There is a bumper crop of interesting documentaries right now. Some of them play the festival circuit, others get theatrical release, and ultimately all are available for streaming or downloading as well as purchase on good ol’ DVD and Blu-ray discs. The beauty of new distribution channels is that smaller films covering offbeat topics have a chance to be seen by the precise audience for whom they were made.
Let’s start this mini-survey with Saving Brinton, a charming film about a colorful character named Mike Zahs who has the demeanor of a schoolteacher and sports a big, bushy beard. In the basement of a local farmhouse in Iowa he makes a great discovery: the 35mm prints, projection equipment, and papers of an early-20th century barnstorming showman named William Frank Brinton. Determined to restore the rare footage and revive Brinton’s name in his home community, Zahs travels far and wide to learn more about this collection. Imagine the excitement when French archivist Serge Bromberg determines that he possesses a long-lost George Méliès short. Iowa-based directors Tommy Haines and Andrew Sherburne celebrate their home state and provide us with a lovely slice of Americana in this entertaining feature. To learn more about upcoming playdates and watch the trailer, click HERE.
Filmmakers Andrew P. Quinn and Erin Beckloff explore the world of old-fashioned printing in Pressing On: The Letterpress Film. I have always been fascinated by hand-set type and everything that goes along with it. It’s a tactile process that some would call obsolete in the computer age—but this film contradicts that belief. We meet proud artisans of a certain age, men who have spent their lives purchasing, restoring, and operating these ancient machines and scouring the countryside for boxes of type. They are an unusual breed, a real bunch of characters who love passing on their hard-earned knowledge to a younger generation. The directors of Pressing On also appreciate the beauty of the moving parts as these majestic apparatuses—some of them more than one hundred years old—bring signs, posters, and other printed matter to life. If you share my enthusiasm for antiquated technology you’re bound to enjoy this film. It’s now available on DVD, Blu-ray and virtually every digital platform. Learn more HERE.
Finally, Always at the Carlyle is an homage to the elegant Madison Avenue hotel that has been home to royalty and all manner of celebrities for decades. Not only has it never lost its cool; it remains a mecca for the rich and famous who crave privacy and expect impeccable service. Among the notable guests who appear on camera are George Clooney, Sofia Coppola, Harrison Ford (who’s very funny), Alan Cumming, Wes Anderson, Anjelica Huston, and Jon Hamm, along with less famous folk who regard the hotel as a home away from home. Writer-director Matthew Miele (Scatter my Ashes at Bergdorf’s) is a provocateur who tries to get the ultra-discreet staff to spill some secrets with only middling results—but it’s fun to see him try. Home to the Bemelmans Bar, the Café Carlyle (where entertainer Bobby Short reigned supreme), and a staff that measures its tenure there in decades, not just years, this is a New York City institution. Miele tells us why in a breezy, entertaining movie that winds up being somewhat mournful. The age of glamor it celebrates is pretty well past, with only isolated remnants remaining to show us how “the good life” was lived in the greatest city in the world. I’m sorry I caught up with the film at the tail end of its theatrical run, but you can check for remaining playdates and learn more HERE.