Oscar Sundance

Documentaries (D)

Friday, 9:30 to 11:30 a.m., Folsom 1050, 7667 Folsom Blvd., just west of Hornet Drive(use this campus map; type in Folsom Hall)

Allan Keown, Wade Brynelson, Mary Hyland

Once again, many outstanding documentaries continue to be produced. As in the past, we shall draw our selections primarily from the recent finalists for the Oscars and Sundance Film Festival. This is a drop-in seminar with no sign-up or presentation requirements. Post-film discussion is always available and encouraged.


Sept. 2: He Named Me Malala
This 2015 film tells the remarkable true story of teenager Malala Yousafzai, born in 1997, who was attacked by Taliban gunmen in Pakistan in 2012 for advocating girls' education. Rather than be silenced, Malala emerged as a global voice for the education rights of all children. In 2014, she became the youngest-ever Nobel Peace Prize recipient. This intimate glimpse into the life of an extraordinary girl inspires everyone. 88 mins.; 2016 Oscar finalist for nomination; numerous national and international awards in 2015 and 2016.
Sept. 9: The Hunting Ground
From the makers of The Invisible War, Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering, comes this heartbreaking and infuriating 2015 expose of sexual assault on U.S. college campuses, their institutional coverups, and the devastating toll that they take on students and their families. Weaving together verité footage and first-person testimonies, the film follows the lives of several undergraduate assault survivors as they attempt to pursue—despite incredible push-back, harassment, and traumatic aftermath—both their education and justice. As Newsweek accurately noted, this is "as frightening as any film&elip; since The Shining. 104 mins.; 2016 Oscar finalist for nomination as well as numerous national and international awards in 2015 and 2016.
Sept. 16: Anita: Speaking Truth to Power
In this powerful 2014 film, we retrace the courageous way in which Anita Hill galvanized the nation with her appearance before the U.S. Senate in the hearings related to Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas in 1991. It documents the subsequent controversy and landmark event in the struggle for women's rights. With Thomas recently rumored to be considering retirement in 2017 after the election, this history now especially worth reviewing. 85 mins.
Sept. 23: Finding Vivian Maier
In this 2013 film, we learn the unbelievably serendipitous path through which the world learned of Vivian Maier, now considered to be one of the 20th century's greatest street photographers but who at her death in 2009 at the age of 83 was totally unknown. She was a mysterious nanny who secretly took over 100,000 photographs that were unseen during her lifetime. Since buying her work by chance at an auction in 2007, amateur historian John Maloof has crusaded to put this prolific photographer in the history books. Maier's strange and riveting life and art are revealed through never-before-seen photographs, films and interviews with dozens who thought that they knew her during her lifetime. 84 mins.; Oscar nomination in 2015; numerous national and international awards in 2014 and 2015.


Sept. 30: Racing Extinction
In this riveting, mesmerizing 2015 film, Director Louie Psihoyos (The Cove, 2009) and the Oceanic Preservation Society, in conjunction with multiple environmental organizations, present a chilling documentary that exposes the forces that are leading our planet to its next mass extinction. It demonstrates how we are well on the way to losing half of all species, including a never-before-seen view of an international wildlife trade operating in the shadows that reveals how creatures that have survived for millions of years may be wiped from the Earth in our lifetime. Hidden in plain sight, the other great force is one the oil and gas companies don't want the world to recognize. Using covert tactics and state-of the-art technology, undercover activists expose these two forces in an inspiring affirmation calling all of us to preserve life as we know it. 95 mins.; nine national and international awards in 2015 and 2016.
Oct. 7: The Rise of ISIS
In this PBS Frontline documentary, renowned filmmaker Martin Smith draws on in-depth interviews with Iraqi politicians and American policymakers and military leaders to explore and explain how the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) became a major force so quickly. What does it mean for the U.S. to be back in Iraq, fighting a new war on terror, less than three years after American troops pulled out of the country? This film delivers a revelatory look at how ISIS grew out of the disaffection of Iraqi Sunnis who were sidelined and targeted by Shia Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki after the American withdrawal. It traces how they gained strength in Syria, how they are funded, how they operate and how from Ramadi to Fallujah to Mosul ISIS swept across Iraq, seizing territory, recording and broadcasting mass execution and drawing recruits from an estimated 80 countries. With ISIS continuing to take and hold territory in Iraq and Syria despite U.S. and coalition airstrikes, and with President Obama's foreign policy legacy hanging in the balance, this 2014 film is the definitive account of how the U.S. has reached this point. 60 mins.


Oct. 14: The Big Short
In this acclaimed 2015 feature film (not a documentary), three denizens in the world of high-finance predict the credit and housing bubble collapse of the mid-2000s and decide to take on the big banks for their greed and lack of foresight. Separate but parallel stories of the U.S. mortgage housing crisis of 2007 are told. In 2008, Wall Street guru Michael Burry realizes that a number of subprime home loans are in danger of defaulting. Burry bets against the housing market by throwing more than $1 billion of his investors' money into credit default swaps. His actions attract the attention of banker Jared Vennett, hedge-fund specialist Mark Baum, and other greedy opportunists. Together, these men make a fortune by taking full advantage of the impending economic collapse in America. 130 mins.; 2016 Golden Globe award for Best Motion Picture of the Year, among numerous national and international awards.
Oct. 21: Spotlight
This Oscar-winning 2015 feature film (not a documentary) tells the riveting true story of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Boston Globe investigation that would rock the city and cause a crisis in one of the world's oldest and most trusted institutions. When the newspaper's tenacious Spotlight team of reporters delved into allegation of abuse in the Catholic Church, their year-long investigation uncovered a decades-long coverup at the highest levels of Boston's religious, legal and government establishment, touching off a wave of revelation around the world. 128 mins.; 2016 Oscar for Best Motion Picture as well as numerous national and international awards.
Oct. 28: Cartel Land
In this 2015 film, Director Matthew Heineman gained unprecedented, on-the-ground access to the riveting stories of two modern-day vigilante groups and their shared enemy, the murderous Mexican Knights Templar cartel. In the Mexican state of Michoacan, Dr. Jose Mireles, a small-town physician known as El Doctor, leads the Autodefensas, a citizen uprising against the violent Knights Templar drug cartel. Meanwhile, in Arizona's Altar Valley, Tim "Nailer" Foley, an American veteran, heads a small paramilitary group called Arizona Border Recon, whose goal is to stop Mexico's drug wars from seeping across our border. Heineman embeds himself in the heart of darkness as Nailer, El Doctor, and the cartel all vie to bring their own brand of justice to a society where institutions have failed. 100 mins.; 2016 Oscar nomination finalist for nomination; Sundance awards in 2015 for Cinematography and Directing; many other national and international awards in 2015 and 2016.
Nov. 4: Best of Enemies
In this 2015 film, we relive the summer of 1968, in which television news changed forever. Dead-last in the ratings, ABC hired two towering public intellectuals to debate each other during the Democratic and Republican national conventions. William F. Buckley Jr. was a leading light of the new conservative movement. A Democrat and cousin to Jackie Onassis, Gore Vidal was a leftist novelist and polemicist. Armed with deep-seated distrust and enmity, Vidal and Buckley believed each other's political ideologies were dangerous for America. Like rounds in a heavyweight battle, they pummeled out policy and personal insult, their explosive exchanges devolving into vitriolic name-calling. Live and unscripted, they kept viewers riveted. Ratings for ABC News skyrocketed, and a new era in public discourse was born. 88 mins.; 2016 Oscar finalist for nomination; numerous national and international awards in 2015 and 2016.
Nov. 11: No Class
Veterans' Day


Nov. 18: The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution
In this 2015 film, acclaimed director Stanley Nelson tells the vibrant story of a pivotal movement as urgent today as it was then. In the 1960s, change was coming to America and the fault lines could no longer be ignored: cities were burning, Vietnam was exploding and disputes raged over equality and civil rights. A new revolutionary culture was emerging and it sought to drastically transform the system. The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense would, for a short time, put itself at the vanguard of that change. This is the first feature-length documentary to explore the Black Panther Party, its significance to the broader American culture, its culture and political awakening for black people and the painful lessons wrought when a movement derails. Nelson goes straight to the source, weaving a treasure trove of rare archival footage with the diverse group of voices of the people who were there: police, FBI informants, journalists, white supporters and detractors and Black Panthers who remained loyal to the party and those who left it. 115 mins.; eight Awards in national and international competitions in 2015 and 2016.
Nov. 25: No Class
Thanksgiving Holiday.


Dec. 2: Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief
This highly anticipated and critically acclaimed 2015 film is a searing, jaw-dropping look inside the controversial religion of scientology by renowned director Alex Gibney. It profiles eight former members of the Church of Scientology, exploring the psychological impact of blind faith, how the church attracts new followers, and how it keeps hold of its A-list celebrity devotees. Following his award-winning 2012 documentary Mea Maxima Culpa, Gibney dives fully into one of the most controversial and secretive religions in the world, exploring what members of Scientology are willing to do in the name of religion. The film touches on a wide range of aspects of the church from its origin, to an intimate portrait of the Church’s founder L. Ron Hubbard, to its recruiting practices, and to present-day practices by church officials. 120 mins.; 2016 Oscar finalist for nomination; awarded 3 Primetime Emmys in 2016 as well as numerous national and international awards in 2015 and 2016.


Dec. 9: Being Mortal
In this film, PBS Frontline follows renowned New Yorker writer and Boston surgeon Atul Gawande as he explores the relationships doctors have with patients who are nearing the end of life. In conjunction with his book by the same title, the film investigates the practice of caring for the dying and shows how doctors, himself included, are often remarkably untrained, ill-suited and uncomfortable talking about chronic illness and death with their patients. 54 mins.
This 2008 film is an extraordinary portrait of Harvard-trained theologian Stephen Jenkinson, who teaches that death empowers us to live and that we must know grief well in order to appreciate our own lives. Many may find Jenkinson's belief that our deaths are not something to be denied or avoided but befriended as challenging. He points out that not every culture fears death as we do. The film carries viewers into the lives of those confronting death, as well as those learning how to help people die well. It combines beautiful imagery of the impermanence of nature and the actuality of dying, weaving an illuminating picture of a remarkable man, leaving us with a deeper understanding of how our deaths could be held as a "prized possession." 70 mins.