effect. What clearly comes into horrifying focus is that cyberwarfare is now readily available to all the powers. Each has the capability of controlling nuclear power plants, disabling power grids, and creating total chaos to such a degree that the end result would make the damage done by an atom bomb seem like a pipe bomb in comparison. Gibney deploys effective graphics throughout to illustrate the technicalities involved as well as employing a terrific soundtrack. Zero days (the term refers to the time between a computer's vulnerability is discovered and the first cyber attack) is part investigative journalism, part spy thriller and part science fiction, and will have you hoping that its implications will be addressed by the candidates in the upcoming election instead of our government's continued secrecy and silence. The film, which had its North American premiere at AFI Docs, opened in limited released on July 8.
The Islands And The Whales-The East Coast premiere about the people from the North Sea's remote Faroe Islands and how their centuries-old subsistence for food from native birds and whales is being threaten by changes in their environment, mercury in the whales and anti-whaling activists.