Feature films are supposed to be entertaining, while documentaries present us with grim reality. But the best documentaries often introduce us to extraordinary and intriguing people -- and sometimes go places even the filmmakers didn't anticipate. Here are some documentaries with a few unexpected twists.
Watching a movie doesn't usually make me want to fill up my car with items for the Goodwill, unless that movie is The Queen of Versailles. Filmmaker Lauren Greenfield started out wanting to tell the story of billionaire David Siegel and buxom third wife Jackie's quest to build the largest and most expensive house in the country. In the middle of filming, though, the housing crisis nearly wiped out Siegel and his predatory timeshare business.
The recent death of The Band's Levon Helm brought back fond memories of watching The Last Waltz. Directed by Martin Scorsese, the film documents The Band's final show in 1976 at San Francisco's Winterland Ballroom and is considered one of the best concert films ever produced.
Listening recently to his 2007 Fresh Air interview, I learned that Helm wasn't very keen on having a big farewell but went along with it. The concert featured all the major players in the folk, country, and rock scenes of the time including Clapton, Emmylou Harris, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, and Van Morrison (in a very memorable bedazzled maroon leisure suit giving a passionate rendition of Caravan complete with high kicks).
If you're like me, you love learning about new ideas and people by watching documentaries. I'll admit it, I am a documentary nut! Here are just a few of the documentaries that I have seen lately that I think are noteworthy.
Marwencol is about a man who is brutally attacked outside of a bar and suffered severe brain damage. Unable to afford therapy, he builds a scale model World War II-era town called Marwencol, where he lives out his fantasy life. When I was watching this documentary, I couldn't help but feel how real the movie felt. Many times, when I watch documentaries about people, I feel that they sugar-coat the darker side of peoples' lives.
If the Occupy Wall Street movement has made it onto your radar screen but you aren't quite sure what the fuss is about, here are some documentaries you might be interested in viewing.
Frontline's February 17, 2009 broadcast of Inside the Meltdown might be a good place to start. It examines the 2008 collapse of Bear Stearns and the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers, focusing on the response of the Federal Reserve, the White House, Congress, and the Wall Street banks.
The short climbing season for Mount Everest is coming to a close in the Himalayas, and here in Denver my family has become totally hooked on the Discovery Channel's Everest: Beyond the Limit series. We have blazed through both Season One and Season Two in less time than it takes to climb the mountain itself.
The climbers literally risk life and limb in their attempts to reach the top of the world. I especially liked the recognition and appreciation shown for the amazing Sherpas who risk their own lives to help these climbers not only make it up the mountain, but perhaps more importantly make it back down alive.
After you celebrate Earth Day today, hopefully by enjoying the beautiful weather we are experiencing, check out some of the many films that honor Mother Nature, either by demonstrating her raw power, or by investigating environmental issues.
Celebrate the fourth annual Denver Arts Week, November 5-13, by watching some of the many films about art and artists available from the library! Several documentaries have been made about the artistic process, famous artists and the commercial complications of art. Which one is your favorite?
I watched The Cove last week and am still thinking about it. I was aware of the premise of The Cove - the hunting of dolphins in Japan - but was not prepared for the intense emotional impact of seeing how this "hunt" was actually carried out.
Richard O'Barry, the man who started as as the trainer of TV's Flipper in the 1960s, had a change of heart after working with bottlenose dolphins for many years. He leads a special ops-like team to photograph and show the world the herding and slaughter of thousands of dolphins in the Japanese coastal town of Taiji. What we see in the film is remarkable, and indescribably sad. However, the senseless killing of these intelligent animals is only part of the tragic story, and will lead to horrible repercussions for many years to come.