DXIFF 2021 Review: 3212 Un-Redacted

Written by Taylor Baker

75/100

Brian Epstein’s 3212 Un-Redacted presents a damning expose on the betrayal, cover-up, and conspiracy that occurred in October 2017. Deployed in Niger ODA(Operational Detachment Alpha) 3212 who were tasked against their Captain’s recommendation with pursuing a significant target in Tongo Tongo by their AFRICOM leadership. The secret sauce to the conspiracy? They were accompanied by CIA agents tasked with assassinating DounDoun Cheffou. The presence of these agents was redacted from all public and official documentation of what happened that day. Instead, we learn that AFRICOM labeled them in their presentation of what occurred that day as an unassuming “truck number three” with no real difference or distinction between them and any other truck within the presentation.

So why were they framed? Why did leadership lie? And how do we know for sure what is true? That’s the trick. We can’t get absolute truth about the series of events due to the redaction of the information. Epstein in conjunction with James Gordon Meek paints a damning examination of what can be asserted with absolute fact and what can be assumed based on the unredacted paper trail and soldiers who had worked alongside with ODA 3212. We know it was in the best interest of leadership to cover up a failed assassination mission where the captain told his superiors that he didn’t think the mission could be executed. We know they smeared a member of 3212 for allowing what occurred to happen despite him being in the United States to watch the birth of his daughter. And we know that the true events of the day have been put under a 25-year redaction.

The members of ODA 3212 that were on mission passed away that day in a firefight against an enormous force. They were wearing body cams and the film is compromised of large portions of those fateful minutes where each member was shot in gripping presentation and depressing detail. The documentary painstakingly shows the day-to-day lives of the family members that the fallen ODA members are survived by in conjunction with ABC Investigative journalist James Gordon Meek walking us through not only the details of the day. But the decisions made by different positions of power within the military to cover it up.

There’s a hard limit to how much we can know due to the top-down denial that accompanied the mission from the start. How could 3212 be out on an unsanctioned assassination mission when less than a day before the mission their Captain had asked to wait? Why weren’t any of the requested and available US support teams deployed? Why did the French display the show of force to eventually drive back the insurgents? We may not know now, but we should learn more in 2046. Unfortunately, many of the parents of the fallen soldiers may not be alive for answers then. 3212 Un-Redacted isn’t a glossy, shiny, overproduced documentary, it’s a gritty documentary composed of investigative rigor and direct presentation. It’s the type of documentary that reminds you there are still great journalists working in the medium of film.

3212 Un-Redacted Trailer

3212 Un-Redacted was screened as part of the 2021 edition of the Double Exposure Investigative Film Festival and is currently streaming on Hulu.

You can follow more of Taylor’s thoughts on LetterboxdTwitter, and Rotten Tomatoes.

DXIFF 2021 Review: The Rescue

Written by Taylor Baker

50/100

Oscar Winning Directors Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi follow up their harrowing Oscar Winning documentary Free Solo with a film about the extraction mission conducted by Thai Seals and Divers in Thailand to save a youth soccer team that was trapped in the cave. The film is composed primarily of historical reenactment footage, with event footage captured by the many cameras on site during the extraction, and talking head style interviews recounting the process and journey undertaken. The Rescue begins with some shots of flooded farmland in Thailand before cutting to Vern Unsworth pointing at a map trying to explain the only way they can get the children out of the cave while someone translates his English to Thai so the man who seemingly presides over the operation can understand. It effectively puts you immediately in the middle of the chaos in an effort to feel what it’s like to accomplish this extraction. Not unlike Chin and Chai Vasarhelyi’s way of looking straight down the sheer cliff faces in Free Solo to put you right there on the mountain side with Honnold.

The boys had wandered into the cave playing that day while celebrating a birthday. The cave functioned as a sort of playground for them to play in and typically when the cave system begins flooding in July it is closed off. But in June when they boys entered it and had not yet been sealed to the public. While they were inside a sort of flash flood occurred that immediately sealed the cave system with water forcing them up to the highest point in the caves with limited oxygen supply in the pocket they made it to. Vern Unsworth(who you may know from the kerfuffle with Elon Musk during the extraction.) instructs the team heading up operations that the only chance they’ll have to successfully rescue the boys is to get the best cave divers in the world.

Which leads us into an introductory sequence with Rick Stanton and John Volunthen, renowned as the world’s best cave divers. From there we get an amalgamation of stitched together footage and voice over recounting their arrival to the camp and their recollection of the difficult process to convince the authorities to not only allow them access to the caves but to let them perform the extraction one at a time by injecting a medication to knock the boys out so they could be extracted one at a time by the divers. Convincing Dr. Richard Harris one of the best anaesthesiologists in the world to come up from Australia to help with administering the drugs. It would be a harrowing documentary if we didn’t already know how it ended more than three years ago. It plays like a thriller and a bit like PR film for the subjects. Their look at Honnold was much more neutral, it was clear they loved him, but they let in his faults, his ego, and some of his callousness. Characteristics that would have been welcome this time around from anyone besides those who are presented to have impeded the rescue mission. Chin and Chai Vasarhelyi are clearly here to stay. Let’s hope the next thing they turn their cameras toward they’re a bit more objective or more transparent about their roles during filming.

The Rescue Trailer

The Rescue was screened as part of the 2021 edition of the Double Exposure Investigative Film Festival and is currently screening in limited theatrical release nationwide.

You can follow more of Taylor’s thoughts on LetterboxdTwitter, and Rotten Tomatoes.

DXIFF 2021 Review: Writing with Fire

Written by Maria Athayde

75/100

Writing with Fire is a “fly on the wall” documentary, directed by Rintu Thomas and Sushmit Ghosh, about the women behind Khabar Lahariya, Waves of News in English, India’s only newspaper run entirely by women. This inside look into the women that run the Khabar Lahariya is much more than a story about journalism. It is also a story about social hierarchy, classism, familial relationships, democracy, personal risk, and a woman’s place in the work environment. If you are thinking this is a lot to cover in 94 minutes you are not mistaken. To provide context to their story and situate the viewers the directors use title cards throughout the documentary to try and tell the bigger story behind what we see on screen. At times, this framing device was distracting but it did not detract enough from my overall viewing experience. 

Founded in 2002, in Utter Pradesh, a state in Northern India close to the border with Nepal, we are introduced to the Khabar Lahariya newspaper and the women behind the operation. During the documentary we become most acquainted with Meera Devi, the paper’s chief reporter and later bureau chief. It is through her eyes that we understand how the Khabar Lahariya expanded from a small operation to a paper that now attracts significant following online with over 150 million views on their Youtube channel. Meera emphasizes throughout that she believes in the power of journalism and that journalism is the essence of a democracy. 

This story however is not just a glossy look into the power of journalism. Instead, it is a story of the personal risks associated with the profession. The women of the Khabar Lahariya along with the directors describe the risk associated with this profession in India. One reporter mentions that she is afraid about what her profession could mean to her family and that people question her professional integrity especially when unfavorable stories are published. We see these attacks on screen through comments on Khabar Lahariya Youtube channel that call the journalists names and insult their reporting. Thomas and Sushmit provide a bit more context to the personal risk associated with journalism when they use one of the final title cards for the movie to highlight that over 40 journalists have been killed during the last 20 years in India making it one of the world’s most dangerous places for journalists.     

The documentary really excels when it is telling the story about the newspaper and its evolution over its 19 years of existence. The most interesting way the filmmakers capture this transition is the juxtaposition of print journalism and the shift to digital reporting. It was fascinating to see how the majority of the women at the Khabar Lahariya quickly adapted to this transition to digital and capitalized on the potential digital reporting had to allow them to reach a bigger audience and and increase their income. Smartphones became the vehicle through which the women at the Khabar Lahariya told stories that would have most likely have gone unreported if it weren’t for them. 

There is nothing too innovative to see in this documentary stylistically. What sticks with you is the willingness of these journalists to go out there and capture these stories. Overall, this is mostly an inspirational piece of documentary filmmaking about the persistence of women who want to report on a story no matter the risks associated with it.

Writing with Fire Trailer

Writing with Fire was screened as part of the 2021 edition of the Double Exposure Investigative Film Festival.

You can follow Maria Manuella Pache de Athayde on LetterboxdTwitter, or Instagram and view more of what she’s up to here.

DXIFF 2021 Review: Attica

Written by Maria Athayde

80/100

It is a funny thing how the past is a window into the present and the present is a window into the past. That was the overwhelming feeling I had after watching Attica. To backtrack, Attica recounts in painstaking detail the story behind the largest prison rebellion in US history which started on October 9th, 1971 in Attica, New York. But behind the rebellion this documentary tells a much bigger story. It tells us the story about a system that is meant to keep people down. Using historical footage, surveillance videos, audio recordings, and first person testimony, director Stanley Nelson Jr. expertly crafts a story about humanity. Nelson Jr. reminds us about the prisoners’ humanity and indicts a system that is meant to keep men in chains.  

It is the testimony and first person account of former inmates that participated in the rebellion that bring this story to life. Former inmates systematically recount the racist administration network and brutalization they suffered behind the prison walls. Examples of this brutalization included beating inmates with lead pipes, feeding pork to Muslim inmates, poor sanitary conditions, and lack of an infirmary for treatment. In their own words, inmates recounted that they did not cease being human just because they broke the law, but they were treated in a way that made it seem as if they no longer had basic human rights or dignities. This narrative and tension is the throughline through the majority of the documentary. Nelson does not stray away from this recounting until the last quarter  of the documentary where it culminates in a brutal, shocking, and infuriating last 30 minutes that documents the death of 33 inmates. 

The ending of this story sounds too familiar with our present moment. Among inmates and prison guards 43 men died. Unsurprisingly zero convictions were given to the state police who were sent in by Governor Rockefeller to gain control of the prison. This is an important piece of historical filmmaking that documents our broken prisons system and the lack of humanity that is ascribed to prisoners. Ultimately, what made this documentary excel were former inmates’ willingness to share their stories in their own words and Nelson’s ability to craft a story that reminds us of our shared humanity to matter the circumstances.

Attica Trailer

Attica was screened as part of the 2021 edition of the Double Exposure Investigative Film Festival.

You can follow Maria Manuella Pache de Athayde on LetterboxdTwitter, or Instagram and view more of what she’s up to here.

Episode 88: The Outside Story / MLK/FBI / 76 Days

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.

Martin Luther King Jr.

Links: Apple Podcasts | Castbox | Google Podcasts | LibSyn | Spotify | Stitcher | YouTube

This week on Drink in the Movies Michael & Taylor discuss their First Impressions of the Prime Video Titles: I’m Your Woman & Sylvie’s Love. Followed by Official Selections to the Heartland International Film Festival, San Diego International Film Festival, and the Double Exposure Investigative Film Festival. These Official 2020 Film Festival Selections are: The Outside Story, MLK/FBI, and 76 Days.

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Streaming links for titles this episode

MLK/FBI will be released by IFC FIlms on January 15th 2021

76 Days is currently available in Virtual Cinemas

The Outside Story is currently seeking distribution.

Drink in the Movies would like to thank PODGO for sponsoring this episode. You can explore sponsorship opportunities and start monetizing your podcast by signing up for an account here. If you do please let them know we sent you, it helps us out too!

Belly of the Beast

Written by Maria Manuella Pache de Athayde

65/100

Erika Cohn’s directing and storytelling do not do a worthy story the justice it deserves. Clocking in at 72 minutes, this documentary is a concise exposé on forced sterilizations in California prisons. Throughout the movie we focus on two women: Kelli Dillon, a Black woman who was imprisoned after killing her husband, and Cynthia Chandler, former Co-Founder of Justice Now and current director of the Bay Area Legal Incubator (BALI), an attorney for compassionate release.

The driving narrative behind this doc is the intentional sterilization of women in prison. The filmmakers emphasize that women of color, and Black women in particular, are who suffer most from these practices. They detail at least a dozen or so cases of forced sterilization. On the surface, this is a story about reproductive injustice but, at the same time, it is so much more than that.

“Did this happen to me because I was all three?

Kelli Dillon, a Black woman and former inmate

The documentary is at its strongest when it talks about the intersections between health care service provision, race, and class in the United States. When these issues are intertwined, they make a compelling argument. The filmmakers also trace the history of eugenics to the early 20th century in the US. During that time period, about 20,000 forced sterilizations occurred in California alone. Later on, state audits and prison reports showed that 1,400 forced sterilizations occurred between 1997 – 2003.

This piece concludes on a more cheerful note with the passage of Senate Bill 1135 (2014), with bipartisan support, that prohibits the forced sterilization of inmates for birth control purposes. In 2019, Assembly Bill 1764 was introduced to establish compensations for forced or involuntary serializations victims. Kelli Dillon hopes that her story will help others come forward and set a standard that other states should follow. I would recommend this movie for anyone who wants a quick introduction to the US criminal justice system or is interested in law.

Recommended

Belly of the Beast Trailer

Belly of the Beast is currently available to watch through select Virtual Cinema Venues

Follow the links below to read the bills’ text, learn more about Justice Now, view a petition for survivors of forced serialization, and access the doc’s official site.

