When RiverRun International Film Festival Began 17 years ago, there was an actual river involved — the French Broad in Brevard, the festival’s original home.

Now a river of film runs through Winston-Salem, more than 150 shorts, documentaries and features that wend through venues both traditional and experimental, 10 days across.

We watched as many as we could in the weeks leading up to the festival, with more coming online at triad-city-beat.com as the festival unfolds. There’s more than enough here for any cinephile or casual moviegoer.

Filmmakers love RiverRun because it’s hospitable and intimate, with opportunities for real interaction with viewers — many of the films we reviewed in this year’s selection will feature appearances by actors and directors.

Look for Stanley Nelson, director of Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution, who will be around talking about the oral history of the movement. UNCSA alum David Gordon Green is in town for his film Manglehorn. There’s a pitch fest next week and parties every night.

This river flows through town until April 26, when the waters will recede for another year. Dip your toes in while you can.

Panther power and a master of cinema

Black Panther Party


by Eric Ginsburg

Acclaimed documentary filmmaker Stanley Nelson’s newest work The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution is chock-full of compelling interviews, but Wayne Pharr delivers the most chillingly poignant moment of the film.

The scene comes deep into the almost two-hour piece, which provides the most comprehensive and fascinating narrative of the controversial black power organization on film — a gripping portrait for both newcomers and those steeped in party lore.

Pharr and Roland Freeman take turns recounting their experience in a shootout with the LAPD when the police attacked a Panther compound, sharing fascinating details like putting cigarette butts in their nostrils to avoid succumbing to gas inhalation. Director Stanley Nelson, who is RiverRun’s 2015 Master of Cinema honoree, wove archival footage of the police assault as the Panther interviewees tell how a comrade was shot as she defended the house and how the small cadre surrendered after a long exchange of gunfire.

Staring into the camera with piercing eyes, Pharr powerfully describes how he felt holed up with Freeman and others.

“I felt free,” he says. “I felt absolutely free. I was a free Negro. In that little space I had, I was the king.”

Pharr, who was 19 at the time, goes into more detail in his book Nine Lives of a Black Panther. He passed away last September, followed soon after by Freeman in October.

Stanley Nelson


The two men were Nelson’s favorite interviewees in The Black Panthers.

“When he said he felt free,” Nelson said, “that was one of the most chilling moments for me, and I think it’s an incredible scene in the film. I think it really works.”

The whole narrative works seamlessly, beginning with the masterful setup in the opening scene from Ericka Huggins, one of the more famous Panther alumni.

“We know the party we were in, and not the entire thing,” Huggins says. “We were making history and it wasn’t nice and clean. It wasn’t easy. It was complex.”

Much has been produced about the Black Panther Party, but the stories frequently orbit around the experience of individuals, such as the 2001 film A Huey P. Newton Story and The Murder of Fred Hampton or memoirs by figures including Assata Shakur and Mumia Abu-Jamal. Pharr isn’t the only interviewee to write a book about that era — A Taste of Power by Elaine Brown, Will You Die With Me? by Flores Forbes and the newer Panther Baby by Jamal Joseph are all fascinating reads. But what Nelson does, and does so well, is hold those interlocking histories together to illuminate “the entire thing,” as Huggins says.

The Black Panthers highlights the “boldness, arrogance and courageousness” of the organization, as one interviewee describes it, chronicling from the beginning how the party held the seeds of its own destruction and articulating the nefarious role the FBI played in the Panthers demise.

It was a challenge to depict the nuances of the organization, Nelson said, balancing unflattering stories about Newton and others with other components of the organization’s history to create a coherent picture.

“Talking about the Panthers, especially when you’re making a film that doesn’t have narration, we have to tell the story and it’s a very complicated story,” Nelson said. “We can’t tell you every single story in two hours.”

#3 Black Panthers from Sacramento, Free Huey Rally, Bobby Hutton Memorial Park in Oakland, CA, 1969. Photo courtesy of Pirkle Jones and Ruth-Marion Baruch


Nelson, an Emmy Award-winning filmmaker known for Freedom Riders, The Murder of Emmett Till and Marcus Garvey: Look for Me in the Whirlwind among others, proves he is the man for the job. With help from PBS, the Ford Foundation and independent television service ITVS, he capably unpacks the Panthers complexity through footage unlike any existing content on the subject, interviewing a former FBI informant, police officers (including one who says: “I think we did establish that we were the dominating force”), historians and Panthers of various stripes of fame.

