Best Documentary Feature

5 Broken Cameras (2012) Review | Jamie Daily

5 Broken Cameras (2012)
85th Academy Awards 2013
4/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award.
Nominated for Best Documentary Feature (Emad Burnat, Guy Davidi).
Watched January 17, 2014.

  

I have a lot of love for Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi for 5 Broken Cameras, if only for what Burnat has done and what he represents.  Whether or not I agree with the political activism and the statements made in the film is irrelevant.  Burnat films his life and what is happening to his community.  Davidi helped it become cinematic brilliance.

 

From someone who vlogs my personal life for friends and family, but also to document, I felt a personal connection to this film that probably gave it one more star than it may deserve.  Burnat got his first video camera in 2005 for the birth of his fourth son, Gibreel.  He is born into Bil’in, a Palestinian town outside of Jerusalem in the West Bank.  We’ve all heard of the West Bank, but these people live there.

 

The Israeli government has moved the wall and taken good portions of their land.  These people do not have salaries–they live off of the land, and the government has given permission for settlers to build on the Olive grove.  Outraged that the Israeli government thinks they can take their livelihood, Burnat and the other men in the town organize weekly protests to be held every Friday.  They are supposedly “peaceful” protests, but there is always tear gas and gunshots.  Sometimes people are arrested, and occasionally people die, but the wall is stubbornly unmoved, year after year.

 

Burnat goes through five cameras over the course of five years, and in the end he is on his sixth.  One camera saved his life, another is repaired multiple times from being shot.  There is one poignant scene when Burnat’s wife Soraya is pleading with him to stop filming everything because it will get him killed.  Burnat is recognized by the Israeli government as a journalist, so he gets many unique shots even from amongst the soldiers as they deal with the protests.  Sometimes they don’t acknowledge the camera and other times it angers them.

  

There are certain shots that certainly have a great deal of foresight that your average home movie doesn’t have.  Panoramas of Israel, shots of burning olive trees, and a fascinating discussion between mother and son while washing dishes.  Even more interesting among this is watching Gibreel grow up in Bil’in and discover the world around him.  As a toddler, the soldiers are just other people, but in only a few years he will be confused by his father’s anger and then slowly come to understand.  By the time he is five and has lost people he loves dearly, the anger begins to become his own.

 

The story telling is well done, and although there are a lot of scenes of protest, Burnat and Davidi are capable of showing them from new angles and in new light.  In each one, something significant or representative of their struggle happens.  Although certain aspects of the story frustrated me, I enjoyed their method of story telling immensely and appreciate how raw and real everything is.  Other directors try to capture this feeling in a lot their projects, but 5 Broken Cameras trumps most of them.

 

Even if you aren’t necessarily a fan of documentaries I would recommend this one for you.  If you aren’t into political activism, the story telling and raw nature of the film are enough to draw you in and hold you there.

Undefeated (2011) Review | Jamie Daily

Undefeated (2011)
84th Academy Awards 2012
4/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award, which it won.
Won Best Documentary Feature (Daniel LindsayT.J. MartinRich Middlemas).
Watched September 11, 2013.

  

Even if documentaries aren’t your thing, if you like sports films or if you always find yourself rooting for the little guy, Undefeated is the film for you.

 

high school football team in the heart of Memphis, the Manassas Tigers have never won a playoff game.  In 2009, their coach, Bill Courtney, after 6 years volunteering with the program is determined to have his guys win a playoff game.

 

The documentary focuses on four main characters. Courtney is a family man who owns a business but has a passion for football and coaching.  He sees a need, being a man who grew up without a father, to step up and teach the teenagers of Manassas how to overcome their circumstances.  His three star players have chances for scholarships and college (or maybe even college football).  Courtney and another coach go so far as to help O.C. Brown by giving him a place to stay during the week so that he can have a tutor.

 

There are a lot of anger issues among the teens, and one star player has a lot of his season taken from him in a surprise injury.  Most of them live in poverty and with only one parent.  Courtney teaches again and again that you play with character–if you play for the team instead of yourself–winning will follow.  He teaches leadership and humility, although not necessarily patience.

