Film: 2012 LA Film Festival: Documentaries

by H. Clent Bowers

Magazine     >    Reviews

Written by H. Clent Bowers for THE ARTISTS FORUM MAGAZINE
Edited by
Courtesy of the films: Birth Story, About Face, Searching for Sugar Man, Beastiaire, and The Queen of Versailles

5 out of 5 stars


LOS ANGELES, CA (June 25, 2012) One of LA’s great artistic happenings is the annual Film Independent – 2012 LA Film Festival. This year may have been its best yet!  We at The Artists Forum love independent film and the way in which artists bring their vision into fruition and express their singular point of view with the world. For the most part, these film makers do not have the capital afforded by large studios. Theirs is a struggle from beginning to end; almost always a labor of love, and almost always created with great deals of volunteering and donations by believers with a shared vision of creating an artistic work of excellence. Below are reviews of feature length documentaries by various artists:

Scene from the documentary “Birth Story”

Director: Sara Lamm, Mary Wigmore
Featuring: Ina May Gaskin, Stephen Gaskin, Pamela Hunt, Kristina Kennedy Davis, and Farm Midwives past and present

(World Premiere) This years LA Film Fest winner for documentary film, Birth Story is by far the most universal film I have seen in a while. All of us go through the process of birth in various ways. We give birth to gardens and crops, businesses and ideas, even countries and civilizations. And through it all, we need to be nurturing when giving birth to something new. While God/Nature cares for us all, there still needs to be a caregiver to assist in the process. Midwifery is that connection to human birth. When a being understands their calling or purpose in life it is a type of birth — a moment of clarity — and so you begin.

Since the early 1970’s, Ina May Gaskin‘s story of compassion for the mother and safe delivery of her child deeply moves us as this self taught midwife dedicates her life to bringing new life into the world. Her viewpoint on natural childbirth without drugs or c sections insures the child a fair fight to struggle through the birth canal — it’s first natural lesson of stress and success. In the documentary, Gaskin takes a stand for all women all the way to the White House to fight the hospital and insurances policies of forcing women to take C sections, Often only to save time,  and move them along — get ’em born and out.  She uses statistics as proof of the growing number of deaths especially to minority women. A fascinating must see for all people.  Brava Ladies.

Promotional poster of “About Face” featuring Carmen Dell’Orefice

Director: Timothy Greenfield-Sanders
Featuring: Marisa Berensen, Christie Brinkley, Isabella Rossellini, Carmen Dell’Orefice, Paula Porizkova, Carol Alt, Bethann Hardisan, Beverly Johnson, Cheryl Tiegs, China Machado, Christy Turlington, Dayle Haddon, Eileen Ford, Esme, Jerry Hall, Karen Bjornson, Kim Alexis, Lisa Taylor, Nancy Donahue, Pat Cleveland, Harry King, Calvin Klein, Jade Hobson.

This documentary focuses on the lives of beautiful models — from their days of posing on the cover of Vogue, their trials and tribulations, their thoughts on the industry, and their graceful balance of beauty as it grows richer through the years. It is impossible to ignore what icons do to a society. They tell us how to act, how to speak, how to laugh, they even show us how to grieve. These women show us  how to dress. how to wear our bodies, what to put on them, and how to feel in what we wear. What I learned about the women in this film is that beauty is an individual possession —  Whether its your check bones or eyes, your forehead or lips, your torso or legs, the most important attribute of all is your character.

Each of these women demonstrate great character along with their individual beauty. We learn many lessons of life and womanhood through their life in the spotlight. The director did an excellent job lighting his subjects — so much so I had to ask him how. One wonderful story was about when he began taking photos of celebrities one of whom was Bette Davis who said to him, “Young man, you may not take my picture in that light.” After which, she then offered to teach him how the great directors light a subject, if he would be her driver for a week. He did and, well… see the film and judge for yourself. Beautiful.

Promotional image of Sixto Rodriguez from “Searching for Sugar Man”

Director: Malik Bendjellol
Featuring: Rodriguez

Here we have the true story of an artist named Sixto Rodriguez. Sixto slipped or was pushed through the cracks — something I have learned happens often when art becomes business. This young man grew up in Detroit as a singer/songwriter.  His music showed the promise of a Bob Dylan in his own right. For what ever reason the industry denied  him and his records were shelved. 20 years later it was rumored that he set himself on fire during a concert and was dead. Then, in South Africa, someone played on the air a record of his they found in some shop while in the States.

After South African youths heard the music, they started a revolution that the young people needed in order to rebel against the system. His music topped the charts and his records made huge amounts of money. The money was sent back to the label. Finally, he was found alive and went to Africa for the concert tour of his life.  Taking his two daughters with him, they saw this carpenter handyman who raised them now being what he was meant to do and it is a beautiful experience, After the tour he returned to being a handy man in Detroit living a modest life. His prior money from African record sales were never found.  As artists, we create. That is our passion… our job. Where our work finally manifest seems to be the reason it was created.

Promotional image from “Beastiaire”

Director: Denis Cote

Have you every really just stopped and looked at animals? Have you wondered what they’re thinking? In this film, director Denis Cote lets us really watch the beast. A surprising observation is how much like us they appear. Their eyes seem to look at us with deep recognition. I noticed the shape of the horns of one bull that looked like he pulled it down and styled it himself. This film isn’t for everyone — there is no plot nor really any action. But, if you can appreciate the art of nature and creation, you’ll find it is full of wonder.

Jackie with five of her eight children. Thirty years younger than David, Jackie proves to be more than a typical trophy wife in the film.

Director: Lauren Greenfield
Featuring: David Siegel, Jackie Siegel, and the Siegel family

Photographer/Director Lauren Greenfield started this documentary by photographing the building of the largest home ever built in the USA. its over 90,000 square feet and contains three tennis courts, 20 bathrooms, multiple bedrooms, 10 kitchens, living quarters for the help, several ball rooms, dining rooms, ice skating rinks, a full size basketball court, and of course winding staircases and a grand parlor. This castle, along with a casino in Las Vegas, was being built by the largest timeshare owner in the world – David Siegel and his wife, Jackie. Thirty years younger than David, Jackie Siegel proves to be more than a typical trophy wife.

Their fascinating story quickly becomes the focus. As this orange orchard owner and the beauty queen with and engineering degree, their children, pets, and help allow us to see how a multi-billionaire lives. In the midst of filming the castle’s construction, America financially hit bad times and bailouts began. The billionaires face foreclosure and financial ruin. The way our queen handles their situation is where the story warms your heart.  I loved this documentary. For me, it is not about the money as much as it is about perseverance when the lady of the house sees the walls start to crumble.

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