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American Factory

This documentary is set in Ohio and begins with the closing of a GM plant near Dayton in 2008. Fast forward to 2015, when a Chinese billionaire buys the building and opens Fuyao, which makes windshields for cars. The film is a fascinating analysis of what happens when two cultures collide in the workplace – two cultures with different ideas of worker’s rights and expectations regarding productivity.  Everything starts out well enough. There are high hopes for those who lost their jobs at GM. However, it doesn’t take long for problems to appear: the low pay – less than half …

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The Great Hack

This documentary attempts to give the full story of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. To refresh memories, Cambridge Analytical use the data from millions of Facebook users to target voters for political advertising purposes during the 2016 elections in the US (as well as the Brexit campaigns). The film tracks the timeline of Cambridge Analytica’s demise, including the involvement of the chief whistleblowers, Chris Wylie and Brittany Kaiser. From a film perspective, I did not think it to be the greatest of documentaries. Particularly in the first half, there is a lot of “filler” space. Granted, some of it is quite …

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Apollo 11

Using archival audio and video footage, we are transported back to 1969 when Armstrong and Aldrin became the first men to walk on the moon. I absolutely loved this film. Everything is stitched together into one neat story; we see what the astronauts saw, hear conversations between Armstrong, Aldin and Collins and ground control, and experience what those on the ground must have felt at every milestone of that mission. At 9 years old, I don’t really remember those days at all, so to be able to watch this as though I were watching the news was fantastic. The music …

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Hail Satan?

This often hilarious and surprisingly insightful documentary looks at the Satanic Temple, an activist group led by Lucien Greaves that is really not at all about the devil but about activism and the strong belief in the separation of church and state. The director combines several elements to make the documentary work as well as it does. The interviews are fascinating, and she assembles a group of adherents of different colors, ages, and sexual orientations who are united in their belief in valuing all religious viewpoints. She gives us a history lesson, bringing in footage from earlier eras of the …

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Honeyland

(Turkish, English Subtitles): This film documents the story of Hatidze who lives high in the mountains with her mother who is growing increasingly frail. Hatidze is a beekeeper; she and her mother appear to be the only two people who live in the area. They live close to nature, and Hatidze walks her honey to town to sell in the local markets. One day, an itinerant family with seven children sets up home next to her. At first, the father seems interested in understanding the art of what Hatidze does, but soon he and his family upset the balance of …

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The Biggest Little Farm

This documentary follows the story of John and Molly who, evicted from their Santa Monica apartment because their rescue dog won’t stop barking, secure enough investment from family and friends to purchase a 200-acre farm northeast of Los Angeles. The film covers a period of about 8 years using real-time footage, from their beginnings on land that was essentially dead to the current business that it is (https://www.apricotlanefarms.com/). It is a remarkable story; they hired a man named Alan York who had a vision for how to build a bio-diverse farm that would sustain itself. They bought a few animals …

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Echo in the Canyon

This documentary, driven mostly by Jakob Dylan, explores the roots of the California rock scene of the mid-1960s. At that time, bands were eager to emulate the success of the Beatles, and folk music became much more electric through the music of the Byrds (the band the film points to as the beginning of that scene), Buffalo Springfield, and The Mamas and the Papas. Jakob Dylan created a concert, Echo in the Canyon, that is a kind of love letter to those bands and the interesting people who comprised them that influenced the sounds of him and many other singers …

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They Shall Not Grow Old

Peter Jackson of Lord of the Rings Trilogy fame creates a technically marvelous documentary by using 100-year-old footage from World War I and telling a story about what it was like for the soldiers who enlisted and went to the front lines. He does this in a very innovative way by colorizing the film (the scene where he switches to color is breathtaking), slowing it down to real-time, and overlaying stories told by WWI vets in the 1960s and 1970s. His team also incorporates many of the posters of the era and overlays moving footage, which creates a very unusual …

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Free Solo

This documentary film tells the story of Alex Honnold’s success as the first person to scale El Capitan in Yosemite National Park without ropes. This is an amazing, multilayered film that gives us much more than just the big climb. We get to really know Alex, who is rather quirky, what drives him to climb, and the ways his love of the sport impacts his relationships. We get to see how cameramen who are also experienced climbers prepare to film a dangerous event of such magnitude and the psychological aspects as well; they all know that they could be filming …

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Love, Gilda

This is a documentary of the life of Gilda Radner, one of the original Saturday Night Live comedy crew and who died young from ovarian cancer. The film uses a lot of archival footage of home movies to show her growing up in Detroit and footage from several of her best Saturday Night Live moments. The film also examines some of her demons, including her struggling with an eating disorder. I really liked the movie; her story deserves to be told for a younger generation that may not understand how groundbreaking her work was. Several more contemporary SNL comedians, including …

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