Together they tell the essential stories: the armed protest at the California state legislature, the murder of Fred Hampton, the trials of co-founders Newton and Bobby Seale, the sham Panther 21 case in New York City, the split between Eldridge Cleaver and Huey P. Newton, the Panther programs and Seale’s run for mayor of Oakland.

But even for those very familiar with the Black Panther Party’s history, there are many enthralling insights. Like Flores Forbes talking about shaking down drug dealers to generate revenue, or the sexism within the party.

“We didn’t get these brothers from revolutionary heaven,” Elaine Brown says.

Nelson was 15 and living in New York when the Panthers were founded, and like many others, particularly other Northern, black teenagers, it attracted him even though he only watched from afar.

“The Panthers were very impressive for me,” he said. “Some of the things they talked about resonated. Everybody was taken by the Panthers because they looked so cool.”

One of the things he gravitated towards was the drawing of Emory Douglas, whose work was splashed across the party’s newspaper that members sold on streetcorners (and who, coincidentally, attended a Panthers reunion in Winston-Salem in 2012).

Children walk by Panther graffiti. (courtesy photo)


“That became, for a lot of us, our point of contact with the Panthers,” he said. “We saw the beautiful drawings and the pig cartoons. We had a feeling that you couldn’t say that, but he just did. In talking to other people [for the film], they’d be like, “Yeah, yeah that’s what I remember, too.’”

Nelson talked to scholars and realized that Douglas’ drawing held significant importance in the image and growth of the party, including the Panther’s innovative depiction of pigs as uniformed, standing police officers.

It’s stories like these — which includes an interview with Douglas — that other material about the Black Panther Party generally glosses over. And that is Nelson’s core triumph: distilling a complicated history into an appropriate primer while bringing new insights for party faithfuls in a masterfully clear and riveting manner.

Screens on April 24 at SECCA at 5 p.m. and on April 25 at A/perture at 10 a.m. Stanley Nelson will be in attendance for the screenings and will speak at the Milton Rhodes Arts Center on April 24 at 1:30 p.m.

Filmmakers Reichert and Zaman shift focus from east Tennessee to Jersey shore

Farihah Zaman (courtesy photo)


by Jordan Green

Documentary filmmakers Jeff Reichert and Farihah Zaman, who live in Brooklyn, came out of Hurricane Sandy relatively unscathed when it left a swath of destruction along the Atlantic coast in October 2012. But they immediately wondered about the fate of Long Beach, a barrier-island community on the New Jersey shoreline where Reichert’s mother grew up.

“The New York story when it comes to Hurricane Sandy was a really quick civilian action movement, with Occupy organized to

Jeff Reichert (courtesy photo)


provide relief,” Zaman said. “A place like Long Beach doesn’t have that resource or ability to communicate with the mainland. The story there is that people rely on each other.”

Reichert’s parents met and got married on the island, and he spent many summers on there. Those family ties continued when Reichert and Zaman got engaged at Long Beach. This Time Next Year provides an intimate composite portrait of efforts to rebuild over the course of 12 months through the experiences of several of the island’s residents.

“We wanted to go and see how people were doing,” Zaman said. “Basically, the first question in our minds was: What if people don’t open by Memorial Day? For people who are economically dependent on tourism, if you don’t open by Memorial Day, then you’re not going to make it.”

The unobtrusive and unforced storytelling in the film came about as a result of the filmmakers spending extensive time with their subjects, but Reichert said they encountered some initial resistance.

“With the folks in the film we felt like we had pretty great chemistry,” he said. “We felt like these are relationships that are going to be furthered. We would say, ‘Can we come hang out with you?’ They said, ‘We’re not doing anything; we’re just at the house.’ We would say, ‘That’s fine.’ The things that people think are interesting about themselves are not necessarily what is most interesting. But they saw that we were in it for the long haul, and I think that helped.

“I know the place, I know how the culture works,” Reichert continued. “I like the same sports teams. It was a combination of chemistry and having the same cultural background. It’s also a matter of trying to be a human being on the other side of the camera when people are sharing intimate stuff.”

This will be the filmmakers’ fourth or fifth visit to RiverRun. As film critics who write for the online journal Reverse Shot and other outlets, they were initially invited to the festival to serve on juries for competitions. In 2013, they received an invitation to present their documentary Remote Area Medical, and took home the festival’s Altered States Audience Award for Best American Indie film.

RiverRun is one of their favorite film festivals.

“People sometimes assume that the bigger festivals like the Toronto International Film Festival or the Tribeca Film Festival are better, but it’s not always the case,” Zaman said. “A lot of times the larger festivals are more about business, while the regional film festivals are much better experiences.

“The programming is really strong, and they treat their guests really well,” she added. “The venues are distinct to the community at RiverRun, and that’s not always the case with other festivals. You get a real sense of the community being there, from the barbecue to the moonshine at the parties.”

Reichert said he and Zaman didn’t set out to resolve the political question of whether building on barrier islands is ecologically sustainable.

“Our last film, Remote Area Medical, is about a healthcare clinic over a three-day weekend at a NASCAR speedway, but it’s also about eastern Tennessee, and how hard it is to live there,” Reichert said. “This Time Next Year is about a hurricane and climate change — yes, that’s true — but it’s really about a place and the people who live there and what their struggles look like.”

120 Days, dir. Ted Roach, 79 min., 2014

by Jordan Green



As a dramatic device for creating suspense in a documentary, it would be hard to improve on this: A Raleigh man who illegally brought his family from Mexico and quietly established himself as a hardworking, upstanding member of the community is stopped by a police officer without apparent cause. As a result, he is forced to go before an immigration judge, and ordered to self-deport within 120 days.

The clock is ticking. Should he obey the law, or become a fugitive and disappear into the fabric of another city? Or will an executive order from President Obama or action by Congress lift the order? As viewers, we know there’s little chance of any outcome but the one stamped on the order, and yet we want to hope against hope for a second chance or a crack in the wall.

Miguel Cortes is a compelling protagonist. No vaquero machismo here: He’s a soft-spoken family man who dotes on his wife and two daughters while working at a nursing home. While mild-mannered, Cortes wears a sombrero and teaches music and dance through the Raleigh Parks & Recreation Department, winning an award from the city for his voluntarism.

Some of the narrative approaches employed by this documentary are a bit stilted. For example, director Ted Roach basically explains how he was approached by a friend of a friend and offered the opportunity to follow Cortes as his deadline for departure approaches. Cortes himself comes across as somewhat naïve, professing to be surprised that he could get in trouble for being in the United States without documents. And Roach’s expression of surprise about the existence of the 287(g) program, which allows local sheriff’s offices to partner with the federal government to carry out immigration enforcement, is a bit hard to believe; it’s been widely reported on since 2007.

Still, the narration becomes more natural as the film proceeds along with the heightened tension of the built-in drama. And it’s hard to think of another recent documentary that resolves to such a devastating conclusion.

Screens on April 25 at 1 p.m. at UNCSA Main and on April 26 at 1 p.m. at A/perture. Director Ted Roach will be in attendance for both screenings.

Amour Fou, dir. Jessica Hausner, 96 min., 2014

by Jordan Green

Amour Fou


Amour Fou skewers the social conventions and attitudes of early 19th Century Prussian society, both the traditional reverence for established order and the burgeoning romanticism of individual attainment. Both modes, reflective of the times, diminish women to an afterthought.

Based loosely on the life of poet Heinrich von Kleist, the story centers on Henriette, the wife of a liberal-leaning administrator under the country’s chancellor. Played by Birte Schnoeink, Henriette seems to be suffering from some sort of “illness of the spirit,” or perhaps a tumor or ulcer. Her troubles play out in a series of parlor scenes against the absurdist backdrop of a tax-reform program that has the aristocracy astir, because they will have to pay taxes, along with the serfs, who might develop dangerous notions of equality as a result.

The hilarity of the dry dialogue is only amplified by the tightly controlled movement of the actors, with each frame seeming to mimic a period painting. The various breeds of lapdogs, whose flopping tails are sometimes the only movement within the frame, only add to the ambience.

Several scenes simmer with satire, as when the doctor prescribes Henriette “bed rest and bloodletting,” adding, “Avoid all local irritation. This also includes intercourse.”

The look of intensity on his brow as he utters the last word is flooring.

The poet Heinrich, played by Christian Friedel — who bears an uncanny resemblance to the historical Heinrich von Kleist — would seem to be a natural ally for a woman in Henriette’s situation. But Heinrich’s preoccupations with immortality, personal suffering and individualism only deepen his self-absorption, again relegating Henriette to an afterthought. And so this dark romantic comedy winds down to its inevitable conclusion.

