Posts Tagged ‘Documentaries’

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Where Great Art And “ON THE SCENE” Meet: Emmy Noms for OTS Alums

July 19, 2011

When I read the list of News and Documentary Emmy nominees  I saw some well deserved projects that have crossed paths with “ON THE SCENE.”

“Smash His Camera” is nominated, the documentary on paparazzo Ron Galella. It’s a fascinating, compelling look inside the mind, motivation and technique of the man widely considered to be the original American paparazzo. I interviewed Ron at his home last fall around the time “Smash His Camera” was released. For a clip check out my reel on http://www.johnbathke.com and search last year’s blog archive for more on the film and my impressions of Ron.

The Galella doc has some tough competition from “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work.” The documentary drew worldwide critical praise and though it had a successful theatrical release it was dissed by the Oscars. The filmmakers, Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg, deserve this Emmy nomination. I remember seeing this film for the first time at its Tribeca Film Festival debut, with Rivers and the filmmakers present. I had interviewed Rivers for ON THE SCENE shortly after filming was finished. I’m really interested to see if either film wins.

And I emailed my friend Roger Ross Williams with congratulations today. His “Music By Prudence” short documentary, which earned him a Best Director Oscar last year, was nominated for it’s television release by HBO for best music and sound. I interviewed Roger for a live audience at a screening along with Prudence Mabhena, the film’s subject.

There seem to be a lot of documentaries being filmed these days, but the ones that illuminate, that truly shine a light on the many facets of a personality or issue remain very few, indeed. These are three films that did that and more.

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The “Lost Bohemia” Of Carnegie Hall

May 26, 2011

A documentary doesn’t have to be technically perfect, but if it has compelling personalities and is emotionally honest, well,  those stories win me over every time.

“Lost Bohemia” is one of those documentaries, now playing in a limited release.

It chronicles the accomplished, eccentric, spirited singers, dancers, photographers, musicians, actors and myriad other artists who lived and worked in studios located above Carnegie Hall…some for 40 years and longer.

Until, Carnegie Hall wanted them out.

Photographer Josef Astor, one of the residents, started filming his most colorful fellow tenants after he moved into the studios in the 1980s. He didn’t know then that 20 years later they would all be embroiled in a landlord-tenant dispute with Carnegie Hall that would last several years and result in each and every artist being evicted. Despite a charter by Andrew Carnegie himself providing for artist space above the incredible hall.

The documentary is worthwhile if only to see the charismatic photographer Editta Sherman, who held out as the last tenant until age 97 or so.

I saw the doc Sunday at IFC on 6th Ave and  I was reminded how this story has played out again and again: artists, who find affordable space and a supportive community, end up getting kicked out when there’s just too much profit to be made or efficiencies to be had, by the corporate ownership.

For at least three years I covered the battle between artists working (and a few living) in a warehouse on the waterfront of Jersey City, New Jersey. 111 First Street. I was there covering the case so much, in fact, I got asked by a couple artists  if I wanted to move in “off the lease.” But that would have put me in a conflict of interest.  But it was an intriguing idea.

In the 111 First Street saga, the warehouse was in terrible shape, a relic of the city’s industrial past and of no use except to the artists who did flourish in the gigantic studios and cavernous exhibit spaces. And it was located in a part of town no investor wanted to touch for decades. Until the 1990s when the local economy took off and 111 First Street became prime real estate for posh waterfront redevelopment.

So, the fight was on with the owners wanting the artists out and the artists claiming the demolition and gleaming hi-rise planned for the site went against the city’s arts district master plan.

It ended as well for the 111 First Street artists as it did for the ones in Carnegie Hall. In March 2005, I was there as the very last tenant turned in his keys and told the manager he hoped the big hi-rise someday collapsed on her head. Or something like that.

What makes “Lost Bohemia” stand out is the larger than life personalities of the artists whom most of us would never have known without this film. Some died over the years of filming.

I wonder how many artists are living this same story in cities and towns across the country right now?

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A Surprise At “The Soprano State” Premier

October 20, 2010

Monday night marked a first.  It was the first time I covered a movie premier when I was in the movie and didn’t know it.

“The Soprano State” documentary had its official opening at the Ziegfeld Theatre on 54th Street and before the screening I interviewed the producer, Steve Kalafer (he recieved an Oscar nomination for one of my favorite short documentaries, “Curtain Call” and I was happy to finally meet him) and others involved in the project.  I could not stay to see the film, which chronicles political corruption in New Jersey, because we needed to finish our piece for the late newscast.

So I was surprised to hear the next morning from several people who did see it, that my voice from a televison report is used in the movie with my name titled on the screen.

“The Soprano State” is playing in the New York area starting Friday. If you see it, listen for me!

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“Wishful Drinking”

June 29, 2010

No one monetizes their misery more skillfully than Carrie Fisher. Or more entertainingly.

For more than two decades she’s churned out best sellers with revelations about her life as a bi-polar, alcoholic, drug addicted, twice divorced, ex-mental patient, electric shock therapy treated daughter of celebrities. Oh, and about her starring in a little film called “Star Wars.”

Saturday night she performed “Wishful Drinking,” her one woman show that ran earlier this year on Broadway, at the South Orange Performing Arts Center where it was taped for an  HBO special.

It was my first time seeing the show. And yes, we were seated second row, so you might catch me in a cutaway for half a second here or there when it airs.