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last update 5.May.13
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Blood Brother
5/5     MUST must see SEE
dir Steve Hoover
prd Danny Yourd
scr Phinehas Hodges, Steve Hoover, Tyson VanSkiver
with Rocky Braat, Steve Hoover, Nimmy, Anitha, Surya, Deepa, Lattha, Devi, Keerthi, Kowsala, Sathish, Subbu
release US Jan.13 sff,
UK Apr.13 slf
13/US 1h32

sundance london festival
Blood Brother What starts out as a profile of filmmaker Hoover's best pal turns into a remarkable journey into the human soul. Not only does Hoover witness something unexpected, but his own life is changed forever by the experience. And the film is beautifully shot and edited to make the story powerfully compelling.

After living in India for three years, Rocky comes home to Pittsburgh a changed man. He had to return to America to sort out his visa, and realises that he simply can't fit in there anymore. So Steve decides to return to India with him and see what his life is about. Rocky now lives in rural Chennai and works an Aids refuge populated by HIV-positive women and children. Steve is a bit unnerved by how Rocky has no barriers with these kids: he is now their brother. And they are his whole life.

Hoover's perceptive camera catches tiny details of life both in America and India, putting scenes into sharp perspective. And as he documents Rocky's interaction with these children, who are often dangerously unwell, his camera refuses to cut away. This makes the film transcend the documentary format, because it shows us the truth we would rather not see. A dying child is unbearable for us to watch; we want to run away. And yet there is Rocky, diving into action to help.

The film sometimes takes on an almost elegiac tone, as it documents Rocky's seemingly supernatural saintliness. Fortunately, this is balanced because Hoover knows him so well: he also captures Rocky's goofy antics, moments of deep doubt and the steely resistance we see him struggling to overcome in order to help people. Even his traditional courtship with local girl Nimmy doesn't go as planned, forcing Rocky to consider the reality that he's also marrying India itself.

Aside from the gorgeous photography and intimate approach, the film's real strength is in the way it confronts us with our own life choices. Rocky has decided to live an almost shockingly non-Western life in a very difficult place, simply because it has more meaning than the empty pursuit of money and things back home. And even if this comes from his religious convictions, his satisfaction even in darker moments inspires us even more than the selfless work he does every day.

12 themes, medical grisliness
24.Apr.13 slf
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dir Alastair Fothergill, Mark Linfield
scr Mark Linfield, Alastair Fothergill, Don Hahn
prd Alastair Fothergill, Mark Linfield, Alix Tidmarsh
narr Tim Allen
oscar release US 20.Apr,12,
UK 3.May.13
12/US Disney 1h18
Chimpanzee Even though there's a remarkable natural story at the heart of this film, the writers can't resist the temptation to shamelessly anthropomorphise everything. As a result, what makes this documentary worthwhile turns into another contrived attempt to make wild animals endearing.

Deep in Ivory Coast's rainforest, the adorable baby chimpanzee Oscar is being raised by his doting mother Isha, who teaches him daily about collecting berries, cracking nuts and mashing fruit. They are part of an extended family ruled by benevolent leader Freddy. But their jungle idyll, and their prized nut forest, is threatened by the greedy Scar, the pure-evil leader of a band of rogues in the next valley. When they attack Freddy's colony, Oscar is orphaned and neglected. With nothing to lose, he turns to the leader himself.

An alpha male adopting a scruffy orphan is almost unheard of, so their developing bond is full of moments that make us smile and sigh loudly, mainly because Oscar is so relentlessly cute. We would adopt him ourselves if we could. But the film spends so much time making sure we are almost helpless with affection for Oscar that we're left with the nagging feeling that whoever edited this story together is probably lying to us. A brief glimpse of a shockingly tactical hunt, capture and meal of another monkey species only barely reminds us of how nasty life is here.

All of this is narrated by Allen specifically for the young kids in the audience, who will be drawn into the artificial drama and cuddly creatures, with just a few mildly violent moments to remind us that we are in the African jungle. The cinematography by Martyn Colbeck and Bill Wallauer is simply gorgeous, capturing rare events in intimate close-up, ramped up by Nicholas Hooper's emotive score. The imagery is astonishing, and even without narration it would be enough to hold our attention.

So we have to accept Allen's narration for the hokum that it is. Frankly, the fact that Scar is named "Scar" and so utterly vilified is deeply irresponsible for filmmakers trying to let young people understand how the rainforest works. Instead, this movie feels callously assembled from groundbreaking footage merely to sell super-soft Oscar toys at your local Disney store. Warning: the film is so expertly assembled, that their plan will probably work.

