Films on Biographies

See also:   Biography Docudramas    or    Biographies of Women

BIOPIC DOCUMENTARIES

If sufficient filmed records of the subject exist from the past hundred years since the age of film began, then a documentary film may be the best way to bring the biography of a person to life on the screen. This way you see the real person rather than an actor trying to imitate that person in a docudrama. In such cases, docudramas may be made simply to profitably exploit the popularity of the subject, and may deviate from the true story in an attempt to maximize popular box-office appeal.

War on Whistleblowers:
Free Press and the National Security State

Documentary 2013 NR 1hr 6m. This documentary from Robert Greenwald highlights four cases in which whistleblowers exposed government wrongdoing to the media and faced serious repercussions. It presents stories of government employees who discovered wrongdoing, brought the evidence to their superiors and, after encountering neglect or resistance, at last took the information to the news media — to the benefit of the public but to the detriment of their families and careers. The account begins with Franz Gayl, and because of his efforts the Pentagon substituted appropriately armored vehicles in Iraq for the far more vulnerable troop carriers that were originally deployed. The film moves on to Thomas Drake, a former official at the National Security Agency, and Thomas Tamm, a former Justice Department lawyer. They disclosed that the George W. Bush administration was conducting warrantless surveillance of Americans as part of its counterterrorism program.  See Full Review

Kevin Durant’s NBA MVP Acceptance Speech

Documentary Youtube 2014 11 min. Kevin Durant, NBA Oklahoma City Thunder star, was honored with his first NBA MVP trophy in 2014, averaging 32 points, 7.4 rebounds and 5.5 assists on the season. Durant then gave one of the more memorable acceptance speeches in quite some time, with a shout out to his mother at the end that will surely make you tear up. This is Durant’s seventh season in the NBA, and again, this is one trophy that has eluded him on his path to becoming a future Hall of Famer. Now with this MVP award in the bag, Durant has given posterity an awesome speech to go along with it that will be remembered forever. Link to watch Durant’s unforgettable MVP acceptance speech: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NTOOIxD7ops

I Hate Christian Laettner

Documentary Thirty for Thirty 2015 TV-PG 1hr17m.  Don’t be fooled by the Disney Channel-style title. “I Hate Christian Laettner” is an amusing, affectionate and quite informative look at the hostility directed at the Duke basketball star of the early 1990s, presented as an ESPN “30 for 30” documentary showcased after the NCAA tournament selection show. Partly an exploration of Duke’s success in those years, partly a look at specific elements that motivated Laettner-haters.  Produced and rather cheekily narrated by Rob Lowe, the documentary considers a five-point perfect storm of personal qualities and sociological factors that made Laettner an irritant to opposing teams, from his movie-star good looks to Duke’s aura of privilege to, perhaps most intriguingly, the idea of the center being a “great white hope” in a game increasingly dominated by African-Americans.  Clearly, part of Laettner’s persona had to do with Duke’s inordinate success, including a pair of national championships and four consecutive Final Four appearances. Those sequences are a treat for those who can recall Laettner’s clutch performances, including, most memorably, his game-winning buzzer-beater against Kentucky.

Best of Enemies

Documentary, 2015, R, 1h 27min. A documentary on the series of televised debates in 1968 between liberal Gore Vidal and conservative William F. Buckley.

Slaying the Badger

Documentary 30 for 30 series 2014 TV-G 1hr17m. Greg LeMond, the first and only American to officially win the Tour de France, recalls the 1986 Tour and his rivalry with teammate Bernard Hinault, nicknamed “The Badger”. A good documentary about the competition that existed between Frenchman Bernard Hinault (5-time Tour de France winner) and American Greg Lemond (3-time Tour winner) in the legendary Tours of 1985 and 1986. The movie also shows the dark side of the sport and those who will stop at nothing to win. Good summary of the Greg LeMond story. I had no idea of this man’s incredible accomplishments in the field of cycling. Lance Armstrong’s doping story has absolutely dominated the American cycling narrative for the last decade, and as a result, this man Lemond’s amazing accomplishments have so unfairly been brushed aside. What a great story of humility and absolute vindication! Wow! So inspiring.

