Stonewall Uprising and Freedom Riders are two must see programs from this year’s American Experience slate. Both deal with civil rights issues in the 1960′s. Stonewall Uprising deals with a police raid on the popular gay bar, Stonewall Inn. Freedom Riders tells the story of a group of white and black Americans who traveled by bus together into the segregated south. Both stories are moving, tragic and ultimately triumphant sparking much needed social change.
On the surface, War, Love God and Madness is about filmmaker Mohamed Al-Daradji who is trying to make the first film in Iraq by an Iraqi filmmaker in 13 years. However, the film is much more about what life was like during the initial years of the US occupation. Through much of the early part of the documentary, the making of the film seems to take a backseat to stories of people’s everyday lives as Al-Daradji tries to assemble the talent needed for his production. As the work takes off in earnest, the filmmakers encounter a tragedy that nearly derails the project.
War, Love, God and Madness seems to meander in the first half, but the diverse elements all contribute to a deeper understanding of the tragedy that is to follow. Because the production is taking place under such stressful conditions, War, Love, God and Madness is suspenseful in ways most documentaries aren’t and is an excellent example of guerrilla filmmaking.
Louder Than a Bomb is a perfectly fine documentary about students from four Chicago area high schools competing in a spoken word poetry competition. Although interesting, the film suffers from familiarity. School kids taking part in competitions have been done plenty of times before and Louder Than a Bomb follows similar patterns: the introduction of the students, the preparation, the competition itself. The students as well fall into expected roles: the underdog, the ones from the school that won before and who want to reclaim their title, the crowd favorite. In fact, these patterns were strong enough that some of the students feel like stereotypes and become cloying to watch. There is comfort in these familiar patterns and Louder Than a Bomb would be enjoyable in the right context, but it doesn’t offer anything new enough or unique enough to push it to the top of my list.
The best thing about Top Secret Rosies is that it sheds light on the fact that there were women recuited as mathematicians during World War II. Beyond that, this doc, which clocks in at just about an hour, feels slight. That there were women serving in this capacity is an interesting contrast to the popular image of Rosie the Riveter; however, the film does little other than expose this fact and revisit the idea that women were given opportunities during the war that were stripped from them after the war ended. Oddly, the film spends a significant amount of time interviewing some men who were involved in the computing projects.
Not surprisingly, the four years I’ve spent watching films for the Notable Videos for Adults Committee has involved plenty of documentaries about the environment and this year has been no different. I have already watched eight films dealing explicitly or implicitly with environmental concerns. Gasland, about the dangers of environmental fracking, definitely falls into the explict category.
Gasland relates numerous stories of people living in Pennsylvania, Wyoming and Colorado who have felt the impact of the fracking process. The film also documents how restrictions have been loosened to allow coroporations to quickly establish new drilling locations. Gasland invites comparisons to the equally engaging and moving Split Estate, including, if my memory is correct, interviews with some of the same people and footage of one of the incidents in which one of the residents sets part of a creek on fire.
Gasland relies a bit heavily on the anecdotal evidence presented by the people affected, which raises some concerns about actual cause and effect. The film’s website has a helpful document affirming the research presented, but I wish more expert opinion was given in the film. That said, Gasland is a disturbing introduction for those who may not be familiar with the process of fracking.