Wednesday, January 18, 2012


Documentaries take you to a realm you would never be able to experience - all while sitting on your couch. The other worlds are all but impossible to visit mostly because you are not aware they even exist, dont have the financial ability to go, have a language barrier, its too dangerous, or you simply dont have the social connections that would permit you access into those spaces.

When I watch a documentary, even a boring one, I am grateful for the experience.  I can enter into the slums of Detroit, as in the case of Pressure Cooker, without actually having to live that particular life of hardship.  In a way it may be elitist to say so, but what is the purpose of documentaries if not to open up a world to you that was previously closed?

Frequently I am brought to tears when watching these films.  In one film you can witness the full span of human capacity, from utter and unbelievable cruelty to complete selflessness and generosity.  It is the moments of goodwill and compassion that touch me the most.

I also enjoy the first hand voice that many of these documentaries adopt, giving a real voice to those who all too often cant be heard.  A little boy from Uganda tells you of the time his village was raided, parents killed, and siblings abducted by rebels and all he wants is to be the best xylophone player in his country's school competition.  Moments such as that one from War Dance cause me to pause and reflect on the resilience of individuals and the capacity for humans to cope and adapt.

Obviously some films dont tell stories as gut wrenching as those from war torn countries but are poignant nonetheless.  For example, in The Great Happiness Space, you learn of special clubs run by men for the supposed benefit of females.  These are the gender opposite of gentleman's clubs where women can pay for the company of certain men and have attention paid to them in a society that often overlooks the female's need for love and support.  In the end you discover that the women who frequent these happiness clubs are prostitutes and the clubs function to remove excess wages from these prosperous females, taking from them any social power they may have gained by their financial situation.  The surprising thing in all of this is that the men running and working in the clubs are as miserable as their clients, but no matter, the sun sets and the entire process of paid-for-attention begins again!

Other films hit closer to home.  One particular film, Nursery University, documents the crazed period of time surrounding pre-school enrollment in Manhattan, a process oddly similar to the graduate school application process but with more parental involvement.  Another film, Crips and Bloods, focuses on the formation of gangs in Los Angeles and provides a honest recap of the social movements and racial restrictions that created and perpetuate the gangs.

Most, if not all, of these documentaries are available via Netflix instant view.  J and I simply hook our computer up to our television and "pop in" whatever film intrigues us and off we go to another experience.  I highly recommend taking your own journey.  To start you on your way, here is a list of a few documentaries I have found particularly enriching:

Angels in the Dust - South Africa
A State of Mind - North Korea
Bananas! - Guatemala
Bombies - Laos
Bomb It - Worldwide
Crude - Ecuador
Pressure Cooker - Detroit
Nursery University - Manhattan
Tapped - US
The Garden - Los Angeles
The Last Mountain - West Virginia
War Dance - Uganda
Wasteland - Brazil

No comments: