KING CORN (2007) — Documentary Retroview

KING CORN (2007) — Documentary Retroview

If you believe you are what you eat, you’ll no doubt be shocked to learn that you’re mostly corn. Aaron Woolf’s documentary reveals that most Americans eat mostly food products derived from or containing corn. In King Corn, Woolf follows young eco-activists Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis–who met and became investigative cohorts while undergrads at Yale–as they plant and harvest an acre’s worth of corn, and then to trace their crop as it is processed into the food products that nurture the increasingly obese and unhealthy–and always hungry–American population.

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MORE THAN HONEY (2013) – Documentary Review

MORE THAN HONEY (2013) – Documentary Review

More Than Honey is a phenomenally well-researched and thorough study of bees and their complex influence on human civilization, and an in depth investigation of the honeybee colony collapse disorder, a current crisis that some experts say threatens the extinction of honeybees, which would have a potentially devastating impact on human civilization. Without honeybees and their effective cross pollination of plants, there would be no crops, no harvest, nothing for humans or other species to eat.

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QUEEN OF THE SUN: THE ENDANGERED WORLD OF BEES (2010) — Documentary Review

QUEEN OF THE SUN: THE ENDANGERED WORLD OF BEES  (2010) — Documentary Review

Queen of the Sun is an in depth study about bees and their importance to Earth’s sustainability. It delves into the history of beekeeping and investigates the causes, implications and impending impact of the colony collapse disorder, which is currently reaching epidemic proportions.

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THE YELLOW BIRDS — Movie Review

THE YELLOW BIRDS — Movie Review

This powerful drama shatters notions that going to war makes heroes of ordinary men. Neither Bartle (Alden Ehrenreich), age 21, nor Murph (Tye Sheridan), who is barely 18, have any idea about what they want to do with their lives, so they join the military. They meet in basic training, and bond as brothers, determined to get through the military drill together. Their conmection is strengthened when Bartle meets Murph’s doting and very anxious mom (Jennifer Aniston), at an on base family dinner before the two deploy to Iraq, where they quickly learn that war is not a video game.

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BIGGER STRONGER FASTER (2008) – Documentary Retroview

BIGGER STRONGER FASTER (2008) – Documentary Retroview

Chris Bell uses his personal story as a platform for consideration of doping in America. The film shows that famous hunks like Hulk Hogan, Sly Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger were dopers, and shows that the use of steroids is not only addictive, but also dangerous to both health and reputation.

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A FILM UNFINISHED (2010) — Documentary Retroview

A FILM UNFINISHED (2010) — Documentary Retroview

Yael Hersonski’s A Film Unfinished is a remarkable holocaust documentary comprised primarily of previously unedited historic footage that was shot by Nazi filmmakers, ostensibly chronicling daily life in the infamous Warsaw Ghetto during World War II. Most of the footage — 60 minutes of silent images — was discovered in East German archives, long after WWII ended. It was generally considered to be historic record — albeit from the Nazi perspective — of life within the walled district (read that as prison) where German authorities and their Polish sympathizers forced Jews to await their fate.

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HITLER’S HOLLYWOOD — Documentary Review

HITLER’S HOLLYWOOD — Documentary Review

Filmmaker Rudiger Suchsland’s Hitler’s Hollywood is a compilation documentary that uses clips from films produced during the Nazi regime to show how the movies were used to indoctrinate the masses and influence their behavior. Subtitled German Cinema in the Age of Propaganda: 1933-45, the film is more analysis than homage, presenting a fascinating profile of the Nazi period of German history that creates positive stereotypes and presents mythic illusions about current and historic events.

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DREAMS OF A LIFE (2012) — Documentary Retroview

DREAMS OF A LIFE (2012) — Documentary Retroview

Dreams of a Life is the story of Joyce Carol Vincent, a 40-something woman whose decomposed corpse was discovered in a North London bedsit in 2003, but only when and because authorities broke in to evict her for nonpayment of rent. She’d been dead for three years and nobody had missed her, nobody had asked after her, nobody had noticed the mail piling up at the door.

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CORMAN’S WORLD: EXPLOITS OF A HOLLYWOOD REBEL (2011) — Documentary Retroview

CORMAN’S WORLD: EXPLOITS OF A HOLLYWOOD REBEL (2011) — Documentary Retroview

If you have any interest in Hollywood history and love Tinsel Town lore, this comprehensive biodoc about the life and career of Roger Corman will entertain and fascinate you — even if you’re not a big fan of the B-movie genre. Expect to see Hollywood’s A-List of stars who attribute their success to the legendary ‘King of B-movies.’ pay tribute to Corman, now in his 80s.

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JANE’S JOURNEY (2010) — Documentary Retroview

JANE’S JOURNEY (2010) — Documentary Retroview

In case you were enthralled by Jane, filmmaker Brett Morgan’s award-winning documentary profile of Jane Goodall, you’ll find more about the good doctor in Jane’s Journey, directed by German documentarian Lorenz Knauer and released in 2010. Goodall is world famous and deservedly beloved for her ongoing research about the chimpanzees of Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania, and for her ongoing nonprofit Roots and Shoots programs that bring education and eco-friendly enterprise to people in need around the world. She is a diminutive woman whose accomplishments are larger than life. In Jane’s Journey, Knauer chronicles Dr. Goodall’s personal evolution to become the iconic activist environmentalist she is today, and follows her on her tireless travels to help poor people by bringing hope and practical solutions into their lives.

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NICKY’S FAMILY (2013) — Documentary Review

NICKY’S FAMILY (2013) — Documentary Review

Just before the outbreak of World War II, an unassuming English businessman named Nicholas Winton traveled to Czechoslovakia and witnessed conditions that compelled him to organize the transport of 669 Czech and Slovak children — many of them Jewish — from their homeland to the safety of England. With careful planning and tremendous courage, he rescued them from suffering and death at the hands of Nazi invaders who eventually killed many of the children’s parents, siblings and extended family members.

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The Way Brothers — Chapman and Maclain — discuss WILD WILD COUNTRY and the Saga of Bhagwan’s Failed Utopia

The Way Brothers — Chapman and Maclain — discuss WILD WILD COUNTRY and the Saga of Bhagwan’s Failed Utopia

The Way Brothers’ six-part documentary chronicles the strange saga of self-proclaimed spiritual leader Baghwan, later known as Osho, and his devotees, as they created a Utopian community on a vast tract of rough terrain in rural Oregon during the 1980s.

Initially the gurus idealistic followers came from around the world to build an entire self-sustaining compound in which they lived and worked communally, often welcoming down-and-out vagrants to join them for a better life. But local government authorities, town folk and ranchers felt they were under siege from an invading army of free-thinkers who defied ‘normal’ social conventions – that they had sex in public places was a big complaint — and tried, in vain, to oust them from Wasco County. External pressures lead to internal confrontations and eventually the Utopia became a scene of chaos and crime.

The Way Brothers draw from an extraordinary cache of archival footage — much of it filmed secretly with hidden cameras placed within the compound — that reveals the daily life of devotees, as well as Baghwan/Osho’s erratic behavior, and the confrontational disposition of his right-hand secretary, Ma Anan Sheela, a woman who actually ran and monitored all aspects of the community.

Ma Anan Sheela, now living in Switzerland, expresses her take on the story extensively in on camera interviews that punctuate the archival footage, along with additional interviews with other key persons in the community and with local folk who have a lot to say about what they consider to have been a daunting ordeal. The fascinating film raises a lot of questions about cults, seekers of justice, and the American way. To hear the Way Brothers’ equally fascinating answers to my questions about the story and their filmmaking process, listen to my exclusive interview

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IDFA 2017: The Female Gaze is Gone

IDFA 2017: The Female Gaze is Gone

It’s hard not to appreciate what the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam, otherwise known as IDFA, has accomplished during the decades since it was co-founded by Ally Derks, who is rightly revered in the documentary film realm. But Ally Derks has moved on, and IDFA is changing its outlook. This year, the festival dropped its The Female Gaze program and is, apparently, no longer focusing on ongoing issues of gender parity faced by the international community of women filmmakers.

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Claire Ferguson talks Storytelling, Trauma and Team Work in DESTINATION UNKNOWN

Claire Ferguson talks Storytelling, Trauma and Team Work in DESTINATION UNKNOWN

In Destination Unknown, British documentary filmmaker Claire Ferguson’s interviews with Holocaust survivors captures on film the most intimate and painful memories of traumas experienced in the Nazi death camps and the ongoing suffering they have caused throughout the victims’ lives. The survivors’ vivid descriptions are supported by archival footage. The combination of current testimony from surviving elders with images of what they lived through is absolutely devastating. Destination Unknown is an important addition to the canon of Holocaust films. Read what filmmaker Claire Ferguson has to say about making the film and the responsibilities of documentary filmmakers.

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Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady on ONE OF US, the Evolution of Documentary Filmmaking and Partnering with Netflix

Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady on ONE OF US, the Evolution of Documentary Filmmaking and Partnering with Netflix

In One of Us, filmmakers Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady investigate the unique lifestyle of Brooklyn’s Hassidic community. Presented in Ewing and Grady’s signature style, the highly dramatic stories of two men and a woman who want to leave the community reveal a complex and arcane culture that exists right in our midst, but is largely unknown to outsiders. Ewing and Grady talk about making One of Us and changes in documentary filmmaking during the 15-year span of their partnership.

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JESUS CAMP (2006) — Documentary Review

JESUS CAMP (2006) — Documentary Review

Don’t mistake Jesus Camp for Godspell! Even though it’s not a thriller, Jesus Camp is a truly terrifying film. It is, in fact, a purely observational documentary, one that serves as a galvanizing cautionary revelation about Evangelical indoctrination of children in heartland America.

