Posts Tagged documentary

film review: I Am Battle Comic

When the USO offered writer/director Jordan Brady [I Am Comic and I Am Road Comic]  an opportunity to perform stand-up comedy to the troops in the Middle East, he decided to take his camera along on the tour which included stops in Kuwait, Afghanistan and Bahrain. The result is a heartwarming, funny and honest glimpse into a USO tour. Brady intersperses tour footage with interviews with various comics including George Lopez, George Wallace, Jennifer Rawlings and Shawn Halpin [a U.S. Marines veteran].

It can get lonely in these desert countries so remote from the American experience [there is a tiny Dunkin’ Donuts in Kuwait and a Pizza Hut in Afghanistan!] and troops savor entertainment. The USO distributes care packages and letters from school children. The comedians hold meet and greets and hang out in mess halls with troops. Jennifer Rawlings explains: “It’s really about sitting down in the chow hall listening to the soldiers like a mom, like a sister, like a friend and hearing their stories.” An emotional Slade Ham recalls that Sgt. Jose Valez became a fan in 2003 and gave new people arriving on base copies of his CD. After Valez was killed in action, Ham received a package with the unit coin and the patch off Valez’s jacket. He says: “If I get to take that kid away from that situation … why not? How many chances do you get to do something that cool?”An officer sums it up quite well: “being so far away from America it takes us back to America for a few hours.”

It’s such a rewarding experience that many comedians return repeatedly to entertain the troops. I Am Battle Comic provides tremendous insight into this experience as well as showcasing entertainment’s powerful ability to connect and inspire.

Here’s the link to screenings for I Am Battle Comic. 100% of tickets sales to these screenings support military charities. On June 2 I Am Battle Comic will be available worldwide on VOD.

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STEELE PICKS: Best Documentary Films of 2016

strong documentaries expose you to subject matter in a novel and enlightening manner. it might be a subject of which you know very little or a subject with which you’re familiar. the best documentaries make you want to read and research, discuss and debate. that’s why I’ve belonged to a documentary film group for five years. I tend to favor biographical, political, social justice and music documentaries.


directed by: Ava DuVernay
written by: Spencer Averick and Ava DuVernay

–our criminal justice systems needs serious reform. this documentary painstakingly delves into our prison system. It’s a moving, upsetting and infuriating call for change.


Oasis: Supersonic
directed by: Mat Whitecross

–while I classify myself a Blur girl, I also love Oasis. I love Britpop and alternative music.  I didn’t know all that much about how Oasis formed or how brothers Liam Gallagher and Noel Gallagher grew up with an abusive father. I know music was a way out for many British bands in the 90s. The film documents the band’s meteoric rise to fame and its collapse. There’s a moment on tour when Noel quits the band in Los Angeles and takes off to a female fan’s place in San Francisco. He ultimately re-joins the band and ends up writing a song about it. Being a long-term music critic this film hit all the right notes and all the right emotive spots. I laughed. I cried. I stood in the theater lobby with four strangers discussing it all.


Amanda Knox
directed by: Rod Blackhurst and Brian McGinn
written by: Matthew Hamachek and Brian McGinn

–going into this one I definitely had an opinion. it’s like the OJ Simpson case, how can you not? I’d read Amanda Knox’s riveting memoir and still learned quite a bit about the Italian judicial system and being locked up abroad (don’t do it) watching this documentary. Nearly a decade ago in 2007, Amanda Knox and her boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito were arrested, charged and convicted of the murder of Amanda’s roommate Meredith Kercher. Remember the supposed orgy and its aftermath as well as Knox’s nickname “Foxy Knoxy.” Because of course if someone’s sexually open she *must be a murderer. Amanda serves prison time until the conviction is overturned but then there’s another trial. While the United States criminal justice system remains a mess the Italian one seems outrageous. It’s not what one expects in a European nation. There are so many flaws in the investigation and numerous questions about the process that this documentary attempts to address.


The Beatles: Eight Days a Week– the touring years
directed by: Ron Howard
written by: Mark Monroe

–it’s always cool to learn something new about music legends. while I’m familiar with the music I don’t know as much about the band’s history and specific historic moments. There’s an excellent cross-section of fans interviewed from Whoopi Goldberg to Sigourney Weaver to Eddie Izzard. It’s a sweet love letter to a band from a genuinely sincere Ron Howard. It’s not messy or scandalous or a sexy film but wholesome family fun that one expects from Ron Howard.



