Saturday February 23, 2019


- The Academy finally got it right.  After years of mediocre one-person hosts, they settled on the perfect solution:  no host.  Well, at first they might have gotten it right after naming comedian 
Kevin Hart.  But in this era of PC mania, someone
drudged up Hart's long buried homophobic tweets, and, voila, Hart was unceremoniously ousted.  The result:  the first time in 30 years that no one celebrity will attempt to hold it all together, as a series of folks will now try to keep the usually cumbersome telecast merrily drudging along.  And instead of a host opening the show, Queen will perform with Adam Lambert fronting the band.  It should be interesting to see how it all ultimately unfolds.  My feeling is that it will only make us continue to yearn for the golden years when past superlative hosts such as Bob Hope, Johnny Carson, and Billy Crystal were mainstays and who consistently brought the necessary levity to the annual Hollywood narcissistic ceremony. 

- Besides the hosting fiasco, this year's Oscars has been fraught with other controversies:.  For example, in order to tighten the proceedings and to keep it under three hours (which hasn't been done since the '70s), the organizers made a boneheaded decision to eliminate four of the 24 categories from the live broadcast:  cinematography, film editing, makeup and hair styling, and live action shorts.  Those were to be announced during commercial breaks.  Academy A-listers promptly put an end to that pronouncement.  Also, another earlier decision to include a new category, Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film prompted critics to proclaim that it, "smacks of desperation", that it represents, "shameless pandering" and that it was "a preemptive move  to avoid controversy".   This idea was eventually scrapped - for now.  Also, it was initially announced that only two nominated songs would be performed live.  The resulting outrage reversed that decision - with The Academy imposing a 90 second limit for each performance.  Add to that the various controversies involving the content of a couple of the Best Picture biopics, as well as the sexual allegations concerning director Bryan Singer (Bohemian Rhapsody).  More on these below.

- Viewership numbers are alarmingly down for the telecast.   Since 1999, audience ratings are down over 50% while last year they were down another 19%.  Expect continued drop in numbers if and when the Hollywood snowflakes continue to alienate half of their audience who only want to be entertained without being bombarded with their political banter and proselytizing.

- Two films lead the Oscar race with 10 nominations each:  the foreign film, Roma and the quirky period costume drama The Favourite.  My prediction is that, although each will garner at least one Oscar, I don't feel that either will dominate.   

- Interesting coincidence:  Lady Ga Ga claims she took her name from the song "Radio Ga Ga" from her favorite band, Queen.  Both she and Bohemian Rhapsody are up for Oscars.  Although her composition "Shallow" is a virtual lock for Best Song, I don't believe she has any chance for Best Actress.  However, Rami Malek has an excellent chance to walk away with the statuette for his spot-on portrayal of Queen front-man Freddie Mercury (see my predictions below).  

- Christian Bale and Amy Adams have appeared together in three films and each has resulted in their nominations.  In addition to ViceThe Fighter (2010) and American Hustle (2013).  He won for The Fighter and has an excellent chance for Vice while Adams is an extreme long shot.

- Mahershala Ali is an odds-on favorite for Green Book.  If he wins he would be the quickest to win the same award twice since Tom Hanks who won for Forrest Gump (1993) and Philadelphia (1994).  Ali won two years ago for Moonlight.

- Will this finally be the year Glenn Close wins?  The actress now has the dubious distinction of most actress nominations without a win.  Seven should be the charm as she is odds-on to win Best Actress.

- Four of the five Best Actor and Supporting Actors play real-life people while both fictional portrayals are from A Star Is Born.

- Netflix is becoming a major player. There was a furor last year when their film Mudbound, which did receive 4 noms, failed to land a Best Picture nomination.  However, Netflix did receive an overall total of 8 (no wins).  However, this year, their Roma is a virtual lock for Best Foreign Language Film and one of the front-runners for Best Picture, as well as a solid chance in other major categories.  

- First-time actor Yalitza Aparicio (Roma) joins three other previously nominated rookie actresses:  Quvenzhane Wallis (Beast of the Southern Wild, 2013), Gabourey Sidibe (Precious, 2009) and Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit, 2010).

- Will the BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) awards be a harbinger again this year of the four acting awards?  Last year, all four of the BAFTA acting winners won Oscars.  Interestingly, all four BAFTA winners this year represented lesbian, gay or bisexual characters.  However, that streak will probably be broken if Glenn Close wins for The Wife.

