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last update 11.Jul.12
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The Imposter
4.5/5     MUST must see SEE
dir Bart Layton
prd Dimitri Doganis
with Frederic Bourdin, Carey Gibson, Beverly Dollarhyde, Bryan Gibson, Charlie Parker, Nancy Fisher, Philip French, Bruce Perry, Adam O'Brian, Anna Ruben, Cathy Dresbach, Alan Teichman
o'brien release US 13.Jul.12,
UK 24.Aug.12
12/UK Film4 1h35

edinburgh film festival
The Imposter Like Man on Wire and Tabloid, this narrative documentary plays out like a suspenseful thriller as it recounts an outrageously twisty true story about deception. It's also marks Layton as a first-time filmmaker to watch.

When picked up by police in Spain, 23-year-old French-Algerian Frederic claimed to be 16-year-old American Nicholas Barclay, who went missing three and a half years earlier. When Nick's sister Carey came to collect him, she accepted him as her brother, despite the fact that he spoke with an accent and had the wrong eye colour. Back in Texas he moved in with Nick's mother Beverly and even went to high school. Everyone believed his horrific account of rape and torture, including sceptical FBI agent Fisher, but private investigator Parker spotted the inconsistencies. (Hint: look at the ears!)

Layton interviews everyone involved, which lets him narrate events from each point of view, although Bourdin's shady-cheeky personality holds the film together as even he is shocked that he got away with it for so long. Of course, the fact that the family accepted him into their home made him suspicious of their motives, which adds yet another wrinkle to an already complicated story. And as facts become clear, the mystery actually deepens.

The camerawork on both the dramatisations and interviews is simply gorgeous, evoking personalities and perspectives through clever angles and editing. This skilful filmmaking draws us in on an emotional level so that every revelation hits us with maximum impact. We become hugely invested in all of the characters, and the expanding mystery is vividly compelling, mainly because we can see ourselves in their shoes. And like Bourdin, we know the jig will be up at any moment.

Not only is the story riveting, but the film explores huge issues that really get under our skin. It also reveals each jaw-dropping twist in the tale with maximum suspense value, keeping us glued to the screen with a plot that's even wilder than similar identity-based thrillers like Catch Me If You Can or I Love You Phillip Morris. Surely a dramatic feature will be made of these events, but it can hardly be better than this. And frankly, the feisty Parker should have his own movie.

15 themes, language

20.Jun.12 eiff

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Mission to Lars
dir-prd James Moore, William Spicer
with Tom Spicer, Kate Spicer, William Spicer, Lars Ulrich, Randi Hagerman, James Hetfield, Steve Williams, Jane Spicer, Mum, Dad, Janet, Brian
kate and tom release UK 6.Jun.12
11/UK 1h14
Mission to Lars Not only is this documentary warm-hearted and thoroughly entertaining, but it has a lot to teach us about how families can rise to the challenge of mental disability. As if that weren't enough, all of the film's profits are going to charity.

Tom Spicer has Fragile X syndrome, a form of autism that reveals itself in social anxiety and the need for order and predictability. He repeatedly tells his big sister Kate, a journalist, and his little brother Will, a filmmaker, that he wants to meet Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich. So they decide to make it happen. This is a huge challenge for the Kate and Will, who have never properly bonded with their brother. But the three fly from Britain to Los Angeles, then drive a motorhome to Las Vegas and Sacramento, following Metallica's concert tour. They also visit Yosemite and Fragile X expert Hagerman along the way.

"We thought it would be fun, bonding," says Kate. "We wanted to do something good for our brother. We were also sick of him endlessly asking to meet Lars." But despite exhaustive preparations, Kate and Will weren't quite prepared for the challenges along the road. Their initial jetlag-fuelled bickering sends Tom into his shell early on, requiring even more effort. And it isn't until the third concert (back in Los Angeles) that he's able to face the music, as it were.

This is a thoroughly involving film that simply follows these three siblings as they deepen their relationship on a lively, unpredictable adventure. The camerawork is intimate, often right in their faces as we see Kate and Will trying to improve the way they interact with Tom, so the growth between the film's early and later scenes is striking. This up-close approach also allows all three to emerge as engaging, fully formed movie characters.

Aside from the importance of making a film like this, it's also a lot of fun to watch. Sharp humour sparks in every scene, and we really root for these three likeable people on their mission. There's never much of a doubt where this is going, but the scenes of Tom's fateful meeting with Ulrich are moving in ways that surprise us. Indeed, this film's engaging, honest approach can change the way we think about mental disability.

