It's still not finalized, but here is the list of my favorite documentaries released in the US during 2011. These are in random order, not arranged alphabetically or by preference. Stay tuned for updates...
Patricio Guzman's beautifully filmed documentary explore Chile's Atacama Desert, a remote and pristine area, where three groups of researchers search independently for answers to essential human inquiries. With refined and often pensive narration, Guzman connects their searches into a comprehensive and profoundly challenging inquiry into the origins of the universe and humankind. Brilliant!
Filmmakers Marshall Curry and Sam Cullman presenting the story of Daniel McGowan, the former Earth Liberation Front (ELF) member who's sentenced to life imprisonment for environmental terrorism -- or, more specifically, for arson committed against northwest US lumber companies and national parks. The provocative film raises questions and stirs public debate about the definition of terrorism, especially in the post-9/11 security environment.
To tell the troubling story of British playwright Andrea Dunbar, London-based filmmaker Clio Bernard has actors lip sync to audio interviews made with Dunbar's family and colleagues. It's a fascinating storytelling conceipt that delivers a most memorable impression of the talented young women whose life was such a devastating struggle against poverty, depression, alcoholism and a life of dispair in the British Midlands.
In covering John Muir's life and personal history from his early childhood to his death at the age of 76, filmmaker Catherine Tatge provides a comprehensive view of one of America's great heroes. Whenever you enter a national park or wildlife preserve, thank John Muir for your pleasure. This wonderful biographical documentary about the great American environmentalist will tell -- and show -- you why.
Granito: How to Nail A Dictator is truly fascinating film about the ongoing efforts to bring to trial in an international court of law José Efraín Ríos Montt, the Guatemalan dictator and military commander responsible for genocide in that country. Director Pamela Yates and Producer Pace de Onis not only cover case preparation by prosecutors based in Spain, including interviews with many of those who suffered at the hand of Rios Montt and his henchmen, but Yates also provides extremely important evidence in the form of archival footage she'd shot of military actions when she was embedded with the guerrillas fighting against Rios Montt's rule. Yes, documentaries can change the world!
Filmmaker Heather Courtney's Where Soldiers Come From begins and ends in a rural Michigan town, but it could be about any American community where youngsters who're graduating from high school and preparing themselves for adulthood must make decisions about what their next steps should be. Several friends follow each other into the National Guard, and soon find themselves deployed to Afghanistan. Profoundly provocative and moving, the film is an ample example of why young men should not be sent to war.
A genuinely uplifting documentary that spans two distinct time periods - past and present - in the history of the Kashmere High School Band, a student ensemble that ruled the realm of high school music competitions during the 1970s, and that reunited in 2008, picking up their instruments again for the first time in years, to play a tribute concert honoring their inspired, inspiring and demanding music teacher and band leader, Conrad O. Johnson, Sr., fondly referred to by them as Prof. Don't be disappointed, but Jamie Foxx never appears in the film.