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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. 


To Be Takei
(in theaters)

To Be Takei is a surprisingly charming documentary that looks at the life and times of actor and activist George Takei. His humor and likability come across in everyday scenes with his partner Brad Altman as well as in interviews with people he’s worked with on Star Trek and throughout his career.

Many other elements are covered throughout the film, such as his relationship with his parents and his legacy as an Asian-American actor. Also touched upon are Takei’s feud with William Shatner, his colossal Facebook following, and friendships with people from his barber to Howard Stern. All in all, the film strikes a good balance between the silly and the serious, with its appeal attributed to Takei himself who possesses both accessibility and a unique star quality. – Katie Moore

Read the full review of this film in the September edition of Utne Digital.


(in theaters and VOD)

First-time filmmaker and soon-to-be father Mark Myers documents the fear and hilarity as he and three friends attempt stand-up comedy before the birth of his first child. What begins as an examination of the art and craft of stand-up quickly becomes a story about loss, love, hope, and regret, after it is discovered that one of their estranged fathers is dying of cancer. (Distributor summary)

Canada | 2014 | Documentary | Unrated | 92 mins | Directed by Mark Myers

Levitated Mass
First Run Features
(in theaters)

Levitated Mass is the story behind the monumental artwork of the same name by Michael Heizer, which is now installed at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. First conceived in 1968 but not technologically possible until 2012, this two-story tall, 340-ton granite boulder was moved from its desert quarry over 105 miles on a custom-built, 206-wheeled tractor trailer to its permanent home at the world-renowned art museum.

Doug Pray's documentary follows the boulder's historic journey, which caused an international media sensation as it challenged the imagination of hundreds of thousands of spectators over the ten nights it crawled through the streets of Los Angeles, defiantly provoking the question, “is that a multi-million dollar work of art or just a big rock?” Pray captures the spectacle of it all, as well as the reactions—ranging from awe to outrage—from the crowds of people who watched it journey through LA's depressed inner city as well as through neighborhoods filled with million-dollar homes. (Distributor summary)

USA | 2013 | Documentary| Unrated | 88 mins | Directed by Doug Pray

Years of Living Dangerously
(available now on DVD and digital download)

From the damage wrought by Hurricane Sandy to the upheaval caused by drought in the Middle East, the Showtime series Years of Living Dangerously explores the human impact of climate change by combining the blockbuster storytelling styles of top Hollywood movie makers with the reporting expertise of Hollywood's brightest stars and today's most respected journalists.

The innovative series broke out of the conventional news and documentary form to establish a new approach to programming and broke news, repeatedly, with its investigative reporting and interviews throughout the United States and across the globe. (Distributor summary)

Kabbalah Me
First Run Features
(in theaters)

Kabbalah Me follows a personal journey into the spiritual phenomenon known as Kabbalah. Rooted in the Torah and Talmud, Kabbalah has been studied by leading Judaic scholars for many centuries, but many Jews are unaware or uninformed about Kabbalah and its significance. The film tells the story of how co-director Steven Bram, feeling a spiritual void in his life, immerses himself into the world of Kabbalah.

As Steven's spiritual journey progresses, the mystical and complex world of Kabbalah, with its varying interpretations and myriad rituals and lessons, slowly unfolds, leading to profound changes in all aspects of his life. (Distributor summary)

USA | 2014 | Documentary| Unrated | 80 mins | Directed by Steven Bram

In Real Life
(available now as digital release)

In Real Life takes us on a journey to ask what exactly the internet is and what it is doing to our children. All the way from the bedrooms of British teenagers to the world of Silicon Valley, this revealing documentary from director Beeban Kidron examines how free and open connectivity can have alienating and addicting side-effects, especially on the youngest minds using it. (Distributor summary)

UK | 2014 | Documentary| Unrated | 90 mins | Directed by Beeban Kidron


POV on PBS - Premieres Sept. 22 (check local listings)

New York City mayors have a world stage on which to strut, and they have made legendary use of it. Yet few have matched the bravado, combativeness and egocentricity that Ed Koch brought to the office during his three terms from 1978 to 1989.

As Neil Barsky's documentary Koch recounts, Koch was more than the blunt, funny man New Yorkers either loved or hated. Elected in the 1970s during the city's fiscal crisis, he was a new Democrat for the dawning Reagan era—fiscally conservative and socially liberal. Koch finds the former mayor politically active to the end (he died in 2013)—still winning the affection of many New Yorkers while driving others to distraction. (Distributor summary)

USA | 2012 | Documentary| Unrated | 90 mins | Directed by Neil Barsky

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