Is it too soon to think about Oscar contenders for non-fiction films? Several summer/ early fall releases are especially noteworthy. Not only is Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry the story of a major visual artist in China who has felt the wrath of his government for speaking out, but a film that utilizes the social media, as this savvy artist's blogs, tweets, and emails have had a huge impact on his artistic/ political message.
If all art is political, making it is more dramatic, brave, and essential for artists in repressive regimes. Alison Klayman, an American and recent college grad in 2008 went to China, not knowing precisely what she would do there. Asked to videotape Ai Weiwei, she fell into a subject much larger than a sculptor and conceptual artist. After the earthquake in Chengdu that caused the deaths of thousands of school children, Ai Weiwei was outspoken about the poor building construction. He criticized the Olympics in China after participating as creative consultant on the stadium. At the recent premiere party at The Double Seven, hosted by Peggy Siegal and Sundance Selects, Klayman said she now speaks Chinese and can herself translate Ai Weiwei's words. Among other silencing techniques, the government has bulldozed his studio and "disappeared" him. Currently he is in Beijing threatened with tax fraud charges. This film is an impressive debut for Alison Klayman.
Detropia was the second in the Hamptons International Film Festival's Summerdocs series, after another impressive film, Searching for Sugar Man. Alec Baldwin made the selections himself. In the green room of East Hampton's Guild Hall, I had a chance to speak to the filmmakers Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady whose film Jesus Camp was nominated for an Oscar in 2007. Detropia focuses on Detroit, a city that was once a thriving American metropolis, now in a downward economic spiral emblematic of what is happening to many American cities.
What do you think about Baldwin choosing your film, I asked. He has good taste, they quipped. And Oscars? What do you think, they parried. I think these filmmakers have an eye to characters, opinionated eccentrics and artists to create an unusual portrait of a place that we think we know. The Mikado meets Roger & Me. And then they generously mentioned How to Survive a Plague, next up in the Summerdocs series at Guild Hall on August 4. Detropia will open in theaters in early September.
HBO, known for its commitment to fine documentaries, will air About Face: The Supermodels, Then and Now, Timothy Greenfield-Sander's demystifying look at the glamorous world of modeling. Carmen Dell'Orifice, Isabella Rosellini, Carol Alt, Marisa Berenson, Jerry Hall, and China Machado, to name a few, speak openly about the work of being beautiful, limning the subjects of aging, eating disorders, body image, and drug use. One revelation: a model back in the day, was synonymous for prostitute. On the edge to start, these women have much to add to the feminist discourse: older now, and perhaps past the peak of career, they redefine the idea of women in their prime.
A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.