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Documentary rehab.

Documentary rehab. (photo)

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Writing about the upcoming documentary “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work,” Jeffrey Wells notes that the film — a loving profile — has rehabilitated Rivers in his mind from “‘uh-huh, whatever’ status” to someone who’s a “highly admirable paragon of toughness and tenacity. Plus the doc deepens and saddens our understanding of who Rivers is, was and continues to be.”

That’s a win-win scenario for anyone who sets out to rehabilitate a person who’s become a punchline — or worse — in the public imagination, something that happens less often than you’d expect in an era when the unlikeliest people can be reclaimed from the pop-cultural dustbowl (say, Rick Astley’s transformation from ’80s artefact to YouTube “rickrolling” phenomenon and winner of “Best Act Ever” at the MTV Europe Music Awards 2008).

Many quality documentary profiles choose to take either a highly ambivalent take on their subjects (because it makes for good drama) or even an attack-dog one — a tricky act to pull off when you need the cooperation of your interview subject, but it can be done. Witness Barbet Schroeder’s “Terror’s Advocate,” in which interviewee Jacques Vergès doesn’t seem to understand that the more he explains his reasons for defending Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie, the deeper the hole he’s digging becomes. Schroeder’s a past master at hanging with morally objectionable people and letting them hang themselves (see also his documentary on the late Ugandan dictator Idi Amin); why people cooperate to let themselves be hung is unfathomable, but good for him.

A more ambivalent — and shockingly persuasive — example came in the form of “The Fog of War,” in which Errol Morris performed the unlikely task of letting Vietnam policy mastermind Robert McNamara plausibly present himself as a person who actually feels guilty about his past policy work rather than as the cold-blooded architect of one of America’s great traumas. It’s a tough-minded but oddly generous balancing act.

04082010_eyes.jpgFor straight-up celebration, though, politicians are almost impossibly problematic. It’s safer to stick to pop cultural figures, like Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato’s unlikely celebration of Tammy Faye Bakker, “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” — from fraudulent televangelist to gay icon — or “Anvil! The Story of Anvil.” In both cases, a too-easy pop cultural punchline (the latter long-forgotten) is given their dignity back, a kind of mutual-interest collaboration which is easier to do without crossing ethical boundaries when no serious moral offenses have been committed.

But here’s an example of a political figure given an unlikely rehabilitation, at least for 23 minutes. Ernesto Samper is the controversial 37th president of Columbia, who was investigated for having drug cartel money donated to his campaign — a scandal never definitively resolved, but which (among other things) led to his visitation visa for the US being revoked, effectively banning his presence.

In this hilarious short, which you should watch if you have 23 minutes to spare (and, with taxes due in a week, who doesn’t), Samper simply sits there and watches TV with running commentary — Fox News first, but then he starts channel-surfing out of sheer boredom, which is when things get fun. At one point, watching a telenovela, he groans “This is awful! And I’m responsible! I privatized TV!”

[Photos: “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work,” IFC Films, 2010; “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” Lions Gate Films, 2000]

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Give Back

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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