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last update 2.Apr.17
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All This Panic
dir Jenny Gage
prd Tom Betterton, Jenny Gage, Christie Colliopoulos, Jennifer Ollman
with Lena M, Ginger Leigh Ryan, Dusty Rose Ryan, Delia Cunningham, Ivy Blackshire, Sage Adams, Olivia Cucinotta, Gabriel Sommer, Nichole R Thompson-Adams, Kevin Ryan, Tanya Ryan, Tess Neau
All This Panic
release US Apr.16 tff,
UK 24.Mar.17
16/US 1h19

london film fest
All This Panic Shot over three years, this documentary feels eerily like a narrative coming-of-age drama as it follows a group of teen girls, eavesdropping on their conversations. What it reveals is striking on a number of levels, as it explores the complexity of the transition from child to young adult in a culture that continually gives them mixed messages.

In Brooklyn, Lena and her best friend Ginger run from one alcohol-infused party to the next, hoping that one day they'll meet the boy who will make losing their virginity worthwhile. Their friend Ivy has boyfriend Gabriel to fall back on. Delia is waiting until she feels more sure of herself to come out as s lesbian. And Sage is determined to prove that she's grown-up. Meanwhile, Ginger's little sister Dusty has her own issues, vowing not to repeat Ginger's mistakes. And most of them are in single-parent homes with other issues to deal with.

Skilfully shot by producer Betterton, the film creates a plotline by closely observing the unfiltered interaction between these young women. They are so relaxed around the cameras that they don't seem to realise that they're revealing their petty jealousies and childish desires, gossiping about friends and dismissing parents as mere annoyances. It's such a telling portrait of youthful attitudes that it feels rather shocking, perhaps even more than the similar, more fictional American Honey.

Director Gage astutely dissects the relationships between these girls to find universal themes anyone in the audience can recognise. All of us have had to discover what it means to live alongside other people, understanding our own place in the world. And the process isn't always easy. Along with this, the film quietly explores some of the issues that define today's teen generation, from an uncertain economical future to the blurring of sexuality.

There are only a couple of boys on-screen, never defined as characters. A few parents make more significant appearances, and are intriguing because they seem unbothered by the fact that their under-18 children are drinking and having sex. The generational gap between them centres more on the desire that their children go to university. Everything depicted here is clearly a first world problem, but it's shown with such a raw artistry that it can't help but reverberate. These kids may seem like they're drifting, but they're more switched on than we think they are. If only they understood that they're still children.

15 themes, language
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4.5/5     MUST must see SEE
dir-scr Kirsten Johnson
prd Kirsten Johnson, Marilyn Ness with Kirsten Johnson, Michael Moore, Jacques Derrida, Kathy Leichter, Aisha Buker, Guy James Gray, Sejid Koso, Velma Saric, Catherine Joy Johnson, James Wilkins, Keith Forsyth, Charif Kiwan
johnson release US 9.Sep.16,
UK 27.Jan.17
16/US 1h42

Cameraperson With masterful editing, this memoir is a collection of documentary footage shot by Kirsten Johnson for a variety of projects. And as it rolls along without narration, it tells three stories, exploring the work of a cinematographer, Johnson's personal life experiences and the state of the world. It's powerfully involving, with a proper gut punch of emotion. And of course it's beautifully shot.

Johnson has travelled around the world to capture images and interviews from a wide range of people, from midwife Buker working in difficult circumstances in Nigeria, to lawyer Gray prosecuting a vicious hate crime in Texas, to Koso investigating unthinkable war atrocities in Bosnia. Her camera often seems to be trained on victims of injustice and the people who are trying against the odds to make things right. But she also finds dignity and resilience in each person's story, cutting through surfaces to reveal deeper truths about the human body and soul.

In addition to the pungent film clips, Johnson lets the audience see backstage, hearing her conversations with her subjects, including several instances where she is caught up in the emotion of the moment, perhaps filming something far more intimate than she expected. There are logistical elements, from plucking blades of grass in front of the lens or running from peril. And the title clip captures both a lightning strike and her world-rattling sneeze. But it's in the faces that the film comes most powerfully to life.

Johnson also takes the viewer into her personal life, watching her lively young twin children and seeing how her mother Catherine's final years were blurred by Alzheimer's. The film has no obvious narrative, and yet it's assembled to make clever connections between clips in urban and rural, wealthy and poor Africa, Asia, North America and Europe, artfully linking the female experience in these disparate places. These feel like separate images, yet they come together here to tell a much bigger story.

This is a beautiful portrait of a woman, her profession and the global culture she has documented in her career so far. This includes bracingly honest depictions of war, politics, religion and sport. It circles back to various stories, most notably in Bosnia, where Johnson asks questions about the brutal systematic rape of Muslim women by Christians during their violent civil war. Most importantly, the film vividly shows how impossible it is for a filmmaker to maintain her distance when there's so much pain right there in front of her.