 

I thought the film was very well done.  The pacing was good, the cinematography had a raw darkness to it that gave it a great mood, and the narrative was great.  It isn’t necessarily an uplifting story, but it held my attention all the same.  The selflessness of the couches is touching and the team meetings are very revealing.  I hope that what Courtney could do for the Manassas Tigers spread through the rest of the school and continued once he left.

 

If you enjoy a good sport film or documentary, I would definitely recommend Undefeated.

 

Pina (2011) Review | Jamie Daily

Pina (2011)
84th Academy Awards 2012
1/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award.
Nominated for Best Documentary Feature Film (Gian-Piero RingelWim Wenders).
Watched April 9, 2013.

Most of the reviews I read for Pina were absolute raves, but I did manage to find one that agreed with me and made me feel like a little less of a weirdo.  If you love modern dance, contemporary, and ballet, and also have an eye for the abstract in art, you probably will not agree with me.  I generally like contemporary and classical ballet, along with other styles of dance, but this documentary was fairly alienating and is definitely aimed at fans of Pina Bausch, the choreographer genius behind the dances in the documentary.

 

Pina passed away from cancer just five days after she was diagnosed.  The film was already in pre-production, but after her passing it became a tribute to her choreography and her genius in the dancing community.  The documentary features several dance numbers that she and her company performed during her career, but they are broken apart and are never shown from beginning to end, but rather sprinkled throughout the narrative.  They all tend to incorporate elements–earth and water–or obstacles.  There is very little dialogue, and when there is, it is usually a brief, somewhat ambiguous statement from one of Pina’s dancers about Pina and her style of teaching and choreographing.  There are also original clips of Pina herself in both the studio as well as the stage.  She embodies so much of her dance that after watching her, the other dancers seem as if they are chasing her greatness.

 

From someone who knew nothing about Pina Bausch before the film, I almost know less after watching it.  I know her name and that she was a dancer and choreographer.  However, the documentary revealed little of her story and her character, but focused mostly on the imagery of her dances and therefore her ideas translated through dance.  However, the fact that her dances were broken up made it more difficult to discover their meaning and therefore grow attached to them.

 

I am not a dancer and therefore the messages did not translate well.  I was very confused and bored until the last few minutes, when I was finally able to discover some of my own meaning in a few of the dances.  One of the last scenes has the group of dancers doing a certain “line dance,” if you will, along the ridge of a mountain, and I found this shot quite beautiful.

 

All things said and done, I am glad to cross the documentary Pina off my list and move on to something else.  I would not recommend it if, as I mentioned before, you don’t care for modern or contemporary dance and if you would rather there be some dialogue or verbal explanation of story.  I am a great lover of story, and there was little depth in that regard for me.  However, if you are a lover of dance and a lover of Pina Bausch, please disagree with me and see the film for yourself!

Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory (2011) Review | Jamie Daily

Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory (2011)
84th Academy Awards 2012
4/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award.
Nominated for Best Documentary Feature (Joe BerlingerBruce Sinofsky)
Watched March 16, 2013.

 

My heart breaks as I write this review.  In fact, it has taken me weeks to write it, which is why I have done so few reviews lately.  My thoughts are jumbled and writing them down almost makes me more confused.  This documentary was hard to watch, both because of its content, the real life events, and the way it stuck to me after it was finished.  The filmmakers were incredibly convincing, both in their style, delivery, timeline, and story.

 

My personal opinions on the murder of three eight year old boys and who killed them does not have a place in this review, as I would like to focus on the filmmaking and its place in the Academy’s nominations.  However, I feel a great hole in my heart as I think about that night in 1993 when three sets of parents were frantically searching for their children, and the horrible moment the next day when they found out why Michael, Christopher, and Stevie never came home.  “The real West Memphis Three who will never be forgotten” (http://www.terryhobbs.com).

 

The film is divided into parts.  The first two recap what happened in the previous documentaries, therefore if you are a newcomer to the story, like myself, the first half of the film is plenty to catch you up on what has been going on the last twenty years.  The first chapter is clearly a product of the nineties, and is jarringly askew, aided by the overbearing Metallica accompaniment.  Despite this fact, after adjusting my 2013 brain to their post-production decision, I found it fit very well with the horrific nature of the murders and the trials that followed.

