- Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope - Directed by Morgan Spurlock - The documentary world's marketing mastermind turns his attention to San Diego's annual comic book convention attended by some 140,000 diehard fans who adore the superhero spectacle and/or want to be a part of it, and by comic celebrati such as Stan Lee, Seth Rogan, Guillermo del Toro, Joss Whedon, Frank Miller, Kevin Smith, Matt Groening and Eli Roth, plus a cadre of dedicated movie publicists and marketers for comic strips, graphic novels, costumes, toys, games and other merchandise that's offered to assembled fans. That's a large built in audience for Spurlock's doc, which follows five attendees with individual agendas, as they negotiate their way through the massive Comic Con 2010. But, does Spurlock's slick storyboard deserve the devoted Comic Con crowd's attention? Not so much. It's worth a chuckle or two, but never surpasses its puff piece perspective to consider Comic Con as a fascinating social and cultural phenomenon. Even viewers who just go for the laughs will be left wanting more.
- Player Hating: A Love Story - Directed by Maggie Hadleigh-West - Delivering shocking social insights, Hadleigh-West's compelling documentary follows talented young rapper Jasun Wardlaw (whose hip hop name is Half-A-Mil) and his crew, as they prepare to drop and distribute their record. Wardlaw's word chronicles his hard life in Brooklyn, NY's crime-riddled Albany Housing Project, where being a successful rap artist is a means of escape from paralyzing poverty -- for those who are lucky enough to avoid imprisonment or a violent gang-related death. The film, which does double duty as entertainment and sociology, is an eye-opener. Be sure to see it. Read my review
- Surviving Progress - Directed by Mathieu Roy and Harold Crooks - This profoundly provocative thesis documentary, based on Ronald Wright's A Short History Of Progress, features Wright, Margaret Atwood, Stephen Hawking, Jane Goodall, David Suzuki and other wise commentators discussing how the human species falls into "progress traps," i.e. those technologies and believe systems that serve immediate needs but actually put the future at risk. Illustrated with dramatic reenactments and clever graphics, the documentary entertains while making you think deeply about human nature -- and whether our brains have evolved sufficiently to handle the technology we've created. Read my review
- MIS-Human Secret Weapon - Directed by Junichi Suzuki - Revealing a long-held U.S. government secret dating back to World War II, Suzuki tells the story of some 6,000 Japanese-American Nisei (second generation) men who joined the Military Intelligence Service (MIS), and fought with U.S. troops against Japan -- despite the fact that the U.S. government had moved their mothers and fathers into internment camps. During the war and after it, the MIS cadre provided translation and interrogation services, convinced Japanese soldiers and civilians to surrender rather than commit hara kiri, as was the custom. Despite their heroism and patriotism, their story hasn't been told until now. Read my review
- Last Will and Embezzlement - Produced by Pamela Glasner, Directed by Deborah Louise Robinson -- This deeply personal documentary follows the troubling case of Glasner's elderly parents, whose life savings were drained by a predatory man who befriended them. As the film shows, such financial crimes against the elderly are commonplace, yet there is little that can be done to bring economic perpetrators to justice, or restore their wealth. Mickey Rooney, who was also the victim of a similar embezzlement, speaks out in this important, well-constructed and eye-opening documentary. Read my review
- Unraveled - Directed by Marc Simon - Former Wall Street mogul and NYC bon vivant Marc Drier's name may not be as infamous as that of fellow fraudster Bernard Madoff, but Drier bilked several multi-billion dollar corporations of some $700-million before he was arrested and convicted. Filmmmaker Marc Simon, a former Drier employee, chronicles his ex-boss' daily life while he's under house arrest, awaiting sentencing and transfer to the prison where he will spend a good many of his remaining years. An intimnate and sympathetic profile of a brilliant and charming man whose overwhelming ambition lead him to do the wrong thing, and then do it again. Read my review
- Inside Hana's Suitcase - Directed by Larry Weinstein -- Based on the same set of incidents behind Karen Levine's best selling book, Hana's Suitcase, Larry Weinstein's documentary follows curator Fumiko Ishioka as she investigates the life and fate of Hana Brady, a holocaust victim whose suitcase was delivered to her one day at the Tokyo Holocaust Museum. Ishioka's search leads to Hana's brother George, now living in Toronto, who reveals that they, as young Jewish children living in Czechoslovakia, had been sent to Thereisenstadt by the Nazis. Their heartbreaking story is told partly through reenactments, and accompanied by a very moving musical score. This is a powerful and unusual Holocaust documentary.
- Confessions of an Eco-Terrorist - Directed by Peter Brown - Releasing to celebrate Earth Day, this documentary chronicles the environmental activism of Captain Paul Watson and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, as they travel the high seas aboard the Sea Shepherd, chasing, ramming and sinking illegal whaling and fishing vessels around the world, and dismantling drift nets to save the lives of marine wildlife. Director Peter Brown has been a Sea Shepherd crew member for some 30 years and has unprecedented access to film aboard the ship and to draw from a treasury of exciting archival footage. The film is a real adventure! Read my review
- Payback - Directed by Jennifer Baichwal - Based on Margaret Atwood's provocative eponymous book, Payback is a fascinating treatise documentary that delves into the concept of debt in all of its configurations, and studies human behavior centered around it. Beautifully shot and brilliantly edited, the film interweaves clips of Atwood reading from her book and on camera interviews with Karen Armstrong, Louise Arbour and Raj Patel, and other cultural commentators, with exemplifying stories such as that of an Albanian man who must stay within the confines of his home or risk being killed in a sanctioned act of revenge or that of Canadian media mogul Conrad Black, infamously convicted of fraud and now serving prison time to pay his debt to society. Baichwal is a masterful filmmaker and moviegoers owe her a debt of thanks for Payback. Read my review
- Inventing Our Life: The Kibbutz Experiment - Directed by Toby Perl Freilich - This comprehensive study of Israel's modern kibbutz movement not only traces the history of the communal lifestyle from the establishment of Degania in 1909 through the recent privatization of the nearly bankrupt Hulda, it delves into the question of how (and whether) radically socialist kibbutzim can continue to exist in today's worldwide capitalist environment. The film features first, second and third generation kibbutz members who speak of their experiences, aspirations and concerns regarding kibbutz life. Commentaries from leading Israeli intellectuals, including Avishai Margalit, Menachem Brinker and Moshe Halbertal, among others, contextualize the kibbutz story within the broader subject of Israeli history and politics.
- The Highest Pass - Directed by Jon Fitzgerald - Seven intrepid spiritual seekers follow their guru, Anand, on a 21-day motorcycle trek over the Himalayas, through the high mountain region of Ladakh and the Kharokungla Pass, the highest road on Earth. On the thrilling and extremely challenging journey, they ride across narrow snow-clad ridges, over sticky and slippery mud, and through the raging waters of overflowing streams. The scenery is, needless to say, gorgeous and so is the cinematography. The film is a way of reaching the heights without having to risk life and limb to get there.
- Booker's Place: A Mississippi Story - Directed by Raymond De Felitta - Back in 1965, during the civil rights struggle, Booker Wright, an African-American waiter in a white-only eatery, appeared in an NBC News documentary about the American South, speaking out against prevalent racist attitudes and behavior in the Mississippi Delta. When the film was broadcast, Wright's life changed completely, and not for the better. He lost his job, was beaten up, ostracized and eventually murdered. His impassioned monologue stands as important record of egregious laws and conditions, but there are lingering questions about to what extent his appearance in the documentary led to his demise. That documentary was made by Frank De Felitta, father of this documentary's director, Raymond De Felitta, who sets out on a mission with Booker Wright's granddaughter to learn more about what happened in the Yazoo Delta in 1965.