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documentaries

Aug 16 2013

More Documentaries…

by Jimmy L

Rebekah’s excellent post about documentaries on Wednesday started me thinking about what my own favorite documentaries were. Sometimes it’s hard to remember them all, and it’s hard to compare a documentary about a social cause to one about an artist’s life. Nevertheless, I have racked my brains and come up with a short list of 3 of my favorites:

Nanook of the North screenshotNanook of the North

The first full-length, antropological documentary ever made, and a favorite of filmmaker Werner Herzog’s (Grizzly Man, Cave of Forgotten Dreams), Nanook of the North documents one year in the life of Nanook, an eskimo (Inuit) and his family, following him as he conducts his everyday life, trading, hunting, fishing and migrating in a landscape that is barely touched by industrial technology. While the film is fascinating both as a document of a lifestyle and a document of an early way of making films, it’s also been criticized for its occasional spicing up of the truth with staged scenes and other inaccuracies.

Harlan County, USA

This 1976 Academy Award winning documentary film covers the coal miners’ strike against the Brookside Mine of the Eastover Mining Company in Harlan County, Kentucky in June, 1973. Eastover’s refusal to sign a contract (when the miners joined with the United Mine Workers of America) led to the strike, which lasted more than a year and included violent battles between gun-toting company thugs/scabs and the picketing miners and their supportive women-folk. The film captures the brutal reality of a strike as if you were experiencing it yourself, along with all the strong personalities of that town. I’ve written about this film on this blog before, in much more detail here.

Capturing the Friedmans

Focusing on the 1980s investigation of Arnold and Jesse Friedman for child molestation, this is one of the most thought provoking and conversation provoking documentaries I’ve seen. By the end, you start to question the nature of truth. Watch it with a friend and discuss afterwards. But fair warning, it’s not for all audiences, as it discusses some sensitive issues, and is rated R.

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Aug 14 2013

Documenting Life in Film

by Rebekah B

Au Palais du Louxor, cinema ParisGrowing up, I only saw three movies in the theater.  I specifically remember which ones: Bernard and Bianca, E.T., and The Meaning of Life (Monty Python). This rarity sparked a desire and love for film in me, and when I moved to Paris at age 19 to go to art school, I quickly became addicted to the cinematic arts. Paris is an amazing city for film, with hundreds of theaters, large and small, including some very unusual theaters. Every day, you can see movies made in every country, projected for the most part in V.O. (original version, with subtitles). The photo to the right was taken by my former teacher and photographer, Lesly Hamilton, at the Louxor, Palais du Cinema in the 10th arrondissement, quartier Barbes.  The Louxor was built in 1921 and is famous for its elaborate Egyptian style mosaics.  Recently entirely renovated, it re-opened in April of this year. Click on the links if you would like to see more photos.

ouverture-du-cinema-le-louxor-a-paris-7092

Documentary films are a genre that many people enjoy.  The fairly recent phenomenon of reality shows of which the documentary might be called the avatar, shows evidence for humanity’s thirst for real experiences.  One patron at the library confided to me that documentaries are her “best reality shows.” She also said that when ill in the hospital, documentaries on the themes of veteran’s rights, the state of health care, and other social welfare related issues helped her to keep up with continuing education requirements in her field as a social worker.

Vision is the primary sense with which we humans perceive our world, and culture helps us to understand ourselves and to relate to one another.  As global economics, world travel, and social media have extended everyday communication far beyond the borders of the familiar, it is important for all of us to be informed about how to better our world and to know more about cultures beyond our own.  It is the unique privilege of humans to witness life, and if we are truly paying attention and homage to our surroundings, to create works of art that reflect what we see.

Documentary films are a wonderful way to catch a glimpse of how others experience life in places and circumstances very different from our own, as well as to improve awareness about issues that are immediately important to our everyday lives.  Many festivals around the world celebrate documentary film, from Atlanta to Helsinki, Amsterdam to  Beijing.  Every continent – even Oceania – is represented.

I have discovered many wonderful, thought-provoking, and entertaining documentaries within the DCPL collection.  Perusing IMDB’s top 100 documentaries since 2000, I found several that I too had watched and loved, some that I know we have in our collections but have not yet seen, and yet others that are not available through DCPL. While each of us enjoys life through the particular filter created by our temperament and interests, documentaries on every possible subject can be found—from art to politics, environmental issues, animal rights, health, unsolved crimes, history, quirky personal stories, theater, education, music, travel, fashion…

Here is my own top ten.  Hope you explore the 650 plus films in the DCPL documentary collection (excluding tele-films) and find your own favorites. Each title is connected by hyperlink to either the title in our library catalog, or (if we don’t have it,) official movie website.

[read the rest of this post…]

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Several nights ago, I was doing some rapid-fire channel-surfing and happened upon the documentary Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg, a great film about actress/writer Gertrude Berg.  Her groundbreaking radio and television show The Goldbergs was before my time but the story of her life and times had me glued to channel 30 in a way that I hadn’t been in ages or, at least, in a way I hadn’t been since almost a week before. I believe it was the previous Sunday when I’d flipped to channel 30 and landed on the Ken Burns documentary on baseball. It’s in these two instances that I am reminded of the wonders of PBS.

I remember spending many hours with family or on my own soaking in the quality programming of PBS. Whether I was watching the classic 1980s miniseries adaptation of Anne of Green Gables and Anne of Avonlea, catching episodes of Sesame Street before and after school or avidly following the early 90s tween show Ghostwriter (I could go into detail about this wonderful show but that’s kind of a whole separate blog post), PBS was the center of my childhood television viewing. Well, it was as long as we didn’t have cable.

In the age of 500 satellite or cable channels, internet and Netflix, it’s pretty easy to drift away from the classy, wholesome, enjoyable if unassuming Public Broadcasting Service. It keeps chugging away, bringing us magnificent programs like Downton Abbey, Antiques Roadshow and NOVA for free (even though they remain ever grateful to “Viewers Like You” for contributions).

So my hat remains doffed and my television remains set to PBS. Below is just a brief list of some of my favorite recent PBS documentaries, available for borrowing from the Library:

Black In Latin America: I was crestfallen for nearly a week as this fascinating series was airing first run on PBS. At the time I was living in an evil apartment complex that, for whatever reason, had the worst signal for PBA 30 and no signal at all for GPB Channel 8.  Several months later, I was able to borrow this series from the Library. The series follows as host Henry Louis Gates Jr. explores the African roots of several Latin American nations like Brazil, Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Mexico.

The Jewish Americans: This is an incredibly informative and insightful series that I intend to borrow again but next time with a pen and pad at the ready. Narrated by actor Liev Schreiber, this film follows the Jewish American experience and the community’s contributions to American history and culture. I highly recommend it.

Ken Burns…well, anything really: There isn’t a Ken Burns documentary that I’ve seen that I haven’t been hopelessly in the thrall of. I’ve spent six hours on a lazy Saturday glued to my computer screen watching the advent, the unfolding and unraveling of prohibition. I’ve watched the birth and growth of jazz as an American musical form. I watched a whole lot more of his documentary on the history and dominance of baseball than I’d intended to and I’m not even a casual fan of the game. Burns’ work is the gold standard of documentary series filmmaking.

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Jul 30 2012

Citizen King

by Jnai W

I wish I could do justice to the inspiration of this blog post in this blog post. There isn’t really enough space in this format, there isn’t enough time (as I’m anxious to get back to my reading on this, my inspiration), nor do I have enough words to fully express myself.

This past week or so I’ve been reading several books at once but most of them revolve around the life, the death and the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The first book that I have been reading that has inspired me to learn more about Dr. King is an incredibly insightful book by Michael Eric Dyson, one of my favorite contemporary writers and thinkers, called April 4, 1968.

In this book, Dyson examines the life, the activism and, most specifically the death of Dr. King.  Dyson writes that King’s understanding of his “calling”, the moral imperative to stand up against injustice, and also King’s sense of his own mortality were driving forces in his Civil Rights leadership. The spectre of suffering and death was ever-present in King’s life: from the violence that marked the Civil Rights movement to the constant threats against his own life. It was his deep belief in the righteousness of the cause and his strong faith in God and in America that sustained him throughout his life in the Movement.

Upon reading this book, I’ve been inspired to return to Dr. King’s sermons, letters and writings for deeper insight into his faith, his philosophy and acts of powerful non-violent demonstration against racial injustice and, increasingly, against poverty and war. The more I read the more I’d come to realize that, though I’d grown up aware of Dr. King’s legacy, there was much that I didn’t know about his life and his work. As a result I’m pouring over a few books featuring the words of Dr. King including A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King Jr.

