patagonia rising

Docs in Theaters: "Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present" "Patagonia Rising" "Paul Williams Still Alive" and "Tahrir: Liberation Square"

I like the weeks where I can find a common theme among the new theatrical releases for documentary (some not opening today). But it’s weeks like this, when the films are so remarkably different from one another, that I really feel good about the medium. We’ve got a pressing environmental issue film, a record of history, a nostalgia-fueled comeback story of an artist long past his prime and a retrospective-fueled portrait of an artist at a climactic point in her life.

In the expanded releases section this week I’ve added Bruce McDonald’s Music from the Big House, the opening of which I must have missed. And as usual there are some other titles in there, some old, with special screenings and events, such as film fests. Festivals showing docs this week include Sheffield Doc/Fest, Korean-American NY, Reel Mind, St. Louis Jewish, deadCENTER, Distrital, Maui, Three Rivers Arts, Transilvania International, Zilele Filmului Romanesc, Seattle International, and Australia’s Human Rights Arts & Film.

Here are your four new theatrical releases followed by the weekly list of docs still in cinemas:

Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present

If you’re not into performance art, especially of the masochistic kind, don’t fear this directorial debut from cinematographer Matthew Akers (PBS’s Circus). He was skeptical, too, but thankfully he doesn’t take the first-person approach that many doc-makers might when entering a project out of skepticism, and so the film has a more subtle way of bringing us into an appreciation of Abramovic while Akers is simultaneously warming up to her work from behind the camera.

Eventually the doc focuses on her latest performance, an act of vulnerability, honesty and stamina that is the center of her 2010 MoMA retrospective, and this is where you’ll really be drawn in, even if it’s more to be fascinated with visitors to the exhibit, who sit down opposite the artist for a staring match and whatever subjective response is felt from the experience. I never thought I’d be so enchanted by watching people being affected by art, but when the art is also a person and is also being affected, there’s a divine process going on that is really incredible.

In addition to Abramovic, the doc features her former collaborator/lover, Ulay, David Blaine, James Franco, Orlando Bloom (for only a second), art critic Arthur Danto and MoMA curator Klaus Biesenbach.

Winner of the Panorama Audience Award for Documentary Film at the 2012 Berlin International Film Festival.

Recommended if You Like: Kirby Dick’s Sick; the Maysles’ Christo/Jean-Claude films; docs that change your mind about art

Opens on Wednesday at Film Forum in NYC and will be screening this week at Art Basel Switzerland. For upcoming openings in other cities, see the film’s screenings section on its Facebook page.

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Trailer: "Patagonia Rising" Looks at Chile's Dam Debate

Today is the last day of Documentary Channel’s special EarthView programming, which has featured a number of films on water issues and crises. But this shouldn’t be the end of your thinking on these topics, and to keep you concerned there continue to be more and more documentaries covering water-based causes around the world, like Jessica Yu’s excellent Last Call at the Oasis, which opens this Friday.

Also consider Brian Lilla’s Patagonia Rising, the trailer for which can be seen above. I haven’t seen this film yet, but I do love the natural beauty of this South American region and I am interested in hearing more about the debate on dams proposed there. It’s an issue that has been raised in different parts of the world through the years, and the stories of the affected locals never get old.

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