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directed by: Asif Kapadia
starring: Amy Winehouse, Mitch Winehouse, Mark Ronson


He Named Me Malala
directed by: David Guggenheim
starring: Malala Yousafzai, Ziauddin Yousafzai, Toor Pekai Yousafzai


Cobain: Montage of Heck
directed by: Brett Morgen
starring: Aaron Burckhard, Chad Channing, Don Cobain, Courtney Love


Hot Girls Wanted
directed by: Jill Bauer, Ronna Gradus
written by: Brittany Huckabee
starring: Farrah Abraham, John Anthony, Rachel Bernard


The Wolfpack
directed by: Crystal Moselle
starring: Bhagavan Angulo, Govinda Angulo, Jagadisa Angulo


What Happened, Miss Simone?
directed by: Liz Garbus
starring: James Baldwin, Stokely Carmichael, Lisa Simone Kelly

miss simone

The True Cost
directed by: Andrew Morgan
written by: Andrew Morgan
starring: Vandana Shiva, Rick Ridgeway, Safia Minney


The Hunting Ground
directed by: Kirby Dick
written by: Kirby Dick
starring: Kirby Dick, Amy Ziering, Amy Herdy


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Black History Month: must-see documentaries

black power mixtape

The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 (2011)
96 min
Rating: A-

–filmed from 1967 to ’75, this is previously unreleased footage of major figures in the Black Power movement, creating hours of footage that remained unreleased for decades. Stokely Carmichael, Huey P. Newton and Angela Davis discuss the movement’s evolution. Truly moving and powerful film.

dark girls

Dark Girls (2011)
71 min
Rating: B+
Director: D. Channsin Berry, Bill Duke

–examines prejudices dark-skinned women face throughout the world, includes the roots of classism, racism and the lack of self-esteem within a segment of cultures. Thoughtful, provocative and detailed.

soundtrack for a rev

Soundtrack for a Revolution (2009)
82 min.
Rating: A-

–celebrates the intersection of a political movement and music. Featuring new performances of freedom songs by artists such as Mary J. Blige, Wyclef Jean and John Legend, the film also includes archival footage and interviews with civil rights leaders.


Good Hair (2009)
95 min
Rating: A
Directed by: Chris Rock

–in this amusing, warm and touching documentary, Chris Rock travels the world to understand African-American women’s hair. He contemplates women’s self-esteem and their looks and the application and purpose of the weave. Rock wanted to understand what his three daughters would go through.


4 Little Girls (1997)
102 min.
Rating: A
Directed by: Spike Lee

–a member of the Klu Klux Klan bombed a Birmingham, Ala. church and killed four young girls: Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Denise McNair. He put the bomb there to “send a message.” The tragedy served as a catalyst of the Civil Rights Movement. Another sad senseless act of violence in the name of white supremacy.

murder of emmett till

The Murder of Emmett Till (2003)
53 min
Rating: B+

–PBS “American Experience” documentary examines the murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till and the subsequent acquittal of his killers. While visiting the Deep South, Till whistled at a white woman, an act which led to his brutal killing. Activists organized after Till’s mother let national newspapers run pictures of her unrecognizable son. A disgusting and disturbing act of racism. Extremely upsetting and unbelievable.

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DVD: AFTER TILLER a must-see documentary

after tiller

A powerful and inspirational documentary filmed with a calm focus through beautiful and reflective moments. Directed and produced by Martha Shane and Lana Wilson.

It’s legal to perform third-term abortions in nine states and (at the time of filming), only four doctors in the United States openly performed third-term abortions.

“At times I struggle and times I don’t and I always come back to the woman and what she’s going through and what life will this baby have. What will it mean to be alive with horrific fetal abnormalities? It’s not just about being alive. It’s about life and what does it mean.”
–Dr. Shelley Sella

“There’s two reactions to being bullied. One is to pull your head in and try to get away from the bully and the other is to go ‘oh yeah.’ That’s how I feel.”
–Dr. Susan Robinson

“(The anti-abortion threats) are a traumatic experience for everybody in my family. It’s been hard for me to feel sometimes that I can continue.”
–Dr. Warren Hern

“Things have changed since Dr. Tiller’s death. And it’s a shame George had to die to get that started. I think he did get a lot of the dialogue started that’s going on today. We don’t have Dr. Tiller anymore but we still have four of us who are still practicing and I think Dr. Tiller would be proud that we’re still carrying on his work.”
–Dr. LeRoy Carhart

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Academy Award nominees for Best Documentary on DVD

four of the five Academy Award nominees for Best Documentary are available on DVD or Netflix instant. The other nominated film The Gatekeepers isn’t out on DVD yet and isn’t in any theaters in my area so I’ve not been able to see it.

searching for sugar man

Searching for Sugar Man
–heartwarming, amazing film about a talented, somewhat mysterious Detroit musician named Rodriguez who made brilliant music in the 70s. His musical career didn’t take off as expected. As Rodriguez moved on with his life as a tradesman and raised his daughters, his music became immensely popular in South Africa–his albums sold millions and he inspired many during Apartheid. What happened to him? Where is he now?