In between studying his words, I’ve also seen an incredible PBS American Experience documentary Citizen King, addressing the last five years of Dr. King’s life. The film, directed by Orlando Bagwell and W. Noland Walker, is a richly-detailed, beautifully-realized exploration of the life and times of King. Citizen King tells the story of King’s work beyond the familiar images of his March on Washington and beyond the well-known words of his “I Have A Dream” speech. The film sheds light on his work in the Poor People’s Campaign, addressing economic injustice and poverty, and also addresses his vocal (and highly controversial) opposition to the Vietnam War.

The aforementioned works reminded me of the impact of Dr. King, a legacy that in my opinion shouldn’t be relegated to one day in January or to the following month of February. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream. But he also had the conviction, the passion, the courage and the clarity of vision to stand for what he believed in.

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Jun 23 2010

Future Sounds From The 20th Century

by Joseph M

One of the great things about working in a library is the constant stream of interesting media that I come across in the course of my day.  For example, I was shelving music CDs a few weeks ago and noticed one entitled Clara Rockmore’s Lost Theremin Album.  It just so happened that I was familiar with Rockmore, whose performance of “The Swan” appeared as a track on a mixtape given to me a few years back.  Intrigued by this tidbit, I took the CD home, loved it, and have been recommending it to people ever since.  But what, you might be asking, is a theremin?  As Wikipedia explains, a theremin is an early electronic musical instrument played without contact from the musician.  Named for its inventor, Leon Theremin, the device produces a unique, haunting sound.  Perhaps the world’s only theremin virtuoso, Clara Rockmore was deeply involved in the evolution of the instrument and helped to boost its legitimacy in the realm of classical music.  Here’s an example of the artist at work, courtesy of youtube:

Those interested in more information may want to check out Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey, a 1993 documentary on the instrument and related subjects.  Both the CD and the DVD are available in our catalog, along with other music CDs which utilize this fascinating and versatile piece of technology.

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Jun 16 2010

Rock-Docs N’Roll

by Jnai W

Now that summer is upon us, what could be better than rocking out and allowing one’s self to be moved by the power of music? I can’ t think of a better way to spend the summer. But, alas, concert tickets can be pricey, your kids don’t like it when you drag them to dingy, smoky rock clubs (You guys really shouldn’t be doing that, though. Don’t they have VRP reading to do?) and your eardrums really can’t take loud speakers and squealing guitars like they used to. But don’t worry. You can still get your rock on—enough to get your rocks off, even—at the Library. Well, actually, we’ll let you take them home first before you rock out (it’s still a library, of course). Here are some of my favorite DVDs to borrow from our Library of Rock:

Anvil The Story of Anvil: I was immediately struck by the cover photo of this DVD: two middle-aged Long Hairs striking extreme rocker poses beneath a curious critic’s blurb, hailing this film as “the greatest movie ever made about rock and roll”. I couldn’t resist so I had to check it out. It just so happens that Anvil is a venerated Canadian heavy metal band with a small but rabid fan base, average-joe day jobs, long-suffering families and, from what I gathered, bad luck all around. Either way, Lips, Robb and the crew continue to rock out and strive for the top of the charts. Their tenacity, their heart and their musical chops are awe-inspiring.

This Is Spinal Tap: My brother, a rock n’ roll Yoda so to speak, introduced me to this, the rockingest and most hilarious faux-documentary about a fictitious metal band touring the world and generally living their rocker lifestyle “to eleven” (check it out if you don’t know what that means).

School of Rock: Okay, this one isn’t a documentary or a rockumentary (or even a mockumentary like the aforementioned Spinal Tap. But if you want to rock out while there are still kids in the room, this flick is still pretty awesome. You can watch as Jack Black introduces adorable prep schoolers to classic rock and introduces himself to Responsible Adulthood…in a roundabout, illegal field trip taking, identity thieving sort of way.

Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man: If you prefer to mellow out a bit with one of my all-time favorite singer-songwriters, here’s a great film tribute to the one and only Leonard Cohen.  Not only does this film celebrate the music and influence of Cohen but it also features incredible performances from the likes of Rufus Wainwright, U2 and, another artist I really love, Antony Hegarty.

