This August Kino Lorber will be releasing three socially aware documentaries addressing a smorgasbord of topics.
If you want to know what freedom is like, just have someone take it away, says Kirk Noble Bloodsworth, the first death row inmate exonerated by DNA evidence in the United States and subject of the documentary Bloodsworth: An Innocent Man (2015).
In 1985 Bloodsworth was convicted for the murder of Dawn Hamilton, a 9-year-old girl found beaten and raped in Baltimore. Based on the information provided by witnesses, Bloodsworth was sentenced to death and after serving more than eight years in prison, was proven innocent of the crime.
After his release in 1993, Bloodsworth became an advocate for repealing the death penalty, which his home state of Maryland eventually did in 2013.
The issue of DNA exoneration and wrongful imprisonment is a worldwide issue. In the United States alone the Death Penalty Information Center states there have been 156 exonerations of prisoners on death row since 1973. While Bloodsworth mentions this statistic, the documentary largely limits its scope to one man. As a result the only person interviewed is Bloodsworth, who sits behind a long desk, smoking a cigarette with a ceiling light beaming down on him as if he is in an interrogation room. It is disappointing other voices aren’t heard such as Bloodsworth’s family to learn what they were doing while he was in prison. No one representing the criminal justice system is heard from. Not the Baltimore police or even the prosecutor in Bloodsworth’s trial. In fact, even after DNA evidence proved Bloodsworth was innocent, the state did not formally exonerate him and he was still considered a suspect until 2003, when DNA evidence added to state and federal databases identified the murderer.
Bloodsworth’s story is an interesting one but it is only a small piece of a larger problem. The documentary doesn’t do enough to properly address the flaws in our system and hold those responsible accountable. Still Bloodsworth serves as a good introduction to make the public aware of this issue.
Bonus features include alternate endings, outtakes and a theatrical trailer. Release date: August 16.
STATE OF CONTROL
Two American filmmakers, Christian Johnston and Darren Mann, travel to Tibet in 2008 in the hopes of shining a spotlight on the Tibetan people’s struggle for independence against the Chinese government, as the country is set to host the Olympics in State of Control (2016).
State of Control deals with an important issue, an issue that deserves worldwide attention. However the documentary is never able to properly tell this story and have the voices of the people of Tibet heard. The filmmakers find government spies after them (in one situation they believe one of them was poisoned), people are not willing to speak on camera for fear of being discovered and they are initially denied access to the country by the Chinese government, which fears they are spies.
This within itself is a story making State of Control a cautionary tale about living in a police state while also addressing questions concerning journalistic ethics and the difficulties of trying to tell stories of the abuses going on in countries such as China, when the government has control of the media and seemingly of the people. How honest can a journalist or a documentary be in describing their intentions and still gain permitted entry to the country?
Watching a documentary about government spies and surveillance of citizens may make some think of Citizenfour (2014) the Academy Award winning documentary about Edward Snowden and the U.S. government’s own surveillance activities. While Citizenfour also had to be made in secret, it had the benefit of being able to interview its subject and was able to expose and inform the public of the government’s actions. State of Control is not able to do this. So if this were a piece of fiction, it becomes a thriller centering on the risk of the filmmakers being exposed, which ultimately hurts this documentary from telling its original story and becomes one about cyber-security.
In English and Tibetan with English subtitles. No bonus features. Release date: August 9.
Everybody’s a critic!
Everybody likes food and everyone has an opinion. It is what has led to the popularity of Yelp! and television programs such as Check Please! Ordinary people discussing their love of food and favorite restaurants.
They however do not compare to what is seen in the documentary Foodies: The Culinary Jet Set (2014), directed by Thomas Jackson, Charlotte Landelius and Henril Stockare, which follows five food bloggers who travel around the world for the sole purpose of dining at fine restaurants that have received star ratings from the famous Michelin Guide book.
Eating, it seems, is not something you do when you are hungry, it is a lifestyle. It becomes the main question presented in Foodies; how should society view food? Is eating an intellectual experience, to be enjoyed by an elite group of people, who can afford to dine at fine restaurants, or is eating something done for pleasure? What makes food good anyway? Is it the subtle nuisance of multiple textures found in a scallop when eating at a restaurant like Alinea (Chicago’s own Michelin star-rated restaurant) or is it eating a greasy hamburger at a local diner?
These questions may seen silly and pretentious to some but to the food bloggers presented here, these are important issues that society needs to address but is often not willing to discuss.
At its most basic level you can approach Foodies as a documentary about watching strange people with odd obsessions, and that in itself may be appealing. The more you identify with the obsession (would you travel around the world just to eat at restaurants?), the more you will enjoy watching this.
The best scenes in Foodies are when it attempts to balance the importance of food bloggers by asking chefs what they think of them. Most of the chefs question what makes the blogger an expert. Who are they to write about food? The chefs work hard, cooking meals only for a blogger to criticize their food. It is not unlike the role of movie critics. Filmmakers complain, they work so hard to make a film only to have a critic knock it down.
Everybody’s a critic!
In English, Chinese, Japanese, Lithuanian and Swedish with English subtitles. No bonus features. Release date: August 9.