- Black Panther is the first superhero movie to finally break into the Best Picture category after the snub of the great The Dark Knight (2008) prompted The Academy to increase the BP nominations from five to as many as ten.

- Once again, I'll be rooting big-time for perennial Oscar loser composer Diane Warren.  However, her 10th nomination for "I'll Fight" from the documentary RBG is beyond a long shot, as it is a virtual lock that Lady Ga Ga will be mounting The Dolby Theater stage after the envelope is opened.

 - If the excellent Pixar animated film Incredibles 2 wins, it will fulfill a rarity in that animated sequels rarely win.  The last sequel to win was Toy Story 3 in 2010, which was 11 years after Toy Story 2.  The current nominee was made 14 years after the original.

- A disturbing trend had reared its ugly head once again:  Although A Star Is Born received a commendable eight nominations, including Best Picture and three acting noms, Bradley Cooper was conspicuously missing from the Best Director list.  Also, add Peter Farrelly (Green Book) who was also ignored.  (Point of fact:  four of the last six winning directors did not pair with the Best Picture.)  I've always felt this snub was unconscionable as the driving force behind any successful film is the director .  Instead, they were replaced by two foreign directors:  Alfonso Cuarón (Roma) and Pawel Pawlikowski (Cold War).  This is the first time two foreign black-and-white foreign films had their directors nominated.  By the way, the last Best Picture winner without a Best Director nom (Ben Affleck) was Argo (2012).  

- Another notable snub is the universally acclaimed and profitable documentary Won't You Be My Neighbor.  Mr. Rogers is rolling around in his grave for this glaring omission.  Another head scratcher for a category that has had its share of them over the years.

-Christian Bale shares the same birthday (but not politics) as Dick Cheney, whom he portrays in Vice.  When accepting his Golden Globe, he thanked Satan for, ". . . giving me the inspiration on how to play this role."

My prediction record last year:  10 out of 13 correct - missing out on  Best Documentary, Best Cinematography (although I was thrilled that the great Roger Deakins FINALLY won) and Best Original Screenplay (although I did pick the winning Jordan Peele for Get Out as an upset possibility).

Now, the envelope, please . . . 


What will win:  Green Book
Upset Possibility:  Roma
Extreme Upset Possibility:  A Star Is Born
What should winGreen Book
Overall, I considered this a mediocre year for films.  In fact, I had a difficult time ranking the nominees below from first to eighth.  Not one would I give a solid four star (out of five) rating.  That being said, Green Book was overall the most satisfying - even though much has been written about the historical inaccuracies and the other scandals that have surfaced.  There has been much press about the likelihood Roma will win.  Cuarón's  black-and-white personal homage to his childhood achieved technical and artistic perfection from the cinematography to the long intricate tracking shots to the incredible acting performances.  However, the Netflix entry, although garnering almost universal critical acclaim, has failed to win appeal in the popular vote.  Although it is a cinch to win the Best Foreign Language Oscar and Cuarón likely for Best Director, I don't feel the Academy will honor it with it's ultimate award.  Although, there has been buzz about the umpteenth remake of the A Star Is Born winning, I think otherwise.  The film will be honored with Best Original Song (a virtual lock) but sequels have had a long uphill battle being named Best Picture.  Fact-checkers have created controversies swirling around two other biopics on the list.  Vice's possible historical inaccuracies have been raised as well as Spike Lee's BlackKlansman.   Finally, much has been made of the sexual misconduct allegations involving Bryan Singer who began directing Bohemian Rhapsody but was later replaced with Eddie The Eagle director Dexter Fletcher.  That, plus the fact that Queen's Freddie Mercury's sexuality was almost totally downplayed in the script might have ultimately doomed the film's chances.  I don't feel the historical costume drama/satire The Favourite, although my second favorite film, will ultimately appeal to the majority of the voters.  And the fact that Black Panther is the first superhero film to be nominated will be enough of an acknowledgment to the Academy members.

