Docurama Film Festival, Vol. 5 [13 Discs] [DVD]

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Passing Poston
The documentary Passing Poston profiles the devastating legacy of World War II-era Japanese-American internment by filtering that sad history through the biographical insights of four individuals. The subjects in question found their lives irreparably damaged by incarceration; all were interned in the Poston Relocation Center on the Colorado River Indian Reservation. At the heart of the film stands former internee Ruth Okimoto, who spent the majority of her childhood unjustly trapped in a cage of barbed wire. Passing Poston follows Okimoto back to the prison of her youth, as she searches for some meaning and logic behind the camp's initial construction and attempts to reconcile the horrific recollections of her early years with her need to assimilate into American society -- a need still very much alive and unresolved during her golden years. ~ Nathan Southern, Rovi

Questioning Faith: Confessions of a Seminarian
On the Downlow
Filmmaker Abigail Child explores a little-acknowledged aspect of African-American culture in this documentary. Using a combination of new footage and found images, Child sets the scene in Cleveland, Ohio with a rhythmic visual barrage that portrays the urban landscape in a unique and striking manner. Child alternates this absorbing vision of the city with interviews conducted with four African-American men living in Cleveland, who discuss their lives and their relationships. All four men live "on the downlow" -- while their primary sexual and romantic relationships are with other men, they strive to maintain the outward appearance of straight men, and keep their sexuality a secret. Despite their common sexual preference, each man views his situation in a different way and has his own opinions about gay life within the city's African-American community. An ongoing and evolving documentary project, a version of On The Downlow was screened as part of the 2007 Tribeca Film Festival, while an earlier (and considerably shorter) version, called The Party, appeared at the 2005 New York Underground Film Festival. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi

A Lion in the House
Five young people battle incurable disease as their families deal with their physical and emotional struggles in this powerful documentary from filmmakers Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert. A Lion in the House was largely filmed on Ward 5A of Cincinnati Children's Hospital, a wing devoted to children with cancer and related illnesses. The film focuses on five youngsters undergoing treatment there -- Justin Ashcraft, an 18-year-old who has been living with leukemia since age eight; Al Fields, an 11-year-old non-Hodgkin's lymphoma patient; seven-year-old Alex Lougheed, also with leukemia; a third leukemia patient, nine-year-old Jen Moore; and Tim Woods, a 15-year-old boy with Hodgkin's lymphoma. As the children deal with the rigors and treatment and the toll their illnesses take on their bodies, they also wrestle with their need to be kids and navigate the tricky roads of growing up, while their families and physicians sometimes have to confront the fact that the children may not survive their treatment. Produced for broadcast on public television, A Lion in the House was screened as part of the 2006 Sundance Film Festival. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi

Cinematographer Style
Over a hundred leading cameramen (and women) discuss the fine art of motion picture photography in this documentary. Cinematographer Style is compiled from interviews with a broad cross section of respected cinematographers, ranging from award-winning veterans such as Gordon Willis (The Godfather), Vittorio Storaro (Apocalypse Now), Vilmos Zsigmond (Deliverance), and Haskell Wexler (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest) to contemporary masters of the craft such as Roger Deakins (A Beautiful Mind), Peter Deming (Lost Highway), Ernest Dickerson (Do the Right Thing), and Remi Adefarasin (Match Point). While several participants discuss the tools of their trade, Cinematographer Style focuses as much on the philosophy behind photographing movies -- how they find a style that matches the material, their visual influences, how to prepare for a shoot, establishing a lighting and color scheme, and how "pretty" the image ought to be to match the story. Sponsored in part by Kodak, Cinematographer Style received its world premiere at the 2006 Los Angeles Film Festival. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi

Family Name
Documentary filmmaker Mack Alston grew up in Durham, North Carolina, where he noticed at a young age that a large number of people in town shared his last name; some were white (like himself) and some were black. At the age of 30, years after relocating to New York City, Alston returned to North Carolina, armed with a 16mm camera and hoping to discover if there was, in fact, a familial link between his branch of the family and any of the African-American Alstons. Family Name is the record of the search and Alston's findings. While records of mixed race children born to slaves (and fathered by their masters) were not kept at the time, such matters remained a part of family legend and lore in the Deep South, indicated by a number of clues left behind. Alston tries to determine where the common link between the two Alston families came from, while discovering many facts about the remarkable histories of both Alston clans. While most of the African-American Alstons speak openly about the likely realities of their ancestry, they also acknowledge that it is a matter no one could speak about at the time, and are still reluctant to today. Alston, on the other hand, is gay and has been encouraged by his family not to speak about it while visiting Durham, so he admits that he understands all too well the difficult nature of family secrets. Family Name won the "Freedom of Expression" award at the 1997 Sundance Film Festival. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi

Critical Condition
Academy Award-nominated director Roger Weisberg tackles one of the most hotly debated issues in contemporary politics by exploring just what happens when the uninsured get sick. The prospect of dealing with the health care system can be a horrifying one for those suffering through illness without the benefit of insurance, and by exploring a number of cases in which the desperate and afflicted attempted to get help from an uncaring and unsympathetic system, Weisberg presents a heartfelt case for change. ~ Jason Buchanan, Rovi

Fall From Grace
For fifteen years the Reverend Fred Phelps has been unleashing a torrent of hate-filled fire and brimstone rhetoric on his congregation at the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, and in this documentary filmmaker K. Ryan Jones sets out to interview both current members of the church and former members have since turned their back on Rev. Phelps and his followers. Well-known for his inflammatory condemnation of the homosexual lifestyle, Rev. Phelps claims that America's tolerance of the homosexual lifestyle is leading the country down the path to certain destruction. In recent years his congregation has courted more controversy than ever by targeting military funerals as a venue to preach their particularly confrontational brand of Christianity. In addition to interviewing the Rev. Phelps and various outspoken members of his fellowship, director Jones also turns his lens towards other dissenters, theologians, and ministers in an effort to explore precisely how religion can be interpreted to suit any agenda given enough passion and a talent for skillful manipulation. ~ Jason Buchanan, Rovi

Liberia: An Uncivil War
Arctic Son
Cine Manifest
Filmmaker Judy Irola chronicles the 1970s film movement known as Cine Manifest in this 2006 documentary. Comprised of San Franciscan Marxists, the film collective ambitiously sought to produce several cutting-edge politically-relevent movies. Irola herself was a member of the group and in the film she reunites with the other original contributors to reflect on their time together. ~ Matthew Tobey, Rovi

Virginia Lee Burton: A Sense of Place
Filmmakers Christine Lundberg and Rawn Fulton explore the life and work of acclaimed author/illustrator Virginia Lee Burton in this documentary profile of the woman behind such beloved children's books as Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel and The Little House. A woman whose dynamic sense of design, illustration, typeface, and space made her one of the most successful author/illustrators of the 20th Century, Burton backed up her striking illustrations with richly textured stories about the importance of teamwork, environmental awareness, perseverance, and adapting to change while still recognizing the importance of the past. The wife of renowned sculptor George Demetrious, gifted textiles designer Burton also founded the Folly Cove Designers - a talented collective whose works were sold throughout the United States - in Gloucestor, Massachusetts in 1940. ~ Jason Buchanan, Rovi

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