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last update 9.Sep.15
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How to Change the World
dir-scr Jerry Rothwell
prd Bous De Jong, Al Morrow
with Bob Hunter, Patrick Moore, Paul Watson, Rex Weyler, Bill Darnell, Rod Marining, Paul Spong, David Garrick, Carlie Truman, Ron Precious, Bobbi Hunter, Emily Hunter
voice Barry Pepper
The First Film release US Jan.15 sff,
UK 11.Sep.15
15/UK BFI 1h50

How to Change the World Based on the writings of Greenpeace founder Bob Hunter, this is the fascinating story of how a global movement was launched. It's an important film, packed with riveting events and terrific footage, but as a biopic about a charity, it's also overlong and sometimes bogs down in internal struggles.

Greenpeace started in 1971 as a group of Vancouver hippies speaking out against ecological insanity. Their first project was sending a rickety boat to bear witness to Nixon's nuclear test in Alaska. The goal was to plant a "mind bomb" in the media, which is the first in five steps the film outlines. Next comes following words with action, as Hunter puts ecological issues on par with civil rights, the women's movement and peace protests. As they put themselves literally in front of Russian whalers' harpoons, the gravity of their cause becomes impossible to ignore.

The next three chapters focus more on Greenpeace as an organisation, as success changes the way they operate, globalisation leads to more money but less cohesion, and Hunter realises that he has to release his grip on power if the movement has any hope of survival. "The greater our influence the messier and more obstinately human things become," Hunter says. From here, the film focusses mainly on internal clashes as Greenpeace grows, splinters, then reunites as a global movement.

The film is narrated in Hunter's eloquent words (voiced by Pepper), skilfully accompanied by a fabulous collection of home movies and photos that capture the team's youthful passion. This is tempered with articulate present-day interviews as the cohorts look back on their idealistic flower-power activism as a small group with varied talents having fun while changing the world. Filmmaker Rothwell cleverly contrasts this with how corporations now compromise governments through lobbying and carefully concealed bribes.

Beautifully edited, the film asks big questions: Is highlighting an issue cowardly without taking action? Is a camera as powerful as a gun? Is a multi-million dollar charity stronger than a small, loud voice? These people strove to be advocates for the planet, so the film is stronger when it focusses on their revolutionary zeal than when it details their internal politics. And it leaves us thinking. Hunter himself sums it up: "My separate existence is an illusion, ecology is flow. You and I are most definitely a part of the flow. Everything we do affects the flow, and everything the flow does affects us."

15 themes, violence, language, nudity
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Looking for Love
dir-prd Menelik Shabazz
with Umar Johnson, Jackee Holder, Dwight Turner, Susan Quilliam, Kojo, Andi Osho, Slim, Mr Cee, Donna Spence, Glenda Jaxson, Eddie Kadi, Comfort, Ebonee Onyz, Nairobi, Onysha D Collins
looking for love
release UK 21.Aug.15
15/UK 1h55
looking for love Beautifully shot, this documentary about romance has a terrific sense of humour thanks a several comics, plus some artistic insight from performance artists. So it's a shame it's likely to have a very limited audience simply because it focusses to tightly on London's Afro-Caribbean community. But the film has a lot to say to everyone who sees it.

Filmmaker Shabazz obscures any sense of structure with a meandering style that wanders all around the topic at hand, opening with images of lusty physicality before diving into the human need for a deeper connection. Talking with men and women, psychiatrists and healers, artists and comedians, Shabazz explores the ways people yearn for relationships, including expectations and mistakes, as well as the impact of parents and upbringings. It's a remarkably comprehensive approach, drifting occasionally into sideroads that are interesting even if they're somewhat irrelevant.

This is a freeform talking-heads doc, so most of the film features people sitting and chatting to the camera. There are occasional cutaways to show scenes of people interacting, and also some terrific moments in which two or more people appear on camera to egg each other on as they speak (the best moment is between comics Mr Cee and Donna Spence). Otherwise, it's simply a range of artists and specialists offering their personal opinions on how men and women try to get together and maintain their relationships.

Much of this is spoken in the context of the black community, with telling comments about the legacy of the slave trade in both the subculture and in individual experiences. For example, it's still an issue in this segment of society that women run the family, because men were historically taken away as slaves. So men tend to be away, and women have to be fiercely independent to survive. There are also commitment issues for the descendants of people who were forbidden from getting married.

These things are powerfully relevant to a conversation about relationships in this subculture, and add interest to anyone watching the film, as do the emotive performance-art pieces that pop up from time to time. But other segments seem to drift into rambling personal anecdotes or expressions about the culture at large that feel rather glib. Even so, this is an astute exploration of how difficult it is to find a lasting connection with someone in a society that's focussed on just having a quick snack.

15 themes, language, innuendo
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The Nightmare
dir Rodney Ascher
prd Ross M Dinerstein, Glen Zipper
with Chris C, Forrest B, Korinne W, Connie Y, Jeff R, Ana M, Stephen P, Kate A, Steven Yvette, Siegfried Peters, Nicole Bosworth, Elise Robson
the boogeyman release US 5.Jun.15,
UK 9.Oct.15
15/US 1h31

The Nightmare Filmmaker Ascher (Room 237) tries a bit too hard to make this documentary into a horror movie, exploring a fascinating experience without any analysis or expertise. The film features eight people recounting their ordeals with sleep paralysis, as they are re-enacted on-screen in a variety of cinematic styles. While never boring, the film also never tells us anything.

These eight people come from across the USA, plus one in England, and they all tell similar stories of waking frozen with fear as "shadow men" walk around them menacingly, sometimes interacting in ominous ways. Many have had these nightmares since early childhood, sometimes accompanied by pain or even sexual sensations, and all of them are absolutely certain that this is coming from somewhere outside of them. Some talk of demons, others of aliens. Only one manages to banish the dreams by becoming a Christian.

Accompanied by Jonathan Snipes' creepy sound-mixed music and Bridger Nielson's shadowy cinematography, these stories weave together into a fascinating larger narrative about an unexplained human experience. Are these images implanted on our DNA? An aspect of personality like being musically talented or prone to addiction? Or is it a psychological condition? All of these possibilities are reflected in the accounts of these people, but there's no one outside the group to offer any context.

Aside from the film's overall freaky tone, the most fascinating thing is to see how sleep paralysis has been used in art through the centuries, which adds the weight of history to these visions. Ascher rushes through this, although he gives some time to clips from movies that have used it to maximum effect, including A Nightmare on Elm Street, Insidious and Jacob's Ladder. And the re-enactments with actors are performed in cleverly cinematic styles of their own.

But as the film begins to travel in frustrating circles, it becomes clear that Ascher isn't interested in getting to the bottom of this phenomenon or making meaningful observations about it. He just wants to chill us and make us afraid to go to sleep after watching his movie. There's even a moment in which one of the dreamers talks about giving the condition to a friend like some sort of "sleep transmitted disease". But aside from offering a few good jolts, the film leaves us wanting to know more about the topic. Which isn't how you should feel after watching a documentary.

15 themes, language, brief violence
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dir-scr Shaun Monson
prd Melissa Danis, Shaun Monson
voices Jennifer Aniston, Ellen Burstyn, Jessica Chastain, Common, Marion Cotillard, Ellen DeGeneres, Dr Dre, Michael Gambon, Selena Gomez, Ben Kingsley, Helen Mirren, Joaquin Phoenix, Geoffrey Rush, Susan Sarandon, Kevin Spacey
Unity release US/UK 12.Aug.15
15/US Nationearth 1h39
Unity Thoughtful and emotive, this swirling, hypnotic collage hinges on the statement: "human, animal, tree - not the same but equal". Yes, the film has a distinctly new-agey Buddhist spin as it emphasises awakening and consciousness. It's provocative, important and more than a little self-important.

It's set out in five chapters, exploring what it means to be human and our place in the universe, which literally means "all turned into one". Cosmic explores natural laws; Mind looks into human rights and responsibilities; Body provocatively describes how we pollute rather than nourish ourselves with much of what we eat; Heart unpicks definitions of companionship, compassion and the real meaning of love; and Soul explores the struggle to understand the purpose of existence.

The narration is read by more than a hundred celebrities (identified on-screen). It's packed with eye-opening observations, esoteric musings and an unending sense of wonder, including quotes from philosophers, scientists and iconic leaders. The strongly pro-vegan message conveniently ignores carnivores in nature; the pacifist slant ignores just wars. In the end, this is a prayer that humanity can learn to live without killing. And of course believing this depends on whether you're a member of the choir filmmaker Monson is preaching to.

Visually, the film has an astonishing range of imagery from the achingly beautiful to the deeply disturbing. The film opens with a long shot of a terrified cow waiting for its own slaughter. And amid images of riots, war, famine and atrocities are scenes of love, activism and natural beauty. Intriguingly, the filmmaker notes how we feel compassion for images of cute puppies, but not for piles of ill-treated crabs. And the sleepy song score makes it all feel rather slow and dreamy.

But it's loaded with stirring ideas about politics, religion, history, technology, asking teasing questions such as why "obscenity" always refers to sex, but never to war or bigotry. Yes, the film is very preachy, and the message is rather obvious. But there's a ring of truth when it explores how greed divides communities. And also when it asks how long it will take before mankind stops restaging past mistakes.

So along with his loathing of meat and milk, Monson makes important points about moving humanity forward beyond tribalism (ie, racism, sexism, politics). Instead of categorising and crushing, we should reduce suffering and act with compassion to each other, our environment and the animals with whom we share this planet. Whatever your religius or political view, it's hard not to agree with Monson's rewording of the Golden Rule: "Please be kind to every expression of life."

15 themes, violence, grisliness
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© 2015 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall