MOSSVILLE: WHEN GREAT TREES FALL – Documentary Review

MOSSVILLE: WHEN GREAT TREES FALL – Documentary Review

The November 2019 release of Todd Haynes’ compelling truth-based narrative Dark Waters reminded moviegoers about how chemical titan DuPont de Nemours’ corporate greed delivered death-dealing PFOA pollution to six water districts around its plant in Parkersburg, West Virginia, poisoning some 70,000 people, including factory employees, their families and others living in the area — some […]

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DIXIE CHICKS: SHUT UP AND SING (2006) – Documentary Retroview

DIXIE CHICKS: SHUT UP AND SING (2006) – Documentary Retroview

The Dixie Chicks’ popularity plummeted after main singer Natalie Maines made an off the cuff comment about the Iraq War. This documentary, directed by Barbara Kopple, chronicles the group’s efforts to reclaim their place in the hearts of their fans and at the top of the music charts.

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EARTH DAYS (2009) – Documentary Retroview

EARTH DAYS (2009) – Documentary Retroview

To explore the fundamental premises and chronicle the advent of Earth Days, our annual celebration of Gaia and whatever ecological awareness we can muster, documentary director Robert Stone has assembled and interviewed a special tribe of the environmental movement’s elders — Stuart Udall, Denis Hayes, Paul Ehrlich, Pete McCloskey and Rusty Schweickart among other activists, politicians and forecasters — who give testimony about advances made by conservationists during the 1960s and 70s, and lead us to an understanding of what happened beginning with the Nixon administration to bring us to our current situation — on the brink of environmental disaster.

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Filmmaker Michael Apted: Leading Up to 63 UP

Filmmaker Michael Apted: Leading Up to 63 UP

Michael Apted helms both documentaries and narrative features, and has won numerous awards for both kinds of films. But he is best known for his career-defining Up Series, a unique documentary project that has been in progress since 1964. In the Beginning At the inception of the Up Series, Apted was working as a researcher […]

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The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls (2011) – Documentary Review

The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls (2011) – Documentary Review

Performing around the world and on New Zealand television, the Topp Twins are a hilarious sister act who’ve been embraced by a vast variety of fans. Leanne Pooley’s delightful documentary profile of Lynda and Jools entertains while giving biographical background and information about their current lives, as well as side-splitting clips of their performances.

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Wish Me Away: The Chely Wright Story (2012) – Documentary Retroview

Wish Me Away: The Chely Wright Story (2012) – Documentary Retroview

Watching movies for Pride Month? Remember to include Wish Me Away. Nashville music star Chely Wright, adored by millions of conservation country and western fans, lived much of her public life and career as a lie — until she decided to match up her public and professional persona with her inner truth. Chely is gay, and she decided that she had to come out.

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THE PROPOSAL – Documentary Review

THE PROPOSAL – Documentary Review

Filmmaker and artist Jill Magid became personally committed to unveiling the the legacy of legendary Mexican architect Luis Barragan (1902-1988), whose entire work record and artifacts — diaries, blueprints, photos of everything, personal memorabilia and other belongings, and copyrights — had been purchased by a powerful and wealthy Swiss conglomerate, Vitra, and were entirely withheld from public access.

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Documentary Review: ASK DR. Ruth

Documentary Review: ASK DR. Ruth

Ryan White’s Ask Dr. Ruth is a thoroughly charming and entertaining biodoc about Dr. Ruth Westheimer, America’s famously beloved sex therapist. She has been a public figure for decades, but her personal story is actually full of surprises.

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Wild Horse, Wild Ride – Documentary Review

Wild Horse, Wild Ride – Documentary Review

It may sound like a reality TV show, but it’s an annual event that has become a way of life for devoted participants. And, it’s the subject of this documentary film: The Extreme Mustang Makeover Challenge. The premise is simple: place 100 wild mustang horses in the hands of 100 capable trainers and give the trainers 100 days to tame the mustangs, teach them a series of tricks and perform with them as a horse and trainer team in a competitive horse show.

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BUCK – Documentary Review

BUCK – Documentary Review

Buck, referring to Buck Brannaman, is all About The Original Horse Whisperer. Gentle, calm and kind, Buck Brannaman can, it seems, tame any horse, and the creatures who ride them. The cowboy who is known as the ‘original horse whisperer,’ travels around the USA to various ranches, giving horse owners workshops about how to handle their steeds, especially those that have a will of their own and insist upon expressing it.

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BLOWIN’ UP – Documentary Review

BLOWIN’ UP – Documentary Review

Filmmaker Stephanie Wang Breal’s latest documentary, Blowin’Up, takes us into New York City’s Human Trafficking Intervention Court in Queens, where Judge Toko Serita has presided over cases against young prostitutes since the pilot court program began in 2004.

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VERY YOUNG GIRLS – Documentary Retroview

VERY YOUNG GIRLS – Documentary Retroview

The trafficking of children is a worldwide crime, but Very Young Girls, directed by David Schisgall, Nina Alvarez and Priya Swaminathan, brings the story home by following several New York City tween and teenage girls who’ve become prostitutes, and who are trying to cope with the consequences and redirect their lives.

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JOSEPH PULITZER: VOICE OF THE PEOPLE – Documentary Review

JOSEPH PULITZER: VOICE OF THE PEOPLE – Documentary Review

If you see the study of history as a route to informed interpretation of the present, Oren Rudavsky’s Joseph Pulitzer: Voice of the People is essential and timely viewing. The film is an investigative biopic about the legendary publisher who changed the face and flow of modern journalism, and rewrote the rule book on using newspapers — the prime media outlet during his life time — to influence the political, social and economic milieu at the heart of the American Dream. Most people know Pulitzer primarily for the coveted journalism award presented in his name, but this fascinating and powerful American influencer has an extraordinary life story and the release of this thoroughly researched documentary is timely indeed.

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THE BUSINESS OF BEING BORN (2008) – Documentary Retroview

THE BUSINESS OF BEING BORN (2008) – Documentary Retroview

In The Business of Being Born, director Abby Epstein and producer Ricki Lake focus our attention on the issue of childbearing practices in the United States in much the same way Michael Moore highlighted the American health care system in Sicko. Both Epstein and Lake play dramatic roles in investigating the way in which the medical establishment deals with birthing and showing midwifery as a viable alternative for women who wish to avoid invasive procedures. This is a subject of interest and concern to us all–whether or not childbearing happens to be on our personal agenda.

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Preview: Margaret Mead Film Festival 2018

Preview: Margaret Mead Film Festival 2018

Honoring the legendary anthropologist Margaret Mead, this year’s festival focuses on the theme “Resilience in Motion, documenting stories that celebrate individuals who are breaking new ground or breaking free despite challenging circumstances and sparking provocative conversations­—whether they’re about battling voter suppression in Cumberland County, North Carolina, or Nigerian school girls kidnapped by Boko Haram struggling to regain normalcy after their release from captivity, or transgender women in Tonga creating safe spaces for self-expression.

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PLAYER HATING: A LOVE STORY (2012) — Documentary Retroview

PLAYER HATING: A LOVE STORY (2012) — Documentary Retroview

In Player Hating: A Love Story, filmmaker Maggie Hadleigh-West follows Jasun Wardlaw, the talented hip hop recording artist known as Half-a-Mill, as he and his crew of ‘thugs’ prepare to release his first big record album. Half-a-Mill is hoping that the album will be the kind of success that will catapult him out of Brooklyn, New York’s crime-riddled Atlantic Housing Project, where he’s faced tough — no, make that dire — living conditions since his childhood. He’s deeply in need of some form of relief. And so are his family and friends. In fact, so is the whole neighborhood.

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DARK MONEY — Documentary Review

DARK MONEY — Documentary Review

Kimberly Reed’s well-researched and compelling documentary is an explosive expose about the tremendous threat the influence of concealed corporate funding of political campaigns poses to the democratic process and the legitimacy of our elections. Dark Money is a political thriller, a cautionary tale that shows how independent candidates for public office are targeted and defeated by special interest groups hiding behind nonprofit organizations that are funded by wealthy and influential individuals and/or corporations — the Koch brothers, for example — who are basically buying elections and gaining the control necessary to guide the making future laws and to determine policies of the United States regarding everything from land use to diplomacy and alliances with foreign nations.

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COLONY (2009) – Documentary Review

COLONY (2009) – Documentary Review

Beekeepers haul their wooden bee hive boxes across the US, providing an essential service to farmers who rely on honey bees to pollinate their crops. However the entire enterprise and way of life is now threatened by a mysterious phenomenon called ‘bee colony collapse disorder,’ marked by the death and disappearance of millions of bees. By following several beekeepers as they struggle to sustain their colonies and way of life, and presenting close up views of activity within the hives, Colony provides a fascinating overview of an essential yet endangered element of agricultural production.

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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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A LEAF OF FAITH — Documentary Review

A LEAF OF FAITH — Documentary Review

Filmmaker Chris Bell, pursuing ongoing concerns about drug issues that plague athletes and the general public, focuses on the crippling and death dealing addiction to opioid painkillers. Having reached epidemic proportions, opioids — ranging from heroin addiction and overdose to abuse of synthetic opioids to withdraw from heroin addition and the use of prescription of addictive opoids to relieve chronic pain — are currently among the top causes of death in the U.S. In A Leap of Faith, Bell introduces and investigates a possible solution — the use of Kratom as an alternative.

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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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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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THE BEACHES OF AGNES (LES PLAGES D’AGNES) – Documentary Review

THE BEACHES OF AGNES (LES PLAGES D’AGNES) – Documentary Review

In The Beaches of Agnes (Les Plages d’Agnes), the legendary French filmmaker (who directed the narrative Cleo From Nine to Five and documentary The Gleaners, among other classics) revisits her childhood, presents footage of her young womanhood and tells of the start of her career as a photographer and cinematographer, of her eventual marriage to French New Wave director Jacques Demy and motherhood, and brings us up to the present. Mme Varda is 80 years old as this film releases theatrically in the U.S. in July, 2009, and she’s still going strong. Very strong.

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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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