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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. 

August 2015 Film Sampler


The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution
Firelight Films
(in theaters)

Both urgent and historical, award-winning filmmaker Stanley Nelson’s unvarnished and exhaustive portrait of the Black Power group is a classic rise-and-fall epic. Beginning with the group’s genesis under the leadership of the charismatic Eldridge Cleaver and ending in a string of FBI-orchestrated acts of violence and self-destructiveness from within, Vanguard of the Revolution grows deeper as it goes on, revealing complex subplots and disturbing revelations. Viewers may be familiar with the police murder of Fred Hampton, for example, but the film’s rich trove of archival footage and vivid testimonies makes the incident seem like an all-too-familiar current event. —Anthony Kaufman 

Magnolia Pictures
(in theaters)

Rooted in the unfathomability of the Nazi concentration camps, Stanley Milgram’s 1960s “social obedience” experiments infamously showed how everyday people could easily be led to (hypothetically) torture another human being with electric shocks. In this fascinating and curious movie, captivating actor Peter Saarsgard plays the pioneering psychologist as a cool, clinical man with a passion for understanding questions of morality and choice. But Experimenter is no conventional biopic; rather, operating like an experiment of its own, the film provocatively tests it viewers to consider the ever-relevant implications of Milgram’s research, and what they might do today if sitting in the same seat as his subjects.—A.K.


I Dream of Wires
First Run Features
(On DVD)

I Dream of Wires is a documentary about the rise, fall and rebirth of the machine that shaped electronic music: the modular synthesizer. Exploring the synthesizer's history, the film reveals how innovators like Robert Moog developed the first room-sized prototypes. It shows the meteoric rise in popularity of the synthesizer—later made obsolete by a flood of cheap knockoffs. And it tracks the phenomenal resurgence of the high-end modular synthesizers being used today by a whole new generation of musicians, many of them at the forefront of EDM (electronic dance music). (Distributor synopsis)

Journey to the Safest Place on Earth
Film Buff
(On DVD)

Over the last 60 years, more than 350,000 tons of high-level nuclear waste has been amassed the world over. This material must be deposited for thousands of years in a safe place. However, such a repository has yet to be created and the production of nuclear waste continues unabated. Swiss-based nuclear physicist and internationally renowned repository specialist Charles McCombie and some of his most important allies provide director Edgar Hagen with insight into their persistent struggle to find the safest place on earth in order to resolve this grave dilemma.(Distributor synopsis)

Point and Shoot

A timid 26-year-old with obsessive-compulsive disorder, Matt VanDyke left home in Baltimore in 2006 for what he called a “crash course in manhood.” He bought a motorcycle and a video camera and set off to film himself on a multi-year, 35,000-mile odyssey through North Africa and the Middle East. When revolution broke out in Libya, he joined the rebels fighting Muammar Gaddafi, but was captured, sending his adventure in a frightening new direction. Point and Shoot joins Matt’s wild ride, exploring how in the age of the selfie we use cameras not just to capture our stories, but to craft them. (Distributor synopsis)

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