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Great documentaries in theaters now

August 13th, 2008

I attended SilverDocs last month, the terrific documentary film festival co-hosted by the American Film Institute and the Discovery Channel, and failed to post my thoughts and observations. Until now!

First, the festival was exceptionally well-programmed (shout out to Patricia Finneran and Sky Sitney!). Three films which were highlights for me, which are in theaters now:

The English Surgeon: This film was the talk of HotDocs in Toronto in April, where it won Best International Feature Doc, and again wowed audiences at SilverDocs. The basic storyline is powerful: Henry Marsh, a British neurosurgeon, spends his vacation time providing his services for free to brain cancer patients in Kiev, with his friend and protege, Ukranian surgeon Igor Kurilets. In the hands of director Geoffrey Smith, the film is imbued with moral quandries, pathos, a couple of squirm-inducing surgical scenes, and a gripping humanity. 

The Garden: Winner of the Best Documentary Award at SilverDocs, Scott Hamilton Kennedy’s emotional film covers the fight by a group of Latino farmers in Los Angeles to save their community garden. The garden — the largest of its kind in the United States, covering 14 acres over two city blocks — was founded by the city in the aftermath of the 1992 riots as part of its community rebuilding efforts. Fourteen years after the city created the garden, though, they sold the land back to the man they had taken it from and told the farmers to vacate. Kennedy takes viewers into the fray as the farmers organize, resist their eviction notices, fight amongst themselves and ultimately face off against the bulldozers threatening to storm the gates.

Man On Wire: This film joyously recalls the famous stroll Philippe Petit took between the World Trade Center’s twin towers in 1974 — more than 1,000 feet above the ground. Petit’s highly daring, highly entertaining and highly illegal tightrope walk lasted around 45 minutes, but the plotting to stage the stunt took eight months, and the idea was borne more than six years before Petit stepped out into the Manhattan sky one August morning. Director James Marsh tells the story like a caper film, with Petit the impish joker masterminding the “artistic crime of the century.” 

 

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