5 Broken Cameras

5 Broken Cameras
–“It takes strength to turn anger into something positive,” says Emad the filmmaker in 5 Broken Cameras. Later he remarks: “I film to heal.” Potent comments.
–Emad and his family live off the land in Bil’in in Palenstine. They pick olives. They don’t have regular jobs or fixed incomes. The IDF comes to take their land, to build a barrier. Bil’in represents nonviolent resistance. Even Israeli activists join in with the Palestinians to stop this. It’s an engrossing, powerful and inspiring documentary.

invisible war

The Invisible War
–infuriating film about the military’s dirty little secret until now– sexual assaults among active military personnel that often don’t get prosecuted within the military
–20% of female military veterans have been sexually assaulted. 33% didn’t report it because the report was a friend of the rapist. 25% didn’t report because report was the rapist.

how to survive a plague

How to Survive a Plague
–this is the story of civil disobedience. the story of how the gay community organized for change when HIV/AIDS killed people at frightening high rates because there were no treatments. drugs weren’t being distributed fast enough in the United States. It’s powerful, provocative and an important part of our cultural history.

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Entertainment Realm’s Picks for Best Documentaries for 2012


–engrossing. found out so much about Bob Marley. truly amazing.
Directed by: Kevin Macdonald


Chasing Ice
— astonishing and exhilarating documentary about climate change. important.
Directed by: Jeff Orlowski
Starring: James Balog, Svavar Jonatansson and Adam LeWinter
Written by: Mark Monroe

first position

First Position
–high stakes ballet for tweens and teens
Directed by: Bess Kargman


–upsetting. cringe-inducing. peer to peer bullying.
Directed by: Lee Hirsch

queen of versailles

The Queen of Versailles
–money, money, money. fascinating examination of a couple with billions, a 30-year age difference, eight children. while developing the world’s biggest house, the market crashes.
Directed by: Lauren Greenfield

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Forks Over Knives: DVD/netflix streaming

Forks Over Knives is one of the most effective documentaries about going vegan that I’ve seen [better than Food Inc. and Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead]. It provided me with more arguments to use when someone wonders why I’m a vegan and if I’m truly getting all the proper nutrients etc. Yes I am. I feel better than I would if eating dairy or fish and I’ve not eaten meat since I was 18. Forks Over Knifes shows how doctors made a link between some of the most serious chronic conditions [diabetes, high cholesterol, heart disease] and the consumption of a whole foods plant-based diet. Some of these conditions get completely reversed by changing one’s eating habits.

–40% of Americans are obese
–The U.S. spends $2.2 trillion on healthcare, which is 5x the defense budget
–Per person, Americans consume 222 lbs of meat, 147 lbs of sugar and 605 lbs of dairy annually
–increased dairy consumption leads to increases incidences of osteoporosis and hip fractures

for more info: Forks Over Knives website

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film review: Body of War

During the Gulf War, I wrote letters to four guys serving over there. After 9/11, like many Blue-staters, I put an American flag decal-type thing (my friend and I printed them and laminated them at work) on my car and drove around with it for perhaps six months. For some reason, I didn’t think about writing letters until recently. After reading Elizabeth Berg’s tearjerker about WWII, Dream When You’re Feeling Blue, I found one via the website Adopt a US Soldier. Now I have been writing to PFC Michael Spaeth, stationed somewhere in Iraq. He thanked me profusely and told me how much he appreciated it. I (ever the journo) questioned this.

His reply: What I mean by it means a lot and I owe you, is that some of the people we fight to defend don’t appreciate what we do. We fight for them to be free to protest and picket us. But then there are those who support us and for that I feel we owe a debt of gratitude. I know that to someone such as yourself, it may not be a big deal to write and send packages to soldiers, but to us it’s not a big deal to be here fighting for our country. I don’t feel that anyone owes me anything for what I do. So when somebody takes the time to write letters and so on, it means a lot. I don’t expect those kinds of things and that makes it all the more worth while.

When I re-read Michael’s message I still do not understand what he means when he says fighting for our country. Does he really think that being in Iraq is protecting us? I did not reply to that part of his e-mail and in letters I say that I hope he is safe. I don’t often know what to even say. He’s only 22 years old. But he has two small children. Though I’m a decade older than him, our life experience may be equal though incomparable.

