Sunday, February 19, 2017

Documentary Features - 1 nomination each

Fire at Sea - Gianfranco Rosi and Donatella Palermo
When refugees flee from war torn countries like Syria, the Ivory Coast, the Sudan, Somalia, etc. on the way to Europe, often they come through a small Sicilian island called Lampedusa.  Italian rescue vessels do their best to save the people on boats who have been living in terribly dangerous conditions therein, or even, come to their aid when the boats sink.  Dozens of people die along their journeys, and many more arrive in desperate need of medical aid, which doctors on the island provide.  This sounds like a compelling film, but as much is spent on the daily mundane lives of a family on the island.  There is literally a scene of an elderly woman making a bed and listening to the radio.  It's an incredibly normal, slow life on the island, and the most compelling part of this side of the tale is a young child who needs to wear an eye patch to help strengthen his lazy eye.  I wasn't a big fan of this film.

I Am Not Your Negro - Raoul Peck, Remi Grellety, and Hebert Peck
James Baldwin was planning to write a book about his friends, three murdered civil rights leaders - Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., and Medgar Evers.  He got through 30 pages that are as relevant today as they were then in a conversation about race in America.  The film does an amazing job of overlaying Baldwin's writing over very current scenes of police brutality, murders of innocent people, and juxtaposes his words with the modern experience. The movie reminds us of the brilliance of his oratory, the unique nature of his life experience, and the topics he attacked head on.

Life, Animated - Roger Ross Williams and Julie Goldman
Life, Animated captures the life of Owen Suskind, a young man who was diagnosed with autism at age 3, when he lost his speech.  His parents were despondent, until they realized that he had memorized the Disney movies with which he (and many other kids with autism) had become obsessed.  Owen is on the verge of graduating from his program, where he runs a Disney appreciation club, and is facing the new challenge living independently in his own apartment.  There are so many wonderful things about this movie that I can barely describe them - I cried and screamed with delight at multiple points in the story.  It's a must see!

OJ: Made in America - Ezra Edelman and Caroline Waterlaw
Wow. This 7 hour accomplishment traces OJ from his early days as a USC football legend all the way until today, where he is serving a 33 year sentence for kidnapping and robbery.  In the film, every person to have touched OJ's life is interviewed (friends from football, people who defended him, Fred Goldman, Marcia Clark, Nicole Simpson's family members, officers, jury members, you name it), but the documentary also gives context to mistrust of the police starting back in the 1920's when the first innocent African American woman is killed by the police with no retribution.  There is no side to the ongoing debate about OJ's guilt or innocence that goes unexplored, and no element to what was happening in Los Angeles before and after that goes without review.

13th - Ava Duvernay, Spencer Averick, and Howard Barish
This film is truly the most important of the documentary features this year.  It's an examination of the prison system in America and its relationship to communities of color in America.  It features decisions made over the years that had the unintended (or maybe from a capitalistic view, intended) consequence of bringing America's prison population from a few hundred thousand in the 70's to over 2 million in 2014.  This film has a definite point of view, and not every statement in the movie should be taken as gospel.  But to dismiss entirely the argument that the documentary makes - when even conservative luminaries like Newt Gingrich clearly tell us that there is validity to questioning the issue before us - is simply a suspense of critical thinking to cling to a world view.  I will reiterate - this is the most important documentary I saw this year.

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