FOR THE RECORD:  here are the nine nominated films I rated from best to least: 
(1)   Green Book
(2)   The Favourite
(3)   Vice
(4)   Bohemian Rhapsody
(5)   A Star Is Born
(6)   Black Panther
(7)   Roma
(8)   BlackKlansman  

Who will win:  Alfonso Cuarón (Roma)
Upset possibility:  Yorgos Mavropsaridis (The Favorite)
Who should winAlfonso Cuarón
Despite the fact that watching Roma was akin to watching paint dry, as stated above, the brilliant directorial achievements exhibited by Cuarón will almost certainly result in his winning the Oscar.  Cuarón nearly did it all as he directed, wrote, and filmed the Netflix entry .  Although there is much to be admired in Yorgos' dazzling direction of The Favorite, it doesn't quite match the consummated effort by Alfonso.

Who will win:  Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody)
Upset possibility:  Christian Bale (Vice)
Who should win:  Rami Malek
Not only did Malek totally embody the legendary Queen front man, his personna made you forget that you weren't actually watching the late singer.  That being said, one cannot overlook the impersonation Christian Bale gives to ex-Vice President Dick Cheney.  However, it is Malek who is the sole driving engine and energy that makes Bohemian Rhapsody tick.  Also, eleven of the last sixteen winners in this category were in biopics.

Who will win:  Glenn Close (The Wife)
Upset possibility:  Olivia Coleman (The Favourite)
Who should win:  Glenn Close
Hollywood loves to recognize one of their own who have lost on multiple occasions.  Close fits this bill perfectly.  Not only that, but her standout performance actually warrants the ultimate accolade.  Longtime English actress Olivia Coleman's witty performance as Queen Anne was notable and deserving but it will be surprising if she is, ahem, "victorious".

Who will win:  Mahershala Ali (Green Book)
Upset possibility:  Sam Elliott (A Star Is Born)
Who should win:  Mahershala Ali
Even though he won two years ago for Moonlight, this film serves to emphasize the range Ali exhibits in a character that dominates most of Green Book and is so vital to the film.  However, one cannot ignore the fact that beloved long-time Hollywood thespian Sam Elliott could sneak in as a voter favorite in this his first nomination.  

Who will win:  Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk)
Extreme Upset possibility:  Rachel Weisz (The Favorite)
Who should win:  Regina King
The first ever Oscar nominee should win as the mother whose daughter tries desperately to have her boyfriend freed from jail for a crime he didn't commit.  Unlike the onscreen screen time afforded Ali in the supporting role, her win will be based solely on one unforgettable and touchingly powerful scene that defines the supporting Oscar. Although Weisz was the supporting standout in The Favorite, her nomination along with co-star Emma Stone could cancel each other out.  However, it is King's acting that is most memorable.

What will winRoma (Mexico)
Upset possibility:  Cold War (Poland)
What should winRoma
Personal favorite:  Shoplifters (Japan)
Almost a slamdunk, Roma should easily win.  As I previously pointed out, I believe the voters will bestow the film with this award over the Best Picture honor.  However, in a battle of the black-and-whites, Cold War is looming as a possible upset.  However, my personal pick would be the Canne Palme d'Or winner, Hirokazu Kore-eda's compelling tale of a family of misfits.

Who will win Spider-man:  Into The Spider-verse
Upset possibility:  Incredibles 2
Who should win:  Spider-man:  Into The Spider-verse
In any other year, the Pixar film would probably win going away.  However,  Spider-man:  Into The Spider-verse is the odds-on favorite.  Great story-telling combined with distinctive animation will propel the almost universally beloved film in receiving an Oscar.  That plus the fact that the Pixar sequel, although excellent, is not nearly as good as the original.

What will winRBG
Upset possibility:  Hale County This Morning, This Evening
What should win:   RBG
The excellent doc on Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg will get an extra push from the liberal voting members and while considering her recent health challenges.  The somewhat experimental Hale County This Morning, This Evening has garnered excellent reviews and a ton of awards including a Special Sundance Jury award and Best Documentary Award at the prestigious Full Frame Documentary Film Festival.  However, the film left me ambivalent and bored when I screened it at last year's AFI Documentary Film Festival.    

What will win:  End Game
Upset possibility:  Period. End of Sentence
What should win:   End Game
None of the entries left me so emotionally and mentally drained as did the Netflix entry End Game. Mortality is never an easy subject to tackle; however, filmmakers Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman do a superb job in deftly handling the difficult subject.  The other Netflix entry Period. End of Sentence, about the effort of overcoming the stigma of menstruation led by a group of women outside of Delhi, India, could upset.

