by Dan Nuxoll
March 7th, 2008

Part 1 of this entry can be found HERE

Living With the Tudors (Karen Guthrie and Nina Pope)

OK, I haven’t seen any of this film, but Guthrie and Pope’s first film (Bata-Ville, Rooftop Summer Series 2006) is one of the most unique, wonderful, underappreciated docs of the last 10 years, so far as I see it. I will be there at the premiere, and I enocurage all of you to be there with me to see the latest by these unique artists/filmmakers.

Natural Causes (Alex Cannon, Michael Lerman & Paul Cannon)

Festival programmer Michael Lerman teams with brothers Alex and Paul Cannon to craft this tender, realist, but well-shot story of twenty-somethings getting together, breaking up, getting together again, breaking up again…you know how it goes in your twenties.

American Teen (Nanette Burstein)

Some people love it, some people think it is a little too manipulated to really classify as a true doc, but just about everyone agrees this is one of the most entertaining non-fiction films about adolescence you will ever see. Personally, I thought that Burstein’s film plays by its own rules a bit, but nonetheless it is genuine, and an undeniably touching and candid film.

Baghead (Duplass Brothers)

If you didn’t see it at Sundance, check it out at SX! One of my favorite films from Park City, Baghead is a hilarious and unexpectedly scary slap in the face to all those who dismissed The Puffy Chair. Read Mark’s review from Sundance HERE.

Full Battle Rattle (Tony Gerber and Jesse Moss)

I caught a rough cut sneak preview at Stranger Than Fiction a few weeks back and was really impressed. Read what I wrote HERE.

Throw Down Your Heart (Sascha Paladino)

‘Throw Down Your Heart’ follows American banjo virtuoso Bela Fleck on his journey to Africa to explore the little known African roots of the banjo and record an album. Though a straightforward musician-on-the -road doc in a lot of ways, Throw Down Your Heart is elevated to another level whenever Fleck picks up his banjo and starts to jam with the extraordinarily talented musicians he meets in Africa. Fleck is obviously a great and acclaimed musician himself, but he shows real humility as he meets these musicians and produces great songs with them merely by relaxing and trying to fit in with the band.

Rainbow Around the Sun (Kevin Ely and beau J. Leland)

This film will definitely appeal more to those who love rock musicals than it will to those who hate Hair, but Ely and Leland have produced an impressively dynamic film that does justice to the superb song-writing skills of Matthew Alvin Brown.

Woodpecker (Alex Karpovsky)

We screened Alex’s first film, The Hole Story, back in 2006, and it remains one of my favorite mock-docs (I hate that term, but what can you do?). I haven’t seen the latest cut of Woodpecker, but we saw some rough cuts along the way and even in its earlier form, Karpovsky’s film about lonely eccentric bird watchers hunting the elusive ivory billed woodpecker was funny, smart, and borderline profound. The “meaning” of the film may seem as elusive as the mysterious bird itself, but the film is emotionally resonant nonetheless, and Alex’s methodology and storytelling techniques continue to progress in this off-beat and subtle existential comedy.  


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by Dan Nuxoll
March 6th, 2008

I’ve had the good fortune to see a bunch of the films at SXSW in advance (either in part or in full), and I can tell you that this year’s batch boasts yet another strong collection of genuinely independent films. In 2007 we programmed several really fantastic films that had premiered in Austin, and for good reason–they pick great films by down to earth, honest filmmakers, and their selections generally lack the showy and contrived artifice that dominates a lot of other fests. Below are some of the strong, personal films at SXSW 2008 that I have had the chance to take a look at:


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My Effortless Brilliance (Lynn Shelton)

Probably the best film from SX that I have seen so far this year, and certainly the film that I found most personally meaningful. My Effortless Brilliance is about a successful, self-involved novelist who has been unceremoniously dumped by his long-time best friend. In an attempt to piece together the fractured friendship, Eric takes a side trip from his latest book tour to drop in on Dylan, newly settled in the picturesque backwoods of Washington state.

Of all the films in Austin this year, this is perhaps the film that will most often evoke the term “mumblecore,” but Shelton’s film is much more concise and focused than most of the films burdened or blessed with that classification. The performances by Sean Nelson and Basil Harris seem deceptively casual and understated, but beneath the surface a very real tension exists between the two that simmers without ever erupting and exploding into a contrived denouement. Shelton’s film will also almost certainly be compared to Kelly Reichert’s Old Joy (which I really enjoyed), but though the films are superficially similar, I actually found My Effortless Brilliance just as honest and poignant as Old Joy and quite a bit more charming and fun. Plus the film features a glowering and intense performance by Calvin Reeder, a Rooftop alum filmmaker in his own right who I had previously considered friendly and cheerful.  


Crawford (David Modigliani)

A revealing look into the lives of every day citizens of Crawford, Texas, whose lives were transformed when George Bush decided to use the town as a prop in his campaign for president. A touching, even-handed, and genuinely significant film.


We Are Wizards (Josh Koury)

The former head of the splendid but now defunct Brooklyn Underground Film Festival stepped behind the camera to make this doc about the many eccentrics whose lives revolve around the Harry Potter franchise. Some lovingly spoof the series (the brilliant Brad Neely), some start careers singing rock homages (the surprisingly successful Harry and the Potters), and some merely fight for their right to reimagine the characters from the series by organizing their own independent literary fan clubs.  


Flying on One Engine (Josh Z. Weinstein)

A touching yet charming and unsentimental doc about a cosmetic surgeon (last name Dicksheet–dare you not to laugh) who has spent the last several decades of his life performing thousands of free operations for facially deformed children in India who can not afford help. Dicksheet’s accomplishments are tremendous, but some of the nicest moments in the film are the darkly funny little moments spent with him as he complains about Liz Taylor getting fat, or the undue credit bestowed upon Mother Theresa. He is a real curmudgeon, yet he has devoted his life to saving these poor little kids’ lives, and it’s hard not to get choked up when you see these children transformed and witnees lives saved by the hundreds.  


Frontrunners (Caroline Suh)

A fun, down-to-earth doc about student council elections at New York’s Stuyvesant High School. Though I only got the chance to see about 15 minutes of this film at IFP 2007, this film is a sentimental favorite for me, as I am Stuy Class of 1993.

Heavy Metal in Baghdad (Suroosh Avi and Eddy Moretti)

Heavy Metal in Baghdad is a feature film documentary that follows the Iraqi heavy metal band Acrassicauda from the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003 to the present day. Produced by Vice Magazine’s new film division, HMIB feels loose, fun and informal at times, but it nonetheless seriously addresses the dismal state of affairs in Iraq and presents a vivid portrait of the lives of a group of artists trying to create music in a war zone. That they are living in a Muslim nation and playing heavy metal songs-some of which were written by people who at least pretend to worship the devil–is the fun part of the story.



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Rooftop Films is a New York based non-profit whose mission is to engage diverse communities by showing independent movies in outdoor locations, producing new films, coordinating youth media education, and renting equipment at low cost to artists.


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