Sunday, August 4, 2013

Show for Aug. 4, 2013. Joshua Oppenheimer and The Act of Killing.

Joshua Oppenheimer isn’t the only documentary filmmaker to aim his lens at the perpetrators of atrocities. But he may be the first to find such willing subjects. In his new film The Act of Killing, former Indonesian death squad members are only too eager to describe their participation in the anti-communist purges of 1965-1966, when they helped butcher anywhere from 500,000 to more than a million people. So enthused were the genocidaires that they took an active role in Oppenheimer’s project, re-enacting their youthful exploits for the camera. As Anwar Congo, the film’s affable central character, proudly avers, “We have to show this is who we are, so in the future people will remember.” Werner Herzog, who served as executive producer with Errol Morris, says, “I have not seen a film as powerful, surreal, and frightening in at least a decade… it is unprecedented in the history of cinema.”

Joshua Oppenheimer has been interviewed up the wazoo as The Act of Killing debuts across the country, so when I got my chance, I tried to skip some of the compulsories and dig a little deeper into the making the film and the queasy questions it raises.

Find out more about the film and when it opens in your area.

Click the Play arrow at the top of this post to listen to the show, or you can download the MP3 here (if using a Mac, control-click the link and choose “Save Link As…” If using a PC, right-click and choose Save Target As…”)

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Show for July 14, 2013. 50 Years of Documentary Filmmaking with David Hoffman.

David Hoffman picked up his first spring-wound Bolex 16mm movie camera in 1963. Over the next five decades he proceeded to make scores of films on a huge range of subjects: profiles of famous and not-so-famous people; music docs (including BB King at Sing-Sing, Earl Scruggs, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez); political, historical and military docs for public television; documentary-style commercials for Mobil Oil and other companies; and one notorious film – King Murray – that challenged the whole documentary form. He’s still at it. 

I first met David when talking to him and filmmaker-friend John Vincent Barrett about their collaboration, Everything Which is … Yes, on the aftermath of a fire that destroyed David’s home and huge multimedia archive. David is a great storyteller, and I wanted to have him back to talk more about his prolific career, his adventures behind the camera and his thoughts on truth and fabrication in documentaries. 

David Hoffman’s 2008 TED Talk on the fire that consumed his home.

Click the Play arrow at the top of this post to listen to the show, or you can download the MP3 here (if using a Mac, control-click the link and choose “Save Link As…” If using a PC, right-click and choose Save Target As…”)

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Show for Jan 20, 2013. David Thomson—In and Out of Love with the Movies.

The critic David Thomson is so alert to the seductions and subterfuges of film it’s hard to imagine he was ever a sucker for cinema. Of course, we were all young and innocent once. Now he’s uneasily aware of what movie-watching entails: the voyeurism, the passivity, the ideologies concealed in images, characters and plots  (“advertisements for things that don’t exist”). He charts his – and our – increasingly distanced relationship with film in his latest book, The Big Screen: The Story of the Movies. David and I talked about how moviegoing has changed over the decades, what the medium has done to us, and our new infatuation with other, smaller screens. Along the way we discussed immigrant filmmakers and American mythmaking, Citizen Kane, California light and Germanic shadow, film noir, masculinity and movies, Hitchcock and Tarantino.

image

You can download the MP3 here (if using a Mac, control-click the link and choose “Save Link As…” If using a PC, right-click and choose Save Target As…”)

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Show for Jan 6, 2013. Filmmaker Ben Harbert on Louisiana prison music.

In 1933, folklorists John and Alan Lomax went inside Louisiana’s Angola prison and made a series of celebrated recordings and musical discoveries. Eighty years later, filmmaker and musicologist Ben Harbert followed in the Lomax’s footsteps, visiting Angola and other Louisiana penitentiaries to document the state of prison music today. Ben and I discussed his new film Follow Me Down: Portraits of Louisiana Prison Musicians, which screens in Santa Cruz this week (more details here). As we listened to performances from the film, Ben talked about the place of music in inmates’ lives and the ethics and challenges of shooting a doc in the joint. Also featured: Tony Seeger, musicologist (and nephew of Pete, Mike and Peggy Seeger), who advised Ben on the film.

