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3 Documentaries I Think You Should See

I’m largely content to stream movies on Netflix or Amazon. But sometimes there is a film so good that I want my small percentage of opinion to hopefully affect a film’s ratings and hopefully benefit the people who created the film. And in some cases, I want to own these films because I want to make every single person I know watch them. The information is just that important.

1.) Gideon’s Army

There is so much that isn’t understood about the criminal justice system. You can watch all the Law & Order you want, and you’re not going to understand the actual process, especially when it comes to the poor. I loved this film because it shed human light on “criminals”, let us see what a monumental task it is to properly defend people without enough money or resources to do so, and also because it didn’t feel like a group of extremists were trying to shove an emotion down my throat. The reality was clear without the use of heart-tugging devices, and the reality is that there is NOT justice for all.

You actually can’t purchase this documentary, but what you can do is work with a local theater to book a screening. I feel it’s well worth it, because sometimes I walk away from a documentary feeling helpless and unaware how to do anything about the problem. In the case of “Gideon’s Army”, I feel like awareness of the issue by the masses will contribute to social change. But, then again, I’m a real optimist.

2. October Country

I know these people, but I’ve never met them. The tragedy that makes up their existence is one inherited by my own family. But there are two bits of hope in this beautiful, dream-like film, which follows the Mosher family from one Halloween to the next.

Let me take a minute to explain. On the one hand, the way that the family will sit and spill their woes like they’re small-talking about local happenings is a kick in the chest. I see the resigned eyes of three generations who all feel like the shit-sandwich they’re chewing on is just how it goes. I remember, quite clearly, every time we’d visit anyone, sit down in the wood paneled living room and listen to them fill us in on the latest arrests and beatings, who was leaving who, which one got pregnant by who. Seeing this so lovingly captured on film helped me to stop being so frustrated about it in my own family.

And often, I am asked how it is that I got out, when so many kids with my upbringing didn’t. Which brings me to those two beacons of hope I mentioned. The first is Desi, the youngest of the Mosher girls. She’s a spazz, uses gallows humor, and in a way she doesn’t even understand, she rejects this tragic life as her own.

But the other beacon is Donal Mosher, one of the film’s directors. He is the oldest brother, and never once during the film do we learn anything about him. Rather, we see the place he grew up and his family through his camera, and the real beauty of it is that there is an underlying feeling in the film that brought me great comfort. I had to watch it twice to understand what it was. While Donal captures each difficult moment and each person with love, there is also a sense that this is not where he belongs. That sense, often muddled by the tumult of being stuck in a place, is purely a feeling of going back home but knowing that you will leave, because you have made your own way.

Donal and his partner, Michael Palmieri still make films (as well as other art), so buy a copy of this one and hopefully contribute to the two of them making many more.

3.) God Loves Uganda

Yeah. I know. We’re all aware that a bunch of crazy religious lunatics have fucked up feelings about the gays. We don’t need further proof. But this documentary, which is screening in a variety of different cities worldwide, uncovers horrors that cannot be ignored. I found it difficult to sit still and keep watching, knowing that this is not some movie about history. This is happening now.

2 Responses to “3 Documentaries I Think You Should See”

  1. You’ve piqued my interest in all three of these, Nikol! I’m currently finishing up an audit of the stuff already in my library before I go seeking new things to watch, but I’ll be sure to let you know when I get to them. October Country sounds the most likely to resonate with me. It sounds a bit like Crumb in some ways. That one vexed me, because I was fascinated by it as a documentary, but at times appalled by some of its subject matter. I foresee a similar conflict with all three of these selections, which, really, I think is the hallmark of a powerful, successful doc. One should be made uncomfortable by a documentary, at least in part.

    I’ll throw out three recommendations of my own. They’re lighter fare than your recommendations, but two of them I’ve picked because just about no one has seen them, and the other because it’s actually the doc I’ve seen most recently that really got to me.

    Harlan County USA
    Not obscure at all, but I only just got around to watching it in September. This one resonate with me in part because I’m a Kentuckian, though as I noted in my review of the movie, it would be disingenuous for me to claim any direct connection with Harlan County or the mining industry. I also wrote a few remarks about the Criterion DVD commentary track. I’ve written a much more comprehensive blog piece about it for Flickchart, but that hasn’t gone live yet.

    Confessions of a Superhero
    Last I knew, this was still streaming on Netflix, but I canceled my subscription in early 2012 so I dunno. It’s a fascinating look at some of the cosplayers in Los Angeles who try to make a living posing for photos with tourists. It’s surprisingly intimate and not at all the pointing-and-laughing-at-nerds thing I feared it would be. I reviewed it in my personal blog at the time of my viewing, which was before I began writing for Flickchart and using Letterboxd.

    Wesley Willis’s Joy Rides
    A friend of mine turned me on to Wesley Willis’s music, and I knew the gist of his story, but this doc was still revelatory and moving. Here’s what I wrote in my Letterboxd diary.

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