Before falling into obscurity, the slice of life documentary Cousin Jules was well-received by critics in the early 1970's. Restored and released again, this wonderful film takes viewers into a world that to contemporary eyes appears primitive and exotic in view of our high-speed, high- tech, consumer society. Back in the 1960’s, those who lived off of the land in provincial France led slow, ordinary lives connected to the earth and to long-established practices. They made their own tools, harvested their own food and wine, ground their own coffee without electricity, accessed water from a well, and in general, lived off the land with a kind of raw independence and austerity that is almost unheard of in today’s postmodern society, one defined by ease, speed and consumerism. The film features Jules, a blacksmith who is short on conversation but whose mundane tasks are mesmerizing as they are without pretense or excess. The viewer is taken inside the routine rituals of everyday life, slowly, tenderly and without artifice or without a structured plot and yet the film feels fresh, a kind of poetic meditation on the nobility of craftsmanship and the humdrum ways of life that have been largely automated.
70 years ago today, one of World War II's most significant battles was D-Day, the day in which thousands of Allied soldiers crossed the English Channel to invade German occupied France. There's certainly no shortage of informational resources on this topic but if you're a WWII buff or simply want to know more about this imporant day in the fight against Nazi Germany, check out The War by Americana documentarian Ken Burns. This is my favorite work of Burns and his most emotionally dramatic. Soldiers who were there, storming the beaches of Normandy, recount with unfiltered descriptions, the horrors, heroism, and blunders that they experienced on that fateful day and in doing so, provide an unromanticized version of their sacrifice. It's Burn's most stirring documentary and one that is required viewing for those interested in World War II. For those who want their history fictionalized, KPL owns many feature films set during wartime, including Saving Private Ryan, Life Is Beautiful, Schindler's List, The Big Red One, Force 10 from Navarone, The Thin Red Line, The English Patient, The Winds of War, In Darkness, Ivan's Childhood, The Cranes are Flying, and Flags of Our Fathers.
Shola Lynch, a documentary filmmaker who has garnered much critical acclaim for her incisive and salient films, is one director whose films are invaluable, particularly for people like me who didn't live through the turbulent times they speak of. Lynch is interested in participatory democracy and how people, especially people who have been historically denied a voice (and a vote), forge new ways and means of being heard. As the director of Chisholm ’72 and Free Angela and All Political Prisoners, Lynch shares with audiences the stories of the titular African American women, both activists and leaders in political and social justice movements in the late 1960s to 70s.
Chisholm ’72: Unbought and Unbossed
Shirley Chisholm was our nation’s first Black congresswoman, and her gutsy run for president several years later was another first in U.S. History; she was working under the belief that people would vote with their conscience, rather than cynically voting for “the man most likely…” Lynch portrays the complicated political forces involved that make for a gripping story.
Free Angela and All Political Prisoners
Dr. Angela Davis sought social justice, not by running for elected office (that would transpire years later) but initially by teaching and working directly with local activists. The events that transpire thereafter are so incredible and outrageous that I cannot retell them with any justice here - Lynch has already done that.
Chisholm ’72: Unbought and Unbossed
It’s no secret that the craft beer movement is burgeoning in Michigan—with Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo taking first and second place respectively in the annual Beer City USA poll last year, it’s clear that Michiganders love their craft brews. If you’re interested in finding out more about craft brewing in Michigan, check out The Michigan Beer Film. It focuses mainly on Southwest Michigan, following Greenbush Brewing Company as it rapidly expands and crediting Bell’s for founding the craft beer scene in Michigan. It takes a brief tour of the U.P. and a stop at Short’s Brewing Company, along with a look at a brewing upstart in Detroit. I would have liked to have seen a bit more of brewing around the state, but it is nice to see what’s going on in our area of Michigan, and it’s particularly good to see an industry that’s growing in Michigan. So grab an Oberon and watch The Michigan Beer Film!
Michigan Beer Movie
In case you needed one last, post-Oscars list to use for upcoming checkout's. According to a survey of the editors and contributors of Film Comment magazine, these are the Top 20 films of 2013. Some have been released on DVD and others have yet to hit the shelves.
- Inside Llewyn Davis
- 12 Years a Slave
- Before Midnight
- The Act of Killing
- A Touch of Sin
- Computer Chess
- Frances Ha
- Upstream Color
- Museum Hours
- Blue Is the Warmest Color
- Spring Breakers
- Like Someone in Love
- Stories We Tell
- American Hustle
- The Grandmaster
About twenty years ago, I stumbled on a documentary called Paradise Lost: the Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills. It told the story of the investigation into the murder of three eight year old boys in West Memphis, Arkansas and the subsequent conviction of three teenagers, casting doubt on whether the teenagers were guilty of murder or just guilty of wearing black, listening to heavy metal music, and enjoying horror films.
Over the years, the documentary filmmakers who made the original Paradise Lost have produced two other films: Paradise Lost: Revelations and Paradise Lost: Purgatory. These documentaries and other information about the case convinced some high profile people like: Eddie Vedder, Henry Rollins, Johnny Depp, and Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson to lobby for the release of these teenagers.
After a bizarre plea deal, they were released on August 19, 2011 after serving over eighteen years for crimes they possibly didn’t commit.
Now, Damien Echols, who was on death row for those eighteen years, tells his story in Life After Death. Watch the documentaries and read his book and decide who you believe.
Paradise Lost: Purgatory
Last month marked the 80th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition, so if you're going to be stuck inside during these cold and snowy days, you may as well cozy up with a hot toddy and watch Ken Burns' documentary series describing the passage, enforcement, and repeal of Prohibition in the United States. When I watched the series last month I wasn't sure how much I'd learn, since this era was covered in my American history classes and has been heavily mined by pop culture, but I found all five-and-a-half hours engaging. I especially enjoyed the first episode, which outlines the factors leading to the passage of the 18th Amendment, including immigration and the introduction of the federal income tax.
The library has several copies of the DVD, but it's also available to check out anytime with Hoopla, the library's source for instant streaming videos, music, and audiobooks.
If you're interested in fictional depictions of Prohibition, check out the Coen Brothers' Miller's Crossing, the television series Boardwalk Empire, or Woody Allen's comedic take Bullets Over Broadway.