Arts & Events

Four Insightful Documentaries from First Run Features

By Justin DeFreitas
Wednesday October 20, 2010 - 10:36:00 AM

Four Seasons LodgeAndrew Jacobs' wistful documentary gives us a glimpse of what may be the final summer frolic of a group of Holocaust survivors who gather each summer at a lodge in the Catskills Mountains of New York. For decades they've met here for dancing, entertainment and conversation, but this could be their last reunion, as a majority has voted to sell the property due both to the caretakers' desire to step aside, as well as to the sad fact of the group's ever-dwindling numbers.  

In the wake of World War II, a group of Jewish Americans who had lost their families in the Holocaust united to form a new family; they were immigrants in a new land, looking for a bridge to the past. They purchased a 50-acre lodge and began a tradition of annual reunions. Home movies of the life of Four Seasons Lodge show the property's 52 bungalows brimming with evening-attired revelers; fireworks displays with hundreds watching from the lawn; and friends with arms about one another, mugging for the camera in the dance hall and beside the swimming pool.
But now, as the reality sinks in that this could be the final party, some express regret over the vote to sell. Sharp words are exchanged and there is much finger-pointing as Carl and Hymie, the lodge's president and vice president, are faulted for their desire to relinquish their duties. But as the group prepares to pack up at the end of the summer, possibly for the last time, the scapegoating subsides and the tears well up as the group faces the real cause of their anxiety: that after all these years, they're just not ready to give up another family. And with the clock ticking, they gather once more in the meeting hall for another vote, this time to determine just how much this family means to them, and what lengths they're willing to go to in order to keep it together.
2009. 97 minutes. $24.95.
Léon Blum: For All Mankind
Léon Blum — socialist and leader of the Popular Front, an alliance of left-wing movements — became prime minister of France in 1936. A decent man to the core, he was respected by supporters and opponents alike. But the political climate was changing rapidly as Hitler's Nazi party grew in strength and influence, and eventually Blum, due to his socialist views and Jewish heritage, was arrested and deported by the Vichy government. Jean Bodon's documentary follows Blum's life and career, from his rise to power to his incarceration at Buchenwald, where he remained a Nazi prisoner for the duration of the war, to his triumphal return to France at war's end, when the people once again elected him prime minister
2010. 58 minutes. $24.95.
Howard Zinn: You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train
For decades, Howard Zinn served as the public face for the faceless multitudes. The activist and historian, who authored, among other works, A People's History of the United States, dedicated his career to illuminating the lives of everyday people, acting as a voice for laborers, immigrants and minorities. He drew attention to the plight of the working poor, honored the cultural and societal contributions of the unsung, and fought against institutionalized discrimination, racism and war.
Deb Ellis and Denis Mueller document Zinn's life from his early life as a shipyard worker to his service as a bombardier in World War II, to his long career as an academic and activist. This new commemorative edition of their 2004 film comes with an hour of new material, including bonus speeches and interviews with Zinn, Studs Terkel and Daniel Ellsberg.
2004. 78 minutes. $24.95.
Directors: Life Behind the Camera
In the earliest days of motion pictures, the director was simply the man on the crew who had nothing else to do. If you had no particular talent other than the ability to yell, you were considered qualified. Eventually the position acquired a bit more esteem, yet it was still a difficult job to define. But the it helped if you looked the part; in the first half of the silent era, it was common for a director to wear riding boots. C.B. Demille even brandished a riding crop.
If the job description has crystallized over time,
it's still a difficult job to define, for it contains so many facets: acting, staging, composition, photography,
Directors: Life Behind the Camera features 33 directors discussing the art of cinema in a sprawling, four-hour collection of interviews. Made in cooperation with the American Film Institute, the interviews span two discs and are grouped by topic, covering everything from breaking into the business to each stage of the production process. Categories include the art of scriptwriting; cinematography; the state of the industry; collaborating with actors; their own favorite films; and what they hope their legacy will be.
Directors include Robert Altman, Nora Ephron, Penny Marshall, Robert Benton, William Friedkin, Sydney Pollack, Tim Burton, Terry Gilliam, Rob Reiner, James Cameron, Ron Howard, Martin Scorsese, Chris Columbus, Lawrence Kasdan, Ridley Scott, Wes Craven, Spike Lee, Tony Scott, Cameron Crowe, Barry Levinson, Bryan Singer, Frank Darabont, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Jonathan Demme, David Lynch, Oliver Stone, Richard Donner, Adrian Lyne, Robert Zemeckis, Clint Eastwood, Garry Marshall and David Zucker.
2006. 240 minutes. $29.95.