documentary

Won't You Be My Neighbor?

By Morgan Neville, Caryn Capotosto, Nicholas Ma
5
Rated by Heather McCartin
Jan 15, 2019

As a child of the early '90s, I grew up with classic PBS children's programming - programming that may look very different from the current PBS Kids programs that are currently airing.  One of my go-to, can't miss programs was Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.  He was my preschool teacher before I attended school and he was my guidance counselor before I knew such a title existed.  While he didn't devote time to ABCs and 123s (that was more Sesame Street's specialty), he introduced the concepts of feelings, emotion, and self-worth, all while showcasing places, people, and events from all around the

Jane (DVD)

By Brett Morgen
5
Rated by LeeAnn B.
Jun 27, 2018

Jane Goodall is a living legend and one of the women I most admire. Her chimpanzee research during the 1960’s at the Gombe National Park in Tanzania is the subject of this National Geographic documentary. The film features never-before-seen footage from her early years of research. 


This documentary by Brett Morgen captures some of what it must have been like for a young Ms. Goodall to embark as an untrained, female researcher and make astonishing discoveries about chimpanzees living in the wild. She was the first to observe them using tools to search for food. Morgen also touches on Ms

Miss Sharon Jones! (DVD)

By Sharon Jones
5
Rated by Brent W.
Aug 10, 2017

Miss Sharon Jones! is worth seeing for Jones' performance in a little country church of "His Eye is on the Sparrow" alone. Her grit, power and will to sing are amazing. The film covers a critical period in her life with her band, the Dap Kings, when she is dealing with intense cancer treatments and, at the same time, trying to keep the group together. Her humor, bravery and explosive talent fill the screen.  


Having seen Sharon and the Dap Kings at the 2016 New Orleans Jazzfest, I wanted to see more performance footage, but recognize we are lucky to have any at all. The film is equally

Jun 10, 2017

Dr. Maya Angelou was an author, poet, historian, songwriter, playwright, dancer, stage, and screen producer. In this documentary, filmmakers Bob Hercules and Rita Coburn Whack do a remarkable job of detailing her extraordinary life. The DVD includes details about her childhood in the Depression-era South, interviews with Dr. Angelou during different periods of her life, and video footage of her early performing career. It also contains interviews with her family and friends to reveal even more about her life and impact on others.


In 2006, I attended the An Evening with Maya Angelou lecture

Jan 19, 2017

I Am Big Bird is a must-see for fans of Sesame Street, Jim Henson, Big Bird, Oscar the Grouch, or all of the above. It’s a documentary focusing on the life of Caroll Spinney, the puppeteer who plays both Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch, and also sometimes other famous Sesame Street characters like Bert. As I’m sure you already know, Sesame Street is like a big family where everyone helps one another to educate and entertain children. You will not only get the inside scoop on the puppets in this documentary, but you will also enjoy learning about Caroll Spinney, members of the Sesame Street team

Nov 22, 2016

Photojournalist  Sebastiao Salgado is known for his pictures of less developed countries, most specifically of regions swept into economic forces unleashed upon them by Western industry. Some of his photos, while technically stunning, depict humanities worst atrocities – forced exile, exploitation, extermination. 


Here he is presented by legendary filmmaker Wim Wenders, also an accomplished photographer. Salgado responds to Wenders’ questions with answers that reveal the strain of seeing humanity at its worst. By extension, we are similarly affected. The Salt of the Earth is the kind of

Meru (DVD)

By Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhely
4
Rated by Michelle H.
Oct 14, 2016

I have long admired climbers for their singleness of purpose and puzzling assessment of risk. Dwindling food reserves. Lack of oxygen. Numb toes. Incoming avalanche. Keep climbing!


Offering a first ascent, Mount Meru attracts climbers with an insatiable hunger to test their mettle. I was expecting to witness an arrogant expedition. What I saw instead was less a story about adversity and triumph than one about the relationships between climbers. Meru poignantly captures the subtleties of human interaction when partners experience the unfortunate – keeping in mind these folks court misfortune

Leviathan (DVD)

By Verena Paravel and Lucien Castain-Taylor
4
Rated by Michelle H.
Aug 18, 2016

A camera looks up at the sky as seagulls follow a fishing boat for the detritus left behind. Then the image topples. Birds are upside down, the water rushing above them. None of this is unusual within the context of Leviathan, which says a lot about how well the filmmakers prepare us to see the world reversed.


Leviathan was made at the sensory Ethnography Lab at Harvard University, and its filmmakers, Lucien Castain-Taylor and Verena Paravel, both have backgrounds in art and photography. Coming at filmmaking with an arts outlook, they’re inclined to veer away from the mainstream and push

Jul 21, 2016

Rockumentaries can be pretentious, but not this one. The first thing you’ll discover in Andrew Horn’s documentary We are Twisted ­­­­­­­­F***ing Sister is that the band members are great guys: hardworking, kind, mostly sober. They’re also good storytellers. Who among us wouldn’t be charmed to hear how Dee Snider discovered the perfect garish shade of red lipstick, or how guitarist Jay Jay French and the rest of the band politely asked Dee’s wife, Suzette, to make them stretchy girly glam costumes? 


The film covers the band's early years when Twisted Sister worked a suburban bar circuit in

Sunshine Superman (DVD)

By Marah Strauch
4
Rated by Michelle H.
Jun 23, 2016

Sunshine Superman tells the story of Carl Boenish, an intrepid explorer pushing the limits of physical experience, and an inventive cinematographer of that boundary’s edge. He was a skydiver, whose footage from the 70s and 80s shows people seemingly capable of the ultimate assault on reality. They could fly. 


Lest we think Boenish jumps out of airplanes and off of buildings for the dopamine alone, documentarian Marah Strauch looks at the motives behind his love of jumping. She shows us interviews, offers reenactments, discusses what it means to goad gravity, and delicately handles two

May 1, 2016

Viewers might think Les Blank's film A Poem is a Naked Person is solely about legendary piano player Leon Russell as he is featured prominently in the title and cover design. But the documentary is more an artifact capturing Oklahoma folk culture in the early 1970s. More specifically, it captures the hot hypnotic mess of hippie blues and booze that orbits Leon Russell, which may have caused Russell and Blank to argue about its release. Only recently has the film been distributed to a wide audience.


Fans of either the filmmaker or musician will enjoy this documentary, and I hope viewers new

Apr 21, 2016

Danny Garcia begins following and filming The Clash after their manager, Bernie Rhodes, has lifted the band to the heights of commercial success. Rhodes is ferociously competitive, blinding him to the idea that there is no place for success as he imagines it for The Clash. They’re part of, and play to, an angry underclass. They’re searching for an authentic voice (and find it, early on). But by the 1980's they’ve become stadium rock, their image looks bought not made, Mick Jones quits listening, quits collaborating, and Joe Strummer has a crisis of conscience.


Clash fans are the intended

Amy (DVD)

By Asif Kapadia
4
Rated by Michelle H.
Mar 9, 2016

Any film about a musician who tragically dies early is bound to be sad, but nobody’s story is only sad. Filmmaker Asif Kapadia weaves together testimonials and footage, creating a documentary that ultimately supports not only Amy Winehouse’s music but also her unique swagger.


Midway through the film, an interviewer asks Amy: “Has anyone tried to shape you into something?” With neither annoyance at the question or hesitation in a response, she replies that yes someone once tried to shape her into a triangle but it didn’t work, brushing off with a simple joke the idea that someone else could

Magical Universe (DVD)

By Jeremy Workman
4
Rated by Michelle H.
Mar 6, 2016

Al Carbee’s entire home and its many ramshackle additions are filled with Barbies situated within dioramas - environments rich with every conceivable option for the doll. Filmmaker Jeremy Workman is responsible for bringing Carbee’s work to our attention. He frames Magical Universe in such a way that the artist’s eccentricities are accentuated for effect rather than in support of his art, yet over time (filming lasted 10 years) their relationship becomes increasingly tender, almost symbiotic. Carbee is so inventive that it’s difficult to tell who is in control of the film, particularly when he

Montage of Heck

By Brett Morgen
3
Rated by Michelle H.
Jan 29, 2016

In Montage of Heck, filmmaker Brett Morgen uses personal sketchbooks and videos of Kurt Cobain's, and combines them with animation that matches Cobain’s own aesthetic. There’s also footage of Nirvana and interviews with family, but what carries the film is the access it gives viewers to Cobain’s tumultuous life and unique genius.