Screens Friday at 1 p.m., Saturday at 1 p.m. and April 19 at 7 p.m. at A/perture.

Anywhere Else, dir. Ester Amrami, 87 min., 2014

by Eric Ginsburg

Anywhere Else


The tension in Anywhere Else is immediately apparent, between Israeli grad student Noa — who is living in Berlin — and her boyfriend, but the story really gets good when she spontaneously decides to return home. Anywhere Else transforms from what initially looks like a boring story about a whiny, lost and privileged white twentysomething into an intriguing fictional feature.

Once the film starts dealing with family turmoil and the unexpected and rapidly deteriorating health of Noa’s Holocaust-surviving grandmother, Anywhere Else takes on a new weightiness. Even Noa’s character adopts more depth, and when her German boyfriend turns up out of nowhere, the dynamics only become more interesting.

Screens Friday at 1:30 p.m. at A/perture 2, Saturday at 4:30 p.m. at A/perture 2 and April 20 at 7 p.m. at A/perture 1.

Curious Worlds: The Art and Imagination of David Beck, dir. Olympia Stone, 68 min., 2014

by Sayaka Matsuoka



David Beck is a sort of modern-day Leonardo da Vinci.

Half artist and half inventor, Beck produces eclectic sculptures that engage viewers through music, motion and meticulous detail. Inspired by Gothic relief carvings, Beck crafts everything from intricate palaces with tiny moving people inside to creatures like the extinct dodo bird; all of his hand-crafted pieces are mechanized. Curious Worlds delves into the life and process of a modern renaissance man as he creates peculiar worlds that fascinate and instill wonder not unlike the ones by filmmakers Tim Burton and Hayao Miyazaki. The film not only captures the magic of Beck’s work but also invites viewers into the mind of an artistic Houdini and his strange yet beautiful interpretations of the world we live in.

Screens on April 21 at 1 p.m. at A/perture 1 and on April 23 at 5 p.m. at SECCA. Director Olympia Stone will be in attendance for all screenings.

Five Star, dir. Keith Miller, 82 min., 2014

by Jordan Green



Moving at the languid speed of life with halting dialogue and lingering shots, the story of Piru Bloods leader Primo and pupil John Diaz carries the cinéma vérité feel of a documentary.

Indeed, Primo is played by the real-life Blood James “Primo” Grant; John Diaz is played by the real-life John Diaz, and rapper Marvin Bernard, aka Tony Yayo, plays himself, in this piece of audacious filmmaking, which intentionally blurs the line between fiction and reality.

The stifling heat of a summer in Brooklyn’s Walt Whitman Homes is apparent from the opening shot, in which Primo drives a car through the night while lamenting to an unseen passenger that he was locked up when his youngest son was born. As one would expect from someone who runs a street-level drug crew where violence is a necessity for enforcing business terms, brutality comes in quick, unexpected flashes. But Primo is a family man, doting on his children with paternal concern while worrying about their financial security, not unlike an HVAC repairman sweating out survival.

John Diaz is similarly compelling as a teenager fumbling through the paces of first love and weighing his choices for becoming a man and a provider. The recent shooting death of Diaz’s father, revered by Primo and other street toughs, hangs over the narrative as an uncomfortable question mark.

The choices that the two men make — Primo as a maturing gang leader who is trying to secure a decent life for his family, and John as a young man struggling with the contradiction of his father’s legacy — propel the film in unexpected directions. On first view, the conclusion of this unflinching film seems somewhat off. But the ambiguous, unsettled feeling that remains after the screen goes dark ultimately underscores an important truth: Tensions between respect and mercy as well as consequences and forgiveness are never fully resolved. Primo, John and young men like them continually push forward, try to do the best for their families while sometimes making bad choices, with periodic casualties. La lucha continua.

Screens on April 24 at 4:30 p.m. at A/perture 2, April 25 at 4:30 p.m. at UNCSA Gold and April 26 at 10:30 a.m. at UNCSA Main. Director Keith Miller will be in attendance for all screenings.

Fresh Dressed, dir. Sacha Jenkins, 90 min., 2015

by Eric Ginsburg

Fresh Dressed


From the jump, Fresh Dressed puts forward its star power, beginning with an interview with Yeezus. If you don’t know who that is, chances are you won’t appreciate this hip-hop fashion documentary unless you’re interested in opening a clothing line of your own. This film explores the particulars of the rise of major “urban fashion” brands, focused almost exclusively on New York City.

