Category: Documentary


The Wild West (disc 1) 2009
History Channel

The most legendary cowboys and notorious outlaws of America's western frontier are brought to life in this comprehensive DVD set from HISTORY. In The Real West, an award-winning series hosted by Kenny Rogers, authentic diary entries, period accounts, rare photos, and expert commentary deliver the real stories behind personalities from lead-slinging lawmen like Stephen F. Austin to anti-heroes Billy the Kid and Doc Holliday. Remember The Alamo and The Real West: Battle of the Alamo examine the most famous battle cry in American history, revealing behind the epic encounter a story of ambition and heroism, greed and vanity, desperation and defeat. Jesse James: American Outlaw presents a compelling look at one of the most infamous criminals in American history, from his early days as a Confederate guerrilla fighter to his crime-filled life, treacherous murder and the mystery that continues to surround his death today. And Carson and Cody: The Hunter Heroes follows legendary frontiersmen Kit Carson and 'Buffalo Bill' Cody across the Mississippi River into the Rocky Mountains and California, where both men defied incredible odds while developing the mystique of the self-made man.(History Channel)


Good Hair

Good Hair 2009
Directed by Jeff Stilson
Starring: Chris Rock

When one of Chris Rock's young daughters asked him an innocent question about having "good hair," the comedian probably had no idea just how complicated the answer would be. Fortunately for us, he decided to find out, and the result is this funny, informative, and highly entertaining documentary of the same name. Turns out that for a great many African-American women (and quite a few men, too), "good hair" means "white hair"--i.e., straight and lanky--while the natural or "nappy" look is bad. And oh, the lengths and expense women will go to in order to get "good hair"! In the course of the film, which was directed by Jeff Stilson and cowritten by Rock and several others, Rock first travels to Atlanta, home of the Bronner Brothers Hair Show, where thousands of folks buy and learn how to use new products (the show is also the site of the outrageous and climactic Hair Battle Royale, in which four stylists compete for money and fame). It's there that he learns about sodium hydroxide, better known as hair "relaxer," the "nap antidote," or the "creamy crack" (as effective as the chemical substance is for straightening hair, it can also be highly dangerous). In Harlem and Los Angeles, he investigates the extraordinary popularity of hair weaves, which can cost tens of thousands of dollars annually to create and maintain; Rock even goes to Madras, India, source of most of the hair used in weaves (for Indian women, tonsure, or shaving their heads, is a ritual act of self-sacrifice). Along the way, Rock interviews a great many young women with fabulous hair (including actresses Nia Long, Raven-Symoné, and Kerry Washington, and rappers Salt-N-Pepa), but he also talks to the esteemed poet Maya Angelou, as well as men like rapper-actor Ice-T and the Reverend Al Sharpton. Sharpton, who is very amusing (he's referred to as "the Dalai Lama of relaxed hair"), is about the only celeb who touches on racial issues, pointing out that while it's African Americans who use the overwhelming majority of these hair products, the companies who sell them tend to be owned by Asians. Some viewers may object to the film's lack of a strong socio-political stance, but others will no doubt prefer the lighter touch, including a hilarious discussion at a barber shop about dating women with hair weaves (basically, it's "hands off the hair, pal"). --Sam Graham


Correspondent: Martin Smith

Tens of thousands of fresh American troops are now on the move in Afghanistan, led by a new commander, and armed with a counter-insurgency plan that builds on the lessons of Iraq. But can U.S. forces succeed in a land long known as the "graveyard of empires?" FRONTLINE producers Martin Smith (Beyond Baghdad, Return of the Taliban) and Marcela Gaviria (In Search of Al Qaeda) once again make the dangerous journey to the frontlines of America's biggest fight. Through interviews with the top U.S. commanders on the ground, embeds with U.S. forces, and fresh reporting from Washington, Smith and Gaviria examine U.S. counter-insurgency strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan -- a fight that promises to be longer and more costly than most Americans understand. (PBS Frontline)


Directed by Ang Lee
Starring: Demetri Martin, Emile Hirsch

Academy Award-winning director Ang Lee tells the story of the Greenwich Village interior designer who inadvertently helped to spark a cultural revolution by offering the organizers of the Woodstock Music and Arts Festival boarding at his family's Catskills motel. The year is 1969. Change is brewing in America, and the energy in Greenwich Village is palpable. Elliot Tiber (Demetri Martin) is working as an interior designer when he discovers that a high-profile concert has recently lost its permit from the nearby town of Wallkill, NY. Emboldened by the burgeoning gay rights movement yet still tied to tradition in the form of the family business -- a Catskills motel called the El Monaco -- Tiber phones producer Michael Lang (Jonathan Groff) at Woodstock Ventures and offers boarding to the harried concert crew. Later, as the Woodstock Ventures staff begans arriving in droves, half a million concertgoers make their way to Max Yasgur's (Eugene Levy) adjacent farm in White Lake, NJ, to witness the counterculture celebration that would ultimately make history as one of the greatest events in the annals of rock & roll. Imelda Staunton, Emile Hirsch, Liev Schreiber, and Paul Dano co-star. ~ Jason Buchanan, All Movie Guide


Categories: Documentary

"United States - Past and Present - Facing its moment of truth."

The American Future: A History 2009
Written and Presented by Simon Schama

The election of Barack Obama serves as both touchstone and framework for The American Future: A History, a four-hour, four-part documentary hosted by historian Simon Schama. In fact, title notwithstanding, Schama actually doesn’t say a lot about the our nation’s future, other than the obvious (noting that water shortages will increasingly be an issue, particularly in the western states, is hardly stop-the-presses stuff); his main point here is that Obama represents the country’s best chance to regain its stature in the world and reverse what he calls "the nationwide loss of faith in government" that festered throughout the George W. Bush years. Not a very original thesis, but what Schama, a Brit who has lived half his life in the States, has in spades is a flair for providing information in a manner that’s engaging and entertaining but rarely pedantic or excessively scholarly. Each of the program’s four segments--entitled "American Plenty," which addresses the water issue in the context of the history of Western expansion; "American War"; "American Fervour" (sic), in which Schama discusses on the nature of religious freedom; and "What is an American?", which deals with race and immigration--provides not only a great deal of history but a revealing focus on individuals, both celebrated and otherwise. Thus we learn about the deeds of Montgomery Meigs, an engineer and Union Army officer who was a Civil War hero, or about the opposite stances taken by the pacifist Mark Twain and the gung-ho Theodore Roosevelt at the time of the Spanish-American War. We all know about Martin Luther King, Jr., but who has even heard of Fannie Lou Hamer, a cotton picker and folk singer who became a mid-'60s civil rights leader? And while the black mark of slavery informs so much of our country’s history, how many know about the plight of the Chinese workers who helped build the first transcontinental railroad in the 1800s? Schama’s ability to find the small, personal components of the big picture helps make The American Future both worthwhile and compelling. Bonus material includes an intro recorded by Schama on November 5, 2008, and a photo gallery. --Sam Graham

Categories: Documentary

In the Land of the War Canoes 1972
Directed and Written by Edward Curtis
Starring: Maggie Frank

A drama of Kwakiutl life in the Northwest. Best known as one of the premiere photographers of the 20th century, Edward S. Curtis devoted his life to documenting the disappearing world of the American Indian. In this film, originally titled "In the Land of the Headhunters," Curtis retold a tribal story of love and revenge among the Kwakiutl Indians of Vancouver Island. Curtis spent three years with the Kwakiutl to meticulously recreate their way of life before the white man came. In addition to the magnificent painted war canoes of the title, the film features wonderful native costumes, dancing and rituals--including a powerful scene of a vision quest. Restored from the only surviving print in 1972 with a new score of original music and chants by the Kwakiutls themselves, "In the Land of the War Canoes" presents a magnificent image of a lost world. (Milestone)


Categories: Documentary

" Travelers who fell foul of the law..."

