Beware the Slenderman (and More)
Documentaries at 2016 Milwaukee Film Festival
The Shepherd Express is sponsoring the 2016 Milwaukee Film Festival’s Documentary Festival Favorites. The program track includes 18 feature-length true-fact films, produced over the past two years in the U.S., Germany, China, Turkey, Ireland and Bolivia.
One of the documentaries is of special local interest. Beware the Slenderman by director Irene Taylor Brodsky focuses on the Internet “urban legend” that inspired a pair of Waukesha girls in a notorious case of attempted murder. “It was made with the full cooperation of the perpetrators’ families,” says the festival’s Artistic & Executive Director Jonathan Jackson. “Threaded through it is footage from after the girls’ arrest—raw camera feed from the police interrogation room. Beware the Slenderman looks at the subject from the perspective of understanding the phenomenon of Internet folklore, the nature of storytelling as it evolves in social media.”
Beware the Slenderman had its world premiere at this year’s South by Southwest festival in Austin and will be aired later this year on HBO. The Milwaukee Film Festival will present the Wisconsin premiere.
Directed by Dana Flor and Toby Oppenheimer
Much like the Deacons of Defense and similar African-American groups from the 1960s, Washington D.C.’s Check It began as a self-defense gang for put-upon queers. They have developed “a fierce reputation for striking back at anyone foolish enough” to attack one of their own. Some of the Check It's founders have begun to consider the need to move beyond street fighting into culture and political activism to break the cycle of violence.
Directed by Cheryl Miller Houser and Cynthia Wade)
Recent college graduates have many reasons to worry about a future of outsourced opportunities and downsized dreams. Generation Startup looks at six young people in Detroit involved in “start-up culture” with an eye toward urban renewal as well as creating employment for themselves. Hard work and imagination are their assets as the film follows them through months of setbacks, successes, hope and despair as they try to transform their postindustrial Rust Belt city into a high tech hub.
Directed by Simon Stadler
One of Earth’s most primeval surviving cultures, Namibia’s Bushmen have been forced from their traditional hunting grounds, penned into a welfare system of public housing where they are ogled by backpacking “adventure tourists.” Germany director Simon Stadler follows a group of Bushmen on a trip to Europe for their first full-scale experience of what passes as Western civilization. Ghostland affords viewers “a fascinating (and funny) opportunity to see ourselves from the outside,” i.e. with the perspective of people encountering the West with wide-open eyes.
God Knows Where I Am
Directed by Jedd and Todd Wider
A mystery wrapped in an elegy, God Knows Where I Am concerns an unidentified homeless woman found dead in an abandoned New Hampshire house with a diary that chronicled her final months. Isolated from society, she survived on scavenged apples and rainwater. The documentary expands into an examination of America’s mental health system “without ever losing sight of the heartrending perspective at its center.”
Directed by Nanfu Wang
Chinese activist/provocateur Ye Haiyan (a.k.a. “Hooligan Sparrow”) refuses to remain silent in the face of rampant sexual abuse in China’s schools. Teaming up with documentary filmmaker Nanfu Wang, he braved government interrogation, the secret police and mob intimidation to shoot video footage the Beijing regime wants no one to see.
In Pursuit of Silence
Directed by Patrick Shen
With John Cage’s “4’33” for inspiration, Patrick Shen seeks out pockets of silence in an increasingly noisy world. A Japanese Zen Buddhist shrine and Alaska’s Denali National Park are among the quiet places offering solace in a postmodern crowded with traffic and incessantly ringing phones. In Pursuit of Silence is a remarkable sensory experience “filled with unforgettable visuals and immersive sound design that demand to be seen and heard on the big screen.”
Directed by Ceyda Torun
In the ancient-modern bustle of Istanbul, stray cats wonder the streets by the hundreds of thousands. The felines are not treated with hostility or regarded as pests by the people whose city they share. Instead, as one resident puts it in this documentary, they embody "the indescribable chaos, the culture, and the uniqueness that is Istanbul.”
The Last Laugh
Directed by Ferne Pearlstein
Can the Holocaust inspire anything but dumbstruck silence or profound tragedy? The Last Laugh queries the idea that horror can be transmuted (or overcome) by humor. Director Ferne Pearlstein asks the opinions of comedians Mel Brooks, Sarah Silverman, Carl Reiner and others along with survivors. Also included are clips from The Great Dictator and The Producers and rare footage of cabaret shows inside of concentration camps show.
Mom and Me
Directed by Ken Wardrop
Oklahoma City, dubbed "the manliest city” in America, is setting for a surprisingly moving film that shows the only thing stronger than a tough man is his mother. Mom and Me focuses on men calling in to a local talk radio show paying tribute to the women who shaped them. The stories told in Mom and Me are “emotional, frequently hilarious, subtly beautiful and always touching.”
Directed by Sonia Kennebeck
Esteemed filmmakers Wim Wenders and Errol Morris helped produce this penetrating look into America’s reliance on drones to project force overseas. It includes interviews with survivors of drone attacks and a trio of whistleblowers who spoke out and providing firsthand accounts of the harsh reality of warfare by remote control.
Directed by Penny Lane
Prescription meds for male sexual dysfunction are all the rage. Nuts! examines the empire built by “Dr.” J.R. Brinkley who sold an impotency remedy prepared from goat testicles. Brinkley used the fortune he amassed to purchase a hire powered radio station and run for governor of Kansas, all the while preaching a crackpot brand of libertarianism.
Directed by Vanessa Gould
Obituary writers seldom achieve the respect accorded to rock critics or political columnists, but are probably among the most well read writers. Obit goes behind the scenes at the New York Times as its team of obituary writers decides who will receive posthumous coverage and how to condense a life into a short overview.
Directed by William A. Kirkley
The Brotherhood of Eternal Love was one of several sects formed in California during the 1960s whose agenda included changing the world through psychedelics. Not content to preach the idea, the Brotherhood soon became America’s principal supplier of LSD. With Super 8 recreations and interviews with Brotherhood members, Orange Sunshine “brings the ’60s counterculture and war on drugs to stirring life.”
Directed by James Demo
Padraig O'Malley is a recovering alcoholic who owns a Boston pub. The Irish expatriate has also served as an international peace broker, spearheading conflict resolution in some of the world's most troubled areas, including Northern Ireland and South Africa. Although he had devoted his public life to bringing people together, his personal life is shown as troubled and solitary in this documentary of a paradoxical man.
Directed by Mike Plunkett
Located in Bolivia, Salar de Uyuni is the world’s largest salt flat, a vast expanse occasionally broken up by a "salero" harvesting salt from the crystalline surface. The natural environment may be changed by Bolivian government plans to extract precious minerals below the salt surface. Filled with breathtaking beauty, Salero “challenges us to think of the consequences of our modern way of living by acquainting us intimately with those who work the land.”
Directed by David Feige
Dealing with contemporary society’s pariahs, Untouchable hopes to spark honest discussion of sex offender laws that, instead of preventing future cases, encourage recidivism by forcing many perpetrators into homelessness. Showing sympathy for abuse victims while revealing the tortured humanity of the offenders, Untouchable “forces us to confront all sides of this issue.”
The Wrong Light
Directed by Dave Adams and Josie Swantek Heitz
The nonprofit Children's Organization of Southeast Asia (COSA), led by Mickey Choothesa, has working to combat sex trafficking in Thailand, providing shelter and education for atrisk women to ensure their safety. But an unanticipated narrative emerges as the directors interview many of those women, showing Choothesa may not be an altruistic hero. The Wrong Light “shows the potential for NGOs to perpetrate fraud that exacerbates the very issues they're created to prevent.”