Jimi Hendrix: What’s a rock and roll marathon without the late, great Jimi Hendrix? I really enjoyed this documentary featuring interviews with family, friends and admirers plus outstanding performance footage. To me, there’s nothing like gaining insight into the music you love by learning about the person who created it.

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May 5 2010

Giving My Regards To Broadway

by Jnai W

Recently, I saw a documentary on MTV about American Idiot, the brand new Broadway show based on the smash hit Green Day album of the same title.  Technically, I can’t call myself a true Green Day fan (I’m not so familiar with their music, really) but I loved their American Idiot album so I’m pretty excited about the show (I’ll add “Seeing American Idiot on Broadway” to my 30th birthday wishlist).

Anyway, this whole thing really started me thinking about Broadway and, specifically, musical theatre. There’s something so invigorating, so infectious and so glorious about seeing a musical. Nothing beats live theatre for a great time and some top notch entertainment. Luckily, though, if you can’t hop a flight to NYC for a night on the Great White Way, you can get your theater kicks vicariously through DCPL. Here are some of my favorite materials:

Broadway: The American Musical—This is an amazing PBS documentary series tracing the modern American musical from its vaudevillian roots to its current, big-business incarnation. The venerable Julie Andrews is the host of this program which features clips of some of the amazing Broadway performers of past and present. This was so informative I took notes.

Show Business: The Road To Broadway—Here is a fascinating documentary of the 2003-2004 Broadway season, focusing on four of the biggest shows of that season: the blockbuster hit Wicked, the critically-acclaimed Caroline, or Change, the irreverent sleeper hit Avenue Q and the commercial flop Taboo. I was spellbound from start to finish as this film chronicled the inner workings of Broadway business.

Broadway’s Lost Treasures—If you’re simply looking to revisit the best of Broadway from seasons past, this might be a great series to check out. Broadway’s Lost Treasures is a compilation of showstopping performances from past Tony Awards shows. You may also want to take a look at volumes 2 and 3 of this series for more treasures.

Now, I know this post has been leaning more toward the musical theatre side of Broadway but DCPL has a wealth of great resources on dramatic (and non-musical) productions. I can’t say that I’ve read them yet but I’m pretty sure they’re fabulous (would they be in the Library if they weren’t?).

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May 29 2008

DVD Review: Harlan County, USA

by Jimmy L

The best documentaries, to me, are the ones that make you feel like you are actually there, going through the experience, meeting the people, and forming a relationship to them and the subject at hand.  Afterwards, you feel like you have lived it.  I recently watched the documentary Harlan County, USA which fulfilled every one of these expectations and more.  The Academy Award winning movie is about the coal miners of Harlan County, Kentucky, who went on strike for 13 months against the Duke Power Company.

Throughout the movie, director Barbara Kopple and her crew lived with, worked with, and fought alongside the coal miners and captured some amazing footage.  I never knew about the incredible injustices of the coal miner’s lives—the low wages, the cold, cramped spaces they worked in, and the lack of safety precautions in the caves.  I also knew only the bare minimum of what it meant to be “on strike”.  I didn’t know it could be so hard, so draining, and so violent.  The determination and will of these miners and their determination to fight to be treated humanely really moved me. 

I recommend this movie wholeheartedly.  The library has three copies, so watch it as soon as you’re done watching this preview:

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In the excitement about the release of Ken Burns’ The War on PBS last week, don’t forget about one of Burns’ other popular projects which the library owns on DVD.

Ken Burns’ epic history of baseball, which DCPL recently acquired on DVD, is long.  Consisting of nine episodes, each roughly two hours long, Baseball delves into America’s Pastime in as much detail as one might expect from a college course.  The beauty of this series, though – the reason why it still stands up fourteen years after its release – is that you don’t mind the length.  Baseball is Ken Burns storytelling at its finest, using old photographs, films, and many of today’s finest film and stage actors to weave a spellbinding tale of romance and friendship, prejudice and disgrace, defeat and victory.

From the fascinating biographical portraits of Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Ty Cobb, Satchel Paige, and Jackie Robinson, to the play-by-play of bygone world series that brings you to the edge of your seat, to the exploration of baseball’s social implications surrounding racial segregation, Baseball offers a very entertaining and complete history that leaves you wanting more, even after all that time you’ve spent watching it!

Click here to get the first episode of Ken Burns’ Baseball.

The library also owns many other Burns projects on DVD.  Here’s a small sample:

The Civil War

Mark Twain

Jazz

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