Locked up Abroad 2009
National Geographic

From travelers who fell foul of the law and found themselves behind bars, to an adventurer who strayed too far off the beaten track and found himself hostage. Locked Up Abroad recounts the intense moments and struggles lived during captivity and the amazing stories on how they regained their freedom. Featuring 12 episodes and stories from over 10 countries. (National Geographic)


HOAX or History?

UFO Hunters, Season One 2008
Narrated by James Lurie

They look to the stars, to the earth, and within the human body. Their determination, attitude, and methodologies stand strong against ridicule and disbelief. Passionate about separating fact from fallacy, they are the UFO research elite they are the UFO HUNTERS.

Join in on the hunt with HISTORY® to follow a leading group of researchers as they open their files and investigate UFO cases and crash sites in search of physical evidence of UFOs and alien life forms. From Roswell and the start of Project Blue Book, to the UFO sightings of the 21st century; between the exploration of the cosmos and the alleged removal of alien implants UFO HUNTERS seeks the answers to the mysteries of the UFO Phenomenon while demonstrating scientific evidence that pushes the boundaries of modern-day thinking.History Channel


Categories: Documentary, LGBT

Check out Our LGBT Non Fiction Collection

Our House: Kids of Gay and Lesbian Parents 2000
Produced and Directed by Meema Spadola

What is it like to grow up with Gay or Lesbian parents? Today, there are millions of children in the United States who fit that description. These families are at the heart of debates in courtrooms, schools and places of worship around the country as Americans struggle to define family values. Our House is a groundbreaking documentary that explores what it's like to grow up with gay or lesbian parents. Traveling to urban, rural and suburban communities in Arizona, Arkansas, New Jersey and New York, director Meema Spadola (the daughter of a lesbian mom and the director of Breasts: A Documentary) profiles the sons and daughters of five families - African American, Latino and white; Mormon, Christian and Jewish - who illustrate some of the diversity of America's gay and lesbian families. Icarus Films

Fish Can't Fly 2005
Produced and Directed by Tom Murray

Tom Murray's new docu, helpfully subtitled "Conversations about GOD and struggling to be gay," tracks several churchgoing gays in their efforts to reconcile their spirituality and sexuality. It soon becomes clear that pic's focus actually is men and women who have gone through the "ex-gay" conversion movement -- an intensive process designed to turn homosexuals straight -- only to become what one lesbian priest characterizes as "Dos Equis," ex-ex-gay. A well-constructed expose that slowly discloses its subject with clarity and candor, pic adds an important chapter to the gay docu canon and should be a popular item at gay fests. Like Murray's previous "Farm Family," docu zeroes in on people living outside gay-friendly urban centers. The mainly young men and women who recount their experiences all arrived at the ex-gay movement after exhausting attempts to forge an acceptable sexual identity within a restrictive society and, most particularly, a religious community that expressly excluded gays' gayness. Many of Murray's witnesses had not yet fully embraced their homosexuality and others felt that if they had to choose between sex and God, they really had no choice. All of them sacrificed years of their lives to the program, some even becoming spokespersons for the "conversion" cause on TV talkshows and point/counterpoint-type public debates. Murray freely cuts back and forth among his cinematic flock as they trace the parallel stages of their journey, from early struggles to live in harmony with their denominational brethren to well-meaning endeavors by parents, pastors and counselors to "cure" them of their homosexuality, to their final shared experience of suicidal depression when exorcism or Bible-spouting deprogramming failed to transform them into "normal" people. Indeed, one of pic's most fascinating figures is a white-haired, churchgoing conservative woman whose inability to accept her daughter's sexual difference contributed to her offspring's suicide. All of Murray's interviewees are marked by past ordeals with ex-gay groups like Live in Action or Exodus including traumatic years within cults where gay behavior was demonized, Calvin Klein clothes were confiscated as promoting "false image" and surveillance was constant. --Variety -

