Poster from The Departure

The Departure poster

What if individuals were given the chance to experience death before dying? What if the sensation of losing yourself became so profound there was nothing left to feel or love in the world? What would happen if there were a death trial run that had a stronger effect than a near-death experience and had a greater effect than any video stimulation or medical stimulations could? In filmmaker Lana Wilson’s latest documentary, The Departure, she follows Buddhist-priest Ittetsu Nemoto on his career of helping suicidal people find reasons to live. Giving answer to the question that creeps into everyone’s existence: “What is the point of life?” Nemoto’s journey helps others ask: “What makes life worth living?” Guiding suicidal people on the path of finding their will to live, Nemoto is searching for his own answers in life. Everyone in this film is on a journey of trying to understand life and death.

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Headshot of Dana Carvey

Dana Carvey

If there was ever comedy deemed ahead of its time, it might be The Dana Carvey Show. Such is the premise of the new Hulu documentary Too Funny to Fail, about the ill-fated 1996 sketch series. The film tells this story through the use of archival footage and interviews. Some may say the show got cancelled because it was dumb—the very first sketch had Bill Clinton nursing a dozen kittens with prosthetic nipples. But the documentary dives deeper into what makes a show succeed or fail—and it’s a lot more than just the jokes.

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Movie still from Love True

Scene from “Love True”

Many feature filmmakers are entering the feature film world from nontraditional beginnings, such as music videos, and this includes documentary filmmakers.

Feature filmmakers, fiction and nonfiction alike, often enter the world of feature films from studying film in school or getting their foot in the door with feature films–or at least films of the same genre they are pursuing. The standards for feature films have primarily remained the same throughout the years, however music videos have historically had more freedom to break new ground in creative expression with their production, cinematography and editing.

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Photo of person using VR headset

Virtual Reality

The film frame has remained relatively unchanged since the invention of the camera. Aside from a few changes in common aspect ratios, films have remained contained in a static frame. Filmmakers have worked around this limitation through creative camera motion and editing. Despite those efforts, cinema has remained trapped within the confines of a rectangle.

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Director Ke Guo

Director Ke Guo with subject

Chinese film director Ke Guo has directed two films, Thirty Two and Twenty Two, to tell stories of comfort women who were forced by Japanese soldiers to become sexual slaves during World War II. Thirty Two was started in 2012 and screened in 2014, and Twenty Two was started in 2014 and screened in 2017. The names come from the number of these women alive in China’s mainland when the filming started.

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A scene from Reel Injun

Reel Injun

Last year, I found myself taking a film studies course which focused on indigenous people’s role in film. I had no idea what to expect as this was a topic I had never truly thought about before. Storytelling plays a major role in indigenous culture as a very personal and simple vehicle of truth and ancestry, yet throughout the rise of the film industry, indigenous people have been represented in false stereotypes to meet western culture.

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Picture of film festival Q&A

Q&A at a film festival

Richard Brody of the New Yorker has said, “There are as many ways of making movies as there are movies, and there are as many experiences of movies as there are viewers.” You could say the same for the film festival; there are as many ways to program a festival as there are festivals.  Film festivals take place all over the world and showcase work that represents a vast range of the human condition.  And yet, the idea of a film festival is influenced by the earliest renditions of film gatherings in the 1930s and 40s, subsequently expanded by individual creativity.  Here in Columbia, the Citizen Jane Film Festival (CJ) celebrated its 10th edition in 2017. 

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Scene from Arrival of a Train

Scene from Arrival of a Train

When many of us think about the differences between fiction films and documentaries, we think they seem pretty obvious, right?. But when the medium of film was just being invented, every film was documentary to some extent. The first movie ever made was footage of the  arrival of a train shot by the Lumière brothers in France in 1896. The film shows a train arriving at a station where people getting off and into the train, without actors and script. It is a documentary in the truest sense of the word.

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Picture of Tracy Heather Strain

Tracy Heather Strain

Sighted Eyes, Feeling Heart, the debut documentary from director Tracy Heather Strain, is making the rounds at festivals such as the Chicago International Film Festival and the Toronto International Film Festival this year.  It explores the dynamic and unconventional life of young playwright and activist Lorraine Hansberry who came of age in the Civil Rights era, but died at only 34. The film is an emotionally charged excavation of what it meant to be Young, Gifted, and Black, the title of Hansberry’s unfinished autobiography, which is one of the many pieces of her work on display in the film. Her play, A Raisin in the Sun, changed the conversation on segregated housing and propelled her to fame, and it was the first play written by an African-American to play on Broadway. The play featured an almost exclusively black cast, which at the time was unheard of.  The play which was later adapted into a movie which is also featured heavily in the documentary.

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