This brings me to the film Body of War. Collateral damage, conflicted participants, conscientious objectors? Check. Check. Check. As seen through the eyes of one 25-year-old disabled veteran, Tomas Young, the war is not over once the soldiers come home. There are numerous challenges ahead. He’s dealing with a wife, self-catheterizations and trying to make a place for himself now that he’s paralyzed from the chest area down. This is definitely an aspect of the war that most Americans have remained shielded from. Sure we hear that 4,000 American troops have died but do we see the veterans who come back with PTSD or missing limbs? And what of our great superpower democratic United States? The Congressional vote on the war resolution in 2002 is interspersed through the film. The greatest voice of opposition, West Virginia Sen. Robert Byrd, has a touching moment in his office with Tomas.

It should spark debate in everyone. I’m against the war and I’m against staying in Iraq any longer. My sort-of boyfriend Brian also opposed the initial invasion but supports the slow withdrawal. I’m sure everyone has a different opinion about that colossal mess. Body of War is produced by Phil Donahue, so you know going in that it’s going to be very left-leaning. I also saw the film in VERY liberal Cambridge, Mass. The audience clapped when the film ended (this was Friday afternoon). I know many are war weary and have been staying away from Iraq-themed films in general, but this film feels a bit different. It’s very personal and evocative. Eddie Vedder’s original songs are stirring, heart-wrenching and honest. While at times Body of War can be overzealous or preachy and a bit obvious in its anti-war message, it provides us with another viewpoint: from a front row seat. The heartfelt story of Tomas is extremely moving, thoughtful and memorable and worth the trip to the theater.

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film review: King Corn

Brian and I went to a screening of King Corn (now out on DVD) at The Groton School in Groton, Mass. today. He lives in Groton so had seen the signs about it. I missed the film at last year’s IFFB. Director/producer and Yale graduate (and Brian calls ‘tree hugger’) Ian Cheney answered questions afterward. People did not ask about the making of the film as much as the subject matter. He’s a filmmaker not an expert on the growing and production of corn and its products but he learned a bit from the filming. I think that documentarians are journalists with a camera and while you might maintain interests in a topic or subject matter, you move on once you are finished with something. You may go back to similar topics (his next film up at this year’s IFFBoston is The Greening of Southie about the building of a green luxury apartment building in working class South Boston.

The film is fascinating though not completely balanced. Not sure many in the Heartland think that it is. It works though.

So two recent Ivy league graduates decide to find out about the food they have been consuming for as long as they can remember ( a lot of fast food). After hair analysis, they travel to Iowa and make plans to harvest an acre of corn. Not only wil lthey do this but they plan to follow the corn off the lot and into the market (this proves much more complicated). The result is a somewhat startling, certainly provocative documentary about the commercialization of America’s heartland and the piss poor food industry (production-wise). In King Corn, Ian and his friend, Curtis are going to grow getntically modiefied LIberty link corn. During a taste test in August, both guys quickly spit out the corn. Ian says it’s “disugusting.” And Curtis says: “I thought it would taste better.”

I am a non-dairy eating semi-vegetarian. I stopped eating read meat when I was 12 and then poultry at 18. I was a complete vegetarian but when I turned 30, kind of fell off the wagon, I’ll blame it on my brother, Adam, who took me out to dinner at the Linwood Grille (the wood grilled fish looked very appetizing). I eat fish when I’m eating out or with a group of people (sometimes). At home it’s fruit, veggies, legumes, hummus and baba ghanouj. In the film, it states that people spend 15% of their income on food. I feel like I spend much more because I buy most of my food at Whole Foods and also produce is more expensive than a lot of other others.

One acre in Iowa= five tons of food! Iowa grows enough corn to feed the United States but most Iowans do not grow food that feeds their own families. Corn is a huge commodity. A cash cow that feeds cows or becomes corn syrup. Gross. From a certified crop advisor to cattle ranches to a corn syrup factory (they cannot gain entry with cameras but a neatly coiffed woman regales the duo with all the ways that corn syrup can be used: “It browns bread!” “It makes spaghetti sauce less acidic!” to the halls of academia, Ian and Curtis research corn and it’s an eye-opening experience.

Do Americans know the difference between grass fed and corn fed cattle? I suspect not. See this film and you will be questioning it much more if you eat meat. Livestock consume 70% of the antibiotics that are produced. Yes, read that line again: livestock consume 70% of the antibiotics that are produced. A feed lot produced waste comparable to seven million people. Animals that are not grass fed are confined and eat corn so that they get fatter faster. Which makes for cheaper meat and a higher level of saturated fats in meat. Gross gross gross. If you haven’t noticed, cheap food is high in saturated fats. It’s easier to grab something fast than to prepare something sure but it’s so gross to think about what we are putting into our bodies. And yes, I eat some junk food on occasion. I’m not thin at the moment but I was up until the last five years or so! Prior to 1970, high fructose corn syrup was too costly to produce now it’s the first ingredient in most food items.

King Corn is airing on PBS as part of the Independent Lens series.


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