Brian and the Boz

Documentary 30 for 30 (TV Series) 2014.  In some ways, Barry Switzer and Brian Bosworth were made for each other. The Oklahoma coach and the linebacker he recruited to play for him were both out-sized personalities who delighted in thumbing their noses at the establishment. And in their three seasons together (1984-86), the unique father-son dynamic resulted in 31 wins and two Orange Bowl victories as Bosworth was awarded the first two Butkus Awards. But then Bosworth’s alter ego: “The Boz,” took over both their lives and ultimately destroyed their careers. In “Brian and The Boz,” Bosworth looks back on the mistakes he made and passes on the lessons he learned to his son. It’s a revealing portrait of a man who had and lost it all, and a trip back to a time when enough just wasn’t enough.

Altman

Documentary 2014 TV-PG 1hr35m.  Ron Mann chisels a well-crafted tribute to maverick auteur Robert Altman, whose fertile career encompasses huge hits, big misses and controversy.   It is a fascinating Forest Gump-like tale of a World War II vet who started in “the biz” directing oil company industrials and cheesy ’50s crime serial TV. Then in 1970 Altman brought the counterculture classic M*A*S*H to the screen.  My personal favorites are McCabe and Mrs Miller (in my top 10 of all time), and The Player.

Directors: Robert Altman

Documentary 2000 NR 60 minutes.  The American Film Institute series “The Directors” provides one-hour glimpses into the careers of directors whose films have significantly influenced world cinema. Robert Altman’s MASH, McCabe & Mrs. Miller, Nashville, The Player, Short Cuts and Gosford Park have made him a worthy subject, not to mention a critics’ favorite and industry “maverick.” Film clips and interviews provide insight into Altman’s long and controversial career.

Memories of a WW II Hero:
Captain Brown’s Story

Documentary 2014 NR 52m.  One of history’s greatest test pilots, Capt. Eric “Winkle” Brown recounts his many adventures flying dangerous aircraft and setting aviation records.  That this man is still alive is an absolute miracle. Naval Aviation is so dangerous. I lost so many classmates in training and combat–at least 75%, and I know my count is incomplete.  This man pioneered in so many things.  Most Americans are totally unaware of this man, unless they are in aviation, or hard core enthusiasts.  And I had never seen so much as an interview with him, until now.  Which is, to me…astounding.  Few Americans, because we as a nation are such egomaniacs, know that the Brits invented just about everything involving the modern aircraft carrier–and Capt. Brown was the one who tested it all out!   From beginning in the 1930s with bi-planes to finishing with jets, he flew a record 487 different aircraft types.  What a man; what a life!  What a breath of fresh air. I watch so much flotsam and jetsam, that a fine film like this makes up for hundreds of flops and misses. This is a first rate film, about a first rate man.  Highly recommended.  He says that he paid a great price in his family life, and I believe it.

Life Itself

Documentary 2014 R 2hr.  Follow Roger Ebert from his school newspaper days to his status as America’s premier film critic in this documentary drawn from his memoir.   It provides a great deal of information and footage from Roger Ebert’s professional life, ranging from his time as editor of The Daily Illini through his career at the Chicago Sun-Times and his television shows. The stories about him at the college paper show what a gifted writer he was, even at such a young age.  It features the solid documentary work you would expect (still pictures, voice overs, rostrum camera work, etc.) and some very nice interviews with film critics Richard Corliss, A.O. Scott, Martin Scorcese, and some lesser known filmmakers who were impacted by Roger’s advocacy. I wanted more of that.  Ebert estimated that he saw 10,000 movies and wrote 6,000 reviews.  To put that in perspective, if you watched one movie every day, or 365 per year, it would take three years to see 1,000 movies, and thirty years to see 10,000.  Or 300 years to watch all 100,000 movies available here.  The movie reveals how the rivalry between Ebert and fellow critic Gene Siskel was even more contentious and persistent than it appeared on their television show.  But the film is missing something, it’s missing a genuine viewpoint on Roger’s role in the history of film criticism and of film itself, and this might have pushed it over the line into a truly great documentary. It’s made pretty clear at the outset that this was a collaboration between Steve James (“Hoop Dreams”) and Roger Ebert himself, and Roger clearly wanted an unflinching window into what ended up being his death process. It’s not quite as gut-wrenchingly intimate as what Farrah Fawcett did, but it does come awfully close.  But in the end I can’t blame Ebert for wanting to retain control, and he got exactly what he wanted, a fitting and quite moving tribute. But it’s not for everyone, this much is certain.

Jack Strong

Documentary 2014, 128 min. The most spectacular Polish spy of the Cold War era, colonel Ryszard Kuklinski, informs Americans about the communist block’s top secrets in the face of the upcoming martial law.

Silicon Valley

Documentary American Experience 2013 TV-PG 1hr 22m. Meet the trailblazers who transformed California’s Santa Clara Valley into a hub of innovation in this profile of the birthplace of modern technology.

Salinger

Documentary 2013 PG-13 2hr 3m. Interviews with 150 of J.D. Salinger’s friends and colleagues shed light on the reclusive author in this absorbing documentary. High-profile writers and actors, including Martin Sheen, Gore Vidal and John Cusack, discuss how Salinger influenced them.

Hawking

Documentary 2013 NR. Renowned physicist Stephen Hawking narrates his own story via the voice-synthesis device that he has used since ALS silenced his speech. Hawking’s memories capture his youth and college years as well as his extraordinary scientific career.

Supermensch:
The Legend of Shep Gordon

Documentary 2013 R 1hr25m.  Mike Myers turns documentarian with this film on his friend, legendary manager Shep Gordon, whose client list ranged from Alice Cooper to Blondie.  I didn’t know who Shep Gordon was but decided to watch this since it was done by Myers. What a surprise! This is a great entertainment industry documentary about a manager who was responsible for the the success of many of the people who gave testimony to his prowess throughout this film.  A charming and likable documentary portrait of a charming and likable man. Shep Gordon has managed many huge acts, first in the music business, and then in other areas ranging from film to cooking. He has also befriended just about every heavyweight in Hollywood. And yet it seems he’s managed to do so while still being a good guy, a nice guy, an honorable guy. There are on camera interviews with Alice Cooper (who was Shep’s 1st client, and who he has managed for 45 years!), Mick Fleetwood, Michael Douglas, Tom Arnold, Emeril Lagasse, Anne Murray, Mike Meyers, Willie Nelson, Sylvester Stallone and Steven Tyer. But the best interview subject is Shep himself, who is tremendously entertaining, with funny and occasionally tragic anecdotes about his many years in show business. Among the most interesting are the various clever and sometimes amusingly devious ways Shep would raise his clients’ public profiles and help make them stars. There’s a genuine wisdom and even a spiritual side to Shep, who befriended the Dali Llama, and spent a week cooking for him as a way of giving back. Ultimately Shep realized, sadly late in the game, that there was more to life than work, and that he was missing out on having kids and a family. Not a ‘change your life’ film, but it’s always engaging, like listening to the most fun and intelligent guest at a great party.  It was entertaining and educational without being self-serving. I got to learn a bit about how show business was conducted, how talented artists benefited from good management, and how Gordon was smart enough to not get sucked into the seedy side of the business, surviving intact simply because he was such a mensch. Catch it!

Milius

Documentary 2013 NR 1hr 43m. Influential and controversial filmmaker John Milius worked on prominent films such as Apocalypse Now and Jaws before being ostracized by Hollywood.

Running Wild:
The Life of Dayton O. Hyde

Documentary 2013 NR 1hr32m. Dedicated to trying to protect wild horses in the Black Hills of South Dakota, Dayton Hyde emerges as a unique brand of hero in this bio-documentary.

We Steal Secrets:
The Story of WikiLeaks

Documentary 2013 R 2hr 9m. This documentary reveals how Julian Assange fired a global debate on secrecy when his web site, Wikileaks, published thousands of confidential documents. Taking no sides, Oscar winner Alex Gibney examines every aspect of the controversial event. See also the docudrama: “Underground: The Julian Assange Story”.

Julian Assange: A Modern Day Hero?
Inside the World of WikiLeaks

Documentary 2011 NR 1hr 30m. Radical and unapologetic, Australian publisher and journalist Julian Assange created massive controversy in 2010 by making public a flood of secret correspondence among U.S. government agencies via the WikiLeaks website. As this comprehensive and unbiased examination of Assange’s career illustrates, he was already engaged in distributing “secret” information in the public interest before the revelations that made him world famous. The repeated heading used in the film is ‘Courage is Contageous’. See also the docudrama: “Underground: The Julian Assange Story”.

Warren Buffett

Documentary Bloomberg Game Changers 2013 NR 47m. Warren Buffett held an unparalleled position in finance as a legendary investor, a multibillionaire and America’s most respected businessman.

