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last update 6.Jan.13
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The Central Park Five
dir-scr-prd Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, David McMahon
with Raymond Santana, Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Korey Wise, Yusef Salaam, Ed Koch, David Dinkins, Jim Dwyer, LynNell Hancock, Raymond Santana Sr, Angela Black, Natalie Byfield
wise at 14 release UK Oct.12 lff,
US 23.Nov.12
12/US 2h00

 london film festival
The Central Park Five Like West of Memphis, this film documents a hideous miscarriage of justice in the American legal system. It's a grippingly assembled film that slightly overstates its case as it takes us through the details before delivering its well-aimed final punch. And its depiction of deep-seated racism in American society is alarming.

In April 1989, a young white New York woman was brutally raped in Central Park. A large group of underaged black boys were arrested, and five were charged with the attack. Convicted, they served up to 12 years in prison before the real rapist came forward. And looking back at the evidence, it's clear to see how the police and prosecutors manipulated these boys, who were between 14 and 16 at the time, to make false confessions even though they conflicted with both the chain of events and DNA evidence.

In hindsight, the story is seriously horrific, as these boys had their youth destroyed by bigoted officials who still won't admit that they did anything wrong, even after the convictions were overturned. Watching the videotaped confessions the prosecutors used in court is deeply chilling, as we can see that these boys are willing to say anything in the hope that they can go home.

All five of them, now in their 30s, contribute their memories and experiences to the film to put it all into striking context, and the filmmakers edit their commentary around archive footage, courtroom drawings and media coverage to let us see exactly what was going on. Added into the mix are comments from family members, journalists, experts and even two former New York mayors.

Edited together with a sense of pace and emotional resonance, the filmmakers let these five men have their say, even if it means stating the obvious. This two-hour doc could easily be edited down to about 30 minutes and still carry the same impact. It might be even stronger that way, as it would let us do a bit more work to understand the implications. Along with being an important document, the film's power is in its careful exploration of the fact that, while the police and prosecutors are the villains here, the media and the public are just as guilty.

15 themes, language
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Chasing Ice
4/5     MUST must see SEE
dir Jeff Orlowski
scr Mark Monroe
prd Jerry Aronson, Paula DuPre Pesmen, Jeff Orlowski
with James Balog, Svavar Jonatansson, Adam LeWinter, Louie Psihoyos, Kitty Boone, Jeff Orlowski, Sylvia Earle, Dennis Dimick, Jason Box, Tad Pfeffer, Suzanne Balog, Simone Balog
chasing ice release US Jan.12 sff,
UK 14.Dec.12
12/US 1h16

sundance london  festival

Chasing Ice Spectacular cinematography and a staggeringly important theme make this documentary essential viewing. Although that comes with a warning: its exploration of the physical proof of accelerated global warming is extremely gloomy. You'll be mesmerised by the jaw-dropping scenery, but it could give you nightmares.

In a major international survey, scientist James Balog has been photographing glaciers to document their changes over time, and what he discovers is more telling than he expected. In a nutshell, glacier melting accelerated exponentially when we started burning fossil fuels in the 19th century. Which definitively proves that human activity is causing global warming, and also that it's too late to reverse it. Sea levels will rise, climates will continue to change, there is no going back.

Through the years his Extreme Ice Survey has been running in Iceland, Greenland and Alaska, Balog has collected amazing time-lapse sequences that capture some major events on camera, including the calving of an ice shelf the size of Lower Manhattan. These sequences are breathtaking to watch, both for the epic beauty of the images and the enormous scale of the events. And these surreal, otherworldly landscapes are skilfully shot and edited to look elegantly architectural.

The relaxed pace engages us with the likeable Balog and his team, making the film feel personal rather than scientific, especially in vividly intense moments, such as abseiling into a bottomless melt. Meanwhile, we are reminded that humans don't have a great history on the planet, hunting species to extinction and exploiting resources without concern about the consequences. And then there's the inexplicable evil that is Fox News, which continues to perpetuate blatant hoaxes that undermine America's political role in taking a positive approach to the changing world.

In proving that sea-level rise is irreversible, the film is rather scary, as the entire food chain is heading for a collapse. But it also has real power to help us understand exactly what's happening and perhaps figure out a way to survive the changes. And it's assembled so gorgeously that it shifts the way we see not only our planet but our relationship to it. After all, civilisation depends on nature. But nature doesn't need us at all.

