Ben Berman’s “The Amazing Johnathan Documentary,” about an ailing magician’s return to the stage was never intended as a nose-thumbing to the documentary form.
In fact, as Berman drove out to Las Vegas in 2017, seeking to gather material for a short film about illusionist John Szeles — The Amazing Johnathan in 2014 had declared in front of a live audience that he had cardiomyopathy and a year to live — there wasn’t much of a plan at all.
Berman saw an opportunity to document the return of a still alive-and-kicking Szeles announcing that he was coming out of retirement while mixing in interviews from comedy and magic act peers including Eric Andre, Penn Jillette, and Criss Angel.
As far as documentaries go, this was all pretty standard stuff. Then — as Berman’s film lays out in glorious detail — everything went spectacularly wrong.
When Apple TV+ launches on Nov. 1, one of the first pieces of original content available will be nature documentary “The Elephant Queen,” about a beautiful, tusked matriarch of a family of elephants.
Directors Victoria Stone and Mark Deeble filmed in Kenya for four years straight, but it took a little while before they found Athena, their main character.
“To begin with, she wouldn’t let us close. But we could see that with her herd, with her family, she was a really calm, beautiful, temperate matriarch. And we would just spend time with her,” Deeble told the crowd after an International Documentary Association screening of the film at the London West Hollywood, part of the IDA’s annual screening series.
Over the course of several weeks, Athena had allowed the small crew closer and closer, until they were about 40 meters from her. One day, Athena walked away to let her calf stand between her and the crew. That’s a rare occurrence for a mother.
With a baited handling of American symbolism, documentary filmmaker RaMell Ross, 2019 Oscar nominee for “Hale County This Morning, This Evening,” joins five men in Alabama as they resurrect the homestead ritual of hog processing under the guidance of and elder, Johnny Blackmon.
Any moon-landing conspiracy theorist who sees director Todd Douglas Miller’s mesmerizing documentary “Apollo 11,” which captures the 1969 lunar adventure of astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins, will feel put on blast.
Miller’s digital restoration of never-before-seen NASA footage marries the pulse-pounding Apollo 11 journey itself with the efforts of ground control to orchestrate a smooth trip.
At a recent International Documentary Association (IDA) screening in Los Angeles, and as a kick-off to the IDA’s annual awards-season lineup that looks back on the year’s best nonfiction films, Miller spoke to an audience in a conversation moderated by IndieWire Associate Editor Steve Greene.
Stanley Nelson’s latest documentary “Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool” is playing in theaters after premiering at the Sundance Film Festival.
But for the past 30 years, Nelson’s films, such “The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution” and “Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges and Universities,” have detailed lesser-known stories of the African American experience.
He produced the 2017 short “Gavin Grimm vs.,” directed by Nadia Hallgren, about a trans boy who challenged his school board’s bathroom policy by filing a case that made it to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Nelson’s films expose injustices and pivotal moments in American history and have received multiple awards.