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Indies, foreigns, docs, videos, revivals and shorts...
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last update 22.Mar.15
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Backstreet Boys: Show ’Em What You’re Made Of
dir Stephen Kijak
prd Mia Bays, AJ McLean, Brian Littrell, Howie Dorough, Kevin Richardson, Nick Carter
with AJ McLean, Brian Littrell, Howie Dorough, Kevin Richardson, Nick Carter, Lou Pearlman, Max Martin, Rich Talauega, Tone Talauega, Jeff Kwatinetz, Jennifer Sousa, Peter Katsis
Backstreet Boys release US 30.Jan.15,
UK 26.Feb.15
15/UK 1h45
Backstreet Boys: Show 'Em What You're Made Of NOTE: This film is in cinemas across the UK for one night only on 26th February, followed by a special performance by the band broadcast live by satellite. >FULL INFO

This well-made film is a relatively standard pop-group documentary, as the Backstreet Boys look back at their journey to the pinnacle of success and back again. It doesn't dig deeply beneath the surface, but a lively and personal approach holds the attention. And the guys are still up to the challenge.

From 1999 to 2002, Backstreet Boys were at the top of the boy band frenzy, which ended as suddenly as it began. As they prepare for their 20th anniversary tour in 2013, they head to London to record a new album on their own terms. They also travel around Florida and Kentucky, revisiting places where they grew up. Meanwhile, Brian is in a mental struggle that's affecting his voice, while Howie insists that he's front and centre this time. Dance rehearsals cause new aches and pains, and assembling the album opens up old rivalries.

Intercut with this is the story of how the band (aged 13 to 21) was assembled by Lou Pearlman in Orlando then produced by Max Martin in Stockholm, making it big in Europe before taking America by storm. The bandmates discuss the impact of suddenly having money, hinting at their raucous rock-n-roll lifestyle, which resulted in a few rehab stints. And they also note that they've never stopped: they're still "five dorks" who perform as a team.

This approach is enjoyable even as it skims along, keeping everything bright, cheeky and earnest. There are dark moments, including some emotional scenes as they revisit their past, but the editing sidesteps bigger issues that pop up, including money-grubbing families, relationships outside the band, sex and drugs. Instead, the movie continually stresses they're great musicians who want to have fun while giving their fans what they want.

Director Kijak has terrific access to archive footage, including scenes of them performing as children, and the new interviews are open, honest and full of personality, capturing their indefatigable camaraderie as bandmates, business partners and makeshift family. There's a glimpse at their gospel roots, as well as the fallout from being betrayed by Lou (he ended up in prison). And their tenacity is impressive,battling through various issues to reclaim those adoring crowds. What the film never touches on is where they want to go from here. Or as Brian mentions, "the pressure of what I was, what I am and what I'm going to be".

15 themes, language
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Dior and I
4/5   MUST must see SEE
dir-scr Frederic Tcheng
prd Frederic Tcheng, Guillaume de Roquemaurel
with Raf Simons, Pieter Mulier, Florence Chehet, Monique Bailly, Cathy Horyn, Catherine Riviere, Sidney Toledano, Fulvio Rigoni, Olivier Bialobos, Hongbo Li, Nadine Prot, Anna Wintour
release UK 27.Mar.15,
US 10.Apr.15
14/France 1h29

abu dhabi film festival
flare film festival
Dior and I Much more than a documentary about a fashion house, this film finds real resonance in its central characters, people who bring an open passion, artistry and depth of feeling to their everyday work. So watching them get ready for a pivotal show becomes utterly riveting. And by the time the big event arrives, the emotional catharsis is contagious.

In April 2012, minimalist Belgian designer Raf Simons took over as Dior's creative director with just eight weeks until his first haute couture show. So Raf, his assistant Pieter and the atelier premieres Florence and Monique must quickly learn how they can best work together to create something memorable, mixing modern ideas with Dior's iconic traditions. And yes, Raf feels the long shadow of Christian Dior himself. He also comes up with some seriously bold ideas, including using paintings by Sterling Ruby as fabric designs and encasing the catwalk venue in living flowers.

Filmmaker Tcheng cleverly uses the narrative to draw the audience in, finding telling details in each of these people that turn them into vivid movie characters we can root for as they work at breakneck speed while sorting out the ways they can most effectively collaborate. As a result, the film not only reveals the backstage workings of a massive haute couture show, but makes it thrilling as we witness the passion and personal investment of everyone involved.

What emerges is a striking depiction of a large group of unusually skilled people who work in an atmosphere that allows them to take pride in their job. Each person's role is vital in the grand scheme of things: the show simply wouldn't happen if even one of them wasn't up to the challenge. So instead of a towering leader, Simons emerges as more of an inspirational coach. And by sticking so closely to him, Tcheng reveals both his insecurities and artistic gifts, so his reaction to the final fashion show becomes a strikingly emotional moment.