Girl Inside 2007
Produced and Directed by Maya Gallus
Photo Cylla Von Tiedemann

Twenty-six-year-old Madison, a male to female transsexual, is in the process of becoming a girl and Vivien, her apple-martini-drinking 80-year-old glamorous grandmother, has taken on the job of advising her on all things feminine. While Vivien's attempts to school Madison in the mysterious codes of fashion and behaviour are often hilarious, her straight-up questions raise profound issues about the nature of gender and sexuality. Filmed over three years, Madison's gender metamorphosis unfolds as an emotional, intellectual and spiritual journey of self-discovery that is as important as the physical journey of hormones and surgery. Love trumps discomfort as her family in rural New Brunswick struggles to accept that they now have a daughter instead of a son, a sister instead of a brother. And a year into her transition, she and her best male friend Cameron fall in love. He now sees Madison as completely female and accompanies her through the final stages of surgery and recovery. Sometimes funny, sometimes painful, this sweet coming of age story is both a portrait and an exploration of what it means to be a woman. NOTE: Some language and some scenes of throat surgery. --- Red Queen

Paris is Burning 2005
Produced and Directed by Jennie Livingston

Paris Is Burning closes with two neon-lit boys holding each other on the streets of Harlem. One looks into the camera and asks, "So this is New York City and what the gay lifestyle is all about--right?" This documentary takes an honest, humorous, and surprisingly poignant peek into one of America's overlooked subcultures: the world of the urban drag queen. It's a parallel dimension of bizarre beauty, where "houses" vie like gangs for turf and reputation ... only instead of street-fighting, they vogue their way down makeshift catwalks in competitive "balls." The only rule of the ballroom: be real.

In surprisingly candid interviews, you discover the grace, strength, and humor it takes to be gay, black, and poor in a straight, rich, white world. You'll meet young transsexual "cover girls," street hustlers saving up for the big operation, and aging drag divas reminiscing about the bygone days of sequins, feathers, and Marilyn Monroe.

Made in the late 1980s, this fashion-conscious film shows its age less than you'd expect. It's still a great watch for anyone interested in the whole range of humanity, or anyone who's ever been an outsider, desperately wanting something the world hides out of reach. --Grant Balfour

100 % Woman 2004
Writer and Director: Karen Duthie

100% Woman begins as Michelle Dumaresq's mountain-bike riding career did, careening down a rocky path to be met with controversy. From some critics comes cautious concern, from others, complete attack. At the centre of it all is the past of this extreme athlete—in particular, the first 20-odd years of life that Michelle spent as Michael.

In 2002, Dumaresq became the first openly transgendered woman in the world to be named to a national team in any sport. Beginning with her days on the BC race circuit, to the Canada Cup, the national title and finally, a berth at the World Championships, her progress is dogged by constant scrutiny, both from fellow competitors and the media. Dumaresq insists she doesn't race to make a stand, but doesn't shy from being a trailblazer. She grew up in turmoil over her identity and struggled to come to terms with herself as an adult, even with her parents' whole-hearted support. She takes on the mantle of role model because she understands how isolated others like her feel. Dr. Jerrilyn Prior, the pioneer of sex-hormone use in gender re-assignment therapy, backs up Dumaresq's quest to compete and explains how hormonal changes drastically reduce musculature.

This compelling documentary raises timely questions about what it means to be a "real" woman in the world of competitive sports and beyond.

Before Stonewall 1985
Directed by Greta Schiller et al.

Before Stonewall is a documentary about evolution, namely the evolution of gay culture in the U.S. from the early 1920s to the Stonewall riot of 1969. Embellished with archival footage and photography from five decades, the film most prominently features the gay underground of the '20s and '30s, the rise of gay service in the military and workforce during WWII, the persecution of gays as "subversives" and "sexual perverts" in the state department by Senator McCarthy, the growth of the first grassroots political organizations for gay men and lesbians in the '50s, and of course, the civil rights movement. Commentary is provided by the gay men and lesbians who came of age in the years leading up to Stonewall.