The Armstrong Lie

Documentary 2013 R 128 minutes. Filming cyclist Lance Armstrong as he trained for the 2009 Tour de France, director Alex Gibney had intimate access to the racer’s team. Gibney’s cameras were also rolling for Armstrong’s startling 2012 confession of performance-enhancing drug use.

History of the Eagles

Documentary 2013 TV-MA 3hr7m. Stories from band members and music industry insiders paint a vivid picture of the Eagles, one of America’s most successful bands, beginning in the 1970s to 1980. As a southern California girl this music embodies that time and sound then. This really and truly is one of the best success stories of any band that originated in the U.S. ever. The best part for me was how the reunion came together from 1994 to the present and how amazingly successful it was, both financially and musically. If you are either a casual fan or a diehard, you should be able to enjoy this 3 hour film.

Gore Vidal:
The United States of Amnesia

Documentary 2013 NR 1hr29m. With interviews and footage from his television appearances, this documentary chronicles the life and career of outspoken writer Gore Vidal. I was elated to see him talking about unpopular topics like class struggle decades before Occupy Wall Street, exchanges with William F. Buckley in debates that today would cause Meet the Press cameras to melt. This is a well made overview of the highlights of his career. With the benefit of hindsight, Vidal is proven more prescient with each passing year. As soon as I was finished watching it, I watched it again the next day, fascinating!! I think he is basically correct about this country, and the truth hurts. He was a great disinfectant. I cannot recommend it enough!

Genius on Hold

Documentary 2013 PG 1hr31m. This tells the tale of how prolific inventor Walter L. Shaw saw his ideas stolen and his ambitions foiled by the powerful AT&T; monopoly. Fantastic and informative documentary (by PBS) about how AT&T; maneuvered the government for 107 years to be granted a monopoly — to the detriment of US innovation and destroying inventors’ lives. This film is a great depiction of Corporatism in America. If you enjoy history or business or telecommunications or organized crime or politics, this film intermingles all in a way I’ve never seen before. Great history, great lessons, great entertainment. But this film is convicted burglar Walter Shaw Jr’s version of his father’s life, and some of it appears to be exaggerated or even untrue. Be skeptical.

Mel Brooks:
Make a Noise

Documentary 2013 TV-PG 1hr24m.  This career-spanning documentary journeys through the comedy icon’s professional and personal ups and downs, providing a rare look at a living legend.  You’ll have some fun watching this. No slow parts — the jokes and comic bits are among his best and probably your favorites too, and they come one after another and never stop. An interview (of sorts) punctuated with a steady stream of comic gems and clips.

Burt’s Buzz

Documentary 2013 NR 1hr28m. Burt Shavitz, the co-founder of Burt’s Bees, maintains a reclusive, low-key life in rural Maine — and a complex relationship with his famous company. The film looks at the man behind the portrait on a product line that morphed from a cottage industry to an industry behemoth. Burt’s Bees is no longer his company, but is mass-produced and owned by Clorox. Burt himself is an enigma. The film isn’t about Burt’s co-founder and ex-wife Roxanne, nor the company that even Burt seems to realize was almost wholly her creation. It is about Burt, whose contribution to that company was to raise the first bees, give it a name, and pose for that famous portrait used on the products. What he is not, and never was, was a businessman. He literally fell asleep on the job before Roxanne came in and put his bearded face on the map. If he’s an icon it’s because she made him one. Burt’s perpetual lack of interest in his job is unshakable. So while the product line in the past was produced in small quantities, natural, organic, etc., it is now a mass-produced corporate product made by Clorox. But many people who meet and see him on promotional tours may feel they are supporting that small earth-conscious farmer, when in reality they are not; in fact, they aren’t even helping Burt financially with their purchases of Burt’s Bees products. The name for what is being perpetrated here is “green-washing”. Maybe this documentary will make people more aware of the reality.

