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Thread: Favorite Documentaries of 2006

  1. #1
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    Favorite Documentaries of 2006

    TOP 10

    1) WHEN THE LEVEES BROKE: A REQUIEM IN FOUR ACTS
    2) THE WAR TAPES
    3) IRAQ IN FRAGMENTS
    4) AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH
    **DELIVER US FROM EVIL
    **THE DEVIL'S MINER
    7) JESUS CAMP
    8) THE GIANT BUDDHAS
    **OUR DAILY BREAD
    **SHAKESPEARE BEHIND BARS
    **WHO KILLED THE ELECTRIC CAR?
    **51 BIRCH STREET

    RUNNERS UP

    49 UP
    THE US VS. JOHN LENNON
    NEIL YOUNG: HEART OF GOLD
    DAVE CHAPELLE'S BLOCK PARTY
    THE GROUND TRUTH
    JONESTOWN: THE LIFE AND DEATH OF PEOPLES TEMPLE
    WHY WE FIGHT
    THE JOY OF LIFE
    THE DEVIL VS. DANIEL JOHNSTON
    THE FALL OF FUJIMORI

    Honorable Mention:
    10th District Court:Moments of Trials, Ballet Russes, Street Fight, The Heart of the Game, American Hardcore, My Country My Country.

    Not Seen Yet:
    The Case of the Grinning Cat, Andy Warhol: A Documentary Film, Shut Up And Sing.
    Last edited by oscar jubis; 05-21-2007 at 07:15 PM.

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    Since I posted my list of favorite documentaries of 2006, I've been able to watch four of those listed then as "not seen yet". I have just incorporated them into the list as merited.

    My Country, My Country
    focuses narrowly on a Sunni physician who ran for a legislative seat during the January 2005 elections in Iraq.

    Street Fight
    Two black men, a young Yale grad and a old-school 4-time incumbent, in a close race for Mayor of Newark, N.J. The film is less interesting for what it has to say about American politics than what it exposes about prejudice and stereotyping within the African-American community.

    Deliver Us from Evil
    Insightful and compelling film about pedophilia within the Catholic Church and the mishandling of allegations by Catholic hierarchy. Deliver Us from Evil tells the 20-year saga of Father Oliver O'Grady and his victims, then uses it to present a larger view of the issue, including how Catholic dogma and organization create the problem and allow it to fester. Along with the German film discussed below (and Andy Warhol: A Documentary Film), the most critically acclaimed documentary of 2006 (according to metacritic).

    Our Daily Bread
    Audiovisual poetry depicting industrial food production in Europe. Careful attention given to image composition, color palette, and sound design. It's time to dust off the overused term "meditation on..." for this commentary-free but thought-provoking film. Viewer reaction likely to vary depending on viewer's life experience (Variety, quite appropriately, calls it a "tabula rasa"). Some critics have described it as "disturbing" (Dargis) and "difficult to sit through"(Mark Mohan). If you've traveled to rural Third World areas or watched Fast Food Nation or the segment on milk production in The Corporation, you might, like me, find Our Daily Bread quite civilized and comforting.

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    Congratulations on your excellent, very thorough coverage of recent documentaries. There are titles here I have not seen. This reminds me I should see 51 Birch Street, which I recently learned a good friend's sister was closely involved in it (I just missed it in theaters somehow.) Of your new additions I've seen only Our Daily Bread. I saw it in the NYFF 2006 and wrote a review of it then. I gather you haven't seen The Grinning Cat, which I saw at Film Forum but did not review. Deliver Us from Evil would be another for me to look for. Ono has been quoted as saying "I believe John would have loved this film" of The US vs. John Lennon. Sorry I have still not seen Spike Lee's Katrina documentary yet.

    Recently saw Simone Bitton's Mur/Wall (2004, about the "security fence" aka "apartheid wall" being built at great expense (to US taxpayers, ultimately) in Israel. Did you mention that earlier? (Special Jury Prize, Sundance, 2005.)

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    Thanks. The most welcome new trend of the current decade is the greater access to documentaries that we have now. I think it's amazing that every single one of the 28 docs I list are available on disc and can be mailed to you for rental for a few dollars per month. The Case of the Grinning Cat would be a special case. It's available on dvd from First Run/Icarus. But take a look at the price towards the bottom of thew page. Same goes for Marker's The Last Bolshevik, which I've wanted to watch for years. Outrageous!

    Here's my review of 51 Birch Street in case anyone wants to check it out.

    Mur, a 2005 release in the U.S., was shown on the Sundance Channel but I missed it. It's available on dvd so I'll put it on my queue. "Apartheid wall" nails it.

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    Nice succinct review of 51 Birch St. I need to see it. I forgot to mention I saw Mur on a Netflix dvd. As for the documentary boom, I think M.Moore deserves some of the credit, and his admirers at Cannes.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-23-2007 at 06:48 PM.

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    *I'd like to correct my statement that all docs I listed are available on dvd. Our Daily Bread is not available on dvd. It's still being distributed theatrically by First Run/Icarus Films.
    *Chris, in your review of the film you ponder the filmmaker's intentions and methods. Here's an interview which might shed some light.
    *The success of Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 has been instrumental in increasing the visibility and distribution of documentary films. Without it, I would not have been able to watch these 2007 documentaries in a theater unless they were shown as part of a film festival.
    *One of my favorite documentaries of 2006 went undistributed. Perhaps the Sundance Channel will show it someday. I'd love to watch Black Sun (UK) again.

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    And before Fahrenheit 9/11, Bowling for Columbine won the Oscar for Best Documentary, the Cannes 55th Anniversary Prize and was nominated for the Golden Palm there, plus a lot of other awards. Moore was having an effect on the documentary field before 9/11.

    For Our Daily Bread, I don't think I am in need of clarification of or to "shed some light" on the Geyhalter's intentions and methods. I had the press kit, which included the interview that you have linked to. And I think I stated my reservations about it clearly too:
    However, one may wonder if a "documentary" that reads more as an art piece than as instruction can really be effective as polemic or information. And yet it would appear that polemic and information are Geyrhalter's interests here.
    I also said
    Consequently it seems that this kind of film is unlikely to reach a wide audience. But isn't reaching and influencing a wide audience just what this kind of committed filmmaking is about?
    Your information that it is not on DVD is another indication of this. Somehow, when I seem to disagree with you, you often conclude that I am lacking information that, if I only had it, would make me come around. Very often, I do have the information, and I draw a different conclusion.

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    [QUOTE]Originally posted by Chris Knipp
    Moore was having an effect on the documentary field before 9/11.
    True. But Fahrenheit had an enormous impact on documentary distribution when it grossed almost FIVE times as much as Columbine.

    For Our Daily Bread, I don't think I am in need of clarification of or to "shed some light" on the Geyhalter's intentions and methods. I had the press kit, which included the interview that you have linked to.
    I'm glad you did. I obviously have no way of knowing that the kit included that interview. Other readers may want access to it too.

    Your information that it is not on DVD is another indication of this.
    Indication of what?

    Somehow, when I seem to disagree with you, you often conclude that I am lacking information that, if I only had it, would make me come around.
    I have no interest in changing your mind about this or any other film. There's nothing I can do about you being "depressed or numbed" by it (as you conclude in your review). It doesn't make the film any better or worse. Your opinion is only that, it doesn't have more significance than mine or that of anyone else who watches the film.

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    Disagreements are significant, or this is all a waste of time.

    "*Chris, in your review of the film you ponder the filmmaker's intentions and methods. Here's an interview which might shed some light."
    Am I so wildly off the mark to think this implies that new information might alter my understanding of Geyhalter's intentions and methods so I might not think, as I state I do, that they're working against each other? I nowhere indicate I was pondering them; I had a clearcut analysis of them. I welcome fresh information, but you know I'm sure that when I am going to the NYFF press screenings I am bound to be reading all the press kit information. I realize you didn't know what was in the press kit, but still, this interview is obviously part of the basic information on the film.

    I have no interest in changing your mind about this or any other film. There's nothing I can do about you being "depressed or numbed" by it (as you conclude in your review). It doesn't make the film any better or worse. Your opinion is only that, it doesn't have more significance than mine or that of anyone else who watches the film.
    You have always indicated that you value some writing about film more highly than others, as you should. I don't see why you always reject the idea in theory (but not in practice) that our evaluations have merit more than that of just "anyone else who watches the film," who may be an idiot, or unable to present a coherent position.

