The five adventurers in “The River and the Wall” set out with a purpose and a point of view.
They will follow the Rio Grande for 1,200 miles where it forms the U.S.-Mexico border, trying to scope out the ecological damage Donald Trump’s proposed wall might cause.
Led by the film’s director, Ben Masters — the subject of 2015 documentary, “Unbranded,” about his trek driving wild mustangs from Mexico to Canada — the group includes an ornithologist, a river guide, a National Geographic explorer, and a conservationist.
Along the way, as they switch from bikes to horses to canoes, they occasionally talk to the camera about their individual stories.
Despite its verité form, this is no shaky, handheld affair, though. Polished, visually gorgeous, and acutely political, it’s a vivid, engaging nature film with a message.
Hollywood’s forays into higher frame rates have not abated: after Peter Jackson pumped up his “Hobbit” franchise to screen in 48 frames-per-second, Ang Lee followed suit with a dizzying 120fps rate for his ambitious 2016 film “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk.”
While the standard remains 24fps, other productions have continued to dip their toes into the technology.
Next up: Russian filmmaker Victor Kossakovsky’s dazzling new documentary “Aquarela.” Filmed at a rare 96fps, the documentary is compelled by its unlikely central character: water.
Per the film’s official synopsis, it “takes audiences on a deeply cinematic journey through the transformative beauty and raw power of water. The film is a visceral wake-up call that humans are no match for the sheer force and capricious will of Earth’s most precious element. From the precarious frozen waters of Russia’s Lake Baikal to Miami in the throes of Hurricane Irma to Venezuela’s mighty Angel Falls, water is the film’s main character, with director Victor Kossakovsky capturing her many personalities in startling cinematic clarity.”
Sony Pictures Classics will release the film in New York and Los Angeles on August 16.
National Geographic Documentary Films has secured worldwide rights to environmental documentary “Sea of Shadows,” executive produced by Leonardo DiCaprio.
Directed by Richard Ladkani (“The Ivory Game”), the documentary premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and won the Audience Award in the World Cinema Documentary category.
“Sea of Shadows” highlights efforts to save the endangered vaquita whale in the Sea of Cortez, where the native totoaba fish are being poached because of a belief among some in China that their bladders possess miraculous healing powers.
The non-fiction film follows a team of scientists, high-tech conservationists, investigative journalists, undercover agents, and the Mexican Navy to save the last remaining vaquita whales and bring the crime syndicate to justice.
The opening frames of “Honeyland” are so rustically sumptuous that you wonder, for a second, if they’ve somehow been art directed.
Elegantly dressed in a vivid ochre blouse and emerald headscarf, captured in long shot as she nimbly wends her way through a craggy but spectacular Balkan landscape, careworn middle-aged beekeeper Hatidze Muratova heads to check on her remote, hidden colony of bees — delicately extracting a dripping wedge of honeycomb that’s the exact saturated shade as her outfit.
With man and nature so exquisitely coordinated, it’s as if Hatidze herself has grown from the same rocky land, and in a sense, she has. Scraping by with her ailing mother, Nazife, on a tiny, electricity-free smallholding in an otherwise unpopulated mountain settlement in Macedonia, Hatidze has known no other life, and has certainly seen more bees than people in her time.
In Ljubomir Stefanov and Tamara Kotevska’s painstaking observational documentary, everything from the honey upwards is organic.
Shot over three years, with no voiceover or interviews to lead the narrative, “Honeyland” begins as a calm, captured-in-amber character study, before stumbling upon another, more conflict-driven story altogether — as younger interlopers on the land threaten not just Hatidze’s solitude but her very livelihood with their newer, less nature-conscious farming methods.
As a plain environmental allegory blossoms without contrivance from the cracks, Stefanov and Kotevska’s ravishingly shot debut accrues a subtle power that will be felt by patient audiences.
“Honeyland” was awarded the Grand Jury prize in the World Cinema Documentary category at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.
“The Swamp” tells the dramatic story of humanity’s attempts to conquer the Florida Everglades, one of nature’s most mysterious ecosystems.
Home to a profusion of plants and animals found nowhere else on the continent, the Everglades in the 19th century were an immense watershed covering the southern half of the Florida peninsula.
Most Americans at that time believed swamps were filled with diseases and noxious reptiles and saw them as obstacles to the nation’s progress.
The idea of draining the Everglades became the goal of many entrepreneurs, politicians, and salesmen who saw great potential in turning the massive wetland into a profitable enterprise. Altering the landscape of the Everglades unleashed a torrent of unintended consequences, from catastrophic floods to brutal droughts.
Told through the lives of a handful of colorful and resolute characters, including Hamilton Disston, the wealthy entrepreneur who first attempted to drain the swamp, and Marjory Stoneman Douglas, the writer who became an ardent advocate for preserving the Everglades, “The Swamp” chronicles the repeated efforts to conquer what was once seen as useless wasteland and the passionate efforts to preserve America’s greatest wetland.
Watch chapter 1 of “The Swamp” above and the entire film at PBS.