Who will winAlfonso Cuarón (Roma)
Extreme upset possibility:  Lucasz Zal (Cold War)
Who should win: Alfonso Cuarón
Almost a no-brainer as Roma is one of the most beautiful films, black-and-white or color, that I've ever seen on screen.  He would also be the first nominated director to shoot his own film.  If Alfonso loses, it will be the shock of the Oscars.

Who will win:  Charlie Wachtel,  David Rabinowitz and Kevin Willmott, & Spike Lee (BlackKlansman)
Upset possibility:  Nicole Holofcener & Jeff Whitty (Can You Ever Forgive Me?)
Who should win:   Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz and Kevin Willmott & Spike Lee
Once again, the liberal leaning voters will want to honor Spike Lee's film based on the true events tale of police infiltration into the KKK.  This would be the perfect spot to acknowledge the film.  However, Can You Ever Forgive Me? could upset after winning the Writer's Guild Award.

Who will win:  Deborah Davis & Tony McNamara (The Favourite)
Upset possibility:  Nick Vallelonga, Brian a, Peter Farrelly (Green Book)
Extreme upset possibility:  Paul Schrader (First Reformed)
Who should win:  Deborah Davis & Tony McNamara
Probably the toughest category to predict.  A Best Picture nod should be followed with the Best Screenplay.  However, I'm going out on a limb and picking the superlative script by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara whose humorous outrageous dialogue drives the craziness in The Favourite.  Not to be overlooked as an extreme long shot is Hollywood's esteemed writer/director Paul Schrader, who just might slip in under the radar.

Who will win:  Hank Corwin (Vice)
Upset possibility:  John Ottman  (Bohemian Rhapsody)
Who should win:  Hank Corwin
One of the many joys of Vice is the stylized spirited energy created by the precise editing technique utilized by Hank Corwin.   No other film on the list matches but I will admit Bohemian Rhapsody came the closest.

Who will win:  "Shallow" Music and Lyric by Lady Gaga, Mark Ronson, Anthony Rossomando and Andrew Wyatt (A Star Is Born)
Upset possibility:  None
Who should win:  "Shallow" 
The song that kick-started the romance in A Star Is Born  is sure to win the big O.  When Ga Ga and Cooper recreate the song during Sunday's telecast, those who have not seen the film will understand its musicality and power.

Who will win:  Sandy Powell (The Favourite)
Upset possibility:  Ruth Carter (Black Panther)
Who should win:  Sandy Powell
Almost a tossup.  However, one of the most impressive costume designs was dazzlingly accomplished by Powell bringing the Victorian characters to life.  However, one cannot ignore the inventive costuming done by Ruth Carter.  And the Academy might want to bestow at least one Oscar to the extremely popular superhero movie when all is said and done.

Who will win:  Greg Cannom, Kate Biscoe and Patricia Dehaney (Vice)
Upset possibility:  (None)
Who should win:  Greg Cannom, Kate Biscoe and Patricia Dehaney
Another lock.  Anyone who has seen Christian Bale without makeup and then saw Vice will totally understand this pick.  Enough said.


2018 Double Exposure (Investigative Film Festival)

2018 Double Exposure - Investigative Film Festival

(The following coverage of the 2018 Double Exposure/Investigative Film Festival appears online at Film Festival Today)

The Double Exposure/Investigative Film Festival continues to grow.  What began in 2015 as a mere three day event screening just seven films has now blossomed into five days with fifteen presentations, including a shorts program for the first time.  (Last year the festival covered 11 films over four days.)

This fourth annual  Double Exposure/Investigative Film Festival continues downtown in the Nation's Capital as a project of the nonprofit investigation news organization 100Reporters.  Adroit founder and Co-director Jean Schlomo (also Executive Editor of 100Reporters) and Co-director Sky Sitney are back once again at the helm of one of the most unique and important cinematic events in the country offering not only cutting edge probing cinema but is also chock full of companion symposiums (ten over three days) chaired by prominent figures in film and journalism.  Also included were dialogues, master classes as well as seven individual workshop. Finally, a DX Access was offered over two days.  As stated in the program guide, DX Access "connects registered attendees to representatives of the most respected and innovation organizations and individuals in film and journalism, and provides unparalleled face time with funders, producers, festival programmers, distributors, media outlets, reporters, writers and directors".  

