Category: Documentary


Fahrenheit 11/9

September 24th, 2018 — 12:41am

****

Fahrenheit 11/9- rm

This is a documentary movie by filmmaker, Michael Moore. So, if you know anything about him, you can expect a strong political statement reflecting his views. However, we found that he took us some places we did not anticipate and we were emotionally moved by several points that were being made.

While the title (One Day After Trump’s Election) and introduction zoomed in immediately on the election of Donald Trump, which surprised most everyone, probably including Trump and his supporters. Moore did not let us forget that there was a clear majority of voters supporting Clinton and of course, the Electoral College, which allowed Trump to be elected president, is a remnant of a compromise made to appease the slave states.

As we settled in to see a further dissection of Trumpism in this country, the movie took us on a somewhat different journey than we expected. We ended up in Moore’s homeland of Flint, Michigan where we were told the story of one of the most horrendous acts of deception ever played upon American citizens. The water supply of the city was changed and then came from a new river source, which was polluted with lead and other substances that were an irreversible poison to the residents of that city, especially impacting children. The governor of Michigan, Jim Snyder, even when he knew about the facts, hid the truth from the people in order to protect corporate interests who were benefiting by the status quo. He did make some changes, so a General Motors plant would have clean water so as not to damage the cars that were being made. Apparently, even President Obama did not understand the true gravity of the situation as we see him speaking in Flint, Michigan minimizing the seriousness of this issue.

This movie also took us to West Virginia, where we met poorly-paid teachers who defied their own union and were going on strike for a 5% raise in salary for themselves, school bus drivers and kitchen workers in the schools. We saw how their brave acts of defiance were then copied by teachers in other states, giving a picture of how people can rise up for their rights.

Seen through the eyes of this documentary filmmaker, the human elements of such events can be very well conveyed. However, nothing was more moving than the depiction of the well-known story of the children of Parkland, Florida who rose up to capture the hearts of the entire country as they exposed the self-centered actions of the gun lobby in this country who have resisted changes in gun control despite the massacre of the Parkland children by a crazed killer with an assault rifle.

The ending of this film brought us back to Trump with Michael Moore’s eye-opening clear comparison of the rise of Donald Trump and the rise of Adolf Hitler and Nazism as seen in Germany. This documentary film pulls no punches and it will hit you in the gut, bring tears to your eyes and give you a great deal to think about. (2018)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Documentary, Politics

Far From The Tree

August 25th, 2018 — 12:28am

***

Far From The Tree-nf

What happens when a parent realizes that their child is quite “different”? How do they feel, and of course how does the developing child experience life when he or she realizes there is a major difference in themselves and most of the people in the world? Andrew Solomon, the author of a well-received book with the same title of this movie, opens this documentary film by reflecting on his struggle and that of his parents as he became aware that he was gay.

The focus of filmmaker Rachel Dretzin was to also examine the real life examples of families and children with Dwarfism, Autism or Down Syndrome, as well as a situation of a seemingly normal teenager who for no apparent reason murders an eight-year-old child and is sentenced to life in prison.

Needless to say, each of these situations present a different set of circumstances in regard to the physical attributes, speech, intellectual ability and other life circumstances. We also can’t ever generalize how everyone will respond in each category. But what we were shown in these real life examples, was that all the children were ultimately shown unconditional love and acceptance by their families.

One very interesting situation was that of a young couple, both of whom had Dwarfism and were happily married. The wife becomes pregnant. At this point, they were not sure if they wanted the child to be normal or to be a small person like them.

The filmmaker did a very good job showing the viewers the dilemma and the feelings of all the parents and children. The analogy between the developmental disability and being gay on one hand seem to be a stretch, but yet, when seen through the eyes of the parents, gave us some worthwhile insight. On the other hand, each category depicted could have been examined in much more depth, perhaps in a separate documentary film for each one. We also felt we needed more insight into why and how the murderer came to do his deed. However, we saw the unconditional and continued love of the parents for their son as they had periodic phone calls with him as he served his life sentence. In fact, the strength and endurance of parental-child love in each family depicted was the real theme of this movie. (2017)

 

Comment » | 3 Stars, Documentary

Love, Cecil

July 18th, 2018 — 5:49pm

***

Love, Cecil-sp

Cecil Beaton (1904-1980) is the subject of this documentary film by Lisa Immordini Vreeland. Beaton was a legendary fashion photographer, renowned portrait photographer as well as a war photographer. On top of that, he was an Oscar-winning stage and costume designer for film and theater. He was a painter and a diarist who wrote several books about his own life. He was apparently gay or at least bisexual and he also called Greta Garbo one of the true loves of his life. Filmmaker, Ms. Vreeland was clearly all in with her attention to detail as she certainly creatively brought Beaton’s artistry to the screen with a full array of pictures, photographs and a narrative (much of it taken directly from Beaton’s diaries). Whether it was photographing the Queen of England or legendary movie stars, this man seemed to always have the full confidence of his subjects. One cannot wonder if he felt unfulfilled himself as he always seemed to be searching for some elusive satisfaction. Certainly, this is a very well done, somewhat unusual, documentary film that many people will enjoy and appreciate the many accomplishments of this artist made to the creative world of the 20th Century (2018).

