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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. 


May 2016 Film Sampler

SELECT NEW RELEASES

Unlocking the Cage
(in theaters)

Unlocking the Cage follows animal rights lawyer Steven Wise in his unprecedented challenge to break down the legal wall that separates animals from humans.  Arguing that cognitively complex animals such as chimpanzees, whales, dolphins and elephants have the capacity for limited personhood rights, Steve and his legal team are making history by filing the first lawsuits that seek to transform a chimpanzee from a “thing” with no rights to a “person” with legal protections.  Unlocking the Cage captures a monumental shift in our culture, as the public and judicial system show increasing receptiveness to Steve’s impassioned arguments. It is an intimate look at a lawsuit that could forever transform our legal system, and one man’s lifelong quest to protect “nonhuman” animals. (Distributor synopsis)


East of Salinas
(on DVD)

East of Salinas begins with 3rd grader José Anzaldo telling us what he wants to be when he grows up. His parents work from sun up to sun down in the heart of California's "Steinbeck Country," the Salinas Valley. With little support available at home, José often turns to his teacher, Oscar Ramos, once a migrant farm kid himself. In fourth grade his teacher told him if he worked hard he could have a different life. Oscar won a scholarship to the University of California, Berkeley. The day he earned his degree, he bought a car and drove home to the fields. He's been teaching ever since.

José is Oscar's most gifted student. But how do you teach students like José who have no place to do their homework? How do you teach a kid who moves every few months? This is what Oscar is up against every day. Oscar not only teaches his students reading, math and science, he gives them access to a world beyond their reach.

But José was born in Mexico — and he's on the cusp of understanding the implications of that. As we watch this play out over three years, we begin to understand the cruelty of circumstance — for José and the many millions of undocumented kids like him.

East of Salinas asks, What is lost when kids like José are denied opportunities? (Distributor synopsis)


Life, Animated
(Coming in July)

Life, Animated is the real-life story of Owen Suskind, the son of the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ron Suskind and his wife, Cornelia. An autistic boy who couldn’t speak for years, Owen memorized dozens of Disney movies, turned them into a language to express love and loss, kinship, brotherhood. The family was forced to become animated characters, communicating with him in Disney dialogue and song. Until they all emerge, together, revealing how, in darkness, we all literally need stories to survive.

Life, Animated, the documentary, is based on Ron Suskind’s best-selling book, “Life Animated: a story of Sidekicks, Heroes and Autism.”  Directed by Academy Award winner Roger Ross Williams, and produced by the acclaimed Julie Goldman, the documentary premiered January 23rd, 2016, at the Sundance Film Festival, where it won director Roger Ross Williams the Sundance Directing Award: U.S. Documentary. (Distributor synopsis)


Fidelio: Alice’s Odyssey
(Out now)

Thirty-year-old Alice is a sailor about to embark on a journey she will not soon forget. Leaving her fiancé Félix ashore, she joins the crew of an old cargo ship, the Fidelio, as a mechanic. Once on board, Alice discovers that she is replacing a man who has just died and that Gaël, the first great love of her life, is the ship's captain.

Lulled by life aboard the ship and entranced by the limitless horizon of the wide open ocean, Alice succumbs to desire and begins an affair with Gaël. But she soon faces a difficult choice about what will make her truly happy: an unfettered life at sea, or grounded happiness at home?

Lucie Borleteau's provocative and sensuous directorial debut brings to the screen a powerful female protagonist in an almost exclusively male world, while Arianne Labed's fearless performance as Alice reveals a confident, independent woman fully in command of her own sexuality, grappling with conflicting desires. (Distributor synopsis)


Divest! The Climate Movement on Tour
(on DVD)

As world governments struggle to meet the aspirational limit of 1.5°C of global warming agreed to at COP21 in Paris, a new campaign is targeting the fossil fuel industry in an effort to withdraw its social license to operate. DIVEST! chronicles 350.org's 'Do the Math' bus tour across the United States in 2012 as it launched the fossil fuel divestment campaign onto the national and ultimately international stage.

Each night Bill McKibben and special guests laid out the findings in his landmark Rolling Stone article 'Global Warming's Terrifying New Math' and made both the moral and historical case for divestment. Three years later over 500 institutions representing over 3 trillion dollars in assets have committed to divest. The campaign is winning, but with the clock ticking down the question remains: will the victories add up enough to matter?

Featuring Naomi Klein, Reverend Lennox Yearwood, Dr. Sandra Steingraber, Josh Fox, Terry Tempest Williams, Winona LaDuke, Desmond Tutu and Ira Glass.  (Distributor synopsis)





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