This weekend two of the best films I've seen this year, which happen to be documentaries, are airing on TV. Dear Zachary, review here, has been officially snubbed by the Oscars, not making it onto the short list. Though, since the Oscars have never gotten that category right, maybe that's a complement. It's premiering on MSNBC, Sunday Dec. 7 to kick-off MSNBC's new doc initiative. I talked briefly to director Ken Kuenne when the film was playing here in NYC, and he said he edited about 3 minutes out to make the time slot, but I wasn't able to ask him if they edited it for content so I can't vouch for the state of the TV airing. Doc purists will be troubled by Kuenne's subjective take on some of the events in the film but this is art therapy as well as an emotional document. Kuenne, who's a composer and sound man as much as a filmmaker, knows what he's doing with the soundtrack and sound effects so don't be too alarmed. And emotional is the word. If you watch it keep a box of tissues near by. But do watch it, TiVo it, set your VCR, whatever you need to do see this film.
At The Death House Door, the current favorite to win the Oscar from some of my sources, is playing on IFC (the indepedent film channel) Sat. Dec 6 (check local listings). From the makers of Hoop Dreams, this is the story of an unlikely minister who nearly loses everything because of his devotion to his calling, only to become a prison chaplin to nearly a hundred soon to be executed inmates. The film also chronicles the case of a man who may have been innocent, a man who formed a strong relationship with the minister, two reporters who are looking for evidence to exonnerate him, his sister trying to become an activist, and all of these lives intersecting. Once again, powerful, powerful stuff.
A Stephen Colbert Christmas...
(Airing throughout the month on Comedy central)
I wrote a paper a few years ago about Brecht's later works and their similarities to and influences on Stephen Colbert's style of satire, and this is a perfect example. Crass subversion and honest belief on a razor's edge make this a must see. At the end of the day, Colbert still teaches Sunday School at his church, and here he mixes honest belief with the profane; poignancy with pot jokes. The segment with Fiest is actually a really outstanding mini-sermon about our motives and expectations behind prayer and getting answers to those prayers.
Also check out the soundtrack. This isn't just a clever absurd take on the lost art of the variety show holiday special, but it is also a great Christmas special. The finale, "Much Worse Things to Believe In," would definitely bring a smile to Kierkegaard's face. Oh, and the money goes to charity...but don't tell Stephen.
Playing in select theaters. I really am not sure why it's rated 'R.' It is a troubling film that deals with troubling real-life situations involving children, but its all suggested from what I remember, there weren't any explicit scenes. The MPAA lists it for "some violence and disturbing images." To expect a film about the slums of Mumbai to not have those two realities of everyday life, is ridiculous. It was given a "15" in the UK, but I'd feel comfortable letting anyone over 12 see it.
See the review here: And check out the amazing soundtrack as well.