Did You Wonder Who Fired the Gun?
In case the striking poster of a negative-exposed Atticus Finch – or rather Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch in the 1962 film adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird – didn’t already suggest it, Did You Wonder Who Fired the Gun? is a whip-smart documentary deconstruction of historical whitewashing in the US, the idea of “white saviours”, and racist miscarriages of justice. Its filmmaker is Travis Wilkerson, whose own great-grandfather murdered an African-American man in 1946 and got away with it. Wilkerson turns his lens on his own family and, as Manohla Dargis writes in The New York Times, he “sifts through the personal and the political, travels down eerily lonely Alabama byways and deep into anguished history. The result is an urgent, often corrosive look at America’s past and present through the prism of family, patriarchy, white supremacy and black resistance.” Released 28 February in the US. (Credit: Grasshopper Film)
Netflix may have purged most films made before 1980 from its streaming library, but there’s still some indication that the service yet may hold interest for serious cinephiles – particularly in its commitment to documentary. In the next few months Netflix will release documentaries on such wide-ranging subjects as psychedelic pioneer Ram Dass; an Indian girl who rose from poverty to become the world’s number-one-ranked archer; and experimental medical researchers. First up, though, is The Trader by Tamta Gabrichidze, which won best documentary short at Hot Docs. It’s a verite-style look at a Georgian man named Gela who drives around the economically ravaged Caucasus nation selling odds-and-ends and collecting potatoes, which are worth as much (and more) than hard currency. Released 9 February on Netflix. (Credit: Netflix)
Tonya Harding is one of figure skating’s most notorious figures. Now we get her side of the story in I, Tonya – was she or was she not involved in the conspiracy to club her main competition, Nancy Kerrigan, in the lead-up to the 1994 Winter Olympics? As played by Margot Robbie, who BBC Culture film critic Caryn James said “gives the film its heart” in her four-star review, Harding is a sympathetic, if far from saintly, figure. The film, presented at times like a mockumentary with the actors playing real-life Harding associates talking directly into the camera as if they’re being interviewed, shows the abuse and poverty the figure skater suffered growing up. Allison Janney, as Harding’s foul-mouthed, violent mother, is a leading contender for best supporting actress at the Academy Awards on 4 March. If it’s script is a little too “on the nose” at times, it’s an arresting vision of an athlete who tried, and failed, to live and compete on her own terms. Released 1 February in Singapore and Russia, 9 February in Mexico and 23 February in the UK and Spain. (Credit: Neon)
Clio Barnard is one of the most exciting voices in British cinema today. She won the best newcomer award at the London Film Festival in 2010 for The Arbor, an experimental documentary about Yorkshire playwright Andrea Dunbar. Then she followed it up with the Oscar Wilde adaptation The Selfish Giant that drew comparisons to the realist work of Ken Loach. Now she’s set to release Dark River, a thriller about a woman (Ruth Wilson) who returns to her hometown after a 15-year absence to reclaim her family farm following the death of her father. Justin Chang of the Los Angeles Times called Dark River “superbly atmospheric… a ferocious drama” at last year’s Toronto Film Festival. Released 23 February in the UK and Ireland. (Credit: Film4)
Nick Park might not be a well-known name outside of the UK, but, as the creator of Wallace & Gromit and Shaun the Sheep, he is one of the most influential figures in the history of animation. A four-time Oscar winner, Park is directing his first feature film since Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit 13 years ago. The film? Early Man, which pits proud young caveman Dug (Eddie Redmayne) and his wild boar Hognob (Park himself) against the wily machinations of Lord Nooth (Tom Hiddleston), who’s entered the Bronze Age faster than Dug’s tribe and wants to conquer them with his superior weaponry. Think The Flintstones but with characters who describe their hardships in terms of “sticky wickets”. Released 1 February in Greece, 8 February in Brazil and Croatia and 16 February in the US (Credit: StudioCanal)
Between Loving Vincent and Window Horses, 2017 was a landmark year for animations geared to adults. But 2018 is right away building on the achievement of those films with Tehran Taboo, in which Iranian-born filmmaker Ali Soozandeh examines what she perceives as some of the hypocrisies and corruption of life in the theocracy. It follows several characters, including a prostitute being extorted for favours by a divorce court judge, a woman trying to get an operation that can “restore” virginity, and young women being sold for sexual slavery in Dubai. Using a rotoscoping technique in which actors film the scenes and the animation is traced over their performances, much like Richard Linklater’s Waking life and A Scanner Darkly, Tehran Taboo is, according to Wendy Ide of Screen Daily, “A lively, irreverent animated assault on Iranian morality… [that] fizzes with energy and bad behaviour”. Released 8 February in Hungary and 14 February in the US. (Credit: Kino Lorber)
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