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“Baraka,” “Brothels,” and What Doc Makers Owe

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By Frank Rinaldi

IFC News

Last month, the Academy released its short list of potential nominees for this year’s Best Feature Length Documentary award. Included was filmmakers’ Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady’s buzz-garnering “The Boys of Baraka,” which chronicles the lives of four black boys coming of age in the projects of Baltimore, one of America’s poorest and most dangerous cities. The kids are given a chance to gain a better education via the Baraka School for Boys, located in Kenya and dedicated to providing guidance and hope for inner city males who might not otherwise have a chance to experience life outside the environment they were born into.

“Boys” brings to mind last year’s Oscar-winner “Born Into Brothels,” filmmakers Zana Briski and Ross Kauffman’s visceral depiction of Indian youths growing up in Sonagchi, one of Calcutta’s most infamous red light districts, , where Briski teaches an introductory and informal photography class to a handful of residential pre-teens.

Examined together, there are plenty of obvious parallels between the two pictures, but after viewing each in succession, I noticed a fundamental difference between them, a discovery that had me asking a lot of questions, particularly: What good do these “social awareness” films really do? Are the subjects merely being exploited by publicity-savvy artists, or are the filmmakers fulfilling their unspoken obligation to help their subjects by drawing attention to these widely ignored realities?

One of the cardinal rules of the documentary is to capture and communicate some sort of truth. “Born Into Brothels” is indeed harrowing in its depiction of India’s lower castes, illegal businesses and abject poverty. As the film progresses, we also see Briski’s determined attempts to rescue her students by begging parents and patiently navigating Kafkaesque bureaucracy in order to enroll her students in various private schools,though in the end, most of the students were either removed by their parents, or decided to remove themselves. Briski did what she could. She didn’t abandon those she inspired, leaving them with a head full of unachievable goals and a heart full of maddening desire, but took action and opposed the traditional role of the documentarian as passive observer.

So does “The Boys of Baraka” follow suit in its articulation of truth? In a fucked up way, it does convey the harsh mechanics of a repressed society, how they affect the individuals living within and how, when placed into a supportive environment, those individuals can flourish But the film also smacks of manipulation and exploitation — I left feeling angry and guilty, but not for the “right” reasons, or rather, not for the reasons one would expect a naive upper-middle class white boy to feel after watching a movie about children growing to adulthood amidst terrifying and almost hopeless circumstances. As if the lives of Montrey, Devon, Richard and Romesh weren’t, aren’t difficult enough, a pair of artists gets the gumption to gallantly document their story of overwhelming hardship and sell it to a Sunday-afternoon arthouse crowd looking to feel cheap-sad and be cheap-moved for an hour and a half as they observe the very real and very foreign plight of these young men. And I have to ask, at what cost is this happening and for what benefit? I did some research on the matter and, as far as I can tell, the film will in no way directly aid in the alleviation of the societal maladies it so “responsibly” identifies. At the end of the day, “The Boys of Baraka” simply comes off as an exploitative take-it-to-the-streets effort that is likely to remedy very little.

Yes, the conveyance of truth is a quintessential goal of the documentary, but when a problem is recognized, sitting on your ass and acknowledging its existence simply isn’t enough. Therein lies the most profound rift separating two of the past years’ most widely regarded documentaries. Both recognize and explore the realities of a social malady, but only one attempts to do anything about, while the other falls short

After all, according to the terse tried and true G.I. Joe maxim, “Knowing is half the battle.”


Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.


Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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GIFs via Giphy

Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:


The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.


They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!


Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.


Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.



Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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GIFs via Giphy

Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”


IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?

Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!

Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.

Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 


IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.