15 themes, language, grisliness

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Who’s Gonna Love Me Now?
dir-scr Barak Heymann, Tomer Heymann
prd Barak Heymann, Tomer Heymann, Alexander Bodin Saphir
with Saar Maoz, Tomer Heymann, Katri, Ditzka, Dagan, Tamar, Tzur, Ella
saar and the choir release Isr 7.Apr.16,
US Oct.16 ciff, UK 7.Apr.17
16/Israel 1h26

flare film fest
london film fest
Who's Gonna Love Me Now? Because the filmmakers capture a remarkable level of honesty in their interviews, this documentary goes far beyond its subject matter to deliver both a proper emotional kick and a powerful comment on several urgent themes. It's also a rare movie that tackles religion and sexuality head-on, focussing on personal realities rather than ideological or theological arguments.

As he approaches 40, Saar has lived nearly half his life in Britain, where he has created a family in his fellow members of the London Gay Men's Chorus. But he also has a large family back in Israel, where he grew up on a kibbutz as the eldest of seven children before he was cast out due to his sexuality. And for his siblings, it's even more problematic that he is HIV positive, something they say is his own fault as they worry about letting him come into contact with his nieces and nephews.

Likeable and colourful, Saar is a positive-thinker who has made the most of his life. Through sheer persistence, he has re-established healthy relationships with his mother and father, both of whom visit him in London. His brothers and sisters are another story, openly displaying their ignorance about homosexuality and HIV until Saar has little choice but to call them on their erroneous opinions. So when he's offered a job at the Aids Task Force in Israel, he has some rather momentous decisions to make.

Without ever pushing a point, the Heymann brothers film this in an intimate style, focussing on raw conversations between Saar and his family members. These people are unusually forthright in expressing their thoughts and feelings, admitting their flaws and trying to do the right thing in moving forward. These moments are intercut with scenes from Saar's everyday life, including his trips to Israel, plus engaging rehearsals and soaring performances with the choir.

Because it takes such a personal approach, the film works on several levels. It's an astute profile of one man's life and how he took a tricky situation and turned it into something that can help scores of needy people. It's also an eye-opening exploration of a devout Jewish family's reaction to homosexuality, which their tradition says is punishable by death. And there's also a political angle, as the film touches on human rights issues and the healing power of art. The film's remit may be rather narrow, remaining tightly within this one family, but what it reveals can't help but touch pretty much everyone in the audience.

15 themes, language
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Zero Days
dir-scr Alex Gibney
prd Alex Gibney, Olga Kuchmenko, Marc Shmuger
with David Sanger, Gary Samore, Michael Hayden, Sean Paul McGurk, Eric Chien, Liam O'Murchu, Olli Heinonen, Yossi Melman, Richard A Clarke, Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, Gary D Brown, Ralph Langner
zero days release US 8.Jul.16,
UK 6.Jan.17
16/US Magnolia 1h56

Zero Days This chilling documentary, expertly assembled by Alex Gibney, explores how new technology and clashing political systems have set the world up for state-sponsored cyber attacks. The title refers to malware with "zero day" capabilities to infect computers without needing to be opened. And the film traces how one specific worm got out of the box, creating a new kind of global warfare that has no rules.

When the Stuxnet worm was discovered, experts found it far, far too sophisticated to have been made by a hacker or criminal gang, so it must come from a nation state. They also realised that it was designed to attack infrastructure controls, and that it had installed itself on almost every Windows computer on earth. The worm's primary target was clearly Iran's nuclear programme, which was progressing well within the bounds of international law. But America was set against it anyway, and developed the malware, which was unleashed by Israel. Of course, no one can officially confirm that.

Gibney does a great job crafting a sort of investigative thriller out of a bunch of internet specialists sitting at monitors trying to understand every line of code in a computer worm. The film traces Iran's nuclear history, including how the UN has closely observed every element of it from the beginning. There are moments when the film bogs down in explanations of centrifuges, but the details do help, and the story's twists and turns hold the interest.

There's a wide range of interviewees who can't really talk about classified methods of warfare, so the ones who speak openly are cleverly obscured. The real issue here is that no nation wants to admit that they're behind this kind of attack. In this case, evidence points to a joint operation called Olympic Games by Israel, American and Britain. And it only became public after Israel went off-book, releasing the worm beyond its intended use and infecting computers around the world. Which caused additional political problems and strengthened Iran's nuclear programme.

The point is that malware is now capable of actually killing people. The US military actually has a new branch, Cyber Command, capable of attacking enemies electronically, and Stuxnet was only a first volley in a new kind of covert military action that has the ability to destroy a country. Cyber weapons have to be signed off by the president, just like nuclear ones, but the problem is that anyone can get their hands on them. And if a weapon is classified to the point that it doesn't officially exist, how can any meaningful controls be put into place?

12 themes, language

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© 2017 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall