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Every month, Utne Reader previews a selection of current and upcoming independent film and documentary releases. This sampler was curated by editor in chief Christian Williams. 


Art and Craft
(in theaters)

Generally speaking, art forgers use their skill to make a lot of money off of unsuspecting art collectors. It’s rare to come across an expert art forger who not only isn’t interested in making money, but has successfully duped numerous top-notch art museums and highly-regarded curators for almost 30 years without payment. Then again, there aren’t any art forgers quite like Mark Landis, the focus of the engaging and thought-provoking documentary Art and Craft.

The film follows Landis as he heads for a face-to-face meeting with Matthew Leininger, the curator who sacrifices his own career and professional reputation to publicize Landis’ forgeries and ask him to stop. While everyone acknowledges the fact that Landis hasn’t technically broken any laws by donating his forgeries, Leininger’s effort raises an important question about why we value art: If it’s pleasing to the eye, does it matter if it’s authentic? Landis and Leininger obviously have different answers to that question, and the film gives them both an opportunity to make equally compelling cases.—Christian Williams


Point and Shoot
The Orchard
(in theaters)

Matthew VanDyke is the unlikeliest of Arab Spring freedom fighters. A sheltered, white Baltimore native, suffering from an array of obsessive-compulsive disorders, VanDyke traveled to the Middle East in the late 2000s as part of a “crash course in manhood.” In 2011, he returned as a Libyan rebel, with a gun in one hand and a camera in the other. Directed by Oscar-nominated director Marshall Curry (If a Tree Falls, Street Fight), Point and Shoot chronicles VanDyke’s strange and incredible journey with equal parts awe and criticism. Indeed, VanDyke doesn’t come across as a hero; Curry’s film is a far more complex and fertile inquiry into notions of masculinity, media obsession, and American naivety. —Anthony Kaufman


Oil & Water
Bullfrog Films
(on DVD)

Oil & Water is the coming of age story of two boys as they each confront one of the world’s worst toxic disasters, the prolonged contamination of the Ecuadorian Amazon by Texaco and other oil companies. Hugo comes to America to fight for the survival of his tribe, the Cofán, while David goes to Ecuador to launch the world's first company to certify oil as “fair trade.”

Eight years in the making, this film is an intimate portrait of two young people finding their voices and trying to beat incredible odds. Their journeys lead them to explore what could be a more just future, not just for the people of the Amazon, but for all people around the world born with oil beneath their feet. (Distributor summary)

K2: Siren of the Himalayas
First Run Features
(on DVD)

Two world-class alpinists including National Geographic’s “Explorer of the Year” Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner team up in a dangerous foray of high altitude mountaineering in this breathtaking documentary. The film follows their attempt to reach the summit of K2, the world’s most challenging peak, on the 100-year anniversary of a landmark expedition led by the Duke of the Abruzzi.

K2 also explores the history and geography of the legendary Karakoram Range while contemplating the risks and rewards of modern-day exploration. The second highest peak on Earth, K2 is also one of the most dangerous: for every four people who have reached the summit, one has died trying. (Distributor summary)

Monk With A Camera
Kino Lorber
(in theaters)

Nicholas (Nicky) Vreeland, the grandson of legendary Vogue editor Diana Vreeland, walked away from a worldly life of privilege to become a Tibetan Buddhist monk in 1972.  He moved to India, cut his ties with his pleasure-filled world, and began living in a monastery with no running water or electricity. There, he would spend the next 14 years studying to become a monk.

Trained early on by famed American photographer Irving Penn, Nicky Vreeland developed a sophisticated aesthetic and was on a path to become a world-class photographer himself. But once a monk, he abandoned his cameras to focus on his studies and devote himself to a monastic life.  

Featuring up-close conversations with actor Richard Gere, his Holiness the Dalai Llama, and Vreeland’s Buddhist teacher Khylongla Rinpoche, among many others, Monk With A Camera  gracefully chronicles Nicky Vreeland’s cultural and spiritual journey, as well as his lifelong (and often conflicting) relationship with photography. (Distributor summary)

The Invisible Front
Forest Brothers, LLC
(in theaters)

The Invisible Front is the story of one of the 20th century’s most significant anti-¬≠Soviet resistance movements, told through the words and experiences of Juozas Luksa and his fellow Forest Brothers. Their war was completely unknown to the public in the West. The Soviet Security forces, fighting against them, dubbed the conflict “The Invisible Front.”

Winner of the Audience Award at the international film festival “Kino Pavasaris” in Vilnius 2014, the film will make its U.S. theatrical debut at the Cinema Village in New York on November 7, at the Music Box in Chicago on November 14, and at the Music Hall in Los Angeles on November 21. A national release will follow. (Distributor summary)

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