Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Doc a Day: Week One

Week one is complete! Below I have mini-reviews of all the films I watched including links to all of them on Netflix Instant. If my first week's picks were any indication, there's a plethora of eclectic docs out there, and there's a fit for everyone. 

Here's my line up for week two:


So enjoy what I discovered this week!

This was recommended to me by a friend. Though the name is quite horrible (doesn't quite roll of the tongue like it should), the movie itself is wonderful. Since the 80s, these strange tiles (shown above) began showing up in random places in the Northern U.S. With no explanation and only speculation, Justin Duerr, a Toynbee Tile enthusiast, began to try and piece together the puzzle of the message and creator. The work of finding clues and leads consume him, which director John Foy documented. Foy created a tense filled documentary that keeps the audience guessing as each new clue is revealed. Sometimes the series of events almost seems too much of a coincidence, but that's just the mark of the storytelling and the insanity of the story.

It blows my mind that there's still a question whether climate change exists. Photographer James Balog agrees, and he sets out on an extreme, and very cold, mission to show the effects of climate change on the glaciers and ice caps. Him and his team set up cameras all over Iceland, Greenland, and Alaska. The cameras are set up to shot every hour during daylight for a year to capture the changes. Then, Balog put together the images in a video, and the effects are frightening. Balog and his team put their lives at risk to bring the world this evidence in pictures. Director Jeff Orlowski captures their struggles as equipment malfunctions or breaks, but all the hardships payoff by the breathtaking images they capture.

There's a constant argument discussion among film makers and film lovers over which type of film they prefer, 35mm or digital. Director Christopher Kenneally explores, through a myriad of famous talking heads, the history of 35mm and how it developed (no pun intended) and formed the digital technology that most films use today. Though this could have been an information overload, we are guided through history by Keanu Reeves, as he fills in as the film's narrator/interviewer, and he ends up being not as stiff and bland as his acting normally is. He ended up begin quite charming. The talking heads, which include (just to name a few) Steven Soderbergh, James Cameron, The Wachowskis, David Fincher, David Lynch, Danny Boyle, Martin Scorsese, all seem to have a stance on one side or the other. Some claim 35mm will always look better, while others claim digital does. There are substantial arguments for both, and the film does a stand up job of presenting both arguments equally. But the more fascinating part of the film was exploring the history of physical film, the intricacies of how 35mm works, the evolution to digital, and where film could go. This is definitely for the film nerd that enjoys the behind-the-scenes-type of aspects of the movie business.

In America, the extent of my knowledge of modeling is America's Next Top Model and Project Runway. Obviously not a subject I'm well versed in. Overseas, the talent scouts, like Ashley, who the film follows, have giant casting calls for models in countries like Serbia, and if a girl has the right look, Ashley ships them off to other countries like Japan and Taiwan. One lucky girl she finds to be recruited to Japan is Nadya, and she's only 13 years old. Not many people get out of Serbia and/or make a decent living for themselves, so girls seek out opportunities elsewhere. Ashley has hit a goldmine and basically has her pick of young girls to ship off. Nadya has big dreams of making money and providing for her family, but the harsh realities of the modeling world hit her hard. Directors David Redmon and A. Sabin does a great job of observing Nadya and Ashley's journey, but doesn't delve into the ins and outs of these companies that employee these young girls. A little more investigative work could have made this documentary even stronger. We open the door to this world, but we can't fully see what's inside.

This film was short and eye-opening. After 9/11, many survivors from the Twin Towers were at a loss of what to do, how to move on, and how to live with survivor's guilt. One woman, Tania Head, was a survivor from tower 2, and became a champion as a support among the survivors. However, as her story unfolds and some people begin to look into her past, discrepancies and lies begin to surface. Many of her "friends" from the World Trade Center Survivor's Network provide insight to the woman they had trusted and relied on. At just over an hour, the film doesn't have time for fluff or random anecdotes. It could have spent a little more time on the aftermath of Tania's truth coming out, but the whole story will make your blood boil.

In my day job, I'm a middle school teacher, so bullying has become a daily trigger word.  With the addition of the internet and texting, bullying has changed over the years. Director Lee Hirsch, based partly on his own experiences as a child, decided to create this film to show this problem that is quickly becoming an epidemic in schools today. He follows several students who are targeted a their respective schools for various reasons. And what he was able to capture is frightening. In a place that's suppose to be safe, these students are in their own type of hell. What was even more unsettling was the reactions from the administrators, which will frustrate you considerably. There's a fine line, that the film does a explore, of kids being kids and teasing each other, and bullies creating an unsafe environment for others. It's eye opening to see just how down right hateful kids can be. Even as a teacher, I understand perfectly well that kids, in general, act differently when adults are around. This film is a must see for parents, and maybe it will open some eyes and show how their kids are not the angels they think they are.

Before the show Hoarders, most people had these types of people in their own lives...they're called grandparents. Filmmaker Arnon Goldfinger decided to take his camera, and along with his family, documented them cleaning out his grandmother's flat in Palestine. Her and her husband moved there from Germany in the 30's and lived there for the next 70 years. There are drawers and closets filled to the brim with old clothing, magazines, letters, and pictures. But what stopped Goldfinger in his tracks was a coin that had a Nazi swastika on one side and the Star of David on the other. Goldfinger's family is Jewish, and it astounded him that his grandparents would keep such an artifact. But that is just the beginning of old family secrets he begins to uncover. The film also becomes a clash of the generations because Arnon's mother doesn't necessarily agree with delving into the past. The film didn't grab me as much as I wanted it to, and the pacing felt tedious during the middle sections. However, it does make one wonder what family secrets you might have in your own closets.

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