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The Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)

This wonderful documentary comes from the summer of 1969, the same year of Woodstock when there was another big cultural event that summer: A concert series at Mount Morris Park. That summer, across several Sundays, the Harlem Culture Festival featured some of the biggest names among Black singers of the era. According to the film, nearly 50 hours of film were shot, and most of it was locked away in a basement for about 50 years, as no one at the time felt that it was worthy of a film. The movie includes a combination of this lost footage and …

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The Velvet Underground

This documentary by Todd Haynes explores the rise of the Velvet Underground, primarily through the band’s connection to Andy Warhol’s factory. The merge of music and the visual aesthetic that Warhol brought made the Velvet Underground famous. What works in this film, and makes it a great one, is that it doesn’t just examine the band with the standard interviews. There are interviews, but Haynes juxtaposes hundreds of images and video and concert segments together to create a 360-degree view into the 1960’s artistic and cultural experience from the New York perspective. I have always loved this period, and I …

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Flee

In this unusually told documentary, the filmmaker uses a combination of archival footage and minimalist animation to tell the story of Amin, who grew up in Kabul and became a refugee as a young teenager and ultimately made his way to Denmark. It is near the date that Amin is going to marry his soon-to-be husband, and his story is one that he has not told anyone, including his partner, and his not telling the story is becoming a problem in their relationship. Why he never told anyone becomes clearer as the film progresses. I liked the ingenuity displayed in …

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The Mole Agent

(Chile, English Subtitles). The subject of this documentary is Sergio, a widower of 83 years, who applies for a job to go undercover in a nursing home. The private investigator has been hired by the daughter of one of the residents who believe the nursing staff is stealing from her. Sergio takes the job as a way to help deal with the loss of his wife. The film provides an insider look at life in the nursing home. It is rather sad, for the most part, how Sergio engages several of the residents and learns of the loneliness that many …

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Collective

(Romania, English subtitles): This fascinating documentary follows a sharp investigative journalism team that began by investigating a fire at a nightclub in Romania that killed about two dozen young people but went on to claim nearly 40 additional lives. This movie reminded me of the wonderful film Spotlight several years ago based on the team who cracked the story about one of the cardinals accused of sexually abusing boys. While that was a reenactment of the story, Collective is a documentary that follows the team as piece together several seemingly unrelated events – the nightclub fire, the resignation of the …

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MLK/FBI

This documentary examines, through archival footage and popular culture television and movie clips, two things: The rise of power and influence of the FBI in the ’50s and ’60s and its focus on the “communist threat”, and the growing influence of Martin Luther King in the ’60s that resulted in a targeted campaign by the FBI to discredit him. The FBI spent years wiretapping MLK and following him wherever he went and amassed what they considered was convincing evidence of his involvement in numerous extramarital affairs and more serious allegations of sex crimes. The film works well in showing how …

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David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet

David Attenborough, who has been studying, filming, and telling stories about the planet and its inhabitants for many, many decades now, reflects on his life’s work in meeting head-on the impending crisis of the Holocene: Climate change and its acceleration caused by humans. Throughout the film that parallels his journeys and his fascination with nature, he marks various decades with three basic statistics: Population; Atmospheric Carbon PPM; and percentage of the world that is wilderness. Human’s footprint is unmistakable, and he projects what will happen over the next 80 years (much of which is already happening today). Attenborough does provide …

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My Octopus Teacher

This documentary follows a year in the life of Craig Foster. Having run against some difficult times, he takes to the snorkeling in the kelp beds of South Africa and befriends an octopus. Through the course of the year, Foster puts together a beautiful collage of life in the kelp beds while researching the life of the octopus. It felt a bit strange sometimes, as it seemed sometimes that the attachment was a bit closer than it should have been, almost romantic, but what stands out is the depiction of the cycle of life Foster captures with his lens. The …

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Time

This documentary is about Fox Rich, who spends 20 years working to free her husband Rob for a bank robbery both of them committed. I really loved this film for several reasons. First, it is not your standard false conviction story; in this particular case, both of them admitted to doing it, but while Fox spent almost 5 years in prison, Rob was sentenced to 60 years initially without the possibility of parole. And the film doesn’t really spend a lot of time focused on that fight; rather, it is more about Fox and her 6 boys who she raised …

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A Most Beautiful Thing

This documentary follows a group of Black men from West Chicago who, in the 1990s, were the first all-Black crew team in the US. Narrated by Common and overlayed with a hip-hop soundtrack, the film follows the men who rowed during that first year that crew was offered at Manley High School and their lives that have taken each of them down different paths. The strength of the documentary is how it explores the family and community context in which all of these men came of age, communities that were dominated by gangs, and the expectation that boys join gangs. …

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