Two of the best nonfiction titles from the past 18 months are opening today at the IFC Center in Manhattan: LOOT, directed by Darius Marder, and John Maringouin's BIG RIVER MAN.
Both are nominated for three Cinema Eye Honors at this year's awards: LOOT for Outstanding Feature, Direction and Debut, BIG RIVER MAN for Outstanding Direction, Production and Original Music Score.
I wrote about LOOT as one of the Best Films of 2008 (it won the Jury Prize at the Los Angeles Film Festival and was nominated for a Spirit Award last year):
"A thoroughly surprising, beautifully rendered look at loss and discovery that is as fresh and unexpected as the great, lost, no-star, indie narratives of the 1990s. Its provocative hook - a documentary about a treasure hunter - could almost overwhelm the simple, low key and alternately devastating and satisfying pleasures of this under-the-radar film. Despite its jury triumph in Los Angeles (and the check that came with it), the film has kept a low profile through the fall but it deserves full exposure as a fresh and provocative take on the nonfiction genre. A huge debut for director Marder."
I also spoke to Marder last December about the year he'd had thus far:
"I always wonder why we don't refer to documentaries as narratives. Certainly they can be as narrative as any piece of fiction or at least I hoped that was true when I started. I really wanted to capture this quest in a cinematic way - I tried to think about the moments that were occurring not just as events to document but rather as layered moments that with the right perspective could be viewed in deeper ways. Ultimately this meant committing to the journey. I committed to the idea that there is inherent symbolism in every moment and I always tried to stay aware of the fact that I wanted to show that symbolism without exposition."
I wrote about BIG RIVER MAN earlier this year:
"John Maringouin’s transcendent BIG RIVER MAN, a visually stunning and frequently hilarious expedition across the heart of the Amazon. Maringouin, who made one of my favorite films of 2006/2007 – RUNNING STUMBLED, has made a film true to its subject, Martin Strel, one that engages in his excesses, his hallucinations, his quirkiness, his courage. Working with frequent collaborator Molly Lynch (here both co-director and co-editor), Maringouin is fearless in allowing the audience to laugh at the absurdity of a rotund, wine-swilling marathon swimmer and in following his subjects into the mental abyss. In a just-begun year of films that have often felt too cautious or even incomplete, finally a film that is unafraid of being messy, passionate, risky, hilarious. Certainly one of the best films of 2009."
Manohla Dargis weighed in on the film in a review today in the NY Times:
"Working with his co-editor, Molly Lynch, Mr. Maringouin has shaped a richly textured narrative about human endeavor that ebbs and flows, surprises and touches and sometimes even disgusts (just a little). Mr. Strel isn’t terribly articulate: his son does most of his talking (and hustling), at least here, which limits how far you get inside his head. (In one late scene, though, Mr. Maringouin expressionistically evokes the delirium and loneliness of his long-distance swimmer through a flurry of jagged angles and cuts.) Yet while Mr. Strel seems incapable of explaining himself, the documentary, which churns, drifts and surges around him like water, is finally an argument for wonder: Why does this or any man swim? Because, as Mr. Maringouin suggests, we are a mystery."
Both are excellent films that should be seen in a theater. Check them out this weekend at the IFC Center.