Overall, Before Stonewall does an admirable job of illustrating the rise of American gay culture and pinpointing the various social and political issues that were most instrumental. Perhaps the film's only weakness lies in the vast ground it tries to cover in such a short amount of time, leaving certain themes without much in-depth coverage. However, as a snapshot of the years leading up to Stonewall, it succeeds remarkably well. --Katy Ankenman

Stonewall 1995
Directed by Nigel Finch
Starring: Doug barron, Cerry Becker

The fictional story line of Stonewall is framed by a piece of re-created gay history that has been chronicled before, primarily in such documentaries as Before Stonewall and After Stonewall. But here director Nigel Finch constructs a multilayered entertainment set in and around the Stonewall riots of June 1969 (in New York) that marked the start of gay rights and activism. Stonewall is engaging and sympathetic to the plight of gays everywhere, who survived a world where homosexuality was a fate worse than death (and often resulted in it). This is a movie about survival, oppression, and the self-loathing that is inflicted by a world that refuses to understand anything different from mainstream morality. Within that dynamic is a familiar subplot about a young rube, Matty (Fred Weller), who comes from the Midwest to the big city in order to find himself and falls for a drag queen named La Miranda (Guillermo Díaz) in the process. Finch, who died prior to the film's completion (it was finished by producer Christine Vachon), uncovers something joyous in the angst of his characters and in the factual context of material that might have seemed overworked in less committed hands. --Paula Nechak

After Stonewall 1999
Written and Produced by John Scagliotti

The companion film to Before Stonewall, After Stonewall, narrated by Melissa Etheridge, explores gay history in the U.S. from the 1970s through the 1990s. Like its predecessor, After Stonewall attempts to cover much ground in a short amount of time; however, with only three decades to span, the assignment is more manageable.

The film covers the predictable highs and lows of the last 30 years of the 20th century. On the side of triumph, it explores the declassification of homosexuality as a disease; the growth of gay presses and writers; gay wins in political office (notably Harvey Milk and Elaine Noble); and the formation of a national gay lobbying presence in the Human Rights Fund. On the flip side, we witness the antigay hysteria evoked by Anita Bryant; the rise of AIDS, the blind eye of the federal government; and the growth of the Christian Coalition. Perhaps the most significant contribution of this film is its mapping of a gay presence within popular media. Through TV shows such as South Park and covers of Newsweek and Time, as well as "out" popular performers like k.d. lang and Ellen DeGeneres, the case is made that gay culture has "arrived" in America--a huge leap from the days before Stonewall when the common idea of a gay person was someone to snicker at or otherwise dismiss as a lunatic. --Katy Ankenman


Categories: Documentary

New Evidence Surfaces in the Death of The Group of Seven artist Tom Thomson

Dark Pines: a documentary investigation of into the death of Tom Thomson 2005

Directed by David Vaisbord

On a rainy summer day in 1917, beloved Canadian painter Tom Thomson paddled alone onto Canoe Lake in Ontario's Algonquin Park and was never again seen alive. He was just 39 and had painted only 50 major works. In the decades following, this small but extraordinary body of work became the single most influential in Canadian landscape painting, and Thomson grew into a figure of mythical proportions. For 50 years, new evidence and testimony continued to surface in his mysterious death.

Most people familiar with the story think Thomson drowned accidentally, but this richly crafted docudrama reconsiders events surrounding his untimely end. The details—a summer love affair that may have spawned bitter rivalry and unwanted consequences, a rumoured political debate that took a violent turn, secret gambling debts, a haphazard investigation, even an exhumed body from Thomson's casket that proved to be the remains of another man—come vividly to life with performances from some of Canada's best actors. In the end, the only certainty is that Thomson's strange death has added to the enduring appeal of this Canadian icon, whose powerful paintings inspired the Group of Seven. Moving Images

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