 

The Paradise Lost films are not about three eight year old boys (Michael, Christopher, and Stevie) who were murdered.  They are about the three who served time in prison for almost twenty years for the murders.  The documentaries’ main goal was to prove their innocence and have them released.  The filmmakers’ actions were desperate at times because one of the three convicted received the death penalty in 1994.

 

For someone who knew nothing about the film going into it, and even less about the murders it focuses on, I was fairly traumatized, to say the least.  I watch a lot of crime dramas but very few documentaries on the same subjects, simply because the real life actions make me sick to my stomach, whereas dramatized circumstances are entertaining.  I was horrified for the little boys, for their families, for their screaming mothers, and for the three teenage boys that may or may not have committed the crime.

 

Setting reality aside, the filmmaking was phenomenal.  I can’t get past how wonderful the editing was, and how ultimately persuasive the filmmakers were able to make their argument.  Whether or not they manipulated situations or left out evidence in hopes of convincing the audience that the three on trial were innocent is irrelevant because they set out to argue their case and were successful.  The way they timed it, pieced it together, narrated it, and used the interview footage was all beautifully done.

 

Because of my own experience with this film, I recommend it lightly.  Please understand the nature of the film and that if all you can handle is Hollywood crime dramas, this is one to stay away from.  I am glad to get this review done so that maybe I can move on, and therefore recommend that if you also have a tough time letting go of reality, this might be a good documentary to pass by.

If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front (2011) Review | Jamie Daily

If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front (2011)
84th Academy Awards 2012
3/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award.
Nominated for Best Documentary Feature (Marshall Curry, Sam Cullman).
Watched February 18, 2013.

 

If a Tree Falls is a very light handed documentary film.  It doesn’t preach, but instead does its job.  It documents and uses the interviews and stories from others to tell a story.  From someone who is not an environmentalist (as much as I love nature and would love to keep it around), I found this very effective in keeping me interested and keeping my bias out of my final opinion of the film.

 

The film follows one main character–Daniel McGowan–who got caught up in the ELF in the 90s after seeing a film documenting the efforts of environmentalists in Eugene, Oregon, where the police were being particularly unforgiving.  The ELF is an extremist group known to the United States government as the number one domestic terrorist threat.  When it began, it was more tame.  Normal protests were not being acknowledged, except maybe with tear gas and pepper spray.  The ELF decided to take things into their own hands, although they said their interests were the preservation of all life and most of the instances in the film were against companies and organizations that were jeopardizing the lives of trees, etc.

 

When marches, protests, and petty vandalization were still not being heard, they stepped it up and began utilizing arson.  In one instance, Daniel was only a lookout, and in another he helped set fire to a tree farm.  They destroyed millions of dollars in property, including a multi-million dollar lodge in Colorado.  Once Daniel realized that they still weren’t being heard, he stepped away from the ELF, but years later was brought in by the FBI.  His sister put up everything she had to bail him out and he was put on house arrest.

 

The biggest underlying tone of the documentary is whether or not Daniel and his cohorts should be considered terrorists.  After the events of 9/11, the term “terrorist” took on a drastic meaning–one who seeks out and kills innocents.  The US government, on the other hand, sees terrorists differently.  Daniel and his lawyer fought against it so that Daniel would not get 300 to life in prison and be labeled a terrorist for the rest of his days.

 

There are brief moments of genuine emotion that make the film painful.  Daniel’s sister and his wife are in tears over what he is going through, and the prospect of saying goodbye to him.  The other environmentalists, some whom were involved in ELF, and a documentary filmmaker who was not, are also very emotionally passionate about their beliefs.  They are genuine and honest about their actions, all saying that they were not the wisest decisions.  However, they wish there was a way they could get through to people and stop deforestation.

 

I thought this would be an excellent documentary to show on television.  It was well done and tells quite the story.  It was not the most astounding work or caft, but perhaps I have this opinion because I am less fond of the interview style documentaries.  That being said, I thought the execution held up, and was glad that it was both about the ELF and about Daniel’s personal struggles against the label of terrorist.  If you have a taste for documentaries, this is one that I would recommend.

Sources:  North Of CenterIMDBRotten TomatoesNY TimesJohn Likes Movies