Churchill’s First World War

Documentary 2013 TV-14 1hr 29m.  Relying on his intimate letters to his wife, this docudrama examines Winston Churchill’s extraordinary experiences during the Great War.   Churchill began the war as the First Lord of the Admiralty and as such was in charge of Britain’s powerful Navy. He was involved with the development of the tank, and was instrumental in the development of the airplane for military use. And then came his downfall.  In an effort to take Turkey out of the war, he was one of the political and military engineers of the disastrous Gallipoli landings in the Dardanelles; and as First Lord of the Admiralty he took much of the blame (until exonerated later in the war). As a result he resigned in disgrace from his cabinet position and volunteered as an officer to fight in the trenches, commanding a battalion. The film portrays his close loving relationship with his wife Clementine, who stuck with him and supported him politically and personally through the bad times and good; and his close political relationship with David Lloyd George. When George became Prime Minister, he eventually appointed Churchill to be Minister of Munitions during the last year of the war where he further developed the tank and airplane as weapons, and later as Secretary of State for War, after WW I ended. The film is a fine history lesson, showing how Churchill’s experiences during WW I prepared him for leading Great Britain during WW II.

Henry Ford

Documentary American Experience 2013 TV-PG 1hr 52m. Henry Ford paints a fascinating portrait of a farm boy who rose from obscurity to become the most influential American innovator of the 20th century.

The Baidu Billionaire:
Inside the Google of China

Interview in the Bloomberg West Inside series 2013 NR 22m. Although it’s a familiar name in China, the search engine Baidu is little known elsewhere. This isn’t a full-fledged documentary, but it is certainly an interesting interview with founder Robin Li, who went to grad school in the US and then worked there as a programmer.

The Improv:
50 Years Behind the Brick Wall

Documentary 2013 TV-MA 58m. Jerry Seinfeld, Jay Leno, Kathy Griffin and other comic greats pay tribute to the legendary stand-up stage venue founded in 1963 by Budd Friedman. It is very interesting to hear famous comics tell how they paid their dues in the business. The great comedians make their craft look easy because now, after years of practice and dedication, they are accomplished. I also enjoyed the archival footage of famous successful people in the earliest days of their career’s and development, You can really see how and why these people went into entertainment and comedy — even unrehearsed things off the top of their head are funny and there are some really great moments with several of the comedians. They tell some insightful & witty coming of age stories here, and I realized the great comedians haven’t lost their humility. It is fun to watch! This is well worth a look, especially if you aspire to be a comedian. This is also an historic document.

Hawaiian: The Legend of Eddie Aikau

Documentary 30 for 30 2013 TV-G 1hr17m.  This exhilarating documentary sheds light on the extraordinary life and legacy of legendary Hawaiian big-wave surfer Eddie Aikau (pronounced “eye-KOW”).  Like many, I had never heard of Eddie Aikau nor what made him a legend, so everything in this film was new to me.  This is one of the best human interest stories I’ve seen, and definitely the best sports movie I’ve come across. See Full Review

Steve Jobs: Visionary Genius

Documentary 2012 NR 54m.  Inventor, innovator, iconoclast; Steve Jobs was all of these and more. Celebrities and leaders in the world of business talk candidly about the seismic impact that this 21st Century icon had on the way we live.

The Unknown Known

Documentary 2013 PG-13 1hr 42m. Donald Rumsfeld reviews his long political career, from his time in Congress to serving as secretary of defense under Gerald Ford and George W. Bush. I enjoyed watching Rumsfeld speak on many things during this 100 minute film, but never did I feel Errol Morris “got him” or allowed Rumsfeld to get himself. Rumsfeld is a very intelligent person, very full of himself. Unless you are intelligent and combative enough to pierce through that strong armor he has, no “got him” would occur. And it never did in this film. It is a big deal that Morris gets Rumsfeld to be engaging & talkative, but we really never learn more than Rumsfeld wants us to know.

Johnny Carson:
King of Late Night

Documentary American Masters 2012 TV-PG 1hr54m.  Explore the fascinating life and career of Johnny Carson, the beloved and influential longtime host of “The Tonight Show.”  The interviews from Letterman, Jay Leno and even Bob Newhart are so well done.  Each one sharing their personal experiences with Carson add a vital piece of the puzzle of who he was. Although, a large part of who he was and what made him tick is still a mystery. The old films of Carson at home with his family, first job, first marriage etc. all excellent. Worth watching!

Koch Brothers Exposed

Documentary 2012 NR 1hr. Koch Brothers Exposed reveals that the Koch Brothers have launched a large network attacking American values — from their environmental pollution, to their efforts to dismantle social security for working Americans. This revealing film investigates the richest 1% in America at its very worst — the Koch brothers’ racist, and anti-environmental, and anti-middle class politics. The Koch brothers’ net worth tops $50 billion, and they pledged to spend $60 million to defeat President Barack Obama in 2012. See Full Review

Bidder 70

Documentary 2012 NR 73 minutes. This documentary relates the saga of Tim DeChristopher, who brazenly bid $1.7 million to win 12 land parcels at a federal oil lease auction. With no intention of paying — and determined to protect the land — the activist begins a long legal battle.

Booker’s Place: A Mississippi Story

Documentary 2012 NR 1hr 31m. Prompted by a son’s wish to honor his filmmaker father, this documentary uncovers the impact of a bold decision made by an African American waiter to expose the true state of race relations in Mississippi in the turbulent 1960s.

You Don’t Know Bo:
The Legend of Bo Jackson

Documentary 30 for 30 (TV Series) 2012.  A close look at Bo Jackson, a sports hero of mythical proportions, and how the “Bo Knows” Nike campaign shaped how the world perceived him. Without winning a Super Bowl or World Series, or even having what some consider a “great” career in either sport, Bo will be forever be known as one of the greatest and most famous athletes of all time. This film will look at the marketing of athletes, impossible expectations and the legend of Bo Jackson.  – Written by ESPN Films

Jesse Owens

Documentary American Experience 2012 NR. This documentary details Jesse Owens’s early career; describes Adolf Hitler’s outsized ambitions for the 1936 Olympics; explores the movement in Western democracies to boycott the event; and explains the pressures on Owens to attend.

The Queen of Versailles

Documentary 2012 PG 100 minutes. Meet the Siegels, glitterati who made a fortune in the time-share business only to see it crumble in the 2008 financial collapse. The site of their rise and almost-fall is their home (America’s largest), a gaudy replica of the Palace of Versailles.

Margaret Thatcher:
The Iron Lady

Documentary 2012 NR 1hr 30m. Featuring interviews with prominent journalists and politicians, Alan Byron’s documentary chronicles Margaret Thatcher’s hard-fought rise to power, from her humble beginnings as a grocer’s daughter to Britain’s first female prime minister.

Camp 14: Total Control Zone

Documentary 2012 NR 101 minutes. Through interviews and footage of a North Korean re-education camp, director Marc Wiese paints a shocking portrait of inhumanity as he chronicles the harrowing story of Shin Dong-huyk, who was born inside the camp but escaped at age 23.

The Woman Who Wasn’t There

Documentary 2012 NR 1hr 4m. Filmmaker Angelo J. Guglielmo Jr. discusses the truth about 9/11 “survivor” Tania Head, sharing exclusive footage from interviews shot with Head before her story crumbled to reveal a stunning circle of deception.

Mark Cuban

Documentary Bloomberg Game Changers 2012 NR 24m. Known as the owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, Mark Cuban is a genuine maverick, a dot-com success who later invested in extremely diverse fields.

Magic Johnson

Documentary Bloomberg Game Changers 2012 NR 43m. After retiring from pro basketball, Magic Johnson became a serial entrepreneur with a billion-dollar portfolio of franchises and real estate funds.

High Tech, Low Life

Documentary 2012 NR 1hr 25m. Meet Tiger and Zola, two “citizen reporters” who travel throughout China, facing censorship and even imprisonment in their pursuit of the truth.  Citizen journalism and Civil Disobedience at their best. The courage of these people is amazing, and their passion is inspiring. After I watched this, I tried to search for recent blogs by Tiger but couldn’t find anything. This film gives you the feeling and the flavor of Beijing. The real stuff. The way real people live and work and how they are naturally. The countryside scenes and the travel scenes nail it! I lived in China four years 2006 to 2010 teaching English, and this show brought back many memories. This doc shows the importance of the flow of information, and how each and every one of us can make a difference in our communities. I remember Facebook being blocked and on some occasions Yahoo and Google as well. Censorship in China is little known by most around the world, and I was fascinated. This doc does a good job at showing the censorship going on over there. Although it’s not as bad as everyone thinks. In four years I saw so much change it felt like I was inside a time-machine watching new developments pop up overnight — a lot of the same stuff going on here in the States. I recommend this film for anybody who has never been to China. I must say, this film opened my eyes to life in China. We should never take our freedom for granted. I really enjoyed this movie. And great job by all involved in this film! Great watch!

Far Out Isn’t Far Enough:
The Tomi Ungerer Story

Documentary 2012 NR 1hr38m.  This documentary examines the career of children’s book author and illustrator Tomi Ungerer, who pushed the boundaries of art and his own life.  Enjoyable documentary about 1960s and 70s iconic children’s book author, creator of powerful, anti-war and other political posters, and artist of erotica, often with a bondage or S+M theme. As diverse as this work is, it all shares Ungerer’s trade mark dark, twisted sense of humor and absurdity. The film follows his interesting life, from childhood in Nazi occupied Alsatia, to his coming to America, his success as an illustrator, and then hugely as a children’s book author, his politicalization and involvement with erotic, to the fateful moment when they all came together after he was attacked for his sexual drawings at a children’s book convention, and was almost immediately black-listed. His books were taken out of libraries, publishers dropped him, publications (including the New York Times) refused to review his work. Much of the film is Ungerer himself, a very engaging interview subject, now in his 80s ruminating on everything: art, life, death, sex, politics, success and failure, children, fear. He is eccentric to be sure but in a way that feels very open and inviting.

Woody Allen:
A Documentary (2012)

Documentary 2012, 1h 53min. Iconic writer, director, actor, comedian, and musician Woody Allen allowed his life and creative process to be documented on-camera for the first time. With this unprecedented access, Emmy-winning, Oscar-nominated filmmaker Robert Weide followed the notoriously private film legend over a year and a half to create the ultimate film biography. Woody Allen: A Documentary chronicles Allen’s career – from teen writer to Sid Caeser’s TV scribe, from standup comedian to award-winning writer-director averaging one film-per-year for more than 40 years. Exploring Allen’s writing habits, casting, directing, and relationship with his actors first-hand, new interviews with A-listers, writing partners, family and friends provide insight and backstory to the usually inscrutable filmmaker.

Woody Allen:
A Documentary  (2011)

Documentary 2011 NR 1 season.  Iconic and influential director-writer-comedian Woody Allen granted unprecedented access for this in-depth profile of his award-winning career and controversial personal life. Highlights include interviews with collaborators and noted film critics.

Lindsey Vonn:
In the Moment

Documentary 2011 TV-PG 59m. Stunning photography highlights this insightful documentary about Lindsey Vonn, the charismatic and talented downhill skier whose wins at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics endeared her to the world and whetted her appetite for more championships.

Paul Goodman Changed My Life

Documentary 2011 NR 1hr 29m. This documentary explores the little-known life of best-selling author Paul Goodman, “the most influential man you’ve never heard of.” He may not be widely recognized by name, but his book Growing Up Absurd became the bible of the New Left.

Buck

Documentary 2011 PG 88 minutes. Buck Brannaman, inspiration for “The Horse Whisperer,” is revealed as a complex figure in this Sundance Audience Award winner for Best Documentary by Cindy Meehl. The master horseman reveals details of his troubled childhood and his dawning awareness of new ways that humans and horses might work with one another. As Buck learns more about horses, he finds that the ways we communicate with our animal companions offer lessons on how we relate to fellow human beings.

My Life as a Turkey

Documentary “Nature” series 2011 NR 51 minutes. When naturalist Joe Hutto became “mother” to a clutch of 16 wild turkey eggs, he had no idea of the heartache and joy that were to become part of his daily existence for the next 18 months, as he raised the chicks and helped them leave the nest. See also: “Living with the Mule Deer of Deadman Gulch.”

Touching the Wild:
Living with the Mule Deer of Deadman Gulch

Documentary “Nature” series 2014 TV-PG 53m. Naturalist Joe Hutto taps into a new understanding of mule deer by living with a herd in the Wind River mountains of Wyoming for almost seven years. Joe spent years getting to know this herd. He had names for each one and they knew their name. What an honor for him to have been accepted as one of their family. They were a wild herd and they knew to avoid man for their own safety, but they came right up to Joe. If you like animals and the great outdoors, this is your film.
See also: “My Life as a Turkey.”

The Loving Story
(Long Way Home: The Loving Story)

Documentary 2011 NR 1hr 17M. This documentary profiles Mildred and Richard Loving, who were arrested in 1958 for breaking Virginia’s laws against interracial marriage. This couple fought for what they believed in and as a result a change spread across the nation. I would have been proud to be their neighbor, proud have known them. After you watch this movie and get to know these two fine Loving people, you will never ever forget them. See Full Review

Sarah Palin: You Betcha!