Viewing an intimate record of a brilliant person whose life spun wildly out of control comes at a price, however. Morgen’s animated additions give the film artistic vision, but they don’t muffle the looming wonder we may have as we witness something that isn’t

Iris (DVD)

By Albert Maysles
4
Rated by Michelle H.
Jan 17, 2016

Documentary filmmaker Albert Maysles is known for treating his subjects with distance, allowing them to show themselves in ways that make us forget that they’re being filmed. In Iris, at the age of eighty-eight Maysles films Iris Apfel, herself also at a late age.  Candid and at home in front of the camera, she appears to us as if nothing is staged or otherwise manipulated.


Apfel has curated a collection of clothing and accessories, and wears them in innovative arrangements. What she’s done is visionary, actually, considering how limited we all are in terms of what’s considered acceptable

The Staircase (DVD)

By Jean-Xavier de Lestrade
4
Rated by Heather B.
Apr 28, 2015

Did Michael Peterson kill his wife Kathleen, or was her death--as he claims--a tragic accident? This is the question addressed by the 2005 documentary The Staircase, directed by Academy Award winning (for his previous documentary, Murder on a Sunday Morning) filmmaker Jean-Xavier de Lestrade. Starting mere weeks after Kathleen's death and continuing throughout the trial, the team of filmmakers has seemingly complete access to Peterson, his defense team, his children, and other supporters. The viewer is so completely enmeshed in Peterson's life and version of the story, and his defense team's

Jodorowsky's Dune

By Frank Pavich
4
Rated by Michelle H.
Feb 2, 2015

Alejandro Jodorowsky is a Chilean filmmaker known to take viewers on surrealist travels exploring the bizarre and bordering on the absurd (but never the senseless!).  A master of late night cult classic art films, here he is at 84, energetic, articulate, full of passion and wonderment for life and for art.


During the mid-seventies he was selected to create a movie adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune. After  assembling a team of “warriors”: Dan O’Bannon on special effects, HR Giger for set design , and Jean “Moebius” Giraud as illustrator – all of whom are men of great talent and vision – the

Cutie and the Boxer

By Zachary Heinzerling
4
Rated by Michelle H.
Jul 28, 2014

Zachary Heinzerling’s debut documentary about Japanese artists Ushio and Noriko Shinohara is a film that astonishes viewers not because Ushio and Noriko are wonderful artists—and they are—so much as because they’ve managed to stay married to one another.  Forty years ago, a beautiful young woman came to America to study art and met Ushio, a hell-raising iconoclast who gained a bit of fame as a performance artist.  Noriko fell in love.  


Life with Ushio isn’t easy for Noriko—he drinks, doesn’t sell much artwork—but it is stimulating. She suffers, citing her husband (while sitting next to him

The Punk Singer (DVD)

By The Punk Singer (DVD)
4
Rated by Bryan V.
Jun 10, 2014

Kathleen Hanna, the subject of this documentary, pretty much embodies pure energy. Whether or not you like her voice or music is beside the point, as  is usually the case with punk music. Hanna is unapologetically feminist, never anything less than direct with a willingness to be confrontational. Again, this is what punk rock is all about. So what makes Hanna documentary-worthy? Her music is cathartic and brutally honest. She’s fearlessness and charismatic.  She’s the leader of the Riot Grrrrl movement, which has endured and grown over the past twenty-five or so years. Her contributions to a

Hitler's Children (DVD)

By Hitler's Children (DVD)
5
Rated by Diane H.
Oct 19, 2013

What would you do if you found out that your father, grandfather, or great-uncle was responsible for the murder and torture of thousands of men, women, and children? Would you change your name? Live in isolation? Deny what your family members had done? This dilemma has been faced by the descendants and relatives of Hitler’s top officials.


