I can't guarantee the same results at home (different players/timing) I use WinDVD
AL GORE: The so-called skeptics will say, 'Oh, this thing, this is a cyclical thing; there was a Medieval warming period, after all.'
With Charles Ferguson's smart and powerful No End in Sight debuting on DVD this week and Tony Kaye's Lake of Fire slowly rolling out to metropolitan theaters and worrying away through striking images and interviews at the issues and debates surrounding abortion, I'm thinking even more than usual about documentaries. I've seen 16 documentaries released in 2007, of which six—the two I've just named plus Deep Water, The King of Kong, Taxi to the Dark Side, and Zoo—have a serious shot at my year-end Top 10 list. Which also reminds me of how many fantastic documentaries opened last year (and, since it's still the week of Halloween, how many of them were frigging scary). If you missed 'em, rent 'em! If you saw 'em, see 'em again! If you can't find 'em, convince your local public or campus libraries to buy 'em!
OFFSCREEN VOICE: That shooting we heard this morning, while we were sitting here? Do you know what that was? A brother and sister! The Americans called to them, 'Stop, where are you going?' They were afraid and started running. They killed them both.
Iraq in Fragments, the film that should have copped An Inconvenient Truth's Oscar, only played an Oscar-qualifying run in Chicago, and those are even paltrier for documentaries than for typical narrative films: three days, in this case, from a Tuesday to a Thursday, with almost no advertising. I sped down and caught the film, which made my top 10 list last year. But more audiences deserved a chance at this incalculably timely and gorgeously, bravely shot film. Recently, Arab Film Distribution has made Iraq available in a 2-disc special edition that includes supplemental footage, short films, and a commentary by James Longley, the director, editor, cinematographer, and sound recordist for the movie. I've seen it popping up in Hollywood Videos and Blockbusters around the city, and it's a perfect title to convince your local public or campus libraries to buy for their collections. Also a stunning reminder of how much documentaries gain from a refined visual sensibility, and from a filmmaker who really hunkers down among his or her subjects for long, trust-building, and eye-opening periods, instead of cruising in to the latest media circus or trying to reconstruct a backwards collage out of sound bites and stock footage.
Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing's Jesus Camp, also an Oscar nominee, could have used a little more of both of those qualities: visual refinement and a sense of day-to-day rhythms and less self-conscious behavior from their subjects. Still, it's a galvanizing and indelible portrait of a certain strain of kid-targeted Christian radicalism that proudly espouses the very same analogies that secular critics tend to assume as condemnatory. For instance, camp leader Becky Fischer thinks that borrowing the model of young Muslim fundamentalists driven toward jihad and honorable self-sacrifice is a good thing, and she says so with palpable sincerity amid utterly mundane surroundings. One of Jesus Camp's trickiest riddles is how much agency we're willing to ascribe to kids who feel they are choosing their faith and passing it on to others, when so much of the film implies a top-down imposition of values from adults to children. Pre-teen evangelist Eli, pictured above, radiates all the self-confidence and sense of purpose that this image crystallizes, with the same blend of boyish accents and remarkable sobriety of tone and comportment. Even viewers who see the preceding image as an emblem of the mechanical conformity that Becky Fischer may in fact be inculcating will have to reckon with Eli's charismatic humanity and deeply felt convictions as something more than superimposed values.
Here are five 20:07 captures from each of the five "acts" of When the Levees Broke, Spike Lee's colossal, expansive, and important commemoration of the post-Katrina flooding of New Orleans. The fifth act is only available on the DVD, and NO, NATHANIEL, I DIDN'T KNOW HE'D TURN UP EXACTLY THEN.
ACT I: TV NEWSCASTER [voiceover]: And then, this: the first break visible in the roof. That is daylight coming through, and the rain soon followed.
ACT II: SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR [about interviewing Michael "Brownie" Brown of FEMA]: At one point, I said, 'How can we have better intel than you have? Because I have a research file prepared by my 23-year-old research assistant, a production assistant, and I'm getting better intelligence than you're getting? How is that possible?' It was really baffling, I mean it was really one of the more baffling interviews, uh, because they seemed so out of touch with the reality that I think a lot of people had been watching day after day after day.
ACT III: GLENN HALL, III: I wanna go back home because that's where I was born and I want to stay there all my life. And I still want to visit other places but that's my main place, New Orleans.
ACT IV: JOSEPH BRUNO, ATTORNEY AT LAW [voiceover]: This is the greatest engineering firm in the world. You designed a wall, which is supposed to hold that water, that you know will fall over if the water goes over the top. As a lawyer, I'm sittin' there thinking, are we gonna have to sue the Corps of Engineers. And we find—oh, man, wait a minute. They're immune. Meaning, you can't sue the Corps of Engineers. Statute says, 'The United States of America is not liable for damage from floods.'
ACT V: SEAN PENN [about hearing an evacuee's testimony on TV news]: Most importantly, her 80-year-old mother had refused to leave because her whole life was invested in the house and the trees in front of that house that she loved. It was still in the flood zone.
Lastly, because not all documentaries are portentous or depressing, and because some of them even Feel the Funk in a Full-On Way while displaying just as much artistic craftsmanship and intellectual content as their more sober peers:
DAVE CHAPPELLE: On the actual block? It's like a warehouse where they make chairs, there's like a Salvation Army, a nursery school, then there's this ill house called the Broken Angel House that these two people live in. They've been living there for 40 years.