As last year, Opening Night was held at The National Portrait Gallery with all remaining films screened at The Naval Heritage Center.  Also, all symposiums were located once again at the National Union Building, with The Loft serving as the site of the workshops-making the entire festival footprint easily accessible for patrons wishing to attend any or all of these events.

Notable investigative films included the Opening Night film by Academy Award-winning director Charles Ferguson who presented Part One of "Watergate" (which premiered in its six-hour entirety on The History Channel November 2-4 - see my honorable mention below).  A fascinating post-screening panel featured Watergate Assistant Special prosecutors Richard Ben-Veniste, George Frampton and Jill Wine-Banks.  Also screened was this year's Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize for World Documentary, "Of Fathers And Sons" as well as award-winning director Alexis Bloom's latest and the Closing Night film "Divide and Conquer:  The Story of Roger Ailes" (see my top 3 below).  In addition there was the devastating eye-opening Centerpiece Film, "Ghost Fleet" (see my honorable mentions below).  Finally, my personal  festival favorite, Alex Winter's riveting "The Panama Papers" which documents the biggest global corruption scandal in history (see my review below).  

Anyone who attended this fourth edition I am certain would agree that their time was more than well-spent; and bravo to Directors Schlomo and Sitney as they continue to present a successful informative melding of print and film investigative journalism that has come more and more into direct focus in today's increasingly complicated world.    


(1)  The Panama Papers (**** out of 4 - 100 minutes)  
The inaugural film at the first Double Exposure fest in 2015 was Spotlight (which would win the Best Picture Academy Award four months later).  This narrative recounted the incredible investigation a group of journalists at the Boston Globe undertook and together uncovered years of sexual abuse by the Catholic Church.  That film came to mind as I watched Alex Winter's delineation of how 376 (!) international journalists from 107 media organizations in 80 countries stealthily worked to expose, what would become, the largest corruption scandal the world has ever seen.  When an anonymous whistle-blower contacted Bastian Obermayer, an investigative reporter for the German newspaper Suddeutsch Zeitung, with leaked documents (eventually totaling over 11 million) from Mossack Fonseca, a Panamanian ex-law firm with clients from 200 countries, an investigation was set in motion that would expose offshore banking practices and tax evasion. Revealed were activities that were no longer confined to profit-hiding drug lords, but would now include world leaders and public figures.  The film points out that these fraudulent practices has cost the U.S. over $2 billion, and, as a result, contributed to the ever widening income inequity between the classes.  The fact that, since 2015, the richest one per cent of the world's population has more money then remaining 99% combined, serves to really drive home this disparity.  When the findings and analysis were published on April 3, 2016, the end-result, on the plus side, was the granting of a Pulitzer Prize.  However, a negative indirect consequence was the murder of a long-time Malta journalist blogger in 2017 who had continually voiced criticism of the Malta leader.  Actor-turned-director Winter meticulously and effectively explains the inner-workings of the complex investigation by providing on-screen texts and graphics intermingled with interviews with whistle-blowers and key investigators.  He also includes juicy revelatory gotcha moments involving the Icelandic prime minister and the UK's David Cameron as they are confronted with damaging disclosures.  Extremely provocative but equally disturbing, The Panama Papers is the epitome of what this festival represents:  celebrating and describing journalistic investigation and its affect on the global community.  The documentary premiered on the Epix cable channel on November 26 and will have a limited theatrical release in 2019.   

(l to r) Moderator Wendy Benjaminson, the managing editor 
of the Washington Bureau for McClatchy; director Alex 
Winter; Kevin Hall (McClatchey); Tim Johnson (McClatchey); 
Emilia Diaz-Struck from International Consortium of 
Investigative Journalists (ICIJ); RitaVasquez, editor-in-chief 
of the newspaper La Prensa; Scott Bronstein, senior producer
 and writer for CNN's investigating unit

(2)  A Woman Captured  (**** out of 4 - 89 minutes)  

