Two documentaries take the road less traveled
Nonfiction filmmaking takes many shapes, from the manufactured realism of reality TV to the subtly structured forms of cinéma-vérité. "Love & Diane" and "Winged Migration," both opening this week, come from very different parts of the spectrum.
Jennifer Dworkin was running a photography program for children in a New York homeless shelter when she got the idea of making "Love & Diane," about the grownup relatives of three inner-city kids she had met there.
She spent five years documenting the family's troubled life and editing vast amounts of footage into a final cut running more than 2-1/2 hours. The result is a family saga that's expansive in its concerns, intimate in its emotions, and incisive in its analysis of the interplay between social-service systems and the individual, often idiosyncratic households they strive to help.
This analysis is more implicit than explicit - the movie is a portrait, not a polemic - but I can't imagine an attentive viewer leaving "Love & Diane" without increased understanding and concern with regard to inner-city life.
"Winged Migration," nominated for the best-documentary Oscar, leaves the human realm for the world of birds, continuing a string of nature movies by French filmmaker Jacques Perrin. He dispatched more than 450 people to film it, organizing them into separate units following avian flights over all seven continents.
Some of their images have the up-close naturalism of Audubon bird paintings, savoring the markings and motions of our feathered friends in colorful detail. Other times the footage is out-and-out spectacular, with eye-filling juxtapositions of bird flocks and sweeping natural vistas.
All of it was shot without special effects, although an array of high-tech devices clearly came in handy for the cinematographers and film editors.
As gorgeous as it is to watch, "Winged Migration" suffers from a lack of organization. Each shot and sequence is rewarding in itself, but nobody thought of giving a sense of structure to the movie as a whole. This extends even to the labeling of each segment - sometimes spoken on the sound track, other times printed on the screen, and rarely giving more than a perfunctory statement of the species and location being shown.
You'll enjoy viewing "Winged Migration," but you won't learn much from it. It's both an airborne extravaganza and a missed opportunity.
• 'Love & Diane,' not rated, contains discussion of adult subjects including sex and drugs. 'Winged Migration' is rated G.