In Hitler’s Children, Hermann Goring's and Heinrich Himmler's great-nieces, Hans Frank's son, Rudolf Hoess’ grandson, and others discuss how their lives have been impacted by having such infamous relatives.


This powerful documentary faces head-on the

Jan 13, 2013

Hungry for Change is not a how-to diet film. It’s a documentary melding many of the world’s leading nutritionists’ ideas about ditching the diet and getting healthy from the inside out. Using interviews of cancer survivors, formerly obese people who are now super-healthy, doctors, and nutritionists, Hungry for Change explains how our modern food industry is designed to prevent health and well-being. A must-see for anyone who is sick of being sick, but doesn’t know what to do about it.

(Editor's note:  This review is of the DVD but this title is also available in print and ebook versions.)

Beyond the Myth (DVD)

By sherrill, Libby
5
Rated by Helen H.
Jan 5, 2013

I do not own a pit bull, although I’ve known one or two. I do not know anyone who has ever been bitten by a pit bull, but I do know a lot of people who have been bitten by other breeds of dogs (myself included). Thus, as an opponent of Breed Specific Banning, I knew going in that I would appreciate this film. I did not, however, understand the extent of BSB legislation across the country. Beyond the Myth looks closely at several cities that have implemented Breed Specific Bans (on Pit Bulls specifically) and how city administrators, as well as Pit Bull owners dealt with the repercussions of

Jul 11, 2012

“As the most persuasive and pervasive force of communication in our culture, media is educating yet another generation that a woman's primary value lay in her youth, beauty and sexuality—and not in her capacity as a leader, making it difficult for women to obtain leadership positions and for girls to reach their full potential.”

The above quote from the film says in a nutshell what Miss Representation is all about. While women’s rights have advanced since the early days of Gloria Steinem, the fact is that women are more often portrayed as beautiful objects instead of as intelligent, creative

L'Amour Fou (DVD)

0
Rated by Magda B.
Feb 21, 2012

This movie is a documentary and a biography of Yves Saint Laurent, one of the most influential fashion designers. L'Amour Fou was made shortly after YSL’s death in 2008, for the occasion of Christie’s long awaited auction of YSL’s spectacular estates and his priceless art collection.  It is set up as an interview with his long-time life and business partner Pierre Berge, as he discusses their turbulent four decades together. It starts with YSL’s retirement speech in 2002, followed by recapitulation of his interesting life story, early beginnings with Christian Dior and his later great public

Catfish

By Nev Schulman
5
Rated by Kate M.
Oct 4, 2010

Catfish is a new documentary taking the world (and internet) by storm and I highly recommend that everyone see it. The story begins when Nev Schulman (a photographer in NYC) has a picture of two dancers featured in the New York Sun. A few months later, Nev receives a package from a small town in Michagan containing an oil painting from 9-year-old Abby, an aspiring artist who used Nev's picture as inspiration.


Nev and Abby strike up an unlikely friendship on Facebook, Nev sharing his pictures, Abby sharing her artwork. Nev's brother Ariel is a documentary filmmaker along with his friend

Up Series (BBC Documentary)

0
Rated by Magda B.
Jul 8, 2010

The narrative follows the lives of fourteen British children of various economic backgrounds from the 1960s to the present, posing the question of whether socioeconomic background predetermines our future. The children are questioned on their present beliefs, past accomplishments and future plans, with each child revisited every seven years. It is interesting to listen to the opinions of small children, who more or less repeat what they hear from their parents, versus opinions shaped by rebellious teenage years and later real life experiences. We see their views change over time from when they

May 1, 2009

In the vein of documentary films Spellbound and Mad Hot Ballroom, Resolved follows high school debate teams over a period of two years all the way to the tournament of champions. With the exception of one team, all were from private high schools. The public high school team consisted of two boys from an inner city high school, who had not been trained to speak in short-hand and didn’t base their arguments solely on research. Instead, they argued that, based on their personal experience and how they felt, the topic of the debate was inherently racist.

It was fascinating to observe the