Along the way, Tcheng cleverly weaves in Dior's own story through archive footage, which beautifully puts Simons' collection in the context of the design house's history. Not only does this give the film concentric circles of meaning, but it adds texture and relevance to Simons' relationships with the long-time Dior employees who now report to him. In other words, the film is as entertaining as any fashion-themed drama. And because it's real, it only makes us like all of the characters even more.

15 themes, language
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dir-scr Kim Longinotto
prd Teddy Leifer, Lisa Stevens
with Brenda Myers-Powell, Stephanie Daniels-Wilson, Homer, Melody, Ruth, Keith, Jeremy, Marie, Diannah, Sharita, Tameka, Jethro, Darious
release US Jan.15 sff,
UK 6.Mar.15
15/UK 1h38

Dreamcatcher If the central figure in this documentary was any less earthy and raw, the film would almost be too inspirational. Brenda Myers-Powell is a force of nature, and what she's doing is so important that the movie would make us feel utterly useless if she wasn't so honest about where she's from. The clear message is that anyone can change their corner of the world.

After being abused as a toddler, Brenda worked as a hooker until her pimp almost killed her. After a long recovery, she decided to help provide a path for other women to leave the trade. But instead of pressuring them, her method essentially consists of giving them a hug and making herself available, offering help only when they ask. She's also working in schools, talking to girls honestly about the realities of teen sex, early motherhood and the prostitution. And they listen to her because she's been there.

Filmmaker Longinotto follows Brenda closely, observing interaction to allow personalities to shine through in ways usually reserved for dramatic films. Marie is a pregnant hooker who takes a long time to realise that she wants out of the game. The ex-pimp Homer accompanies Brenda to various events, adding the essential male perspective. Brenda's sister-in-law Melody is a tough woman in a difficult relationship who allowed her son Jeremy to be adopted by Brenda and her husband Keith. And Brenda's psychologist daughter Ruth is further proof of the power of breaking the cycle.

But it's Brenda's story that holds the attention. She recounts events with honesty, knowing she's lucky not just to be alive but to be surrounded by people who love her. It's a powerful portrait of what can happen when a person turns the corner and finds support from those who are able to look beyond past insults. And all of her echo in the young people she's trying to help.

Brenda is a shining star in Chicago, a striking example of the impact one person can have if they don't have an agenda. Her main goal is to be someone a lost woman can talk to, lean on, get a hug from. She never pushes, never tries to get them to change their lives, but offers support until these young women realise that maybe they have the ability to change themselves. It's a powerful example of a positive approach to one of society's biggest issues, and the key is that it relies on respect and affection rather than condemnation or punishment.

15 themes, language
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dir Sergei Loznitsa
prd Sergei Loznitsa, Maria Choustova-Baker
maidan release Ukr 24.Jul.14,
US 12.Dec.14, UK 20.Feb.15
14/Ukraine 2h11

london film festival
maidan While this documentary is immersive and eerily moving, it's definitely not easy. Only a few blocks of on-screen text offer information about what we're watching. Instead, filmmaker Loznitsa merely puts us right in the middle of the vast crowd of protesters demanding justice for the Ukraine. And it's impossible to escape the thought that this could, and probably will, happen everywhere.

Maidan (which means "square") is the nickname given to the encampment in Kiev's Independence Square from November 2013 to February 2014, when some 200,000 people filled the streets demanding that the government listen to public opinion. Protests were aimed at President Yanukovych, who reversed Ukraine's hugely popular European integration to instead forge stronger ties with Russia. This was seen to be handing the nation over to mafia control, and as if to prove that point Yanukovych reacted by getting the police and military to attack the crowds. After violence flared up, Yanukovych finally stepped down.

The film is composed of long, fixed takes observing the activism over these months, often grand shots showing huge crowds swirling with energy as they heave against the heavily armed police presence. Effectively, this makes the audience feel like it is swept up into the conflict, watching helplessly as the patriotism ramps up (you'll be able to sing along with the national anthem by the end) and a powerful sense of justice takes over. This surging mob knows it's in the right, and refuses to take no for an answer even when clashes turn brutal.

There are quite a few moments that are difficult to watch, as snipers open fire on the crowd and protestors fight back against teargas by igniting parked cars. The thunderous roar of people, smoke and flames often makes this feel bigger than most war-epic movies. And the filming style, with the camera right in the middle of the crowd, adds to the intensity. It also refuses to establish any specific characters or figureheads: this is a populist movement of normal citizens fed up with their political leaders' self-interest.

In other words, this is a seriously haunting exploration of what could happen in any Western city if the balance tips any further toward, say, the super-rich who remain oblivious to the everyday problems of 99 percent of the population. Or the lobbying groups that get laws enacted that are in their interests but don't help anyone else. Or politicians who make decisions based on their personal wealth or re-election campaigns rather than representing constituents. Yes, even as Ukraine continues to fight for its democratically chosen future, this unrest is merely a symptom of a world that's out of balance.

15 themes, language, violence
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© 2015 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall