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last update 6.Jul.16
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Author: The JT LeRoy Story
4/5     MUST must see SEE
dir-scr Jeff Feuerzeig
prd Jim Czarnecki, Danny Gabai, Brett Ratner, Molly Thompson
with Laura Albert, Savannah Knoop, Dennis Cooper, Ira Silverberg, Bruce Benderson, Panio Gianopoulos, Gus Van Sant, Courtney Love, Billy Corgan, Matthew Modine, Asia Argento, Winona Ryder
knoop and albert
release US Jan.16 sff,
UK 29.Jul.16
16/US A&E 1h50


See also:
The Heart Is Deceitful (2005) JT LeRoy (2019)

Author: The JT LeRoy Story Inventively assembled to tell a story with humour and insight, this film documents the astonishing conundrum of hotshot author JT LeRoy, who turned out not to be a real person after his novel and stories had been published to great acclaim and adapted into a movie. Filmmaker Jeff Feuerzeig digs deep to tell the full story from the perspective of the woman at the centre of it all.

From 1995 to 2005, young gay author JT LeRoy gathered a following that included icons from cinema (Gus Van Sant, Asia Argento, Winona Ryder) and music (Tom Waits, Courtney Love, Billy Corgan). The problem was that JT was a pseudonym for Laura Albert, who spoke on the phone as her alter ego and dressed her sister-in-law Savannah Knoop up to play JT at public appearances. As JT became more and more acclaimed, the fiction grew with him. Until people started asking questions and began calling this the literary hoax of the century.

This film points out clearly that this was never actually a hoax. JT's stories have such a ring of truth to them that everyone assumed they were autobiographical, and Albert never put anyone straight (indeed, they do have eerie echoes throughout her life). She published everything as fiction, and has been defended by authors' groups. Her one legal mistake was signing a contract in a fictitious name. And of course fooling so many high-profile people for a decade.

Aside from Albert and Knoop, very few of the central figures had the nerve to appear on-camera for this doc. Only authors Cooper and Benderson, and agent Silverberg, open up about being misled by Albert. Their accounts of experiences with her through the years are fascinating. And Albert holds everything together with an extensive interview in which she kind of still seems to miss the point. Aside from seeming to lack a sense of humour, her goth clothing and facial alterations both add to and distract from her words.

That said, she's a hugely sympathetic character. And no amount of criticism can detract from the urgency of her writing, which provided a genuinely powerful voice for people from abusive backgrounds. This film is stylish and sharply well-made, cleverly using handwritten words and vintage clips (plus extensive scenes from Argento's LeRoy adaptation The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things) to illustrate both LeRoy's fictitious story and Albert's properly compelling real one.

15 themes, language
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Can We Take a Joke?
dir Ted Balaker
prd Courtney Balaker, Ted Balaker
narr Christina Pazsitzky
with Gilbert Gottfried, Lisa Lampanelli, Penn Jillette, Jim Norton, Jon Ronson, Greg Lukianoff, Jonathan Rauch, Adam Carolla, Heather McDonald, Karith Foster, Chris Lee, Noam Dworman
gottfried release US 29.Jul.16
16/US 1h14
Can We Take a Joke? For anyone other than Donald Trump, it seems that saying something offensive is deserving of online abuse leading to a grovelling public apology. This astute, straightforward documentary explores the power of outrage, how it's damaging society, and how free speech is the only way to make the future safe.

"Why is comedy the only art where people feel that they need to agree with the content?" asks Norton. Edgy humour can be traced to the risky, unapologetic college campus icon Lenny Bruce and successors like Joan Rivers, George Carlin and Richard Pryor. Since then, comics have joked about race, religion, language, gender and politics. But people are becoming increasingly sensitive to anything close to home that "violates their comfort zone".

Striking an urgent tone, the film opens with a montage of celebrities apologising for offending people with their jokes. As Gottfried notes, when people are outraged, they are essentially patting themselves on the back. Many are no longer happy to stay home to avoid being offended: they'd rather attend and have a self-righteous rant. But these shout-downs are actually mob rule, while the internet magnifies a lynch mob beyond reason. So now public speakers have a list of topics they must avoid, which means that our leaders are ignoring taboo issues that need to be addressed, like gun control and campus rape.

It's intriguing and scary to note the shifting mood. No one complained about Lenny Bruce's act, but the police clamped down on him. Today the people are complaining, while the cops protect the comics. In the 1960s, universities were places of free thinking and learning, but today they are home to harassment lawsuits as people take offence to "inappropriate" humour. It's almost as if people need to have a villain to boo every day. And it will lead to a world where anyone unusual is hounded out of the room.

As Lampanelli says, it's important for comics to use fear to get laughs, poking fun at sacred cows and standing up for the right to make a joke. This echoes Carlin's comment that a comedian's job is finding the line and crossing it. The result of all of this being offended is genuinely chilling, as it closes down free speech and scares people into thinking like the crowd rather than individually. A free society needs open debate; freedom of speech includes freedom to offend. Ideas only advance when they clash. The truth only wins if it's challenged.

15 themes, language
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Fire at Sea
5/5   MUST must see SEE   Fuocoammare
dir-scr Gianfranco Rosi
prd Donatella Palermo, Gianfranco Rosi
with Samuele Pucillo, Pietro Bartolo, Samuele Caruana, Mattias Cucina, Francesco Mannino, Giuseppe Fragapane, Maria Costa, Francesco Paterna, Maria Signorello
samuele release It 18.Feb.16,
UK 10.Jun.16
16/Italy 1h54

36th Shadows Awards

Fire at Sea With a gently observational style and skilful filmmaking, this documentary quietly pulls the audience into the European migration issue with raw power. Filmmaker Gianfranco Rosi juxtaposes the residents of the island of Lampedusa with the hundreds of refugees arriving on their shores (both dead and alive). And without ever preaching, it carries an urgent message.

The Sicilian island is on the frontline of Africa's refugee crisis, where rescue workers brave rough seas to save immigrants in overloaded boats that sometimes sink before help arrives. The film covers these intrepid heroes, as well as residents of the island whose lives are affected by the migrants, including a local doctor, a deejay and 12-year-old Samuele, who comes from a long line of fishermen. Everyone is touched by the tragedy of these people, who flee from violence back home through war-torn nations into the dangerous hands of traffickers.

Rosi shoots the film artistically, using his own expert cinematography and Jacopo Quadri's fluid editing to explore various angles on a situation that remains overpoweringly urgent even as it is an everyday reality for Lampedusa. The film never looks like a documentary, even though some figures share their thoughts and feelings to the camera. It feels like a powerfully engaging drama about people who are recognisably real. And as it continues, it quietly drops pungent details into the narrative.

The title refers to a classic 1940s song describing the flames after an Italian warship was bombed. And it reverberates in the lives both of refugees and the fishermen whose livelihood is on that same sea. Rosi's camera switches between these people cleverly, filling in their stories. The focal point is Samuele, who runs wild in the countryside and is annoyed that his optician is treating him for a lazy eye while his father tries to get him to develop a stomach for being at sea. But he'd rather just shoot his home-made slingshot or imaginary guns.

Most importantly, Rosi's approach is never pushy or pointed. He lets the various strands unfold at their own pace, wrapping around each other in intriguing ways. Instead of shouting about tolerance for migrants, the film merely shows how things are and lets viewers see that these people need help and can't be ignored, a sentiment echoed by the doctor who treats them. And it's in the stories of these shaken people that the film finds its most powerful resonance, because in an only slightly different situation, this could be me.

15 themes, language, grisliness
26.Jun.16 eeff
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Uncle Howard
dir-scr Aaron Brookner
prd Paula Vaccaro
with Aaron Brookner, Jim Jarmusch, Tom DiCillo, Elaine Brookner, Brad Gooch, James Grauerholz, John Giorno, Robert Wilson, Lindsay Law, Darryl Pinckney, Hisami Kuroiwa, Kim Massee
burroughs and howard release US Jan.16 sff,
UK Jul.16 eeff
16/UK 1h36

east end film fest
Uncle Howard With a gentle documentary approach, Aaron Brookner explores the life of his filmmaker uncle Howard Brookner, whose short life included a rare friendship with William Burroughs and directing a movie starring Madonna. Along the way, Aaron also documents a key period for young New York filmmakers in the late 1970s and early 1980s. And the film's powerful kick comes in the legacy Howard left for his nephew.

The film is structured as a quest, with Aaron trying to find outtakes from his Uncle Howard's documentary Burroughs: The Movie (1983). He's curious to see footage of Howard at 25 asking Burroughs questions over a five year period. So Burroughs caretaker John Giorno lets him into The Bunker to go through the archive. Filmmakers Tom DiCillo and Jim Jarmusch, who photographed and recorded the film's sound, help him go through the reels of film. And with this and other material provided by Howard's partner Brad Gooch, Aaron pieces together Howard's life story.

Brookner skilfully assembles this documentary with a revealing mix of archive material and first-hand recollections, plus his own personal insights. In addition to journals and snapshots, the film includes superb home movies Howard shot of a young Aaron, plus amazing lost footage by students who would go on to become top filmmakers. There are also lovely clips from Burroughs and Howard's other movies, Robert Wilson and the Civil Wars and Bloodhounds of Broadway.

This is a fascinating inside look at a forgotten time and place. In the footage, there are glimpses of Warhol, Ginsberg and Zappa at lively parties and art performances. And The Bunker itself is like a time capsule, untouched. Along the way, Aaron recounts the story of Howard's first love, with Brad, and their life in the Chelsea Hotel. This includes difficulty of being gay in the 1970s and 80s, from struggles with family (Howard's parents wanted him to be a lawyer and get married) to the arrival of Aids.

Through all of this, Aaron remains slightly enigmatic, like Howard and William themselves. He offers a particularly lovely depiction of his relationship with his uncle before shifting the documentary into an exploration of a bright creative spark slipping into ill health and then death just days before his 35th birthday. This is a moving challenge to the audience to live in the most fulfilling way possible, regardless of criticism or risks. Because life isn't about longevity, it's about living with purpose.

15 themes, language
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