Image courtesy of Roadside Attractions

nim title James Marsh
For his previous documentary, 2009’s “Man on Wire,” James Marsh won an Oscar. That film told the story of Philippe Petit’s death-defying walk across a tightrope stretched between the towers of the World Trade Center. Now comes the director’s new release, “Project Nim,” which revisits the 1970s animal cognition experiment headed by Columbia University professor Herbert Terrace that attempted to teach sign language to a chimpanzee. That chimp, whose name was Nim, happened to be born the same year as the opening of the Trade Center, and as Marsh’s engaging and ultimately poignant film makes clear, the emotional life of one of our fellow primates can be as delicate as a high-wire balancing act.

The director spoke to PLANET about communication, evolution, and other monkey business ahead of “Project Nim’s” release:

Design, Greenspace, film June 20, 2011 By Jordan Sayle

All images are courtesy of WestMidWest Productions

All images are courtesy of WestMidWest Productions

ec title2 The Electric Car Takes Charge
Not all summer blockbuster sequels are created equally. One of the most anticipated popcorn films this season happens to be a low-budget documentary. It has no special effects, unless you count driving to work without a drop of gasoline, and the only superheroes to be found are the ones tinkering in garages or design labs. Thankfully, nothing explodes in “Revenge of the Electric Car” though the movie arrives in theaters just as an electric-powered boom may at long last be upon us.
     The film’s director, Chris Paine tells PLANET that six years after revealing the story of General Motors’s decision to recall the EV1 in the whodunit “Who Killed the Electric Car?” he welcomed the chance to chronicle the auto industry’s redemptive change of heart regarding the electric vehicle.
     “I saw this as a rare opportunity as a storyteller to chart a big reversal in an industry where they went from actively trying to kill it to reviving it and even championing it,” the director says, speaking of the variety of cars that are charged overnight through a wall outlet. The long-term prognosis for these electrics looks a lot better now than it did in 2005 at the time of the first film’s release. That’s thanks largely to the changing conditions that drivers are facing, all of which point to the need for an alternative to the gas-powered vehicle.

Events, film June 15, 2011 By Sarah Coleman

familia The Human Rights Watch Film FestivalSC title The Human Rights Watch Film Festival
It can be hard, sometimes, to wrap our heads around the injustice faced by people overseas. We know that countries like Iran, Afghanistan and Burma are repressive places, but news stories about them can seem a little abstract and faraway. Without personal stories, we’re left with just a vague sense of what the injustice means.
     That’s where an event like the Human Rights Watch Film Festival comes in. Now in its 22nd year, the festival (which takes place from June 16-30 in New York) shows how individuals are affected by repression and injustice. Powerful and personal, these films take us beyond the surface, looking into the lives of ordinary people with insight, sensitivity and humor.
     You might get a chill, for example, when you watch the story of Naty, a Peruvian maid working in Spain to support her family–then realize that plenty of Natys have cleaned your room and brought you food. Mikael Wiström and Alberto Herskovits’ film Familia shows Naty’s intense loneliness and the price paid by her family in Peru, especially her young son. It’s a story that’s heartbreakingly familiar, yet intensely individual too.

Features, film May 10, 2011 By Sarah Coleman

city 1 City of Life and Deathcity title2 City of Life and Deathfiller29 City of Life and Death
In China, challenging the official view of history can be a dangerous business. Recently, director Lu Chuan found this out when his film, City of Life and Death, was released. “Traitor!” was a common headline in news articles about the movie; soon, almost every radio and television channel in the country was discussing it, and Lu found himself targeted by vicious hate mail and death threats.
     The movie that sparked this firestorm is not obviously provocative–it doesn’t imagine a sex life for Chairman Mao or take the side of students in the 1989 Tiananmen Square uprising. Set in 1937, City of Life and Death traces the story of the infamous Nanking massacre, or Rape of Nanking, when Japanese troops stormed China’s former capital city and killed and raped at will. Knowing they were overwhelmed, the Chinese high command deserted the city, leaving civilians unprotected. By the time Japanese troops were reined in six weeks later, some 300,000 civilians had died.
     Shot beautifully in black and white, with powerful performances and an understated script, City of Life and Death takes an unblinking look at the terrible events of the massacre. Obliquely, it tells the story of John Rabe, a Nazi-affiliated German businessman who set up a “Safety Zone” in the city, saving thousands of lives. But mostly it’s about the ordinary people, on both sides, who got caught up in the tragedy. Small details–like Japanese soldiers cracking open bottles of soda pop they find on the street after storming the city–only serve to make the depictions of casual violence and rape more shocking.

Features, film April 20, 2011 By Jeff Markey
Mark Ruffalo as “Father Joe” in SYMPATHY FOR DELICIOUS.

Mark Ruffalo as “Father Joe” in SYMPATHY FOR DELICIOUS.

stills title Mark Ruffalo
Academy award-nominated actor, Mark Ruffalo has his directorial debut, SYMPATHY FOR DELICIOUS, out this month. The film was written by Christopher Thornton who Mark Ruffalo met while studying acting at the Stella Adler Theatre in Los Angeles. Ruffalo and Thornton also star in the film. SYMPATHY FOR DELICIOUS is about a paralyzed man’s (Delicious Dean, played by Christopher Thornton) journey to cope with his tragedy and a Priest (Joe, played by Ruffalo) who is trying to encourage him to realize Dean’s gift and his own dream to build a shelter for the homeless on skid row in Los Angeles. Dean is paralyzed in a motorcycle accident that leaves him unable to walk, in a wheel chair and living out of his car on skid row. However he is also left with the ability to heal people. It should be mentioned that Christopher Thornton is also paralyzed from a rock-climbing fall when he was 25. Ruffalo’s and Thornton’s 10-year collaboration leaves us with a film that explores the effects of tragedy, the conflicts between spirit, ego and superficiality and the struggle of compassion over material obsession and in the end the victory of salvation.

Greenspace, film April 14, 2011 By Jordan Sayle

cet 1 Rocking the Boat to Save the Seastitle-1
For three decades, Peter Jay Brown has been regularly leaving his family and steady jobs in television production behind to take extended tours aboard the fleet of ships owned by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. The activist marine life preservation group often goes to extreme lengths to carry out its mission, employing some highly confrontational practices like sinking or ramming into vessels thought to be impairing the future survival of seals, whales, and other inhabitants of the ocean. Frequently wearing the title of first mate and nearly always armed with a camera, the most dangerous weapon of all, Brown has stood at the helm as a volunteer beside the society’s founder and the fleet’s captain, Paul Watson, on missions to Alaska, Antarctica, the Galápagos, and practically everywhere else, whether the objective was to prevent poaching in marine sanctuaries or the use of drift nets by large scale fishing operations.

film March 9, 2011 By John Dickie

pc 1 Presunto Culpablepc title Presunto Culpable

Sometimes great documentaries have spectacular launches then fizzle and die, while a select few take off and not only reach a mass audience but deliver on the promise of its power to change. The Mexican documentary Presunto Culpable (“Presumed Guilty”) is flying at a heady altitude. After blazing trails and winning prizes at dozens of film festivals in 2009, being picked up for broadcast by the likes of UK’s Channel 4 and US public television network PBS in 2010, the film – remarkably for a home-grown documentary – secured theatrical distribution in Mexico, the place where it most needs to be seen, opening on February 18th 2011. Then, after two weeks in 200 cinemas nationwide, when it broke the box office record for a documentary with over 300,000 tickets sold (the proceeds of which will be donated to a foundation), a federal judge issued an order blocking further exhibition. It seems like the rotten legal system the film exposes, that presumes suspects guilty until proven innocent, is rearing its ugly head in response to the filmmaker’s barbs.

film February 22, 2011 By Jordan Sayle

Courtesy: Big Red Barn Films

Courtesy: Big Red Barn Films (Click for Slideshow)

title45 Oscar Documentaries.
Following the awards season success of environmentally themed non-fiction films like 2006’s An Inconvenient Truth and last year’s Oscar winner The Cove, it would appear as though we’re seeing the establishment of an entire new division of documentary films – one focused on the health of the planet and the people inhabiting it. That’s certainly the impression given by this year’s list of Academy Award nominees, with two feature-length and two short-form films that can boast green credentials among the ten documentaries being recognized this Sunday. Let’s coin this new genre Cinema Verde.