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The Patron Saints

(2011, 72 mins, Blu-ray Disc)
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Filmed over the course of five years in a single nursing home, Brian M. Cassidy and Melanie Shatzky’s documentary The Patron Saints is entertaining, unnerving, and poignant all at once. Perhaps far gone from senility, dementia, or Alzheimer’s, some of these residents (most, but not all, seniors) have little sense of where, when, or why they are. Some have constructed fantasy lives for themselves; others have reverted to childlike states; others, perhaps most painfully, bemoan their situation with some self-awareness. Occasional visitors, local gossip, and even a hired performer break the monotony, but the passage of time looms large over the residents, at once both impossibly large and painfully scarce.

Documentary fans may draw comparisons to Frederick Wiseman’s early masterpiece about a hospital for the criminally insane, 1967’s Titicut Follies – and, indeed, The Patron Saints is a film worthy of that comparison. However, Cassidy and Shatzky’s film is no expose of a cruel institution. In contrast to the facility’s grim proximity to a landfill, the caretakers here appear almost uniformly patient, caring, and professional. If there’s an expose at work here, perhaps it’s of a larger societal impulse to cordon these people away from the public eye.

And that’s a key to understanding and, yes, enjoying this film’s bizarre humor and troubling insights: the residents here are too often ignored or forgotten, and appreciate being noticed. Incapable or unwilling to self-censor, these are people who say whatever is on their minds, giving us unforgettable access to a phase of human life we may never have looked at head-on before. (Eric Allen Hatch)

"The Patron Saints was the single best film I saw during the festival run of Putty Hill." - Matt Porterfield

"Mainly, this observational realism serves the filmmakers exceedingly well, creating a humane, almost elegiac atmosphere, with occasional flashes of black humour, all of it heightened by a soundtrack of choral music that culminates in Arvo Part’s ethereal version of My Heart’s in the Highlands." Kate Taylor, Globe & Mail

"Bleak, moving, expressionistic." NOW magazine

Herman's House

(2012, 80 mins, Blu-ray Disc)
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Herman Wallace has spent 40 years imprisoned in solitary confinement in a six-foot-by-nine-foot cell for a crime many believe he never committed. The injustice of solitary confinement and the transformative power of art are explored in Herman’s House, a feature documentary from first-time director Angad Singh Bhalla, that follows the unlikely friendship between Jackie Sumell a New York artist, and Herman Wallace, one of America’s most famous inmates, as they collaborate on an acclaimed art project.

"Conceptually inventive, poetic and original, Herman’s House achieves a great feat in constructing a compelling narrative about a man we never meet and goals that aren’t quite reached… In the end, none can contain this unique and moving story, and we are left with our own imaginations, completely activated by this magnificent film." Ezra Winton, Art Threat

"As powerful as it is heartrending." Serena Whitney, Exclaim

Unfinished Spaces

(2011, 86 mins, Blu-ray Disc)
In English, Spanish with English subtitles
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"Cuba will count as having the most beautiful academy of arts in the world." -Fidel Castro (1961)

Cuba’s ambitious National Art Schools project, designed by three young artists in the wake of Castro’s Revolution, is neglected, nearly forgotten, then ultimately rediscovered as a visionary architectural masterpiece.

In 1961, three young, visionary architects were commissioned by Fidel Castro and Che Guevara to create Cuba’s National Art Schools on the grounds of a former golf course in Havana, Cuba. Construction of their radical designs began immediately and the school’s first classes soon followed. Dancers, musicians and artists from all over the country reveled in the beauty of the schools, but as the dream of the Revolution quickly became a reality, construction was abruptly halted and the architects and their designs were deemed irrelevant in the prevailing political climate. Forty years later the schools are in use, but remain unfinished and decaying. Castro has invited the exiled architects back to finish their unrealized dream.

Unfinished Spaces features intimate footage of Fidel Castro, showing his devotion to creating a worldwide showcase for art, and it also documents the struggle and passion of three revolutionary artists.

"A fascinating tale of visionary aesthetics and…. sublime structures." Steve Dollar, Wall Street Journal

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