Between 1972 and 1974 documentarian Les Blank joined with Leon Russell to make "A Poem Is a Naked Person." An episodic, rambling work, it cobbles together concert and recording footage with unguarded moments with local residents. This is what Blank has always done well: profile the artists at the heart of his films and the culture in which they thrive.
The inaccurately titled documentary "The Wolfpack" would more accurately be called "The Sheep Herd" for it captures a family so intimidated by the abusive father that they lived as virtual prisoners in their Lower East Side Manhattan apartment for 15 years. During that time, six brothers, their mother and a sister had virtually no contact with the outside world.
Director Jody Lee Lipes' documentary "Ballet 422" follows 25-year-old Justin Peck through the creative process choreographing and staging New York City Ballet's 422 ballet: Paz de la Jolla. Lipes' fly-on-the-wall approach watches Peck, a corps dancer himself, test difficult steps, leaps, and spins. He then works with the principal dancers in refining and adjusting his choreography.
Director Nickolas Dylan Rossi's documentary "Heaven Adores You" chronicles the short, rich musical life of Elliott Smith, dead in 2003 at 34. According to publicity, the film's exceptional achievement is that perhaps 20 of its 35 songs were never released. Unfortunately, the songs compete with comments by those interviewed or they play over lovely but irrelevant footage.
Among ice hockey's legendary players, Vyacheslav Fetisov proves, in "Red Army," that he's also one of the most fascinating and irascible individuals to interview. In producer/director Gabe Polsky's documentary, the tough as nails Slava, as he's known, catalogs numerous, amazing achievements. But Polsky also captures, unexpectedly, Slava's intense emotions including passionate patriotism, deep friendship, and painful betrayal.
Representing, respectively, Palestinian and Israeli interests, Mosab Hassan Yousef and his Shin Bet handler, Gonen Ben, Yitzhak recount in detail their conflicting roles in "The Green Prince." Yousef is a prized informant because his father Sheikh Hassan Yousef, a well-known leader and Hamas founder, was imprisoned on several occasions by Israel.
Terrence McNally's play "Corpus Christi" and James Brandon's documentary "Corpus Christi: Playing with Redemption" anchor the National Tour of the "I AM Love Campaign" at Webster University. The Tour states as its purpose "to promote the idea of love and equality for all." The Tour adds the explicit goal of "igniting deeper understanding between local LGBT and faith communities."
For the first two-thirds of director Aram Garriga's documentary "American Jesus" he presents a kaleidoscopic snapshot of a surprisingly diverse array of American Christian groups. Individual ministries cater to cowboys, bikers, surfers, yoga practitioners, mixed martial arts cage fighters, strip clubs, and more. Pastors characterize their religious allegiances and their congregations. Then, unexpectedly, Garriga's approach changes.
Rights for the LGBT community rank among the most important contemporary issues, and civil union/gay marriage status figures prominently. In 2008 Puerto Rico became a microcosm of the legislative and religious debate with Concurrent Resolution 99, rushed through the Senate, essentially elevating marriage only between a man and a woman to a constitutional level.
Put one imaginative French director--Michel Gondry--and an esoteric MIT philosopher and linguist--Noam Chomsky--together for a casual, wide-ranging conversation. The result is Gondry's clever "Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy?" It includes only scattered inserts of Professor Chomsky, shot on a 16-mm Bolex camera, since Gondry favors presenting the topics discussed in vividly colorful, rapid-fire animation.