The Crash Reel (HBO Documentaries)
The Crash Reel
(HBO Documentaries)

The Crash Reel – 10:50 AM, Fletcher Hall

Lucy Walker has done it again.  In her first feature-length documentary since 2010’s magnificent Waste Land, the director splendidly tells the story of U.S. snowboarder Kevin Pearce, whose promising sports career came to a halt after he sustained a traumatic brain injury while training for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.  Culling footage from an impressive array of sources, including Pearce’s family and friends, The Crash Reel recreates the young phenom’s meteoric rise and the excitement of his rivalry with Shaun White.  This energetic build-up proves crucial to the film’s primary focus, that of Pearce’s recovery from the injury and coping with the likelihood that he’ll never return to his pre-crash level.  Thoughtfully cued to the likes of Grizzly Bear, Bon Iver, and Lykke Li, the film is a steady visual and emotional pleasure and solidifies Walker as one of our best documentarians.

Manhunt (HBO Documentary Films)
Manhunt
(HBO Documentaries)

Manhunt – 1:10 PM, Fletcher Hall

On paper, Zero Dark Thirty and Manhunt seem a lot more complimentary than they actually are.  Though the two films examine the CIA’s decades-long pursuit of Osama bin Laden, Greg Barker’s documentary takes such a dry, didactic approach that it barely belongs in the same conversation as Kathryn Bigelow’s narrative take.  Inherently limited by its form, Manhunt devolves into a largely stagnant information session, relying almost exclusively on recollections of those involved.  Eschewing reenactments (probably a wise decision) and minus the kind of eyewitness footage that shows as much as it tells, the film’s excess of talk gives it a tedious feel and lessens the impact of its numerous revelations.  Granted, this no-nonsense approach may be more indicative of the agency’s daily grind than a Hollywoodized procedural, but it doesn’t exactly make for an engaging film.

Downloaded (VH1 Television)
Downloaded
(VH1 Television)

Downloaded – screener

My most anticipated film of this year’s festival was Alex Winter’s Downloaded.  Since the film’s 10 PM premiere last night was sure to have made me a zombie today, I opted for a press lounge screener this afternoon and was thrilled with the results.  As someone who utilized Napster in its heyday, exploring the company’s origins, triumphs, and eventual undoing was especially engrossing.  Winter’s doc is tremendously slick and made all the more enjoyable through in-depth interviews with Shawn Fanning, Sean Parker, and other key players, both in the late ’90s and now.  With multiple parallels to The Social Network, the original internet sensation receives a fine history and is up there with Spinning Plates, The Crash Reel, and our next contestant as the Best of the Fest.

Which Way Is the Front Line from Here? (HBO Documentaries)
Which Way Is the Front Line from Here?
(HBO Documentaries)

Which Way Is the Front Line From Here? – 8 PM, Fletcher Hall

I’m surprised at how talented a filmmaker Sebastian Junger has become in a relatively short amount of time.  Part of that discovery comes from me primarily thinking of him as the author of A Perfect Storm, but after Restrepo and now his well-rounded tribute to the co-director on that first film, it’s time to readjust.  Which Way Is the Front Line From Here? takes an impressive look at British journalist Tim Hetherington’s war photography and video.  Along with candid nuggets and close-up interviews that employ a simple yet powerful black background consistent with Restrepo, Junger assembles a moving portrait of his brave friend.  It’s an excellent companion piece to their Oscar-nominated film and a fine way to end my fifth Full Frame.

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