You can download the MP3 here (if using a Mac, control-click the link and choose “Save Link As…” If using a PC, right-click and choose Save Target As…”)

Sunday, December 30, 2012

2012: The Home Stretch

Though it sometimes pains me to repeat material, I’ve been preoccupied with work and other non-radio commitments, so I’ve had to raid the archives in the final weeks of aught-twelve. Rest assured, I’m filling the hopper with new material for ‘13. Here’s what we’ve heard in the last couple of shows:

Dec 30, 2012: Getting seriously soulful with singer Gregory Porter 

Dec 23, 2012: Mapping the brain with neuroscientist Sebastian Seung

Dec 16, 2012: Bringing music to life (and vice-versa) with composer Elena Kats-Chernin

Dec 9, 2012:   Searching for happiness with filmmaker Roko Belic

Monday, October 22, 2012

Show for Oct 21, 2012. Ukulele Hero, Mariachi Magic.

Two new movies pay tribute to musical instruments and/or traditions that haven’t always gotten their due in mainstream USA. In part one, Tad Nakamura, director of Jake Shimabukuro: Life on Four Strings. It’s a moving portrait of the musician who’s taken the ukulele—sometimes wrongly dissed as a novelty instrument—to virtuosic heights. In part two, Tom Gustafson, director of Mariachi Gringo, the tale of a young man from the midwest who falls in love with Mexico and devotes himself to mariachi music. Lead actor Shawn Ashmore devoted himself to the music too, going to school on vihuela.

 
(L) Jake Shimabukuro and Tad Nakamura, director of Jake Shimabukuro: Life on Four Strings;
(R) Mexican diva Lila Downs and Shawn Ashmore (with vihuela) in Mariachi Gringo. Both movies are part of the Pacific Rim Film Festival.

You can download the MP3 here (if using a Mac, control-click the link and choose “Save Link As…” If using a PC, right-click and choose Save Target As…”)

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Show for Aug 19, 2012. Errol Morris Confidential, Pt 2 of 2.

I continue interrogating the interrogator in this second of two wide-ranging conversations with filmmaker/detective/truth-seeker Errol Morris. Among the many subjects discoursed on:

  • Whether and how much the past can be recaptured through the art of investigation.
  • Errol’s latest book A Wilderness of Error, about the Jeffrey MacDonald murder case.
  • How he gets people to spill the beans on camera.
  • Errol’s beef with his former PhD adviser, historian of science Thomas Kuhn.
  • His next movie (The Fog of War with more fog?).


Errol Morris, conducting an interview using his interrotron.

Click the Play arrow at the top of this post to listen to the show, or you can download the MP3 here (if using a Mac, control-click the link and choose “Save Link As…” If using a PC, right-click and choose Save Target As…”)

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Show for Aug 12, 2012. Errol Morris Confidential, Pt 1 of 2.

Errol Morris’s relentless search for answers – philosophical, psychological, forensic – has led to a vast and ever-growing body of work that includes his celebrated documentaries, dozens of short films, weighty essays and cognitive experiments in the NY Times, books, actual criminal investigations and some pretty fetching commercials (example below). The backstories are often as interesting as the finished products, and Errol shared some of them with me in a very illuminating look at his career, his preoccupations and motivations. Topics discussed in this first of two installments include:

  • His interest in serial killers and his recent re-investigation of a famous murder case.
  • Why he started making movies.
  • His early films and stylistic development.
  • The many projects that haven’t come to fruition – mostly for financial reasons, but in one instance because of brute force.
  • The influence of Werner Herzog and their legendary bet.


Errol Morris’s latest mini-doc for ESPN.

Click the Play arrow at the top of this post to listen to the show, or you can download the MP3 here (if using a Mac, control-click the link and choose “Save Link As…” If using a PC, right-click and choose Save Target As…”)

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Show for Oct. 23, 2011: Filmmaker Errol Morris on Photography and Truth

Errol Morris’s passion for sleuthing dates back at least to his days as a private detective and runs through his work as a documentary filmmaker in movies like The Thin Blue Line and his most recent, Tabloid. In his new book, Believing is Seeing, he turns his magnifying glass on photography. Through close inspection, Morris shows how much photos can mislead, and how much we tend to misread. He and I discussed (and occasionally debated) the veridical nature of photography, the impact of digital retouching and the truth value of his own films. Then, in the second half of the show, an excerpt from my 2009 interview with documentarist Jonathan Stack on his film Iron Ladies of Liberia. It’s about the presidential administration of Liberia’s Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who shared in this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. The film’s title refers to the gutsy resolve of Sirleaf and her female colleagues, not their governing style, which is more velvet glove than iron fist.