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GERMANS AND JEWS — Documentary Review

GERMANS AND JEWS — Documentary Review

Germans & Jews, a documentary by Janina Quint and Tal Recanati, looks at a contemporary cultural relationship between two groups of people with a devastating history. It compares current trends in personal identification, political expectations and social stereotyping to those which existed during the 1930s and 40s, as prelude and during the Nazi regime.

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A Conversation with Yance Ford About STRONG ISLAND, Grief, Injustice and Wonderment

A Conversation with Yance Ford About STRONG ISLAND, Grief, Injustice and Wonderment

Yance Ford has been an influential member of the documentary film community for some years, working as a programmer for POV and commissioning the works of others. With Strong Island, he turns his smarts and skills to making in a highly personal documentary about the murder of his brother and the impact that heinous event had on his family. He sat down with me to discuss Strong Island, rage and grief, injustice and wonderment. Continue reading…

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Last Train Home (2009) – Documentary Retroview

Last Train Home (2009) – Documentary Retroview

In what filmmaker Lixin Fan characterizes as the world’s largest human migration, some 130-million Chinese migrant workers leave their work-a-day lives in China’s cities to travel to their homes in the impoverished countryside to celebrate the New Year with their families. To show us their arduous and frustrating journey and reveal the impact their long-term absence has on their families, the filmmaker follows Chen Suqin and her husband Zhang Changhua, as they return from their factory jobs in Guangzhou to their family home, a rural farm, where they reunite with their two children, who’ve been left in the care of Chen’s mother.

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Traces of The Trade: A Story From The Deep North (2008) – Documentary Retroview

Traces of The Trade: A Story From The Deep North (2008) – Documentary Retroview

Traces of The Trade: A Story From The Deep North is a deeply personal documentary made by seminarian-turned-filmmaker Katrina Browne, who sets out to investigate her forebears occupation as prominent New England slave traders and tries to identify what that fact of family history means to her living relatives and herself. The film is co-directed by Alla Kovgan and Jude Ray.

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An Inconvenient Truth (2006) – Documentary Retroview

An Inconvenient Truth (2006) – Documentary Retroview

An Inconvenient Truth is basically a concert film, the genre that documents a performance. But, instead of seeing a rock star or stand up comedian belting music or one liners, we meet Al Gore, the former Vice President of the United States. Mr. Gore is presenting the slide show in which he delivers the down and dirty about global warming–the most pressing environmental issue of our time. Mr. Gore has given more than 1000 performances of his show around the world, but it is very important for more people to see it and get the global warming message–hence the film.

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500 YEARS — Documentary Review

500 YEARS — Documentary Review

500 Years is the third  and final film in Pamela Yates‘ extraordinary three-film documentary series about the Mayan people’s ongoing struggle for equality and justice in Guatemala. With her politically-charged trilogy, The Resistance Saga, Yates has actually changed the course of history. 500 Years is the culmination of 35 years of filmmaker dedication to coverage of a pressing social and political issue. Stand alone or viewed with it’s companion films, it is a masterful example of how movies can make a difference. The film and its companion documentaries are must-sees for anyone who is interested in understanding current events and the role media can play in shaping them.

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JESUS CAMP — Documentary Retroview (2006)

JESUS CAMP — Documentary Retroview (2006)

Jesus Camp is an extraordinary exposé about the well-organized Evangelical indoctrination of children in heartland America to become soldiers for Christ. An enlightening look at religious fanaticism in the United States, it serves as a cautionary tale about fundamentalist Christian recruitment and conditioning of preteens to prepare them to battle al-Qaeda, whose kids fast, bare arms and sacrifice themselves for Islam. A real life horror film, it is one of the most gripping, frightening movies of 2006 and a must-see documentary for anyone who values the Bill of Rights.

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Movie Review: SAMI BLOOD

Movie Review:  SAMI BLOOD

Writer/Director Amanda Kernell’s first feature is a gripping  coming of age drama based on the real life experiences of her grandmother. Set in Sweden during the 1930s, at a time when Eugenics theories about ethnic superiority were trending, the narrative follows teenage Elle-Marje as she is plucked from her semi-nomadic family of traditional Sami reindeer herders in Lapland and sent to a Swedish boarding school to be assimilate into the predominant Swedish social structure and culture  – in which Samis were considered to be ethnically inferior and relegated to menial labor.

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BLACKFISH – Documentary Retroview (2013)

BLACKFISH – Documentary Retroview (2013)

The blackfish referenced in this documentary’s title is actually named Tilikum. He is arguably the world’s best known killer whale, or orca, and he currently resides at SeaWorld in Orlando, Florida. Tilikum, who has been captive and on display at the theme park for more than two decades, is regularly featured in SeaWorld’s animal shows at Shamu Stadium. He is responsible for the deaths of three human beings, including Dawn Branceau, a highly skilled and experienced whale trainer who was one of the SeaWorld staffers working most closely with Tilikum until her death in February, 2010.

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