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Even a doc about Arabian horses can be controversial.

Even a doc about Arabian horses can be controversial. (photo)

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Some documentarians specialize in controversy, so much so that news of them can start to seem a little routine. (Michael Moore made someone angry? Do tell!) Then there are other filmmakers, less well-known, who just can’t catch a break even when they’re trying to keep their heads down.

Such is the case with Jo Franklin, who’s been making documentaries for 30 years and is now encountering her latest stumbling block: the Saudi Arabian government wants to destroy all copies of her documentary about Arabian horses. No, really.

The movie in question is “A Gift From The Desert: The Arabian Horse,” an hour-long doc that’s about pretty much what it sounds like. Franklin filmed in Saudi Arabia, Oman and Kentucky. According to Franklin, there’s two main reasons for the Saudi government’s displeasure. First, the movie shows female horse riders, a hot-button issue as the kingdom continues to internally hash out its stance on women’s rights. Second: King Abdullah’s stable has an Irish vet and a head trainer who’s British, and foreign workers are problematic.

The real surprise here, though, is that the Saudi government really doesn’t trust Franklin, who’s in way done as much for the Arab world as any TV documentarian. In 1980, Franklin was working on her three-part documentary for PBS “Saudi Arabia” when all diplomatic hell broke loose over “Death of a Princess,” a doc about the execution of an adulterous woman, in which interview transcripts were filmed.

06172010_death.jpgThe political consequences were off the charts: amongst other fall-out, restrictions were placed on visas for British businessman, Concorde flights were blocked from Saudi airspace, and Mobil placed a hilariously disingenuous ad in the New York Times claiming that the company cared just because they were interested in the moral issues at stake (“We believe that if a free society is to survive, we must openly and candidly discuss these issue”) — not because they were, like, worried about access to oil.

Franklin, though, went ahead and finished her film, which the AP deemed “a fascinating look at an ancient and, until recently, closed [country], hurtled within the last half-century into a modern world.”

She went on to make a series on “The Oil Countries” and then — most controversially — another PBS doc called “Days of Rage,” about the Palestinian intifada uprising that began in 1987 that, among other things, was called “orchestrated Palestinian propaganda.” (That link contains more acid political flashbacks than you can handle.)

So what does Franklin do? She makes a documentary about horses — and now she’s an enemy of Saudi Arabia! Some people just can’t win. It’s a hard-knock life for documentarians, but come on. Equestrian fans just don’t care and no one else will pick up on this as a talking point besides the usual Breitbart folks. And this time they’ll have a real point.

[Photos: “A Gift From The Desert: The Arabian Horse,” SeaCastle, 2010; “Death of a Princess,” ITV, 1980]

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.

Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.


Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…


IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.


IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).


IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.


IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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