A few rare, exceedingly exceptional individuals make lasting, positive contributions to the world in which they live. Julius Rosenwald ranks among the most admirable and constructive true heroes, as writer, director and producer Aviva Kempner's documentary "Rosenwald" amply shows. J.R., the address he preferred, said he identified with racial inequality because of the European pogroms against Jews.
An acknowledged innovator throughout his career, Paul Taylor has choreographed dance performances since the mid-1950s. Now 85, he shows no inclination and expresses no desire to slow down as shown in the entertaining and informative documentary "Paul Taylor: Creative Domain." Director, producer and editor Kate Geis quietly observes Taylor working, letting his pace guide this appreciative study of his process.
In 2007, as was his habit, Shannon Whisnant bid on and bought at auction, sight unseen, an abandoned storage locker. What he discovers therein propels a bizarre odyssey of his and, soon, his family's lives. For in a smoker grill, Shannon finds an amputated leg. Few, however, would jump to his next decision.
The first thing established as "Meru" begins in grey mist on this 21,000-foot mountain in Northern India is that no one has yet summitted it. Despite decades of attempts, the expertise required has defeated elite climbers. Jon Krakauer explains that it takes a unique combination of great technical rock and ice climbing, plus high altitude tolerance.
Documentarian Joshua Oppenheimer again focuses on Indonesia with "The Look of Silence." In his 2012 documentary "The Act of Killing" Oppenheimer interrogates murderers of thousands. Without remorse they reenact the grotesque brutality they perpetrated in 1965 when Suharto overthrew President Sukarno. "The Look of Silence" pursues one of those murders, representative of the scores of innocent civilians butchered.
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.