Fewer trailers

Trailers are an under-appreciated art form insofar that many times they’re seen as vehicles for showing footage, explaining films away, or showing their hand about what moviegoers can expect. Foreign, domestic, independent, big budget: What better way to hone your skills as a thoughtful moviegoer than by deconstructing these little pieces of advertising?

This week we go hunting for African Elephant ivory, let the car drive us to our soul-crushing 9-to-5, forget to send back our DVDs in the mail, meet a popular passenger on a luxury cruise, and learn about the business of stuffing dead animals.

When Lambs Become Lions

The plight of the vulnerable African elephant as told through the eyes of an ivory dealer is a wild angle director Jon Kasbe is taking here.

In the Kenyan bush, a small-time ivory dealer fights to stay on top while forces mobilize to destroy his trade. When he turns to his younger cousin, a conflicted wildlife ranger who hasn’t been paid in months, they both see a possible lifeline. The plummeting elephant population in Africa has captured the attention of the world, and as the government cracks down, both poachers and rangers face their own existential crises—what is the value of elephant life relative to human life? And can we understand these hunters who will risk death, arrest, and the moral outrage of the world to provide for their families?

It’s easy for us to judge, but this trailer brims with empathy. It’s gorgeous to look as you remind yourself that this is a documentary, and not a dramatic re-creation. Tensions are high and so are my hopes that this could be a satisfying, sobering look into the ivory trade. 

Autonomy

This documentary from director Alex Horwitz is a fascinating exploration into the future of transportation.

Acclaimed author, Malcolm Gladwell, leads this feature documentary about the emerging technology of self-driving vehicles and the big questions they raise: what is control and who do we become as we relinquish it to machines?

Aside from the incredible proclamations about what and how automation will change the global landscape, the more interesting questions are thinking about the impact it will have on societies. Uber can’t become profitable until it ditches humans, cars that can drive themselves could save tens of thousands of lives, and having a discussion about the implications of all this is not only appropriate but necessary

Netflix vs. the World

Almost a year ago, we talked about the first trailer for director Shawn Cauthen’s look at Netflix. And here we are:

Netflix vs. the World, the first documentary to explore the genesis of the global streaming phenomenon through interviews of Netflix’s founding team, will premiere at the Lone Star Film Festival in Fort Worth on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019. The film also features interviews with Blockbuster executives and the young MBAs who ran rival Blockbuster Online — the service that nearly killed Netflix in 2007.

The filmmakers fashioned the narrative of Netflix’s early years and its fight for survival in more than two dozen interviews. They sat down with Netflix co-founder Marc Randolph and a scrappy founding team that included Mitch Lowe, who went on to found Redbox and MoviePass, as well as former Blockbuster CEO John Antioco, former Blockbuster COO Nick Shepherd, former Blockbuster Online General Manager Shane Evangelist and his team, and insiders like studio chieftain Bill Mechanic and advertising guru Frank Smith III.

While the content of this latest trailer doesn’t delve deep into the here-and-now of Netflix, the story of its rise to prominence is riveting. From the beginnings of a start-up to the explanation of the problem they were looking to solve in the marketplace, this is Silicon Valley writ large. As they probe what it meant to be a media company versus a company sending out DVDs, this is where the narrative heats up. It’s that chapter in the company’s lifespan that seems most interesting.

King of the Cruise

I don’t know what to make of director Sophie Dros’ tale of a guy who seems larger than life, but I could not look away.

The wealthy Baron Ronald Busch Reisinger is a striking and popular guest on a luxury cruise ship. He tells the most fantastic stories about his life to his fellow passengers, who hang on his every word, but sometimes have no idea what to make of this portly figure—or so it seems. Ronnie is apparently not only a Scottish baron, but also the king of a piece of land in Africa.

The camera follows him during his vacation on board. Beautiful images of vast cruise ships slowly sailing by, the endless sea, the luxury accommodations, the ever-present staff and entertainment provide a picture of life aboard the ship, accompanied by a score reminiscent of TV series like The Love Boat. Nevertheless, it gradually becomes clear that behind this facade of decadence, there is a great deal of emptiness. In an interview in his cabin, Baron Ronnie reveals more and more of the other, lonelier side of his existence.

When you watch this trailer, it’s hypnotic. This is some rando who may or may not be who he says he is, but his observations are spot on. Growing older, becoming a more invisible runner in the human race, finding solace in something like cruising. This isn’t vital viewing, but there’s some real emotion flowing through the screen.  

Stuffed

I like that director Erin Derham wanted to look into the business like taxidermy if only to delve deeper into a world many of us know nothing about at all.

Told through the eyes and hands of acclaimed artists across the world, STUFFED explores the surprising world of taxidermy, where sculptors must also be scientists. From a studio in Los Angeles that has elevated taxidermy to the forefront of fashion, to fine artists in the Netherlands, these passionate experts push creative boundaries while revealing the importance of preserving nature.

It does seem like a punchline of a career, but this trailer brims with warmth for those who have made this their focus in life. It flips the script in it not being this weird, out-of-the-way thing, but something that those who do it feel very proud of doing; and they should, if for no other reason than showing these people who care enough about nature and animals that they seek to preserve them both. 

Nota bene: If you have any suggestions of trailers for possible inclusion in this column, even have a trailer of your own to pitch, please let me know by sending me a note at Christopher_Stipp@yahoo.com or look me up via Twitter at @Stipp

In case you missed them, here are the other trailers we covered at /Film this week:

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