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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 Christian Williams. 

June 2015 Film Sampler


Bullfrog Films
(On DVD) 

From Upton Sinclair's The Jungle to Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, American literature has a history of being in the vanguard when it comes to activism about controversial issues. The books of Edward Abbey carry on that tradition, with memoirs like Desert Solitaire and the classic comic novel, The Monkey Wrench Gang, taking on the degradation of the American Southwest.

Wrenched reveals how Edward Abbey's anarchistic spirit and riotous novels influenced and helped guide the nascent environmental movement of the 1970s and '80s. Through interviews, archival footage and re-enactments, the film captures the outrage of Abbey's friends who were the original eco-warriors. In defense of wilderness, these early activists pioneered "monkeywrenching"—a radical blueprint for "wrenching the system." Exemplified by EarthFirst! in the early '80s, direct action and civil disobedience grew in popularity.

The film captures a new generation of monkeywrenchers who use Abbey's books as a source of inspiration. They are personified by Tim DeChristopher, who single-handedly stopped the sale of 100,000+ acres of public trust lands in southeastern Utah. The fight continues to sustain the last bastion of the American frontier—the spirit of the West. And Wrenched, following in Abbey's footsteps, asks the question: How far are we willing go in defense of wilderness? (Distributor synopsis)

One Cut, One Life
First Run Features
(In Theaters)

When documentarian Ed Pincus, considered the father of first-person non-fiction film, is diagnosed with a terminal illness, he and collaborator Lucia Small team up to make one last film—much to the chagrin of Jane, Ed’s wife of 50 years. Ed and Lucia’s unique approach to filming offers an intimacy rarely seen in docs, questioning whether some things might be too private to be made public. An intense, raw, yet sometimes humorous exploration of the human condition, One Cut, One Life invites viewers to contemplate for themselves what is important, not only at the end of life, but also during.  (Distributor synopsis)

Sunshine Superman
Magnolia Pictures
(In Theaters

Sunshine Superman thrusts you into the world of "freefall cinematography" with helmet-mounted cameras that allow you to experience the exhilarating plunge firsthand. A heart-racing documentary portrait, director Marah Strauch’s evocative debut film tells the incredible story of Carl Boenish, an engineer turned stuntman cinematographer whose early passion for skydiving led him to ever more spectacular—and dangerous—feats of foot-launched human flight. After pioneering what was coined “Special Aerial Photography” on John Frankenheimer’s The Gypsy Moths, Boenish brought his revolutionary filmmaking techniques to his role as one of the founders of BASE (bridge, antenna, span and earth)  jumping, a '70s movement that requires parachuting from a fixed structure. While seeking ever-increasing thrills, Carl fell in the love with the bookish Jean, who became his wife and diving partner. Told through a stunning mix of Boenish’s 16mm archive footage and state-of-the-art aerial photography, Sunshine Superman is a potent time capsule of the transformative '70s that showcases both the beauty of the natural world and the enduring power of film as a medium. (Distributor synopsis)

Shake the Dust
Loose Luggage Media Films
(In Theaters and VOD)

From executive producer and 13-time Grammy nominated rapper Nasir “Nas” Jones and journalist-turned-filmmaker Adam Sjöberg comes the buoyant, globe-trotting film Shake the Dust

Hip-hop and the acrobatic breakdancing culture that arose in tandem with it may have started on the streets of The Bronx, but their reach is now decidedly worldwide. Shake the Dust chronicles the influence of breakdancing, exploring how it strikes a resonant chord in the slums, favelas and ghettos of the world and far beyond with a universally-appealing energy. (Distributor synopsis)

Our Man in Tehran
First Run Features
(In Theaters)

Our Man In Tehran is an in- depth, intimate exploration of the true story behind Ben Affleck’s Oscar-winning film Argo. In this gripping new documentary, the story of the “Canadian Caper” is told by the man who knows it best: Ken Taylor, Canada’s former ambassador to Iran, who hid the six Americans in his official residence and obtained the counterfeit documents that allowed them to make their dramatic escape.(Distributor synopsis)

Antarctic Edge 70 Degrees South
First Run Features
(In Theaters)

Antarctic Edge brings to us the stunning landscapes and seascapes of Earth's southern polar region, revealing the harsh conditions and substantial challenges that scientists endure for months at a time.  While navigating through 60-foot waves and dangerous icebergs, the film follows the team as they voyage south to rugged, inhospitable Charcot Island to study the fragile and rapidly declining Adelie Penguin. For Schofield and his crew, these birds are the greatest indicator of climate change and a harbinger of what is to come. (Distributor synopsis)

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