U themes, some suspense
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God Loves Uganda
4/5     MUST must see SEE
dir Roger Ross Williams
prd Julie Goldman, Roger Ross Williams
scr Richard Hankin, Benjamin Gray, Roger Ross Williams
with Christopher Senyonjo, Lou Engle, David Bahati, David Kato, Kapya Kaoma, Martin Ssempa, Robert Kayavija, Jesse Digges, Rachelle Digges, Joanna Watson, Mary Senyonjo, Jono Hall
God Loves Uganda release US Jan.13 sff,
UK Apr.13 slf
13/US 1h30

sundance london festival

See also:
Call Me Kuchu (2012)
God Loves Uganda This deeply disturbing documentary shines the light on a side of American culture that seems wholly positive to everyone involved. But to everyone else it looks sinister and hateful. Credit must go to the filmmakers for presenting this in a fair and balanced way, covering the full story with remarkable restraint.

After the fall of Idi Amin in Uganda, American evangelicals moved in with missionary projects that over the years have helped improve the lives of locals and instilled a deep-seated religious culture throughout the country. But along with their specific, somewhat warped brand of Christianity, these conservative Americans have exported their toxic politics to the point where a law has been presented to Uganda's parliament that anyone who is openly gay should be executed.

Filmmaker Williams covers the story fairly from a variety of angles, including the Kansas City-based International House of Prayer, led by Engle, which sends teams of novice missionaries to Uganda to "work with the orphans". But it's clear that these young people are ill-prepared to confront real life in a biblical way, and they end up actually spreading textbook homophobia and sparking evil in the name of love. They also reveal themselves utterly unable to even converse with a Muslim.

None of these scenes criticises the participants: the film just lets them speak and follows them in their work. But this is put into sharp perspective through interviews with an exiled Ugandan priest in Boston (Kaoma) and pastors in Uganda (Ssempa and Kayavija) who literally foam at the mouth at the thought of homosexuality. There are also scenes with Ugandan politician Bahati, proponent of the anti-gay bill, as well as the late equality activist Kato, whose work was powerfully documented in Call Me Kuchu.

The most important presence on-screen is Bishop Senyonjo, whose Christ-like love for all people has seen him shunned by his own church. He's the only person in this film who demonstrates true Christian values. By contrast, these smiling, super-positive young missionaries simply seem to have no idea that they are actually bringing hatred to Uganda in a way they could never do back home.

15 themes, grisliness, strong images
3.Apr.13 slf
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History of the Eagles: Part One
dir Alison Ellwood
prd Alex Gibney
with Don Henley, Glenn Frey, Joe Walsh, Timothy B Schmit, Don Felder, Randy Meisner, Bernie Leadon, Jackson Browne, David Geffen, Irving Azoff, Bill Szymczyk, Glyn Johns
the eagles
release US 17.Feb.13,
UK 29.Apr.13
13/US 2h00

sundance london festival
History of the Eagles There's a captivating level of detail in this documentary about one of the 1970s most iconic rock bands, including extensive archive footage, rare performances, vintage photos and new interviews to put everything into perspective. The Eagles may not be as outrageous as some bands, and this film may skip some telling aspects of their story, but it's a gripping film.

When Henley and Frey met in late-60s California, they combined their eclectic musical tastes and, after paying their dues playing for other artists, launched the Eagles. Their 1972 debut album was a hit and over the next eight years their popularity grew, peaking artistically on 1976's acclaimed Hotel California. But after the troubled recording of The Long Run (1979) and some changes in the line-up, the band imploded in July 1980. They don't blame the excesses of sex, drugs and trashing hotel rooms, but rather the fragile nature of a band, which is like a marriage.

Henley and Frey speak with refreshing candour both in new material and archival interviews. They frankly discuss their wild lifestyles, albeit without too much detail or colour, and what's even more telling is how they explore their inter-relationships. And all of the men who have been in the band talk just as openly: Walsh (who injects a blast of comical energy into both the band and the film), Schmit, Felder, Meisner and Leadon.

There are also telling comments from managers (Geffen and Azoff), producers (Szymczyk and Johns) and musicians who worked with and inspired them (including Browne, Bob Seger, JD Souther and Kenny Rogers). In fact, the only key figure missing is Linda Ronstadt, who's only seen in archive footage. Yes, this is a pretty comprehensive film, documenting the band's progression chronologically on-stage, in the studio and behind the scenes.

Even at two hours long, the film races, only giving us snippets of the songs (all are beautifully recorded live performances) while showing us everything that's happening between the lines. It's a fascinating look at what it takes to keep a music group together, the temptations and stresses along the way, and the sense of achieving something far beyond your wildest dreams. Even so, these men self-edit their story, letting us see just enough mayhem to satisfy us while skipping the darker events. And they leave their 14-years-later reunion for another movie.

15 themes, language, some strong imagery
25.Apr.13 slf
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