    You don't seem to accept that I am evaluating, not just giving a personal reaction. I mention being "depressed and numbed" because that is what I think the effect of the film is on a lot of people; I am not noting my clinical condition. What you can do about it is to acknowledge that it's a quality of the film, and not just a meaningless reaction of one person. And don't insult me by suggesting that anybody's opinion (which you haven't heard, and don't have in writing as you have my review) is equal to mine or yours. If we cannot influence each other, then I don't see why we bother to have these exchanges. I can assure you that your arguments about films have changed my mind about them many times. The problem about being numbed is that you are not influenced, as a polemical film will do; you're just numbed. So it does make the film "better or worse"; it is a part of an argument about the film's merits.

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    It's hard to reconcile your last post with the previous one in which you scold me for what you wrongly perceive as my trying to make you come around. I offer a link to an interview that I found useful in discerning the director's intentions. I don't know whether or not you've read it before or not. Statements of intention by directors are useful but it's the final product we evaluate. It never crossed my mind that reading the interview would change the experience you had of watching Our Daily Bread at the NYFF.

    Most of the pleasure I get when I read reviews is to assume the writer's point viewpoint, being able to vicariously relive his/her experience of watching the film and writing about it. Of course, there's a part of everyone that wants to find one's opinions reflected in those of others. It's only human. But I don't spend much energy trying to make anyone "come around".

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    The issue in my mind is, that Our Daily Bread is based on a concern about how food is produced on a mass scale. My argument is that this is a cause, that the filmmaker wants to convince people food production should be put back on a more human scale; but his method is so artistic and abstract that his film style undercuts his effectiveness. I cited Michael Moore as a contrary example, because Moore makes clear overt statements to advance his causes, whereas Geyhalter says nothing in words, providing no narration and hardly any verbal guidelines.

    I told you I read the interview with Geyhalter in the NYFF press kit before I wrote my review of Our Daily Bread. I don't feel it gives me any reason to change my discussion of the film or left me with anything to ponder.

    I was not scolding you; there's nothing to indicate that. I was just suggesting really here one can change one's opinion not just based on facts but on a good counter-argument. I'm sorry if sometimes my way of expressing myself sounds provocative. I would welcome your counter-argument, should you want to discuss the film.

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    Originally posted by Chris Knipp
    The issue in my mind is, that Our Daily Bread is based on a concern about how food is produced on a mass scale. My argument is that this is a cause, that the filmmaker wants to convince people food production should be put back on a more human scale

    "The most important thing is how the animals can be born, raised and held as efficiently and inexpensively as possible, how to treat them so they're as fresh and undamaged as possible when they arrive at the slaughterhouse, and that the levels of medications and stress hormones in the meat are below legal limits. No one thinks about whether they're happy. If you want to call that a scandal, which is more than justified, then you have to take your thinking one step further. Then it becomes the scandal of how we live, because this economic, "soulless" efficiency is in a reciprocal relationship with our society's lifestyle. There's nothing wrong with saying: :Buy organic products! Eat less meat!" But at the same tuime is a kind of excuse, because we all enjoy the fruits of automation and industrialization and globalization every day, which affect much more than just food". (Nikolaus Gayrhalter)

    "The intention is to show actual working situations and provide enough space for thoughts and associations in long sequences. The viewers should just plunge into this world and form their own opinions". (N.G.)

    I cannot conclude based on both the film and the statements made by Mr. Geyrhalter that he "wants to convince people that food production should be put on a more human scale".

    I found that this quote from your review (highlighting by me) could facilitate a discussion of documentary styles:

    "It's true that some documentaries "work" brilliantly without voice-over commentaries. The French To Be and to Have, which describes a year in the life of a rural schoolteacher, is deeply affecting without a word of interjected commentary. But when we are in the world of public social issues, or matters for concern and debate, it is more usual for the filmmaker to inject words into the debate. Examples of that kind of documentary are Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 or the more recent global warming film featuring Al Gore, An Inconvenient Truth." (Knipp)

    I notice that you state that "injecting words" is "more usual" not better. Is it better though? The senior documentary filmmaker on public social issues, at least in the USA, is Fred Wiseman. I attended a "master class" he gave at a local college in 2005. It was quite a treat as I've been a fan for many years and he used extensive clips to illustrate his philosophy and techniques. Wiseman doesn't do research before or during shooting, he doesn't interview anybody, and he provides no narration or commentary. I have no idea how familiar you are with his work, which dates back to the 1960s and what you think of his films. But I'm curious particularly after reading the statement I quoted from your Our Daily Bread review. I am as excited about Moore's Sicko as I am about the PBS broadcast of Wiseman's State Legislature on June 13th at 9 p.m. (put it in your calendar docu-lovers)

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    i'm completely unfamiliar with Wiseman, so I can't comment on his aims or results.

    Of course as your quotation from the interview shows, Gayhalter wants more humane treatment of animals and wants to see food production back on a more human level as do I and as do a lot of us. The same rule applies to the distribution of food, production and distribution locally, rather than artificial availabliity of produce throughout the year. I'm not questioning Gayhalter's intentions at all, but again, am suggesting that his methods in Our Daily Bread aren't the best ones to get his position across or to gain a large audience.

    In the case of the French To Be and to Have, the filmmakers are concerned with an individual portrait and so aren't particularly in need of statistics or facts, and the documentary does provide basic facts about the students, the teacher, and the locaiton of the school. It' s more the feel of the classroom, the personalities of the students, the classroom life of the teacher that the film's about, and those things come across just fine without any voiceover. Gayhalter's point or points come across without voiceover too, but they would be more accessible, effective, and clear with provision of more information and statements about more desirable alternatives, as well as some historical background (which could even be provided by onscreen texts, if he wanted to avoid a voicer). We often go to documentaries in order to be informed, and seeing images--well, despite the saying, a word (or a sentence, anyway ) is often worth a thousand pictures.

    It's obviously not necessary for a documentary to have a narration, and some certainly work better without them than they would if they had one. I'm not sure what Wiseman is trying to do with his films. He does say (as quoted in the Wikipedika biography) that he is very biased and that his films are edited from 100 hours doen to 1 or 2, and very much represent his personal bias, but don't require further commentary. Perhaps he is seeking to convey a felling rather than thoughts or actions. I'm talking about polemical films dealing with big issues, such as Fahrenheit 9/11, Bowling for Columbine, An Inconvenient Truth, or Who Killed the Elecric Car? --and many others of that kind that we've seen recently -- which definitely want to inform us of specific facts and make us want to take action. Providing a body of facts in voiceover and thereby also taking a clear-cut stand seems to me more effective to draw in and influence an audience to not only adopt an attitude but become inclined toward a course of action than Gayhalter's very artistic but also very abstract method in Our Daily Breat? Or if not, why not? I'd like to hear how the film could reach a wide audience and how it would bring them around to the filmmaker's point of view about food production.

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    Originally posted by Chris Knipp
    Of course as your quotation from the interview shows, Gayhalter wants more humane treatment of animals and wants to see food production back on a more human level as do I and as do a lot of us.
    Sorry, that's not at all how I interpret the statements from Geyrhalter. He is documenting how most of the food we eat is produced and wants us to form our own opinions about it. My opinion: I have no problem with any of the images of food production shown in the film. They stand in contrast with the horrors shown in Fast Food Nation and The Corporation.

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    You are right; I did miss that statement about forming our own opinions. I can only say that I do not sympathize with Gayhalter's stance, and ought to have taken a stand. The differences with Fast Fod Nation are only a matter of degree. The German (say) slaughterhouses are cleaner than the US one in Mexico, perhaps, but it's still mass production of food, dehumanizing for the workers, and so forth, and simply presenting them without comment is, to my mind, inhumane. What about the planes spraying chemicals on factory farm crops: okay, with you?

    But I really was just trying to bring up a general more theorectical issue about documentaries, advocacy, and narrations, which can't decide anything ultimately about this particular documentary but may be, to coin a phrase, food for thought.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-27-2007 at 05:35 PM.

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