DOCUMENTARY

Featured Short: The Shining Star of Losers Everywhere

In a modern world where many of us have been spoon fed to expect certain things out of life, our “honorable mention trophies” and “A for efforts” have gotten so out of hand that it’s easy to get lost in the race to success with no true aim or idea of what we are even chasing after anymore. What’s even at the finish line these days other than exhaustion, oversold acclaim and a dying 15 mins of fame? What if success was truly overrated? As they say, you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take, eh? But what if you literally try your hardest, miss 100% of the shots you DO take and still find yourself a symbol of hope to an entire nation and a success in your utter failure?  Mickey Duzyj's acclaimed Hot Docs winning film, THE SHINING STAR OF LOSERS EVERYWHERE, is a half-animated hybrid short documentary that tells the story of a never ending failure in the form of Haru Urara, a once beloved race horse in Japan with a career-long losing streak and a pink Hello Kitty mask, to be exact. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. But what if you tried and failed - not once, twice or three times - but even more times? What if you had 100+ failures under your..uh..saddle and people STILL loved you? This was to be Haru Urara’s legacy.  A mascot for all wholesome, gosh darn losers everyone, she became a random success in her failures, thanks to a viral news story that spread like wildfire across Japan. She became a fad, a symbol of never giving up, all because the racetrack could not bear sending such a spirited animal to the slaughterhouse. An entire nation had so much faith in both her continuing losses and small chance of winning that her existence even saved that racetrack from bankruptcy!  She came, she ran, she lost - again and again and again. And eventually she disappeared - the end of an era that lives on within this film over 10 years later. Sometimes putting in the effort amounts to nothing. And sometimes that nothing turns into the adoration of thousands of lost souls looking for someone - or something - to show them that it’s okay to lose as long as there is hope, positivity and Hello Kitty. A wonderful mix of traditional, contemporary and animated storytelling methods, Duzyj’s film will envelop you in sheer wonder and fervor with a phenomenon that should have never existed….and yet it did! The irony is, this film has success by the halter and steers its story to first place. However, it couldn’t have done it without one big time loser. Do youself a favor and watch the film, created for ESPN's award winning 30-for-30 series, here.  And while you're at it, you can watch more award-winning shorts (for free!) now on Indie Street!

Ah, happiness. Such a strange, elusive beast. In the new feature documentary, The Happy Film, filmmaker and designer Stefan Sagmeister explores the emotion by putting himself through a series of self-guided experiments in order to find out if he can manufacture the feeling. For the past seven years, he has been operating on a weekly happiness 1-10 rating scale system and exploring three methods for finding happiness: meditation, cognitive behavioral therapy and psychotropic drugs. The quirky, thought-provoking film born from this endeavor recently premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival. Interested? You can read WIRED’s review of it here.

VOD Feature Review: "Crafting a Nation"

Throughout the past decade, we have seen a massive explosion of new breweries and new brewing experimentations happening within the craft beer scene in America. Beer. It’s delicious. It’s everywhere. And who could complain? Over at Indie Street, we certainly are seeing (and enjoying) the advantages to this new world of endless liquid creativity. In fact, along with the growth of craft beer potential, we are also seeing an influx of inspired new filmic endeavours. While Thomas Kolicko’s “Crafting a Nation” is one of quite a few fascinating, beer-centric documentaries to pop up over the past couple of years, Kolicko’s film is unique. It’s an interesting project because, more so than focusing on the actual beer, it focuses on the stories of the people behind the brew. And not just one story is chronicled, but dozens are told from across the country. Over 40 breweries in the US are featured, from ones just starting up to some of the largest craft breweries like Schlafly, Sam Adams and Sierra Nevada, to name a few. Despite the impressive roster, the primary focus of the film rests on chronicling both the progress and setbacks of two brothers, their dream and the successful opening of their own place, the Black Shirt Brewing Co. in Denver. As we “brewery hop” across America, we constantly return back to their inspiring story. Like finding a new favorite amongst the sea of thousands of new beers, Kolicko’s film stands out because it’s not just about shoving beer-related facts down our throats - it’s about the more personal, more human aspects behind achieving your dreams and following your passions. And well, the beer gives it even more bonus points.  So grab a cold one (or two or three…etc.) and give this week’s inspiring VOD feature a watch!

Just in time for Oscar Sunday, lots of people are focusing in on one independent documentary filmmaker that seems to be doing things right. Joshua Oppenheimer and his debut film, “The Act of Killing”, was a fascinating, jaw-dropping look at the individuals that participated in the Indonesian genocide of the 1960s. His second film, Oscar-nominated “The Look of Silence”, follows up on the continuing impact of those horrors. Read his interview with Indiewire here and learn more about his films’ impact, his approach to filmmaking, and what’s next.

"Yellow Fever": Kenyan Short Tackles Allure of Whiteness

Kenyan filmmaker Ng'endo Mukii is the type of woman that can be expected to tell bold stories through a multifaceted lens. A sort of mixed-media film showcasing elements of animation, documentary narrative, and dancing, her award winning short film "Yellow Fever" is a beautifully choreographed hodge podge of concepts that weave together in perfect harmony. Using memories and interviews from Mukii's family members, "Yellow Fever" studies Westernization and Globalization's effects on African woman, their understanding of beauty standards and their own self-image. From discussing African hairstyles to skin bleaching trends, the film evolves to become a rather frank portrait. Used as Mukii’s thesis project at London’s Royal College of Art, this Kenyan short was a festival favorite and winner of the Silver Hugo for Best Animated Short at the 2013 Chicago International Film Festival. Interested in the concepts of skin and race as well as studying the destabilized standards of beauty within African communities, Mukii knows her subject well, and for this I believe we can trust her work to start a much needed discussion amongst all audience types. While you're at it, why not check out more of the best (and free!) short films on the web.

We’re just about midway through 2015, and that means taking stock of the cinematic year so far. In terms of feature films, it’s been a stellar year, with everything from “Inside Out” and “Mad Max: Fury Road” to “The Duke Of Burgundy” and “L’il Quinquin” making it one of the strongest first six months of a moviegoing calendar that we can remember  with a plethora of equally excellent movies having cropped up at festivals. But to focus on the fiction arena would be to miss whole swaths of great cinema, because the documentaries of the first half of 2015 have been excellent. Here's Indiewire's top picks for the 2015 so far. 

Here's Why This Filmmaker Risked His Life To Make A Film

The award-winning documentary Saving Mes Aynak was a hit at IDFA 2014 and Full Frame 2015, but more than just a documentary it's also harnessing an activist campaign to save this ancient site.

READ MORE: The Best Documentary Filmmaking Advice from Full Frame Documentary Festival

The film follows archaeologist Qadir Temori as he races against time to save this 5,000-year-old Buddhist archeological site in Afghanistan from imminent demolition. It's endangered not only by religious fundamentalists, but by a Chinese mining company chasing corporate profits.

In traveling to the region on his own many times, "Saving Mes Aynak" director Brent E. Huffman risked his life at the hands of landlines and Taliban fighters. 

"It felt like my duty, my obligation, to tell this story and to spread the story about the imminent destruction of this incredible site," said Huffman in a video on Indiegogo. Read Full Story

A STYLISTIC MASH-UP OF ARCHIVAL FOOTAGE, INTERVIEWS, AND ANIMATED SEQUENCES, the Kurt Cobain documentary, Montage of Heck, premiered at Sundance '15 to a stunned audience. Anyone could have crafted a documentary about a band. Director Brett Morgen's experimental, road-less-traveled approach does something that's much deeper: letting you feel as if you've pored through someone's scrapbook. You get the sense that Kurt would have liked this. As for his fans, be prepared to meet the man you admire, warts and all. Read more: http://www.rollingstone.com/mo

Indie Street is not completely supportive of the shockumentary approach where documentarians scare the viewers into changing their ways. Not because we don't agree with many of the messages of these films, but more so because the only ones watching the docs are typically those who more or less agree with the message. This newly released documentary "Plastic Paradise" brought to you by Virgil Films, is a well done piece, but even more importantly it has such a simple cause and action that can be taken by any person in society to help ignite change. Purchase the film on Vimeo on Demand.