Comment » | 3 Stars, Documentary

Three Identical Strangers

July 15th, 2018 — 6:58pm

***

Three Identical Strangers-rm

This is the true story of three identical triplets (Eddie Gallland, David Gellman, Robert Shafran ) who were separated at birth and raised by different families. How they discovered each other and how well they related is a fascinating story which also has a tragic component. This documentary film also reveals how their early lives were part of a secret experiment run by a prominent child psychiatrist with the cooperation of  The Louise Wise Adoption Agency, one of the leading adoption agencies in the country. Just knowing any of the above information would have drawn us to want to learn more about the story and view this movie.

In our opinion this movie raised several stimulating questions, which were not answered or only superficially addressed. These were as follows. 1. What was the exact nature of Dr. Peter Neubauer’s experiment and was it within the ethical guidelines of the time? 2. If this experiment were to determine which is more important in a person’s development, nature or nurture, what was a reasonable conclusion from what was learned about these three triplets? 3. What was the nature of each of these young men’s psychiatric issues as they were all were mentioned to have had psychological treatments in the past. 4. Is it true that if they were not separated at birth, it would have been difficult to adopt the three triplets by one family together? We believe that a very good magazine article with good photographs probably would have dealt with this topic perhaps even in more depth than did the movie. However, director Tim Wardle deserves credit for delving into this story and capturing on film many of the people including family members and other’s firsthand accounts, as well as using film and video archives, in order to tell this fascinating story.

In the past MB has written about this overall subject in his psychiatry blog particularly in an article titled “Discussion of the Phenomena of Unknown Family Members.”( click to see) It turned out to be the most widely read of the many articles on the blog and received over 3,000 hits and over 20 people made comments on the blog about it. There was another article that he wrote titled “The Search for a Personal Biological Identity” ( click to see)which also dealt with this subject. It is also of note that various aspects of this topic were covered in at least seven films which we have reviewed on our movie blog. They were: ( click title to see reviews) Philomena, The Kids are All Right, People Like Us, Bad words, Admission, Mother and Child” and Stories We Tell. (2018)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Documentary

RBG

May 16th, 2018 — 3:48am

*****

RBG-rm

When you view an outstanding documentary film such as this one, you might wonder whether it was excellent because of the subject or was it mostly due to the work of the filmmakers. In this case it was clearly both. Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a remarkable woman who came from Brooklyn with the support of family and a brilliant mind. She attended Cornell University a few years before one of us was there(SB) and was one of the increasing number of her generation who was not just going to accept the traditional role of women. She was one of the few women to be accepted to Harvard Law School. She married a great guy who encouraged her career early on and throughout their lives. They were able to jointly raise their children in a very successful marriage. She even transferred from Harvard to Columbia Law School so her husband could accept the job at a New York firm. She soon found her issue which was close to her heart and which deeply resonated within her. That was the equal rights for everyone, including women. She ultimately  became the second woman appointed to the Supreme Court. 

The filmmakers, Julie Cohen and Betsy West, didn’t just tell us about her brilliance but made it come to life with film footage, of her and others discussing court decisions in addition to painting a wonderful picture of her personal life. The movie was interspersed with familiar faces such as Gloria Steinem and Nina Totenberg who were able to reflect and put her ongoing life in perspective. The viewer could experience her life and the development of her thinking almost as if we were living with her. Great job. Great film. Great person. (2018)

Comment » | 5 Stars, Documentary

Little Pink House

May 4th, 2018 — 6:02am

****

Little Pink House

Whether you are an on-the-ground activist, a student of law, or an activist at heart, you will be drawn to this movie. It is a docudrama that tells the true story of Susette Kelo (Catherine Keener), a woman who worked as a dedicated EMT, had just been through a second divorce and found a quaint fix-up house in New London, Connecticut on the water where she decided to settle and build her life. Needless to say, the finishing touch on her hard work of fixing up the house was to paint the exterior pink (hence the film title).

And now the plot thickness. Pfizer pharmaceutical company begins to work out a plan with the town fathers to build a new large plant in New London. This has the potential to bring new revenue and jobs to this town which could well use the infusion. The viewer then becomes introduced to the term from the United States Constitution called Eminent Domain. A group of home owners, mainly elderly, are now threatened with either being forced to sell their home or be evicted.

Ms. Keener plays her character quite well as she becomes the symbol of the embattled home owners with the support of her boyfriend, Tim (Keith Rennie) and her lawyer Scott Bullock (Giacomo Baessato) against the Director of Corporate Development (Jeanne Tripplehorn), the city attorney (Jerry Wasserman), and the governor (Aaron Douglas).