Even though it’s 90 minutes long, it drags for viewers who aren’t all that interested in the intricacies of the fashion world. But even still, there are several captivating stories, including one about Tupac not charging Karl Kani for an ad because he was black, too. “It was all love,” Kani says in the film. And there are several poignant comments from Damon Dash, who was Jay Z’s manager and a partner at Roc-a-Fella Records.

“Fashion is about authentic experiences,” he says. Early in the film, Dash says that much of hip-hop fashion is based on status symbols stemming from insecurity, but he adds that it’s also a way to maintain dignity and pride in spite of oppression. His analysis, the insights of other icons and several engaging stories — like when the film addresses “boosters” — are enough to carry Fresh Dressed.

Screens Thursday at 7 p.m. at Hanesbrands and Friday at 5 p.m. at UNCSA Gold.

God Bless the Child, dir. Robert Machoian and Rodrigo Ojeda-Beck, 92 min., 2014

by Jordan Green

God Bless the Child


God Bless the Child thrusts the viewer into a world where adults exist, for the most part, only peripherally — as targets of insults and objects of fear as potential agents of authority.

From the opening scene of a partially clothed young boy performing backflips before dawn on a backyard trampoline, the viewer is left with the vexatious impression that injury could transpire at any moment. And when a car screeches out of the driveway — presumably driven by the mother, based on the imploring cry of the boy — the anxiety only ratchets higher.

The feature film follows five siblings, ranging in age from about 15 down to 2, in Davis, Calif. who play themselves. Apparently without scripting, they carry on with the kind of activities that are typical of home life, only without the presence of adults — boxing, washing the dogs, walking a greenway and playing soccer in the park.

Covering the span of a day, the 92-minute film moves at roughly 10 times the speed of life, but considering that viewers have become conditioned to experience a lifetime in a standard-length feature, the action seems painstakingly slow. That only enhances the sense that a lot can go wrong, whether it might be an 8-year-old getting a broken arm or toddler being snatched up by a stranger.

The relaxed pacing of the film is not the only element utilized by directors Robert Machoian and Rodrigo Ojeda-Beck in service of cinematic naturalism; the effect is completed by casual dialogue that sometimes verges on inaudible and framing from a child’s height that leaves the rare adults who intrude on the storyline headless or oversized.

Despite the absence of adults and the fact that the mother is never seen onscreen, she still makes an impression as a volatile, unpredictable force. Through a cell-phone message left by Harper, the older sister, viewers come away with the distinct impression that this is not the first time the mother has disappeared, and the question of whether she’s coming back hangs over the storyline.

It’s Harper, a teenager with blue and purple hair, who provides the family’s tenuous stability. And her character is richly rendered through her private moments of worry and front of good humor and cool before her younger siblings. Between bathing her toddler sibling and awkwardly flirting with a boy while her baby brother wanders unattended in a park, it’s clear that she has far more on her plate than any teenager deserves.

Screens on Friday at 7 p.m., Saturday at 10 a.m. and April 19 at 4 p.m. Directors Robert Machoian and Rodrigo Ojeda-Beck will be in attendance for all screenings, which take place at A/perture 1.

Lake Los Angeles, dir. Mike Ott, 85 min., 2014

by Eric Ginsburg



Lake Los Angeles isn’t one of those films that builds, with dramatic music that emphasizes rising action, building to a zenith as tension between two foes spirals. It’s way too realistic for that, with loneliness and heartbreak as invisible enemies in this feature piece.

A morose Cuban immigrant living in what looks like rural Texas but is actually southern California makes extra money by sheltering undocumented immigrants, including a young Mexican girl who won’t eat. The two form a surrogate family for each other, and though they are apart for the vast majority of the film, their stories dovetail after their paths cross.

Minimal music, except for a scene where the pair listen to Jeanette’s “Porque Te Vas” on a record player, add to the eerie and displaced sense of the film. Careful camerawork abets this feeling of imbalance and impermanence well. Lake Los Angeles is compelling, stinging and deeply sad, and increasingly so as it progresses. For most of the film, after the protagonists quickly diverge, viewers are left wondering if they will ever reunite, seemingly each other’s last hope of some semblance of home.

Screens on April 23 at 7 p.m., April 24 at 1 p.m. and April 25 at 4 p.m. Director Mike Ott will be in attendance for all screenings, which take place at A/perture 1.

Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles, dir. Chuck Workman, 94 min., 2014

by Anthony Harrison

Orson Welles


Orson Welles stands tall as one of the geniuses of the 20th Century. From his prodigious beginnings as a wunderkind dramatist to his cinematic triumphs of the 1930s and ’40s — and his eventual slide into brandy-fueled caricature — everything Welles did was epic and larger than life.

Chuck Workman’s documentary, Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles, presents a portrait of a giant, warts and all. The film utilizes archive footage of Welles and interviews with figures such as biographer Simon Callow, critic Elvis Mitchell, director Peter Bogdanovich, former classmate Joanne Styles and Christopher Welles Feder, Welles’ eldest daughter. Magician picks cherries from this wealth of footage to craft a highly informative, insightful and entertaining narrative.

Welles’ intellectual and artistic prowess impressed his peers as much as his elders. But his extraordinary prodigiousness came at a price.

“He was, without a doubt, the only person I know who had absolutely no empathetic skills,” Styles says. “I told him just what I thought about him. He looked at me — ‘Joanne, everybody has their little idiosyncrasies.’”

The film weaves its way through Welles’ rise, from his beginnings in the theater to his stint in radio, including his famous War of the Worlds broadcast — “the turning point in Welles’ career,” Bogdanovich says.

“Police were already in the control room during the broadcast, not knowing who to arrest,” Welles says.

Then, despite the artistry of films like Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons, Magician details Welles’ strange fall from grace and self-imposed exile in Europe.

“I began as a star, and I’ve been working my way down ever since,” Welles says.

No matter what, Welles was seen as a megalithic figure.

“He was part of that movement that includes Picasso and Duke Ellington, all those artists who were aware in a way they hadn’t been before,” Mitchell says.

In his ingenuity, Welles paved the way for more artistry in Hollywood and abroad.

“Anything that I’ve done in any medium, if it’s ever been any good, has been my way — to quote the song,” Welles says.

Magician presents the complex life of a brilliant man with style and good humor.

“This is one of the great mysteries: why this extraordinarily smart guy was outwitted by so much less remarkable and intelligent people so often,” Callow says.

In one of Workman’s playful edits, Welles immediately answers Callow: “Money.”

Screens on Friday at 10 a.m. at Hanesbrands and on April 22 at 7:30 p.m. at SECCA.

Refugiado, dir. Diego Lerman, 93 min., 2014

by Sayaka Matsuoka



Refugiado isn’t your typical dramatic thriller. Although those expecting another loud, fast and action-packed drama may find the quietly suspenseful film a tad slow, Refugiado’s real triumph lies in the carefully crafted scenes revolving around the two protagonists — a mother and her son, on the run from their abusive husband and father respectively. The feature film balances stressful scenes of the two just barely escaping from the grasps of the aggressor with tender interactions between them as they protect and rely on each other. What the film lacks in dialogue, it makes up for by visually chronicling their ups and downs, many times focusing on the young boy’s own personal struggles. Refugiado is as emotional a journey for those watching it as it is for the triumphant duo, and doesn’t cease to engage throughout.

Screens Saturday at 10:30 a.m. at A/perture, April 20 at 4:30 p.m. at A/perture and April 26 at 1 p.m. at UNCSA Babcock.

Sex(Ed), dir. Brenda Goodman, 77 min., 2014

by Anthony Harrison



Some things never change. Sex(Ed) points this out in its humorous discussion of the evolution of sexual education in film.

From the get-go, Brenda Goodman’s documentary notes that more than 100,000 sex-ed films have been produced since the turn of the 20th Century, and it covers the history of sexual education over the past hundred-odd years. Yet Sex(Ed) calls into question the effectiveness of these films, as well as the effectiveness of American sexual education in general.

While sexual education has attempted to grow in terms of explicitness and women’s issues since World War II — and there have been fluctuations along with the times — sex education is still informed by the conservative Puritanism deeply rooted in American culture.

“Girls were urged to protect their chastity, while boys were urged to be sure to not get anybody pregnant,” Dr. Tara McPherson, a University of Southern California professor of gender and critical studies, says in an interview about sex-ed films in the post-war era. “Those myths were very powerful for young girls and a source of a lot of guilt, I think, for women who felt like they didn’t fit those molds.”

Sex(Ed) suggests that these myths — and the divide between male and female sexual education, not to mention non-heterosexual perspectives — persist today.

A contemporary scene early on in the film highlights the unease.

“How does, like…the male sperm get into the… uterus, though?” one fifth-grader asks, smiling awkwardly as her classmates giggle.

“Well, it doesn’t fly,” the school nurse replies. “The sperm is placed in the uterus of the woman.”

“Yeah, but how does it get there?” the girl asks.

“It’s delivered,” the nurse states, flatly and vaguely.

The moment is at once nostalgically charming and disturbing. The nurse seems nervous about discussing the mechanics of sex to a girl, underscoring the argument Sex(Ed) raises.

Just as much as a serious argument for better sexual education, Sex(Ed) is also an entertaining history of the changes in cinema and how it has transformed with cultural shifts.

While some things remain static, Sex(Ed) shows that others change dynamically.

Screens on April 24 at 8 p.m. at UNCSA Babcock and on April 25 at 5 p.m. at Hanesbrands. Director Brenda Goodman will be in attendance for both screenings.

Stray Dog; dir. Debra Granik, 98 min., 2014

by Eric Ginsburg

Stray Dog


This incredibly intimate portrait of Stray Dog, a battle-scarred Vietnam veteran and biker living in Missouri, is anything but predictable. Director Debra Granik sets it up from the beginning with an opening shot full of swagger and humor as Stray Dog and his friend dance casually in a Dollar General parking lot.

Stray Dog is a documentary in the cinema verite style — no narration, nobody directly addressing the camera and no audible questions from the filmmakers. The kind of people who talk a lot during movies, asking questions like, “Wait, who is she?” should stay at home. But the style is tremendously effective, shrinking the distance between subject and viewer even if it takes a while to determine exactly who everybody is.

Stray Dog takes a hard look at the trauma its protagonist endured while at war, including surprising access to a very frank therapy session.

“I bet you I paid out $50,000 in assault charges because I didn’t want to take no s*** from anybody,” Stray Dog tells a friend at one point.

The film is laced with humor and lighthearted moments such as friends and family sharing moonshine or celebrating Christmas together. But the beautiful scenes are most striking, like when Stray Dog and other veterans fix a floor for the mother of a soldier who was killed in action, when he talks to his granddaughter about her unplanned pregnancy or when he tries to learn Spanish with a computer program because his Mexican wife speaks limited English.

Stray Dog is a triumph, and the documentary about this humble and giving man is not to be missed.

Screens Friday at 1 p.m. at Hanesbrands, Saturday at 1 p.m. at UNCSA Gold and April 19 at 10 a.m. at UNCSA Gold. Film editor Tory Stewart will be in attendance for all screenings.

The Chinese Mayor, dir. Hao Zhou, 89 mins., 2015

by Sayaka Matsuoka

The Chinese Mayor


Citizens stand and watch as bulldozers tear down their homes, leaving just clouds of dust and smoke in the air. Children play in the rubble, covering their faces while dirty, stray dogs climb over hunks of broken buildings.

The Chinese Mayor highlights the struggle between the citizens of the once shining capital of imperial China, Datong, and its ambitious communist mayor, Geng Tanbo. The film chronicles Tanbo’s extreme efforts to restore Datong to its royal glory by forcing relocation onto half a million residents from their homes to restore or construct cultural monuments, including a vast city wall. His cultural restoration project aims to take the most polluted city in the People’s Republic and transform it into a vibrant tourist hub.

The film follows the Chinese official’s daily operations with amazing proximity and captures the apathy of the local government. Citizens’ houses are destroyed, leaving many of them homeless because of their inability to pay for the new “affordable housing,” and yet the dream of reviving the city repeatedly clouds the Tanbo’s judgment.

The story is not entirely monolithic, with many citizens supporting the mayor’s actions. Scenes of the mayor’s his nagging wife repeatedly berating the him also add texture to the film.

An intimate look at the local politics of communist China, The Chinese Mayor reveals the inner workings of a world powerhouse struggling to prosper into the future.

Screens on Friday at 7:30 p.m. at SECCA, on Saturday at 10 a.m. at UNCSA Gold, and on April 26 at 10:30 a.m. at A/perture.

This Time Next Year, dir. Jeff Reichert and Farihah Zaman, 89 min., 2014

by Jordan Green

This Time Next Year


A documentary directed, produced and photographed by Jeff Reichert and Farihah Zaman, This Time Next Year eschews the panoramic view of Hurricane Sandy, choosing instead a tight shot on one particular community that was profoundly affected by the storm: Long Beach Island, NJ.

There is no television news footage of gale winds lashing trees, massive flooding or dramatic evacuations. No scenes of Gov. Chris Christie or President Obama viewing the devastation or offering reassuring platitudes. Instead, the film provides an intimate portrait of a community rebuilding through its resilient residents, among them Joe Mangino, nicknamed “the General” for leading a corps of home rehabilitation volunteers; Joni Bakum, a parking attendant who possesses an abiding religious faith; Leslie Houston, a retired deputy police chief; the Bowkers, a couple wondering if their deli will survive the decimation to tourism incurred through the storm damage; and Dawn Annarumma-Marona, a widow who cares for her disabled adult son.

Affectingly interspersed with footage of water from a perspective of submersion to emphasize how closely the barrier-island community is tied to the ocean, the film moves gently towards the question at its heart: whether human habitation on the coastline is really sustainable.

Like their Southern counterparts on the Gulf Coast, the residents of Long Beach Island possess a joie de vivre, hardiness and solidarity with one another that eludes the practical folk who choose to live in more stable environments. Whether they’re clammers, surfers, teachers, civil servants or service workers who cater to the tourist trade, they can’t imagine living anywhere else.

As one resident, who is not identified in the film and appears as a voiceover, says, “There are those of us who feel compelled to live by the sea. One big storm could wipe us out. We accept that as the price you pay for living in paradise.”

The film gets off to a slow start; perhaps the chaos, uncertainty and tedium of rebuilding is a truer reflection of the experience than a cataclysmic depiction of a raging storm and endless disaster-porn footage. Once the film gets going, it fits itself into a lovely depiction of the seasonal rhythm that characterizes a community dependent on the ebb and flow of tourism. Such is the filmmakers’ ability to create empathy with their subjects that Memorial Day elicits not giddy anticipation about a carefree summer but a sense that everything is on the line. A beach montage accompanied by whimsical music precedes dazzling footage of Fourth of July fireworks paired with a somber soundtrack. Eventually, the film circles back to its starting point: the year-round residents commemorating Sandy’s one-year anniversary in October 2013, after the tourists have gone home.

No one captures the paradox of sticking it out on the coast quite as well as resident Ken Burkhardt.

“We took a chance when we built the house here,” he says. “There’s no guarantee when you build the house on a moving piece of sand that it’s gonna be there forever. And if we lose it I’m gonna really, really be sad, but I’m gonna be happy that I took that chance to build the house.”

Screens on April 23 at 1:30 p.m., April 24 at 7:30 p.m. and April 25 at 4:30 p.m. Directors Jeff Reichert and Farihah Zaman will be in attendance for all screenings, which take place at A/perture 2.

Touching the Sound: The Improbable Journey of Nobuyuki Tsujii, dir. Peter Rosen, 2014, 68 min.

by Jordan Green

Touching the Sound


The idea of blind people having an extraordinary ability to discern sound to compensate for their lack of sight goes back at least as far as the “Little House on the Prairie” series. That blind people seem predisposed to music is a fact borne out by the careers of Ray Charles, Doc Watson, Stevie Wonder and Ronnie Milsap.

So Touching the Sound, a documentary about the Japanese piano prodigy Nobuyuki Tsujii, holds no great reveal, except perhaps through the epiphany experienced by the boy’s mother. Initially unprepared to raise a blind child, she describes the first months of his life as comparable to being in “dark tunnel.” It’s only when he displays an uncanny ability to play tunes by ear on a toy piano that she suddenly discovers that her son’s life, far from being constrained, holds unlimited potential. Viewers who are moderately sophisticated on the dynamics can experience the wonder of the pianist’s talent through his mother’s vantage point, even if the premise of the story is not particularly novel.

Director Peter Rosen takes viewers through bravura performances, lyrical visits to the beach and nail-biting competitions. Highlights include a triumphant performance at Carnegie Hall in New York City and a touching tour of a tsunami-stricken area of Japan, with a companion performance alongside a children’s choir. The former establishes the virtuosity of the pianist, nicknamed Nobu, while the latter reveals his extraordinary sensitivity. He’s clearly affected by the devastation, described to him in detail by his tour manager — proof again that blindness isn’t a limitation.

Even at 68 minutes, the documentary runs a little long as it recycles a handful of themes, but its most endearing angle might be the cross-cultural truism that disability need not be a liability.

Screens on Saturday at 1 p.m. and April 23 at 5 p.m. Director Peter Rosen will be in attendance for both screenings, which take place at Hanesbrands.

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