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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 Ben Sauder. 

October 2015 Film Sampler


Population Boom
First Run Features
(on DVD)

After Warner Boote explored the perils of producing as much plastic as we do in his 2009 film Plastic Planet, he was faced with the question “Isn’t the planet in danger of being destroyed because there are too many people?” The major issues we face today —climate change, diminishing resources, hunger and access to clean water — it is often promulgated, will only be exasperated by an overpopulated planet.

In Population Boom, Boote sets out to investigate and ultimately challenge the popular notations behind the idea of overpopulation. His journey begins at the United Nations Headquarters on Halloween of 2011, the day the world population reached 7 billion. Rather than celebrate, Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon spoke of the perilous world these children are being born into: famine in the horn of Africa, fighting in Syria. Boote recounts the conventional wisdom of overpopulation, that hunger and poverty could be solved if people in poorer countries didn’t have so many babies. So, just how many is one too many, Boote sets out to find.

A worldwide fact finding mission, he travels to desolate grasslands and heavily populated megacities, to countries with growing populations and countries shrinking ones. In China, where the one-child policy has produced an excess of 30 million boys, the Family Planning Commission tells Boote that the policy is intended to promote equality and economic prosperity. In Japan, where there are more diapers produced for seniors than for babies, Boote tours a desolate elementary school where the former principal, as if in a scene from Children of Men, says to Boote, “I miss the children’s voices.”

From Mexico to Bangladesh and Finland to Kenya, Boote speaks with scientists, lawyers, nurses, and even a Serengeti warrior. His findings push him toward the idea that earth has no optimum population size: there aren’t too many people, but there are too many people without education, without enough food or clean water; that countries with low birth rates contribute more to global warming and create more trash than do poor countries with high birthrates. Convincing poorer countries to reproduce less, his findings suggest, is a way for rich countries to avoid or minimize action on their part.

As director, Boote is bracing, exhibiting a childlike curiosity, charm and forthrightness to all with whom he speaks, wheather they’re the mother of eight living in a Mumbai slum or the Director of the U.N. Population Fund. He avoids the theatricality and leading questions that sometimes surfaces in documentaries of similar genres. Boote is just  out on a quest for the truth, and doesn’t fail to entertain along the way.
— Kevin Mataraci


The Russian Woodpecker
(In Theaters)

As his country is gripped by revolution and war, a Ukrainian victim of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster discovers a dark secret and must decide whether to risk his life and play his part in the revolution by revealing it. A Sundance Grand Jury Prize-winning documentary. (Distributor synopsis)

Heart of a Dog
(In Theaters)

"Hello, little bonehead. I'll love you forever." So begins Heart of a Dog, creative pioneer Laurie Anderson's wry, wondrous and unforgettable cinematic journey through love, death and language.

Centering on Anderson's beloved rat terrier Lolabelle, who died in 2011, Heart of a Dog is a personal essay that weaves together childhood memories, video diaries, philosophical musings on data collection, surveillance culture and the Buddhist conception of the afterlife, and heartfelt tributes to the artists, writers, musicians and thinkers who inspire her.

Fusing her own witty, inquisitive narration with original violin compositions, hand-drawn animation, 8mm home movies and artwork culled from exhibitions past and present, Anderson creates a hypnotic, collage-like visual language out of the raw materials of her life and art, examining how stories are constructed and told — and how we use them to make sense of our lives. (Distributor synopsis)

The True Cost
Bullfrog Films
(on DVD)

The True Cost is a story about clothing. It's about the clothes we wear, the people who make them, and the impact the industry is having on our world. The price of clothing has been decreasing, while the human and environmental costs have grown dramatically. This film asks us to consider, who really pays the price for our clothing?

Filmed in 13 countries all over the world, from the slums of Dhaka, Bangladesh, to the cotton fields near Lubbock, Texas,, and featuring interviews with the world's leading influencers including Stella McCartney, Livia Firth, Vandana Shiva and Richard Wolff, The True Cost is an unprecedented project that invites us on an eye opening journey around the world and into the lives of the many people and places behind our clothes. (Distributor synopsis)

Making Rounds
First Run Features
(on DVD)

Muffie Meyer's documentary Making Rounds follows the disappearing art and science of how to listen, examine, and diagnose patients for future generations of physicians and patients.

Meyer and her crew follow Valentin Fuster, MD, PhD (Physician-in-Chief of The Mount Sinai Hospital) and Herschel Sklaroff, MD (Clinical Professor of Cardiology at Mount Sinai), as they care for critically-ill cardiac patients. The film explains that while all teaching hospitals "make rounds," it has become common for those discussions to happen outside of patients' rooms, without talking with or examining the patient. And it is during "rounds" that young physicians learn their "doctoring skills." Making Rounds highlights the back-to-basics approach favored by two leading cardiologists, who prefer hands-on assessment and diagnosis. (Distributor synopsis)

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