Director and writer, Courtney Moorehead Balaker, leads this band of actors to the Supreme Court of The United States where the case is settled (at least for the time being). This adventure is a worthwhile cinematic experience (2018).

Comment » | 4 Stars, Documentary, Drama, History

Won’t You Be My Neighbor

April 13th, 2018 — 7:54am

Screened at 2018 San Francisco Film Festival

Open in the United States on June 8, 2018

*****

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Film maker Morgan Neville did an extraordinary job in delving into television archival material to reconstruct the story of Mr. Rogers. If you were a child watching television in the 1960s and 70s or thereabouts or are a parent of such a child, then you must know who is Mr. Rogers is and have very warm feelings about him. He had a unique approach to children and spoke with them on their level. He was able to convey that each person has self-worth and should be treated that way. He practiced what he preached not only because he himself had graduated from a seminary but because he truly respected children of all ages.

The film was beautifully put together to give great insight into Fred Rogers. It showed how seriously he took striving for equality and mutual understanding and how that always came across.

Viewing this film was like meeting an old beloved friend from many years ago. It will be interesting to see if millennials will be able to relate to this movie when they met Mr. Rogers for the first time.(2018)

 

 

Comment » | 5 Stars, Documentary

Tre Maison Dasan

April 13th, 2018 — 7:36am

Screened at 2018 San Francisco Film Festival

Unknown opening date for USA

***

Tre Maison Dasan

Tre, Maison, and Dasan are three boys each of whom has a parent who is in prison. First time documentary filmmaker Denali Tiller has taken on this project to follow these three youngsters and show the often tender visitations that they have with their parent while in a Rhode Island prison. These take place in a large child friendly area where many children are having visits with a parent. She also follows these three youngsters at home with their families. Some of the footage is quite an accomplishment as she follows her subjects for almost three years and captures tender personal interactions between child and parent.

In a post film discussion, we become aware that one important goal of the filmmaker was to advocate for such visitation programs in a suitable environment in prisons throughout the country as well as education for parents on the importance of such interaction for children who have a parent in prison. Unfortunately, this message was not made clear in the film and we believe this was a lost opportunity (2018).

 

 

Comment » | 3 Stars, Crime, Documentary

The Rescue List

April 13th, 2018 — 7:27am

Screened at 2018 San Francisco Film Festival

Unknown opening date in USA

****

The Rescue List

This documentary film takes place in a rural area in Ghana where Lake Volta, the largest manmade lake in the world, is located. There is a terrible situation where young children are abducted or even bought from their parents in order to be used as slave labor working on fishing boats in this lake. Film makers Zachary Fink and Alysous Fedele made this heart wrenching but yet beautifully done documentary film. It followed a group led by a man by the name of Kwame who was once one of these children and now is a college educated leader of the group. Their mission is to rescue these children and provide education, rehabilitation, and in many cases return them to their families. The filmmakers obtain very good cinematic portraits of individual children and capture the story of what they have been through at the same time showing their childhood innocence. Hopefully before this film is released to the public, the filmmaker will put an “ask” and a place for viewers who will be moved to make donations to this very worthy group (2018).

 

Comment » | 4 Stars, Documentary

I Am Not Your Negro

January 9th, 2018 — 9:14am

**** 

I Am Not Your Negro-sp

In 1979, the esteemed writer, James Baldwin, proposed a book to his agent which would deal with the life and death of Malcolm X, Medgar Evers and Martin Luther King. He only got around to completing 30 pages of this book and he died eight years later in 1987. Director and Screenwriter, Raoul Peck, picked up the ball and constructed this documentary film using the beginning 30 pages plus clips of Baldwin and other important voices on the subject and brought in Samuel Jackson to do the voice over. He constructed a story that highlighted the oppression of blacks in this country dating back to slavery and moving forward to the modern civil rights movement in which Malcolm X, Evers and King made such major contributions each in his own way.

This is more than a review of history. It captures how Baldwin and others have felt as they were denied the freedoms (overt and subtle) that so many Americans take for granted. His passion comes across so clearly whether it is in viewing clips of interviews with him on the Dick Cavett Late Night Television Show or the voice of Samuel Jackson as he speaks through the written words of Baldwin and the director/writer Peck. There are appropriate film clips from classic American films which include well-known actors, as well as newsreels which show Evers, King and Malcolm X making their indelible mark on American history.

We would like to say that this is all past history. Baldwin died 30 years ago and the three subjects of his proposed book are gone even longer. While these great men and many others have brought us much closer to a time when racial discrimination would be ancient history, we are not there yet. This documentary film which was nominated for an Oscar as best documentary film last year will allow its viewers to reflect about contemporary times and consider what still has to be done. (2017)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Documentary, History

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