Between this and the Oxford Companion to the American Musical posts, this is obviously showbiz week on OUPblog! In the post below, Pat Aufderheide, author of Documentary Film: A Very Short Introduction, and confirmed friend of OUPblog (see her earlier posts here and here), suggests ten great recent docs that everyone should go and see.
Suddenly, docs are popular, but which are the ones you could watch with a spouse, a date, a mom? Here are ten recent documentaries, just a few among the many I love (not the latest, a lot of them are still waiting for distribution). They’re all films that you could offer to family or friends, and watch without losing either sleep or brain cells. And they’re all films that let you see how rich and exciting this genre can be when it’s allowed to express itself instead of being trapped inside television formulas.
Amandla! (2002) Lee Hirsch. How did song spread and nurture anti-apartheid spirit in and beyond South Africa? Art meets politics in a good way/ Go ahead, tap your feet.
Murderball (2005) Henry Alex Rubin and Dana Adam Shapiro. The best antidote for sanctimonious, climb-every-mountain disability films. These paraplegics are here to play rugby, and if they can pick up a date, that works for them too.
The Natural History of the Chicken (2000) Mark Lewis. Well, maybe not for every animal lover, but another of the outrageously funny (in a dark way) documentarian Mark Lewis. His works (including Cane Toad) document multifaceted and peculiar relationships between human beings and other animals.
Recording ‘The Producers’: A Musical Romp with Mel Brooks (2001). Susan Froemke. The musicians and stars of the musical get down to work, with the irrepressible Mel Brooks—he is his own unabashed best fan—enthusiastically championing the process.
Rivers and Tides (2001). Thomas Riedelsheimer. Andy Goldsworthy makes ephemeral art from stones, ice, leaves, water and in the process makes you see the natural world as if for the first time. Watching him fail is as mesmerizing as watching him succeed.
Shut Up and Sing (2006). Barbara Kopple and Cecilia Peck. When Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks puts down George Bush in London, the singers discover the cost of speaking your mind. Watch the girls discover their First Amendment rights, and win new fame!
Sing Faster: The Stagehands’ Ring Cycle (1999). Jon Else. It’s really hard to find a film that’s as much fun for opera-haters as for opera-lovers, but this might be it. It’s the stagehands’ view of Wagner.
Winged Migration (2001).Jacques Perrin. To film the world-wide peregrinations of elegant, stately and just plain improbable birds, this French team had to raise some of them from birth. A jaw-dropper all the way through; you’ll never look at a swamp the same way again.
The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill (2003). Judy Irving. An oddball hippie and escaped exotic birds both find sanctuary among the perches of San Francisco’s elite. You could go for the birds or the philosophy, or both.
Sisters in Law (2005). Florence Ayisi and Kim Longinotto. Longinotto has an extraordinary gift for finding astonishing female characters. In West Cameroon, two women judges wrangle sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes comic family conflicts. These women are formidable, and unforgettable.
You would have made a different list? Me too, on a different day. So many docs, so little time.