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On this page: DANCER | SEED MONEY
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last update 12.Oct.16
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dir Steven Cantor
prd Gabrielle Tana
with Sergei Polunin, Galina Polunina, Vladimir Polunin, David LaChapelle, Igor Zelensky, Galina Ivanovna, Jade Hale-Christofi, Valentino Zucchetti, Salvatore Scalzo, Tony Hall, Monica Mason
polunin release US 16.Sep.16,
UK 10.Mar.17
16/UK BBC 1h25

london film fest
Dancer This narrative doc traces the life and career of Sergei Polunin, often called the "bad boy of ballet" for his hard-partying lifestyle. But the film reveals a more complex young man whose innate gift made him the youngest ever principal for the Royal Ballet, while his family fell apart supporting him. It's a powerfully emotional documentary, even though it feels like it only scratches the surface.

Born in southern Ukraine, Sergei's mother Galina noticed he was unusually flexible as an infant and started him in gymnastics at 4. By 8 he was dancing in Kyiv, and at 13 moved to London to train at the Royal Ballet, where he became a first soloist at 19. To support him, his father Vladimir moved to Portugal to work, his grandmother got a job in Greece and his mother kept the home running single-handedly. Away from his family, Sergei fell into alcohol- and drug-fuelled revelry, then he walked away from the Royal Ballet in 2012 at age 22 for artistic reasons, restarting from scratch in Moscow.

Fluidly assembled from archive footage, home movies and beautiful new clips, the film explores Sergei's maverick career, which was more recently boosted by his viral video Take Me to Church, gorgeously directed by David LaChapelle to the Hozier song. The clip is included in full, along with making-of scenes showing how Polunin poured everything into it, feeling like it was his farewell to the restrictions of the ballet world. Then he reinvented himself on his own terms.

Polunin's story is riveting, depicted here as a deeply personal odyssey. Interviews offer astute observations, even from the reluctant Polunin, and the narrative has an propulsive momentum. Even so, important elements remain off-screen. There's no mention of Polunin's romantic life, and the film ends without revealing his true motivations or the work he is doing now. Instead, it centres on his connection with his parents, which does provide some emotional weight.

Watching Polunin spin and float so precisely is an inspiration, and it would have been nice if he had spoken a bit more on-screen. This is a young man with a lot to say, and yet Cantor lets him off the hook, avoiding the bigger issues he is so passionate about. For example, the film never notes that Polunin has set up a foundation to help young dancers better manage their careers and artistic ambitions. That's the kind of final kick that would have finished the film on an even bigger high.

12 themes, language
8.Oct.16 lff
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Seed Money: The Legend of Falcon Studios
aka The Chuck Holmes Story
dir-scr Michael Stabile
prd Jack J Shamama, Michael Stabile
with John Waters, Chi Chi LaRue, Steven Scarborough, Jeff Stryker, Steve Cruz, Tom Chase, Jim Bentley, Phil St John, John Rutherford, Jeffrey Escoffier, Mark Leno, Jake Shears
Holmes with the Clintons release UK Mar.16 flare,
US 10.Oct.16
15/US 1h11

flare film fest
Seed Money: The Legend of Falcon Studios The fascinating life of iconic Falcon Studios founder Chuck Holmes is recounted in this rather lacklustre documentary. The problem is that filmmaker Michael Stabile seems more interested in Holmes' groundbreaking porn movies than in the man himself. But he's also too timid to show proper clips, instead editing them almost comically to get an R rating. Which means that the documentary, while educational, misses the point it might have made.

Born in Indiana, Chuck Holmes hitchhiked to San Francisco and launched Falcon Studios, becoming the biggest producer of gay porn from the early 1970s to the 1990s, pioneering both mail-order delivery and video production while staying one step ahead of obscenity laws. He also created a new style of porn that focussed on attraction and arousal rather than just sex, and in the process changed the image of gay men, first with the checked shirts and big moustaches of hyper-masculine "clones" and later with smooth, chiseled Calvin Klein-style models.

The film centres on his work at Falcon, only mentioning his tyrannical management style in passing. But the most intriguing aspect of his life is his gnawing need to be taken more seriously, which drove him to create a legacy by funding causes including gay community centres and Aids research. Even though the recipients of his donations (including the Clintons) distanced themselves from Holmes due to his job, his donations had a major impact on society, bringing long-hidden issues into the spotlight.

In other words, Holmes was instrumental in changing both the social and political landscape of America, and yet he is only remembered as a pornographer. And the film doesn't quite do enough to address this imbalance. Filmmaker Sabile focusses almost entirely on the porn movies, but hedges around the clips in a way that's apologetic, which completely undermines any attempt to genuinely examine Holmes' work.

It's as if Sabile is aiming this documentary at mainstream viewers, but the approach is misguided because the film neglects the very aspect of Holmes' life that might appeal to a wider audience: his personal life and legacy. And by censoring the film clips, he basically lets gay audiences know that he's not telling the whole story. Even so, this is an informative glimpse at Holmes and Falcon, including some terrific first-hand interviews from people who have telling things to say about both Holmes and his industry.