12 themes, language
26.Apr.12 slf
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Jiro Dreams of Sushi
dir David Gelb
prd Kevin Iwashina, Tom Pelligrini
with Jiro Ono, Takashi Ono, Mashuhiro Yamamoto, Daisuke Nakazawa, Harutaka Takahashi, Hiroki Fujita, Hiromichi Honda, Tsunenori Iida, Toichiro Iida, Akihiro Oyama, Shizuo Oyama
release US 9.Mar.12,
UK 11.Jan.13
11/US 1h21
Jiro Dreams of Sushi His Tokyo restaurant may have only 10 seats, but 85-year-old chef Jiro earned his three Michelin stars by elevating sushi to an artform. This respectful film is like food porn, exploring Jiro's dedication to his work before climaxing in his 20-piece tasting menu, which he conducts like a symphony.

Through his long career, Jiro strives to make the very best sushi and to repeat the experience every day. Indeed, he follows an exact routine and hates closing for public holidays. Despite his world's-best status, he's never satisfied with his work, tasting the fish during preparation to make sure it's not just good but better than yesterday. His eldest son Yoshikazu is his second in command, still waiting at age 50 for his father to retire. His younger son Takashi takes a more relaxed approach and has opened his own restaurant.

Director Gelb uses appropriately minimalist filmmaking, echoing the simplicity and depth of sushi itself while lovingly photographing every tasty morsel. The film also follows Jiro as he trains apprentices to his high standards, developing his own special techniques (top tip: massage octopus for at least 40 minutes before serving). In addition, archival photos fill in back-stories, including Jiro leaving his family at age 7 and then later barely seeing his own sons until he convinced them to join his restaurant when they finished high school.

What's most striking is his focus and discipline. Jiro's apprentices don't earn the right to be called shokunin until they've worked with him for at least 10 years, and even then Jiro seems more excited by sushi than they are. He constantly ponders the meaning of "deliciousness" and feels like perfection is still out of his grasp. According to food critic Yamamoto, Jiro's reputation is so immaculate that when Yoshikazu takes over he'll have to make sushi twice as good to even be considered on par with his father.

Along the way, the film sometimes meanders off-topic, exploring the devastating effects of over-fishing and taking side-roads to follow tuna-dealer Fujita and rice-supplier Honda. But even more than the story of an iconic chef, this is a clear-eyed exploration about how, as Jiro says, you have to enjoy your work in order to do your best, whatever your profession may be. But never get complacent, because no one knows where the top is.

U some grisliness
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4/5   MUST must see SEE
dir David Morris, Jacqui Morris
prd Jacqui Morris
with Don McCullin, Harold Evans, Myron Harrington
McCullin release UK 4.Jan.13
12/UK 1h30
McCullin This documentary is not only a biographical portrait of an acclaimed photojournalist, but it's also a striking look at how news reporting has shifted in the past 50 years. And since Don McCullin is noted for his images of wars and humanitarian crises, we learn rather a lot about human nature as well.

Based in London, McCullin worked for The Observer and The Sunday Times through the 1960s and 70s, travelling the world to photograph momentous events for full-colour magazines that broke big stories. From Berlin to Biafra, Vietnam to Congo, Cambodia to Beirut, McCullin's photos are noteworthy for their sympathetic touches, showing the horrors people inflict on each other. And as a journalist he was known for his integrity, never taking photos inappropriately and actually getting involved in situations rather than running away.

The film is cleverly assembled using newsreel footage to set the scene in each place McCullin traveled to document a conflict, accompanied by his personal observations. Then his photographs are revealed in all their gut-punching power, capturing emotional moments that are sometimes difficult to look at. His eye continually sought out intimate aspect of the devastation, either victims or survivors, always looking for the humane side of a situation without ever manipulating what he was photographing. And Times editor Evans (backed by publisher Lord Thompson) encouraged him to get to the core of each story.

On the other hand, governments and businesses didn't like these brutally honest photos, which helped shift public opinion on the Biafra crisis and the Vietnam war. So when Thompson had to sell The Times in 1981, journalists like McCullin found themselves out of work. New owner Rupert Murdoch wanted to keep government and advertisers happy, so real reporters were thrown out. And as a result, almost no one has covered a global event with such eye-opening realism since.

For anyone interested in what's happening around the world, this documentary is essential viewing, especially as it also includes some vintage TV and newsreel interviews with McCullin, plus some of his astonishing photos London life. But it's never a nostalgic look back at the good old days of photojournalism: it's a celebration of one man's refusal to adopt the cynical detachment of his colleagues and the corporate sell-out attitudes of his industry. Today McCullin shoots the English countryside, but is haunted by his experiences. And we should be too.

15 themes, violence, disturbing images
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© 2013 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall