Recently Released on DVD, Ideal for Stocking Stuffers
True, most documentaries are not the sort of 'Ho, ho, ho' movies that one associates with the gaiety of year end holidays and seasonal celebrations.
However, if truth be told, documentaries are the films that are telling the true stories about subjects that have some real bearing on what we know about the world and what we expect from it.
Because documentaries are so close to the lives we lead, to our concerns and aspirations, they are wonderful year end gifts -- whether they're jolly or not -- that keep giving well into the new year.
Here's a list of highly recommended documentaries that cover a wide variety of fascinating topics -- ranging from art as protest to baseball as a way of life, from honesty in matters of sex and sexuality to contributing to the cure for breast cancer -- from the personal perspectives of characters who have compelling stories to tell.
These are films that will both entertain and enlighten.
And, they've all been recently released on DVD.
In Ai Weiwei Never Sorry
, filmmaker Alison Klayman chronicles the tireless, amazingly inventive and often amusing ways in which Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei protests the repressive policies of the Chinese government. The artist's charisma is clear, as he marshals the attention and loyalty of thousands of fans and supporters around the globe. Yet, his activism and assertions put him in danger of imprisonment, or being driven into isolation and not allowed to create his works of art. Klayman follows Ai Weiwei and exercises her extraordinary access with on camera interviews that are very candid, very compelling. And, she uses archival footage to trace the development of the artist, including the time he spent as a student in the United States.
British filmmaker Carol Morley goes behind tabloid headlines to investigate a story that sold millions of newspapers in Britain and around the world. It is the true and tragic tale of a single woman whose body was discovered in a London bed/sit several years after she'd died, with the television still on and the mail piled up at the door for all those years. Who was she? How did she die? And, how could it be that nobody noticed nor reported that she was missing, and that her body remained undiscovered for all those years? Morley does a great job of profiling the woman, and investigates the investigates the nature of being alone and lonely in a huge and crowded city like London.
Samuel Goldwyn Films
The Maldives are at risk. This island nation, an archipelego of some 1200 islands situated off the coast of Southern India -- will drown if our planet's oceans continue to rise as a result of climate change. Filmmaker Jon Shenk chronicles the efforts and antics of Mohamed Nasheed, the controversial President of the Maldives, to save his land from the sea. Nasheed tries to raise international awareness and support, even holds the first-ever underwater cabinet meeting to dramatically demonstrate the country's situation. This documentary is about the ecology and politics of the Maldives, but take heed, your favorite island getaway may be at risk, too.
First Run Features
Country and Western singer Chely Wright's soaring music career was her dream come true, but she was deeply dissatisfied with her life -- because she knew she was living a lie. After seeking spiritual counseling, she decided that she had to come out and let the world know that she's a Lesbian. She knew that her career was built on pleasing a very conservative fan base, and that she was risking their rejection. Filmmakers Bobbie Birleffi and Beverly Kopf follow Wright through this challenging period in her life, balancing deeply personal on camera interviews with footage of Wright on stage, with family and friends, and in counseling. The result is an beautifully respectful profile of Wright and a tribute to her personal courage.
Cinedign Entertainment Group
Known for championing good causes, filmmaker Kirby Dick investigates a situation that cries out for justice. As the women and men who appear in The Invisible War
testify, sexual abuse -- rape, as well as harassment -- is rampant in all branches of the U.S. armed forces. Most often, the perpetrators are superior officers taking advantage of their subordinates. Not only that, when the victims report being raped and seek justice -- or, even medical care -- they are further victimized and harassed by the military establishment's upper echelon who want to sweep the alarmingly widespread problem under the rug. This compelling documentary is a real eye opener.
Filmmaker Anne Aghion follows geologists Dr. Allan Ashworth and Dr. Adam Lewis to the bottom of the world, as they search for evidence that Antarctica was once a habitable green region. Aghion actually captures their moment of discover on film! Exquisitely shot and brilliantly edited, this documentary is not only a fascinating treatise on scientific research about the effects of climate change and global warming, but it is also a thrilling travel adventure to a remote and beautiful place where but few humans have set foot.
As you'll see in Ballplayer: Pelotero
, the sport that is America's favorite pastime draws heavily upon the Dominican Republic for its personnel. In fact, 20 percent of the professional baseball players on American teams hail from the Dominican Republic, where the game isn't just a game, it's a way of life and the way to a better life. Filmmakers Ross Finkel, Trevor Martin and Jon Paley follow two remarkably talented 'peloteros' as they compete to become recruits for American major league teams. Their big moment of truth comes on their sixteenth birthdays, when they become eligible to sign contracts. The documentary is as suspenseful and engaging as a major league playoff game.
First Run Features
Filmmaker Lea Pool sheds light on the industries that have sprung up around breast cancer in Pink Ribbons, Inc.
, an investigation about how much the 'pink ribbon' charities - including the recently beleaguered Susan G. Komen For The Cure foundation, as wells as fund raising marketing efforts by Yoplait and Lexus, among others -- actually contribute to breast cancer research and whether they have a positive impact on the prognosis and life style of those who suffer from the disease. There's footage of 'pink ribbon' events, but the most gripping parts of the film are interviews with women who have breast cancer and have an entirely different perspective on what the charities deliver -- or don't.