15 themes, language, sexuality
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aka Treasures: The Lost Jews of Kastoria
dir Lawrence Russo, Larry Confino
prd Larry Confino
with Lena Elias Russo, Beni Elias, Jack Elias, Sally Kahmi Elias, Hannah Kahmi Saadi, Nikos Stavroulakis, Bracha Rivlin, Noti Tzikas, Lucas Tzanides, Moshe Mizrahi, Andreas Parisis, Gus Kratsios
kelly with tony curtis
release UK Sep.16 rff
16/US 1h33

raindance film fest
trezoros There's nothing hugely original about this film: it's another documentary chronicling a specific aspect of the Holocaust. But the approach is bracingly personal, and the filmmakers remarkably avoid sentimentality even as people recount such intense events. The main point is that these stories are important to document, both for the families and for the communities involved. And also for all the rest of us.

For some 2,000 years, Orthodox Greeks and Sephardic Jews lived in harmony in the lakeside town of Kastoria in northern Greece. But all of this changed in 1940 when the Italians and then Germans invaded. Pulling neighbours apart, the Nazis gathered all the Jews and sent them to Auschwitz, where only a fraction survived to tell the tale. This is the specific account of Lena and Beni, siblings who made it through against the odds. Lena happens to be the mother of director Lawrence Russo, and the film also traces her lovely romance with another survivor.

Filmmakers Russo and Confino take a filmmaking approach that's disarmingly simple, telling the story in a relatively straightforward way (after one of those oddly misleading prologues lifted from somewhere in the middle). Having Lena and Beni on-screen narrating the events is simply riveting, as their first-hand observations add emotion and colour to every moment. And interviews with their friends, family members, neighbours and historians fill in the other details. There's nothing academic about this account: it's raw and intimate.

Clearly, some of the more disturbing details are too much for Lena and Beni to revisit, but they talk openly about the deaths of their parents and siblings. Their accounts of experiences in concentration camps and death marches are harrowing, but it's the stories from before and after the war that we haven't heard before. This is also an account of a community irrevocably changed by the war, with relationships broken and an important segment of the population simply removed from the mix.

The film's post-war section recounts Lena's unexpected love story, plus her and Beni's relocation to America to build a new life. All of this feels a little incomplete, with several elements of the story missing (such as how Lena's husband survived). But the film is a treasure trove of personal memories, gorgeous home movies and family snapshots that paint a remarkable picture of life in Kastoria before and after the Nazis ripped the community apart. And how people find the tenacity to hope and survive.

PG themes, imagery
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Voyage of Time
dir-scr Terrence Malick
prd Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner, Bill Pohlad, Grant Hill, Nicolas Gonda, Sarah Green, Sophokles Tasioulis
narr Cate Blanchett
with Jamal Cavil, Maisha Diatta, Yagazie Emezi, Daryl James Harris II, Sebastian Jackson, Abraham Kosgei, Runa Lucienne, Theophilus Bongani Ndyalvane, Jejuan Plair, Gabi Rojas, Shaun Ross, Mechelle Tunstall
Voyage of Time release US 7.Oct.16,
UK Oct.16 lff
16/US 1h30

venice film fest
london film fest
Voyage of Time Call this the logical next stage in the evolution of Terrence Malick: his swirling approach to natural history has eschewed even a hint of a plot to instead trace time from drifting bits of matter to, well, drifting bits of matter. With all of Earth's existence in between. It's often breathtakingly gorgeous, and there are some very clever touches. But it's also rather corny, and a bit obvious.

Cate Blanchett narrates the film word by breathlessly pronounced word. "Mother," she begins, exploring the relationship between creation and the creator, living beings and the vastness of space. From elements floating in the cosmos, Earth is formed, life evolves first in the sea and then moves onto the land. Plants and animals emerge in all their diversity. Humans learn to hunt and fight, then build a vast civilisation. Eventually, at some point in the distant future, the sun will be gone, and so will all of life on Earth.

Peppered here and there in this loose narrative are video documentary clips of people around the world, including news events and personal scenes that focus on the variety of daily life for average people, which is to say relatively poor. These clips offer a sense of perspective to the grandiose footage of vast natural beauty, a wide range of animal and plant life, a lively sequence involving naked cavemen, and some seamlessly rendered special effects (although the expressive dinosaurs still elicit a giggle).

Malick's only point here, aside from a general adoration of the miracle of life, is that all of human experience is but a blip in the grand scheme of things. We are tiny, the universe is vast. And of course wheat fields look stunning wobbling in the wind with the sun shining through. Malick's script intriguingly avoids both science and religion for a more visceral journey through what it means to be human. Although the "love is everything" conclusion feels like a bit of a cop-out.

But the oddest thing about this film is that Malick has already made it several times before. It's essentially the same framework that was so brilliantly adapted into the historical drama The New World, followed by progressively non-linear variations in The Tree of Life, To the Wonder and Knight of Cups. There isn't much further he can go with this motif, except perhaps a coffee table book. Or maybe a series of desktop wallpaper images. It's visually mesmerising (some might say sleep-inducing), but maybe it's time to say something else.

PG themes, some violence
6.Sep.16 vff
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