The most recent DVD bundle, billed as "Docurama Film Festival V" includes twelve newly-available titles. The bundle retails for $279.95, a 15% savings over buying the titles individually. It includes the following:
The letterboxed 1.78:1 image suffers from minor aliasing, but otherwise looks fine given the limits of the video source material. A lack of good primary audio recordings compelled filmmaker Andrew Walton to resort to forced subtitles for much of the dialogue, but the stereo score sounds dynamic. Mild profanity on the main audio track is bleeped on the "family-friendly" alternative audio track. Optional subtitles are not provided.
Extras include an interview with filmmaker Andrew Walton (10 min.), outtakes (13 min.), and stills of fourteen of Stan, Jr.'s paintings.
Shot on DV, the letterboxed image (which appears to be 1.66:1) looks very soft, with noticeable edge enhancement, and slightly washed-out colors. The 2.0 audio provides little or no differentiation between channels, but audio levels are steady and free from dropouts, and thus the audio is acceptable for this dialogue-driven documentary. No subtitles are available on this release.
Extras include 70-minutes of horrendous shorts made to celebrate birthdays within Cine Manifest that were likely never intended for a wider audience, and a filmmaker bio.
Cinematographer Style looks nearly as good as its subject matter deserves. Shot on 35mm film, the 1.85:1 image is enhanced for widescreen. The image is richly colored and well detailed, and no doubt looked superb when it was theatrically project, but slight aliasing is evidenced in the digital transfer. The 2.0 DD audio is generally good with nice separation between the dialogue and score, though the lack of optional subtitles is disappointing because a few words here and there are difficult to decipher even when replayed.
Extras include hour-long interviews with Vittorio Storaro (Apocalypse Now) and Gordon Willis (The Godfather) which further enhance the utility of this disc as a demonstration of editing by showing two of the 110 interviews in nearly raw form to contrast with the final product; and a filmmaker bio.
The above-average content of Critical Condition is undercut by a seriously-flawed video transfer. Though clearly shot for 1.78:1 widescreen, the image is squeezed to 1.33:1. I suspect that this is a coding error whereby the main feature is encoded on the disc in anamorphic widescreen, but the flag to identify it as such for playback is missing. The two short films included in the extras are appropriately tagged and do play in anamorphic widescreen, however. If not for the squeezed image, Critical Condition would look fairly good. Colors are accurate and consistent, and sharpness is good for video-sourced footage.
The 2.0 DD generally sounds fine with nice separation on the score. Some dialogue is less than ideally recorded, but this is common on cinéma vérité docs and is not overly distracting here. Unfortunately, no subtitles are offered on this release.
Extras include two short films, Uncovered (18 min.) about a family that's denied insurance coverage based on an undisclosed prior condition, and Your Money or Your Life (21 min.) about a family struggling without health insurance, an interview with filmmaker Roger Weisberg about the making of Critical Condition (23 min.) and a filmmaker bio.
Presented in a 1.33:1, Family Name was shot on 8 and 16mm film. The image frequently has a washed-out appearance and minor print damage that makes it look older than its eleven years, but these imperfections add more to the aesthetic of the film than they take away. There's no differentiation between the tracks on the 2.0 DD, but dialogue is clear and easy to understand. No subtitles are available on this release.
Extras include a curious collection of excerpts (27 min.) that are also included in the feature film, an interview with filmmaker Macky Alston (27 min.) and filmmaker bio.
The filmmakers put in the long hours needed to capture important moments and they seem to maintain a good rapport with the families and medical staff, but they lack the technical mastery and distance evidenced by Allan King, Peter Walker and Jason Milligan in the superiorly-crafted direct-cinema documentary Dying at Grace. At times A Lion in the House borders uncomfortably on the brink of reality television especially in the camera confessional setups and prodding by the filmmakers which even when edited out can still be detected. Yet overall, A Lion in the House is still recommended for its frequent displays of courage, humanity, compassion, and grace.
Recorded on Betacam (1.33:1), A Lion in the House has lifelike colors, but suffers from mild aliasing, blur, and a lack of image detail. These mild issues together with mediocre camera work and a boom mic that frequently drops into the frame are mildly distracting but not to the point of overwhelming the families' stories. The 2.0 DD audio generally sounds fine with nice separation on the score. Some dialogue is less than ideally recorded, but again is not overly distracting here. Unfortunately, no subtitles are offered on this release.
This two-disc release is generously laden with extras including outtakes (12 min.), an interview with filmmakers Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert (16 min.), a making-of featurette (29 min.), Lions on the Road a 15-minute featurette about the reception of the film and filmmakers bios.
Shot on standard definition video (1.33:1), On the Downlow at its best suffers from aliasing and image compression, however far more troubling is the horrendous cinematography by Arthur Jafa (Crooklyn) which mixes purposeful and accidental blurring and speed manipulation to create an impressionistic image which favors style over substance.
The 2.0 DD audio generally captures most of the dialogue though the audio tends to be overly harsh and there is no noticeable separation. No subtitles are offered on this release.
Extras include a casting tape (15 min.), theatrical trailer (1 min.) and a filmmaker bio.
Journalists Joe Fox and James Nubile direct Passing Poston, an hour-long documentary recounting the story of the interment through the recollections of four former Poston internees and excerpts from wartime propaganda. The sense of injustice the aggrieved former internees feel is still palpable. The direction is conventional but competent. There's nothing revelatory here, but this title will be of interest to those interested in the subject matter and to educators.
Presented in a 1.78:1 letterbox, Passing Poston appears to have been shot on standard definition video. The image has good coloration, but suffers from mild aliasing. The 2.0 DD audio adequately captures the dialogue though there is no noticeable separation. No subtitles are offered on this release. Audio levels are not consistent between the main feature and the extras.
Extras include the making of Passing Poston (3 min.), 44 minutes of wartime propaganda about the internments and filmmaker bios.
With exaggerated colors, camera work that alternates between fixed shots of talking heads and gliding pans across book illustrations, editing that fades from shot to shot, a loud piano score, and interviewees mostly limited to New Englanders under eight years-of-age or over sixty, Virginia Lee Burton: A Sense of Place has the feel of one of those tepidly-innocuous videos that play on a loop in the gift shops of quaint small-town museums. Unremarkably, the two positive blurbs put on the DVD cover come from a principal adviser to the film and from the director of a quaint small-town museum, respectively.
Shot on standard video (1.33:1), the colors are exaggerated and the image lacks detail. Fortunately, dialogue is clear even when competing with the strident piano score. No subtitles are offered on this release.
Extras include a half-hour of additional scenes, the trailer, and a filmmaker bio.
The other three titles included in this bundle are K. Ryan Jones' Fall from Grace, Jonathan Sack and James Brabazon's Liberia: An Uncivil War, and Macky Alston's Questioning Faith. These titles (along with Cine Manifest) are reviewed separately in greater depth.