When the film opens we see a peaceful serene figure of, what initially appears to be an
elderly woman sleeping on a couch.  For several minutes the camera quietly and silently peers onto her visage as she slowly awakens.  We quickly come to learn that this is a real-life horror story and the circumstances surrounding this lady are anything but tranquil.  This 52-year-old Hungarian woman, who clearly looks decades older, has been held captive by a middle-class Budapest family as a house slave for over 10 years - working 20 hours a day with no pay - except for cigarettes.  And we see why her face is ravaged with age.  She is treated as an animal.  Her food is comprised of table scraps.  She sleeps without a bed.  She is emotionally abused.  Her ID has been confiscated and she is told not to leave the house without permission.  She does hold a part-time factory job but must turn over all of her wages to her "owner".  We learn that this contemporary slave has children, the youngest of which was driven away from the house as a teenager years earlier.  First-time filmmaker Bernadett Tuza-Ritter agreed to pay $370 to Eta, the matriarch, for a three-month period to film Marish and slowly gains the absolute trust of her subject.  Even though the director notified the police against Marish's wishes, their ambivalence was both disgraceful and disheartening, and leads to an escape plan.  The director makes a decision to film her subject early on in extreme closeup that makes for an extremely claustrophobic milieu that effectively reflects her dire circumstances.  More importantly, this work brings to light a disturbing situation that, as the closing credits point out, astonishingly exists today affecting millions of people across Europe and even the U.S. where over 400,000 are subject to the same conditions powerfully illustrated in A Woman Captured.  Tuza-Ritter's film is currently traveling the festival circuit but it is hoped its availability will be seen worldwide in the future as it has drawn interest from several international news organizations including the BBC and CNN.

(3)  Divide and Conquer:  The Story of Roger Ailes  (**** out of 4 - 107 minutes) 

The festival's closing night film is a stunning summation of the life of one of the most notable casualties of the #metoo movement.  The father of Fox News was forced to resign amid a myriad of sexual harassment accusations a year prior to his death in 2017 at the age of seventy-seven.  However, director Alexis Bloom (HBO's 2017 Bright Lights:  Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds) expounds on this aspect of Ailes' life to present a fascinating portrait of a man obsessed with power and how that obsession materialized beginning with his youth growing up in the factory town of Warren, Ohio.  Born a hemophiliac, and living that fear throughout his existence (which, ironically, was the cause of his death), Ailes' early life included living in Putnum County, N.Y. where he owned a local newspaper and entered into local politics.  This is when his thirst for power began.  He moved on as a production assistant in the 1960s on the extremely popular "Mike Douglas Show".  This ultimately led to his association with Richard Nixon after his disastrous TV debate with JFK (he noted that, "I don't believe anyone will ever be elected to a major office again without the skillful use of television") and he helped to successfully transform Nixon's awkward public persona.   Ailes Communication was founded in 1969 which served as a consultant firm for Republican hopefuls.  That led to his becoming an adviser to Ronald Reagan followed by George H.W. Bush - even making a difference for Mitch McConnell during his inaugural Kentucky senatorial race.  Roger's real foray into television began in 1994 with his talking heads network "America's Talking" - even appearing as a charming interviewee.  When Bill Gates bought it in 1996 and turned it into MSMBC, revenge drove Ailes to corroborate with Rupert Murdock into creating the conservative Fox Network.  Unmatched success was followed by sexual misconduct allegations beginning with Fox news host Gretchen Carlson that ultimately led to the mogul's downfall and prevented him from relishing in Trump's glory in person at the Republican Convention.  However, this sparse summation does not even begin to explore the personality that Bloom elicits.  An example:  his paranoia let to him installing a steel door and bullet-proof glass protecting his office.  The director intermingles her piece with fascinating interviews of friends and colleagues, as well as gut-wrenching testimony from Ailes' victims - all of which vividly paints the rise and fall of power that mirrors Charles Foster Kane, the lead character in Olsen Wells' Citizen Kane.  The A&E produced film opened for a limited theatrical run on December 7.

Director Alexis Bloom


Ghost Fleet  (**** out of 4 - 88 minutes)
Another terrifying exposé on yet another form of modern-day slavery (see A Woman Captured above).  This time the harrowing subject involves the kidnapping of Indonesian men to serve on fishing boats - some enslaved for as much as 20 years without seeing land and who are subject to unconscionable psychological and physical abuse.  First-time directors Shannon Service and Jeffrey Waldron concentrate mainly on the efforts of Patim Tungpuchayakul, a member of the LPN, the Labour Right Promotion Network - an activist group dedicated to finding and freeing these unfortunate lost souls, and, astonishingly, who have helped rescue over 4,000 men.  A truly unforgettable investigative piece that is guaranteed to haunt long after the lights come up.  No distribution deal has yet to be finalized as of this writing.  