SB-1135 | AB1764 | Justice Now | Petition | Official Site Get Involved Page

Belly of the Beast is part of the Heartland International Film Festival 2020 line up and Double Exposure Film Festival 2020 line up.

You can follow Maria Manuella Pache de Athayde on LetterboxdTwitter, or Instagram and view more of what she’s up to here.

Finding Yingying

Written by Maria Manuella Pache de Athayde

80/100

I could see myself in Yingying Zhang’s story. I came to the US to study as well. I came here looking for a better future and aware of the financial and emotional sacrifices my family made for me just like her family did for her. Yingying’s description of independence, loneliness, and homesickness are also emotions that I grappled with when I first arrived in this country.  

While, the cinematography was nothing remarkable Yingying’s passion for learning and her family’s determination to find her made this a compelling watch. The story was told through a mix of Yingying’s diary entries, testimonials from friends, family, and the FBI as well as interrogation footage of her assailant. 

As we began to uncover what happened Yingying’s family discusses the differences between the criminal justice system in the United States and China. Her family respected the work of US authorities but grew increasingly frustrated waiting for the trial. I wish they spent more time explaining these differences.

It pains me to even suggest that I wanted to “learn” more about her assailant. But when incidents like this happen we forget to ask how did this radicalization occur. I think about this question frequently when similar acts of violence occur around the world. How can someone torture, assault, decapitate another human being? 

This documentary should be an urgent call to action for academic institutions to invest more resources in counseling and mental health services. Some might say that the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign failed to act when the assailant discussed thoughts of hurting others during a counseling session. However, in April 2019, a judge sided with the University when he dismissed a case brought up by Yingying’s family claiming the University should have alerted the authorities. 

By all accounts Yingying was an independent, curious, steadfast, and passionate woman. In the end, my heart broke for Yingying’s family. They were never able to find her remains despite their best efforts. It was devastating to see her family, especially her mom, come to terms with what happened. One of Yingying’s diary entries mentioned “life was to short to be ordinary.” This is the only fitting way to remember a woman who wanted to pave a future for herself in her own terms. I sincerely hope Yingying’s family finds the comfort they need to overcome her loss. 

Recommended

To find more details about the latest lawsuit check here.

Finding Yingying will be available in Virtual Cinemas on December 11th you can find screenings here.

Finding Yingying is part of the Heartland International Film Festival 2020 line up and Double Exposure Film Festival 2020 line up.

Thanks to David Magdael & Associates for providing this film.

You can follow Maria Manuella Pache de Athayde on LetterboxdTwitter, or Instagram and view more of what she’s up to here.

A Thousand Cuts

Written by Taylor Baker

85/100

“And we have a bomb threat, so that’s a good sign.”

A Thousand Cuts as many have aptly pointed out feels unfinished, which is more a beauty mark than a blemish. It seems fitting that a documentary about the volatility, development, and set backs presented to a democracy feels unfinished. The Philippines though is a democracy that may feel foreign and unknown to many viewers, it certainly was for me. A Thousand Cuts focuses on the story of Maria Ressa, targeted by the Filipino government for her work, she is a journalist, founding partner of Rappler Media, and CEO of Rappler Media. That resume does not begin to do justice to the human Maria is shown to be by the end of the film. Equally stoic as she is fleetingly humorous, she has a well of knowledge and a vocabulary that can easily convey her intent.

There’s been quite the hoopla made recently about Netflix’s The Social Dilemma, not to be comparative but this is a far superior, succinct, and eloquent demonstration of it’s many points-with a backdrop that feels all to familiar. The landscape presented of politics in the Philippines hinges with a war on drugs, social media influencers performing Pussy Cat Dolls songs, and people looking up in exaltation to a murderer handing out T-Shirts from the back of truck for votes. It’s plain that whatever story Ramona Diaz was filming to begin with, nothing could have prepared her for how this ended up.

I won’t spoil the actual happenings of the documentary here as that would take away from the thrust of it and it’s message. Suffice to say it’s a story we could all benefit from witnessing. PBS FRONTLINE will make this Documentary available in January of 2021 here in the U.S.. In the meantime you can view it in virtual cinemas, such as the Double Exposure Investigative Film Festival here. This is one of the most impressive pieces of documentary film I’ve seen all year.

Highly Recommended.

Taylor Baker originally posted this review on Letterboxd 10/13/20

A Thousand Cuts is part of the Double Exposure Investigative Film Festival 2020 line up.

DEIFF Website: https://dxfest.com/