BEST OF THE FEST (RUNNERS-UP)
Studio 54 Ace documentarian Matt Tyrauner (Valentino: The Last Emperor) tells the coke-dusted rise-and-fall tale of Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager’s tres chic discotheque, which ruled Manhattan’s night life for 33 months in the late 1970s before tumbling down in a spectacular wave of scandals and criminal convictions. Tyrauner digs deeper and pushes past the usual tsk-tsking and/or hagiography, leaving in the uncomfortable questions and awkward answers. But more importantly, he understands and conveys exactly why the club connected, at that particular moment – how it was fueled by the ying/yang, introvert/extrovert dynamic of its co-owners, and how its potent dance floor cocktail of personalities, classes, and sexualities offered up to its patrons escapism, inclusion, acceptance, and access. A bewitching story, briskly and wittily told.
No Greater Law Tom Dumican’s riveting documentary details the battle between the Canyon County, Idaho sheriff’s department and the Followers of Christ church, which operates according to a strict doctrine of faith healing rather than medical intervention – a choice that has left dozens (if not hundreds) of their children dead of preventable illnesses over the years. But Idaho is one of six states with “religious exemption” laws (if it’s “merely neglect,” we’re told, rather than “criminal intent,” there’s nothing law enforcement can do), and the state legislature’s debate of that law provides a framework for the film. Dumican’s treatment of this incendiary material is admirably even-handed – he lets everyone talk, and listens intently. It’s still infuriating.
Charm City Midway through Marilyn Ness’s observational documentary about the epidemic of crime and violence in Baltimore, she puts an astonishing statistic up on screen: by the early 2000s, 50% of the city’s young black men were in jail, in prison, on probation, or on parole. To tell the story of what it takes to tackle that problem, she adopts a multi-pronged, Wire-style approach, observing the work of cops, politicians, and community leaders (most of them people of color), with a keen understanding of the tensions that keep them from pursing their common goals. Intricately assembled and morally complex, Charm City is thoughtful enough to offer up small solutions – and realistic enough to know that they’re just not enough.
BEST OF THE FEST
Bathtubs Over Broadway It began with a smirk, the day Late Show with David Letterman writer Steve Young discovered, while finding oddities for the “Dave’s Record Collection” segment, a souvenir album from an “industrial musical” – full-fledged, Broadway-style musical shows for private audiences at company conventions. At first he laughed, but then he found himself humming the songs (they’re fluid and catchy; if the lyrics weren’t commercials, who knows?) and digging into the history of this unknown corner of show-business, a whole circuit that provided (lucrative) early work and opportunities for performers and songwriters, many of whom you’ve heard of. Director Dava Whisenant ably transfers the interest – Young’s fascination and enthusiasm is infectious – but ultimately, Bathtubs Over Broadway is about more than this tiny, weird thing. It’s about how these peculiar interests can become our obsessions, and the way that ironic detachment can develop, surprisingly enough, into genuine affection. What a delightful movie this is.
House Two Michael Epstein’s harrowing documentary meticulously investigates the November 2005 massacre at Haditha, in which a company of Marines retaliated for the killing of one of their own by executing 24 Iraqi citizens. What followed was the largest, most expensive criminal investigation in the history of the Marine Corps – and a giant clusterfuck of dismissals and immunity, in which only one defendant, Frank Wuterich, was first focused on and then pleaded out. Epstein, who pairs contemporary interviews with candid footage of Wuterich and his lawyers during the investigation and prosecution, finds a unique perspective in the journey these attorneys take concerning their suspicions about their client. More than that, it’s a genuinely compelling mystery – it keeps turning on you, as unpredictable as it is enraging.