Top Art Docs



March is upon us, a strange time in which we celebrate the best of college basketball and the best of last year's movies. Fresh off last night's Oscar ceremonies, I wanted to skip past discussion of celebrity fashions and movie snubs, and dive into one of the lesser discussed categories -- best documentary. In recent years, I've noticed a big wave of enthusiasm for documentaries, thanks to Netflix for making eclectic subject matter easily accessible. But credit also goes to local film festival-inspired selections from Indy Film Fest and Heartland Film Festival. Among my favorite subgenres is the art documentary. This year among the five nominated best documentaries, three focus on the process of making art in very different forms, including the winning film 20 Feet From Stardom.


Cutie and the Boxer
A charming look at Japanese artist's Ushio and Noriko who have been married for 40 years. Ushio is best known as the painting boxer for his abstract works created by punching canvases with his paint-covered boxing gloves. After a life of supporting Ushio's art, Noriko is trying to find her own way into the world through creating anime-style murals depicting the tale of her alter ego Cutie. Beyond the spirited couple, the documentary takes you inside the peculiar world of artists living in New York City.


20 Feet From Stardom
I loved this documentary for bringing the story of the talented background singers to the forefront. Through interviews with some of the best-known background singers, you discover two paths these artists face -- one of gratitude for the opportunity to make a living performing, and the other of disappointment for missing the chance to be a star. What I found most remarkable was the impact that black women singers had on shaping rock 'n' roll music fronted by white men, including the Rolling Stones and Joe Cocker. 


The Act of Killing
While The Act of Killing is not about art, the movie uses art to bring alive accounts of genocide in Indonesia during the 1960s. Moving beyond the typical talking-heads documentary format, the men who carried out the crimes restage several of the killings, complete with stage-worthy costumes and makeup. While reenacting their crimes, the killers reflect upon the role Hollywood movies played in shaping their gangster image of themselves during the '60s. It's a chilling experiment in the part theatrics can play in working through past atrocities.

Other art docs to add to your queue:

· Waste Land: Vik Muniz recycles trash from the world's largest landfill in Rio to create mural-size art.

· Bill Cunningham New York: New York Time's photographer Bill Cunningham chronicles evolving fashion trends with a quirky sensibility.

· Trash Dance: Allison Orr creates a work of performance art using choreographed trash trucks and sanitation workers in Austin, Texas.

· Pina: The work of modern dance choreographer Pina Baush is stunningly re-created in this documentary rendered in 3-D.

· Six by Sondheim: This HBO documentary chronicles the writing and impact of six of Stephen Sondheim's most-known songs.

· Carol Channing: Larger Than Life: The Broadway diva best known for originating the title role in Hello, Dolly! amusingly reflects on her life's work.

March Picks: Movie Madness Edition

While we are in movie mode, here are a few exciting film-based experiences to take advantage of this month.

Upgraded Dinner and Movie:

Film to Fork by Indy Film Fest
Indy Film Fest launches its second year of pairing food-themed movies with dinner. The first edition of the Film to Fork series, featuring the World Premiere of Farm City is already sold out, so hurry and get your tickets for the following. March 20 screens Le Chef (Comme Un Chef) with a French-inspired meal; April 3 features SOMM with a wine-themed meal; and April 17 screens Tasting Menu (Menu Degustacio) with a small-plate inspired menu. All screenings take place at the Cook Theatre at the Indiana Landmark Center.

Bucket List Pick:

IU Cinema & Artcraft Theatre
Two of Indiana's most interesting cinemas can be found just outside Indianapolis. Head down to Bloomington for IU Cinema's eclectic lineup of art-house flicks, foreign films and classic movies, (including The Act of Killing) many of which you won't catch on the big screen anywhere else in the state.

Next month the spotlight will turn to IU Cinema as it hosts a retrospective of Meryl Streep's work as well as a lecture from Streep as she accepts an honorary doctoral degree from IU.

Meanwhile, Franklin is home to the Historic Artcraft Theatre. The Artcraft features classic movies year-round, but March 7-8 will host Heartland Film Festival's Best of the Fest, including screenings of Blood Brother and Medora.

Movies to Musical:

Ghost & Bomb on a Bus: A Speedy Musical
The '80s classic Ghost get's a musical makeover in this touring production coming to the Murat as part of the Broadway in Indianapolis series. I don't know if I am more curious to see how actors will tackle the roles made famous by Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore, Whoopi Goldberg, and Tony Goldwyn, or how they will make ghosts appear on stage while presumably singing. Meanwhile, Q Artistry presents Bomb on a Bus, an original musical parody of the 1994 film Speed. Q Artistry is known for its quirky productions and the show was written by Paige Scott, fresh off directing a sell-out run of Hedwig and the Angry Itch at Footlite Musicals.

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