Watergate  (**** out of 4 - 130 minutes)
Director Charles Ferguson, director of the Best Documentary Feature Academy Award  Inside Job (2011), opened the festival with Part I of his 261 minute definitive doc on the infamous political scandal.  What began as a "third-rate burglary" in 1972 that turned into one of the biggest conspiracies and constitutional crises in our nation's history is given such a comprehensive yet entertaining treatment that, like a train wreck, it is hard to look away.  Ferguson, armed with the actual Nixon tapes surreptitiously recording all of the Oval Office intrigue, has actors read the actual transcript word-for-word to help clarify the cover-up by the disgraced President and his henchmen.  Much of the dialogue is eye-opening - even if you know the eventual outcome.  The director includes fascinating archival footage intermingled with interviews from journalists (yes, including Bob Woodward & Carl Bernstein ), surviving former representatives, former special prosecuting lawyers as well as former members of the Nixon Administration.  Watergate is superbly edited and includes a fine soundtrack by Ben Holiday.  The end result is a well-traveled topic that is well worth revisiting.  The documentary premiered in two parts on The History Channel on November 2 and 4.  


Angels Are Made Of Light  (*** out of 4 - 117 minutes)
A unique look at war-torn Afghanistan through the eyes of students and teachers at an old neighborhood in Kabul.  Director James Longley spent three years showing the affects the conflict has made on these folks as they struggle to rebuild from past conflicts and devastation.  There is no distribution information as of this writing.

False Confessions  (***1/2 out of 4 - 91 minutes)
Yet another disturbing investigation on how trained police interrogators are capable of obtaining false confessions from innocent people.  Director Katrine Philp concentrates on four of defense attorney Jane Fisher-Byrialsen's cases which illustrates the psychological techniques they used on unsuspecting victims and the dire consequences that result. There is no distribution information as of this writing.

Of Fathers And Sons  (***1/2 out of 4 - 99 minutes)
Syrian director Talal Derki won this year's Sundance World Documentary Grand Jury Prize (and also won the prize in 2014 with his Return To Homs) with this compelling doc.  Returning to his homeland, he gained a two-year unprecedented access to a radical Islamic family while focusing mainly on the children as they try to balance their dream of continuing their education or following a path to Jihad.  A limited theatrical distribution began on November 16.

People's Republic Of Desire  (**1/2 out of 4 - 95 minutes)
An Internet phenomenon is currently streaming in China where folks compete while displaying their "talents" in front of a webcam and who can earn as much as $60,000 a month.  Think "American Idol" on steroids.  Director Hao Wu has created a dazzling dizzying visual smorgasbord while focusing on two participants, a young female vocalist and a male comedian.  Their goal is to collect real-time donations from fans from the yy.com website, hoping to win the most votes at an end-of-year competition.  A startling, yet depressing view into another example of how the real world has been transformed into an impersonal virtual reality.  A distribution deal has yet to be finalized as of this writing.

Roll Red Roll  (*** out of 4 - 80 minutes)
The #metoo movement gets another look-see, this time by director Nancy Schwartzman whose first feature film explores a sensational teen-age sexual assault case in small-town Steubenville, Ohio perpetrated  by members of a local high school football team.  Not only the accused but also the bystanders get equal scrutiny in this disturbing tale that is, unfortunately, occurring with too often regularity.  A theatrical release is in the works followed by an eventual airing on PBS.

Stolen Daughters:  Kidnapped By Boko Haram   (***1/2 out of 4 - 75 minutes)
Directors Karen Edwards and Gemma Atwal gained personal access to eighty-two of the girls who were among the 276 Nigerian students kidnapped from a school in Chibok, Northern Nigeria in 2014 by Islamic militants.  Released in 2017, the girls have been residing and protected in a safe house in the capital of Abuja.  Because many of the survivors fear retribution, their personal stories are told through diaries.  Much of the film focuses on their mental psychological challenges adjusting to freedom and what the Nigerian government is doing to aid their return to society.  The HBO-produced documentary premiered on their network on October 22.

The Feeling of Being Watched  (*** out of 4 - 87 minutes)
"Operation Vulgar Betrayal" was the FBI code name for one of the largest pre-9/11 counter-terrorism investigations ever conducted.  The target:  a small Muslim community of about 200 outside of Chicago in Bridgeview, Illinois.  Despite accumulating over 30,000 surveillance documents, the end result was zero convictions and/or ties to Islamic terrorism, despite years of harassment and intimidation.  Director and journalist Assia Boundaoui grew up in Bridgeview and knows first-hand the effects this activity has had on her community and sets about to demand answers from the Department Of Justice.  A distribution deal has yet to be finalized as of this writing.

The Truth About Killer Robots  (*** out of 4 - 117 minutes)
Artificial Intelligence has leaped from the pages of science fiction and into our everyday life in so many ways that one has to wonder what the end-game is for our species.  Director Maxim Pozdorovkin analyses this and other possibilities in three sections of his film entitled "Manufacturing", "Service Sector" and "Final Displacement".  The HBO-produced documentary premieres on that network on November 26.

The Unafraid  (*** out of 4 - 87 minutes)
Directors Heather Courtney and Anayansi Prado followed three Georgian DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) students over the course of four years investigating their plight in dealing with current laws that prevent them from attending state colleges and from receiving in-state tuition at any other public college.  No distribution deal has yet to be finalized at of this writing.

Unprotected (*** out of 4 - 45 minutes)
A disturbing look at More Than Me, an American charity praised for rescuing young Liberian girls from sexual exploitation.  Despite the charity winning a $1 million contest on NBC and its founder being named TIME's Person of the Year, vulnerable children were actually being raped by one of the charity's leaders.  No distribution deal has yet to be finalized as of this writing.


 Co-creator and Director Diana Schlmo opens the festival

 Co-creator and director Sky Sitney addresses the opening 
night audience

Opening night "Watergate" post-film discussion 
(l to r):  Mark Mazzetti, New York Times investigative
correspondent; Watergate Assistant Special Prosecutors
George Frampton, Richard Ben-Veniste and Jill
Wine-Banks; Director Charles Ferguson


("Ghost Fleet" - l to r) Moderator and Executive 
Director of the Global Investivative Journalism 
Network, David Kaplan; Producer Jon Bowermaster;
Director Shannon Service

("Angels Are Made Of Light" - l to r)
Festival co-creator and director Sky Sitney;
Director James Longley

("False Confessions" - l to r) Moderator 
Marcia Davis, news editor of The Marshall
Project; Director Jane Fisher-Byrialsen

("Of Fathers and Sons" - l to r)
Festival co-creator and director Jean Schmo;
Mohmmad Al Abdallah, Executive Director
at Syria Justice and Accountability Centre

("People's Republic Of Desire" - l to r)
Director Hao Wu; Moderator Mai Fong, who was the
Chinese correspondent for The Wall Street Journal

("Roll Red Roll" - l to r)
Moderator Hanna Rosin, co-host of the NPR podcast
"Invisibilia"; Director Nancy Schwartzman; film
subjects Alexandria Goddard and Rachel Dissell

("Stolen Daughters:  Kidnapped by Boko Haram" - 
l to r) Moderator best-selling author and Middle East 
analyst Laura Blumenfeld; Director Karen Edwards;
Producer Sasha Achilli

("The Feeling Of Being Watched" - l to r)
Moderator Ron Nixon, the homeland security 
correspondent for The New York Times; Director
Assia Boundaoui; Producer Jessica Devaney

("The Truth About Killer Robots" - l to r)
Director Maxim Pozdorovkin; Matt Greenblatt, senior
national correspondent for the Scripps Washington Bureau

("The Unafraid" - l to r)
Moderator and managing editor at 100Reporters, 
Ricardo Sandoval-Palos; Director Heather Courtney; 
Senior writer at the Center for Public Integrity, 
Susan Ferriss

("Unprotected" - l to r)
Moderator and executive producer of Retro Report, 
Kyra Darnton; Director Nadia Sussman; Scottish 
Freelance journalist, Finlay Young; Kathleen Flynn, 
Co-director and Director of Photography; Claudia 
Milne, executive producer; Stephen Engelberg, the
 founding managing editor of Propublica

UPCOMING next week:  My annual  pre-Academy Award Random Thoughts/Predictions column including what will win and what should win