12 themes, some language
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dir-scr Matt Norman
prd Matt Norman, David Redman
narr Chris Kirby
with Peter Norman, Tommie Smith, John Carlos, Larry Questad, Harry Edwards, Ray Weinberg, Payton Jordan, Paul Hoffman, Willie Whyte, Tony Charlton, Steve Simmons, Wyomia Tyus
norman, smith and carlos release Aus 17.Jul.08,
US/UK 13.Jul.12
08/Australia 1h30
Salute Despite the ropey technical quality of the source material, this documentary tells such a powerful story that it's hugely engaging. As it progresses, we get thoroughly involved in the momentous events. And it recounts well-known events with never-heard details.

At the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, America was stunned when two athletes (Smith and Carlos) raised their fists in a black power salute while receiving their gold and bronze medals, while Australian silver medalist Norman stood in solidarity. This was the culmination of months of race riots in both the US and Australia, as well as a student uprising in Mexico City that was brutally suppressed by the police (2,000 students were killed) and ignored by the media. All three runners went on to suffer for their actions, even as they became civil rights leaders.

Being an Australian doc, this is Norman's story, an perspective that offers a more offhanded approach as well as dryly humorous touches and the avoidance of both sentimentality and patriotism. Filmmaker Norman (Peter's nephew) holds the story together with home video footage of the three athletes reuniting after many years. The low-quality makes it clear that this wasn't shot with a documentary in mind; it looks and sounds pretty awful. But the material itself is invaluable.

Along with their coaches, Olympic teammates and others, these three men trace the events in telling detail, filling in the story with riveting personal touches. Meanwhile, the film's narration and archive newsreel footage make sure we understand the context. Film of riots and civil rights marches, as well as beautiful footage of the Games themselves, adds considerably to the reminiscences of Smith, Carlos and Norman, who emerge as gentle, good-natured men who are passionate about racial equality.

By centring on the white man in the photo, the puts us right into the story, forcing us to think about what we might have done in the same situation: stood up against violence and bigotry or distanced ourselves from the ones causing a fuss? Norman emerges as a warm, witty man who simply couldn't understand why anyone would discriminate based on skin colour. And in his attitudes and actions, we find hope for the bigotry our societies still face 40 years later.

12 themes, language, violent images
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Under African Skies
dir Joe Berlinger
prd Joe Berlinger, Jon Kamen, Justin Wilkes
with Paul Simon, Harry Belafonte, Dali Tambo, Joseph Shabalala, Whoopi Goldberg, Oprah Winfrey, Quincy Jones, Paul McCartney, Peter Gabriel, Ray Phiri, Bakithi Kumalo, Hugh Masekela
simon and friends
release US 11.May.12,
UK 11.Jun.12
12/US 1h48

Sundance London Fest
Under African Skies This beautifully assembled documentary traces the creation of Paul Simon's seminal 1986 album Graceland, focussing on the political controversy the recording sessions sparked because South Africa was under a cultural boycott at the time. It's a skilful film that entertains as it reveals something important about history.

In 1985, Simon quietly travelled to South Africa to record tracks for his next album, invited by local musicians. But he and was shocked by racial tension he saw between blacks and whites there, and afterwards was caught off-guard by criticism from anti-Apartheid leaders who said his visit violated the boycott. Simon argued that he wanted to avoid politics and collaborate with fellow musicians. For them, working with a world-class artist was a chance in a million. And Ladysmith Black Mambazo leader Shabalala says Simon was the first white man he'd ever hugged.

Through interviews with everyone involved, Berlinger captures the magic of the recording sessions, allowing Simon to unpick the songs, where they came from and what they mean. It's hugely engaging, sharply shot and edited, with moments that take the breath away, both in present-day interviews and extensive footage from the recording sessions and subsequent world tour that reveal the lively, loose, collaborative atmosphere.

We also experience Ladysmith Black Mambazo's overwhelming first encounter with freedom and equality when they travelled to Abbey Road studios and then to New York for a milestone appearance on Saturday Night Live. All of this puts Graceland into context: not only was it critically acclaimed, but it also made Apartheid emotional for the first time. These gifted musicians had no rights in their home country. So by working with them, Simon highlighted how the boycott was victimising musicians.

Throughout the film, Berlinger maintains a steely, complex political tone that forcefully explores the links between politics and art. As Simon says, politicians always think artists work for them, because they want to co-opt the love and respect people give to artists. "But artists are speaking a deeper truth," he says. And by taking such a colour-blind, apolitical approach, Simon played an important role in bringing down Apartheid. Intriguingly, and a bit worryingly, this is something the ANC still won't admit. Although Nelson Mandela gets it.

12 themes, language, violence
26.Apr.12 slf
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