Smoke Saunas, Joan Baez, and the Love of Dance | Real Reels

This month’s can’t-miss documentaries delve into Joan Baez’s career, the intimacy of Estonian smoke saunas, and the lives of hip-hop dancers at a prestigious Paris academy.

Joan Baez: I Am a Noise. 113 min. Magnolia Pictures. 2023. DVD UPC 7696401805. $26.99.

Joan Baez, one of the most prominent folk singers of the ’60s counterculture movement, gets a sensitive portrayal of her career as a performer and activist that combines live footage of a sold-out 2019 tour and a chronicle of her life story. From the very start of her career, Baez mixed music with social activism, and the best sections of the documentary center around the golden era of folk music in the 1960s. There is a contemplative tone to the film, and Baez is brutally honest about her anxiety and inner struggles. She never shies away from deep pondering about her career, family, or relationships. VERDICT A document of six decades in the life of a protest singer that will be of interest to music fans.

Rookies (“Allons enfants”). 115 min. Icarus Films. In French w/English subtitles. 2021. DVD UPC 5456500413. $26.99.

In the heart of Paris, a prestigious dance school admits a group of hip-hop dancers. The students, many from working-class and diverse backgrounds, have never attended an academy like this, and they will face challenges to make it through the school year. This film sits firmly in the documentary subgenre about the inner workings of a school, but dance is the real star of the film. It’s the inspiration, the catalyst toward success for the kids in their new environment. The many dance sequences are beautiful, alive, and energetic, as the students channel all their dreams, fears, anxieties, and joys into these pure expressions of communication through movement. VERDICT Extremely tender portrait of youth through their love of dance.

Smoke Sauna Sisterhood (“Savvusanna sõsarad”). 89 min. Greenwich Entertainment. In Estonian w/English subtitles. 2023. DVD UPC 3832926527. $19.99.

In Estonia, the smoke sauna is a centuries-old cleansing and spiritual ritual embraced by people of all ages. Focusing on women sauna users and filmed over seven years at 10 different saunas, Anna Hints’s film is unflinchingly intimate. The sauna is a safe space, and no topic is off-limits. The women endlessly lay bare their hearts, talking about personal details of their lives. The subjects are remarkably brave about being so open with their thoughts and bodies on camera. Every element of the sauna experience is covered: building fires, beating the body with dried viht leaves, smoking meats. VERDICT Fascinating. Women share all facets of their lives in this achingly intimate look inside an Estonian smoke sauna.

Supreme Team. 163 min. Showtime. 2022. DVD UPC 1013494605. $25.99.

Crime and hip-hop mix in 1980s Queens, NY, in this three-part documentary series codirected by the rapper Nas. Sounding like a band name, “Supreme Team” was the name of a group of drug dealers who controlled a part of the Queens drug trade. The crew, whose two leaders appear here via audio interviews from prison, recount their rise and fall at the same time as the film shows the growth of hip-hop culture that they were linked to. The documentary is overstuffed with topics—New York history, the illegal drug trade, and police abuse, to name a few—and is perhaps a bit too long, but it’s got a lot of attitude and style. VERDICT True-crime and hip-hop fans will enjoy this lively documentary series.

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