Two versions of photographer Roger Fenton’s “Valley of the Shadow of Death” from the Crimean War. In the more famous image at bottom, cannonballs litter the road. In another shot (top), they don’t. Historians have long disputed which is the earlier, more “authentic” image. Errol Morris offers an ingenious solution in Believing is Seeing.

You can download the MP3 here (if using a Mac, control-click the link and choose “Save Link As…” If using a PC, right-click and choose Save Target As…”)

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Show for July 24, 2011. John Waters and Philip Glass.

I’m not sure what John Waters and Philip Glass have in common, other than their shared birthplace (Baltimore) and prolific output. Also the fact that they’re both appearing at the Henry Miller Library in Big Sur in coming weeks, which gave me an opportunity to chat with them. I spoke with John about his life, career, role models and preoccupations, picking up on another interview I did with him a few years ago. Philip Glass discussed the new Days and Nights Festival he’s spearheading in Big Sur and Carmel Valley, featuring music, dance, theater and film.

 

John Waters is bringing his live one-man show to the Henry Miller Library on Aug. 13. Philip Glass will be there later this summer. On Aug. 31, he and HML’s Magnus Toren will be curating an evening of poetry and live music. On Sept. 1, the Philip Glass ensemble will play Philip’s original score for Todd Browning’s film Dracula (the one with Bela Lugosi), as the movie screens. More on the Henry Miller Library events here. More on the Days and Nights Festival here.

Click the “play” arrow above to listen to the show, or download the MP3 here (if using a Mac, control-click the link and choose “Save Link As…” If using a PC, right-click and choose Save Target As…”)

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Show for May 1, 2011. Happy Trails: Filmmaker Roko Belic

Thirty years ago, human happiness seemed like a pretty unserious subject for scientific study. These days positive psychology, as happiness research is known, is de rigeur. Filmmaker Roko Belic (Genghis Blues) explores the science of contentment in his latest doc, Happy. Belic traveled to five continents, talking to researchers, comparing the state of satisfaction in various countries and finding some very jolly people. Does happiness depend on our material conditions? Just how much control do we have over our own sense of well-being? And whence the intellectual prejudice—which I confess I shared before this interview—that happiness as a topic lacks gravitas?

Catch a sneak preview of Happy at the Santa Cruz Film Festival on Friday, May 6 and Saturday, May 7. Showtimes and more info here

Visit the Santa Cruz Film Festival website.


Roko Belic in southern Africa, one of many locations he visited for the new film Happy.

Click the “play” arrow above to listen to the interview, or download the MP3 here.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Show for April 24, 2011. Rising from the Ashes: Filmmakers David Hoffman and John Barrett.

Documentary filmmaker David Hoffman lost nearly everything he owned—including his huge film and art archive—in the fire that destroyed his home in 2008. But he was determined to salvage something from the ashes. A new documentary, Everything Which is… Yes, shows what he lost and what he found. I spoke to David Hoffman and the film’s director, John Vincent Barrett.

Click the “play” arrow above to listen to the interview, or download the MP3 here.

Everything Which is…Yes premiers at the Santa Cruz Film Festival on May 8, with a second screening on May 11. Showtimes and more info here

Visit the Santa Cruz Film Festival website.


Sunday, July 25, 2010

Show for July 25, 2010. And Death Shall Have no Dominion: No One Dies in Lily Dale

A new documentary film depicts life—and afterlife—in Lily Dale, New York. Founded in 1879, Lily Dale is the “world’s largest spiritualist community,” home to dozens of mediums and a destination for bereaved people hoping to contact deceased loved ones. No One Dies in Lily Dale is a fascinating and poignant look at love, loss and belief.  We talk to the director, Steven Cantor, and three people depicted in the film.


No One Dies in Lily Dale is now playing on HBO. Read more about the film.

Click the arrow above to listen. If you don’t have Flash player or have other playback problems, click this link for the MP3.