Morning Documentaries

Friday, 9:30 to 11:45 a.m., Library 3023

Allan Keown, Wade Brynelson

Many outstanding documentaries were produced in 2013 and 2014. The finalists for the Oscars in 2013 and for the Sundance Film Festivals in 2013 and 2014 were again of remarkable quality. The genre continues to evolve in transcendent ways. We have drawn heavily from those finalists and winners for our 13 fall seminar selections. Please watch for the specific titles as well in the Renaissance Recorder newsletter. In addition, we shall have a complete or nearly complete seminar list of all 13 titles at Rendezvous on Aug. 29. This is a drop-in seminar with no sign-up or presentation requirements.

Sept. 5:
Inequality for All (2013) is Robert Reich's recent documentary that examines the widening inequality gap from six directions. It is an articulate argument on behalf of the middle class as it demonstrates how the widening income gap has a devastating impact on the American economy. It is an intimate portrait of a man whose lifelong goal remains protecting those who are unable to protect themselves and explains how the massive consolidation of wealth by a few threatens the viability of the American workforce and the foundation of democracy. It shows in multiple ways how the issue of economic inequality affects each of us. (90 mins.)
Sept. 12:
The United States of Secrets: The Inside Story of the Government's Mass Surveillance Program is a June 2014 PBS Frontline presentation. It goes behind the headlines to reveal the dramatic inside story of how the U.S. government came to monitor and collect the communications of millions of people around the world—including ordinary Americans—and the lengths that it went to as it tried to hide this massive surveillance program from the public. The two-part series is gripping viewing for those who want to understand the context of the Snowden affair and what it means for all Americans.
Part One goes inside Washington and the NSA, piecing together the secret history of the unprecedented surveillance program that began in the wake of September 11 and continues today – even after the revelations of its existence by Edward Snowden. (120 mins.)
Sept. 19:
Part Two of the United States of Secrets explores the secret relationship between Silicon Valley and the NSA. It investigates how the government and tech companies have worked together to gather and warehouse individual citizens' data. (60 mins.)
Sept. 26:
12 Years a Slave (2013) won the 2014 Oscar for best picture (drama feature). Swedish Nobel-laureate economist Gunnar Myrdal in 1939 famously referred to slavery and its aftermath in the United States as An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy. This historical drama film is an unflinching and uncompromising look at the brutality of American slavery based upon Solomon Northrup's 1853 memoir. It received widespread critical acclaim and was a resounding success at the box office. Some historians consider it to be the most accurate representation of slavery ever. (134 mins.)
Oct. 3:
Fruitvale Station (2013) won the 2013 Sundance Festival grand jury award as well as audience award for best dramatic film. It centers on the tragic shooting of Oscar Grant, a vibrant 22-year-old Bay Area father who was gunned down by BART officers on New Year's Day in 2009. His murder sent shockwaves through the nation after being captured on camera by his fellow BART passengers. Grant's mother and daughter settled their civil litigation with BART in 2011, and his five friends who were unlawfully detained by the BART police recently settled their lawsuit alleging excessive force this past May. However, the wrongful death litigation by Grant's father continues. (134 mins.)
Oct. 10:
Dirty Wars (2013) was one of the five 2013 Oscar nominees for best documentary. It describes the drone strikes, night raids, and U.S. government targeted killings that occur regularly across the globe that also kill untold numbers of civilians. Investigative reporter Jeremy Scahill traces the rise of the Joint Special Operations Command, the most secret fighting force in U.S. history. Scahill exposes the operations that are carried out by men who do not exist on paper and will never appear before Congress. (86 mins.)
Oct. 17:
Death by China (2012) chronicles the growing power and global ambitions of China and concludes that the strength threatens America's own future. The film views the loss of American jobs to China as one more facet of a one-sided economic rivalry. It argues that China's economic growth relative to the United States is due to its questionable positions on pollution, worker rights, currency manipulation, counterfeiting, piracy, and illegal export subsidies. (80 mins.)
Oct. 24:
After Tiller (2013) tells the moving stories of the four American physicians left after the assassination of Dr. George Tiller in 2009 who still openly provide third-trimester abortions. The film presents a complex, compassionate portrait of these physicians, who have become the new number-one targets of the anti-abortion movement. Despite constant threats, they continue to risk their lives every day to do work that they believe is profoundly important for their patients' lives. The film weaves together revealing interviews with the doctors with intimate scenes from inside their clinics, where they counsel and care for patients at an important crossroads in their lives. By sharing the moving stories of several of their patients, the film illuminates the experiences of women who seek later abortions and their reasons why. (87 mins.)
Oct. 31: An Election Eve (and Halloween) Double Feature:
9:30-11:00 a.m.: Citizen Koch (2014). This recent film released in 2014 explores the influence of David and Charles Koch on the American political process, with particular focus on the election of Gov. Scott Walker in 2012 and the attempted recall of him in 2013. It follows the money behind the Tea Party and the influence of unlimited campaign contributions after the 2010 Citizens United case. The documentary was originally scheduled for broadcast in New York but was pulled and then completed with individual donations. It was first shown in theatres nationwide in June 2014 and was released on DVD on Sept. 2, 2014. (86 mins.)
11 a.m.–1 p.m.: Freedom Summer (2014). This PBS Frontline documentary debuted in June 2014. It revisits the hot and deadly summer of 1964, when the nation could not turn away from Mississippi. Over 10 memorable weeks known as Freedom Summer, more than 700 student volunteers joined with organizers and local African Americans in an historic effort to shatter the foundation of white supremacy in one of the nation's most segregated states. Working together, they canvassed for voter registration, created Freedom Schools, and established the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. The 10 weeks were marked by sustained and deadly violence, including the notorious murders of three civil rights workers, countless beatings, the burning of 35 churches, and bombing of 70 homes and community centers. It highlights the patient and long-term efforts to organize communities and register black voters in the face of intimidation, physical violence, and death. (120 mins.)
Nov. 7:
Twenty Feet from Stardom (2013) won the 2013 Oscar for best documentary. The film brilliantly introduces us to the voices behind the greatest rock, pop, and r-and-b hits of all time—but no one knew their names until this magnificent work of art. It shines the spotlight on the untold stories of legendary background singers, including Darlene Love, Merry Clayton, Lisa Fischer, Claudia Lennear and Judith Hill. These are the triumphs and heartbreaks of music's greatest unsung talents, featuring rare behind-the-scenes footage, vintage live performances, and interviews with Springsteen, Sting, Jagger, Wonder and Midler. (91 mins.)
Nov. 14:
Gasland Part II (2013) is the haunting, provocative follow-up to filmmaker Josh Fox's award-winning documentary feature debut Gasland in 2010. This new film continues to explore the controversial method of extracting natural gas and oil known as hydraulic fracturing or fracking; it argues how dangerous the process is and how pervasive the gas industry's influence on public policy has become. Tempered by Fox's trademark dark humor, the film shows how the stakes have been raised on all sides in one of the most divisive environmental issues facing America and indeed the world today. It pierces prevailing myths by arguing how and why fracked wells leak over time, contaminating water and air, hurting families, causing earthquakes and endangering the Earth''s climate with methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. It also sheds light on the global consequences of fracking as more and more countries are following the U.S.'s lead in drilling for gas. (125 mins.)
Nov. 21:
First Cousin Once Removed (2012), a 2013 Oscar nomination finalist, is Alan Berliner's heartbreaking, haunting and unexpectedly heartening portrait of his cousin Edwin Honig—a distinguished poet, professor and mentor who was showered with worldwide praise as well as honorary knighthoods from both Spain and Portugal. This moving five-year history of Edwin's journey through the ravages of Alzheimer's disease from 2006-2011 documents his metamorphosis by weaving intimate conversations with Edwin, his family and friends; home movies; poetry readings; and a surprising array of visual metaphors to reveal a wordsmith who may have lost his memory but who retained an enduring playfulness and bearings of a deeply poetic soul. The result is an unflinching essay on the fragility of being human as well as a stark reminder of the profound role that memory plays in all of our lives. (78 mins.)
Nov. 28:
Spring Break; No Seminars.
Dec. 5:
Alive Inside: A Story of Music and Memory (2014) unexpectedly won the audience award at the 2014 Sundance Festival. It is a profound film about our basic abilities as humans: communication and connections. Over a three-year period, filmmaker Michael Rosatto-Bennett followed Dan Cohen as he visited various nursing facilities. What takes place on screen is magical: people connected via iPODs come to life after years of little to no recognition of people, their environment and even their own adult children. It is no wonder that the Sundance audiences gave it loud, standing-ovation accolades each time it played at the festival. This truly is the best evidence of what Indie films are all about, and thus a great way to end our Fall ’14 seminar! (74 mins.)