Documentary 2011 NR 1hr  31m. Filmmaker Nick Broomfield tracks down friends, relatives and colleagues of polarizing Alaska politician Sarah Palin in this irreverent documentary. Among those interviewed are Palin’s father and plenty of folks with axes to grind. See Full Review

Unraveled

Documentary 2011 NR 1hr 24m. Awaiting sentencing and under house arrest, white-collar criminal Marc Dreier reveals how he hatched a Ponzi scheme which lost $750 million.

Addiction Incorporated

Documentary 2011 PG-13. This biographical film follows tobacco company scientist Victor DeNoble’s efforts to prove that his employers knew that cigarettes were addictive. As a dedicated whistle-blower, DeNoble tirelessly carries his evidence to the FDA and Congress.

The Island President

Documentary 2011 PG 1hr 41m. Excellent film, capturing the humility and sincerity of Mohamed Nasheed’s efforts to establish democracy in the Maldives and then help his country survive global warming. During his presidency of the Maldive Islands, Mohamed Nasheed fights to prevent rising ocean levels from inundating his low-lying archipelago nation.

I’m Carolyn Parker:
The Good, the Mad, and the Beautiful

Documentary 2011 NR 1hr 30m. Jonathan Demme’s documentary began as a film about Hurricane Katrina but became a portrait of one of the disaster’s most colorful survivors.

The Whale

Documentary 2011 G 1hr 25m. This documentary introduces Luna, a wild killer-whale living off Vancouver Island who befriends a community. His presence there draws conflicted emotions. This wonderful film shows many loving and playful interactions between Luna and people, in a beautiful Pacific Northwest setting.  The way this Orca interacted with us (humans) is far beyond what is usual in the wild. The fact that this highly intelligent mammal sought people out for attention and affection, then communicated and interacted with them, is astounding. Such an amazing creature. See Full Review

Big Boys Gone Bananas!*

Documentary 2011 NR. 1hr 42m. Big Boys Gone Bananas!* is the follow-up to the 2009 film titled simply BANANAS!*, the true story about a Swedish filmmaker and a banana corporation. This fascinating new documentary follows the battle between the Swedish filmmakers and the fruit giant Dole Food Company, which conducted a legal and publicity campaign against the filmmakers to prevent the showing of their first film about a lawsuit won in Los Angeles against the company for its use of banned pesticides in Nicaragua that make field workers sterile. What is a big corporation capable of in order to protect its brand? Swedish filmmaker Fredrik Gertten’s experienced this recently: dirty tricks, lawsuits, manipulation, at the price of free speech.  This film is a must-watch (even if you haven’t seen the original film BANANAS!*) about just how powerful multi-national corporations are, and how the media continues to fail the public or worse than that, deceive and lull us into complacency. American media has been corrupted by corporate power through corporate ownership, corporate advertising, and global corporations who threaten to pull advertising if investigative journalism displeases them. In 1998 the Cincinatti Enquirer did an expose of hometown Chiquita Corp. similar to Gertten’s BANANAS!*, but Chiquita forced them to scrub the story, fire the two reporters, pay $15 million to Chiquita, and run a headline apologizing to Chiquita. Shame on you Dole. This Big Boys Gone Bananas!* is a David vs. Goliath, showing filmmaker Gertten fighting for the right of documentary filmmakers to do what they feel is right, and that is to expose bad practices of big corporations. Unfortunately Goliath always has more money because the big corporations targeted have deep pockets to file lawsuits, in this case to sue to keep the film from being seen. Dole has 75,000 employees in 90 countries, and earns seven billion dollars a year, making them the biggest food company in the world. “So the stage is set. In one corner, Dole the largest producer of fruits and vegetables in the world, fortified with high-priced attorneys and spin-doctors. In the other corner, a Swedish independent filmmaker, armed with his conviction of what is right. What are the odds he’ll win?”  See Full Review

Eco Pirate:
The Story of Paul Watson

Documentary 2011 NR 1hr 50m. A documentary team chronicles the life of a passionate “eco-pirate” who repeatedly flouts the law to apprehend environmental law-breakers. The film begins as Watson and members of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society are arriving in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary on board the RV Farley Mowat, in search of illegal whaling operations. They come upon the Japanese whaling supply vessel Oriental Bluebird and warn her to leave the area, but she refuses. Playing “Ride of the Valkyries” on a loudspeaker, the Farley Mowat then approaches and broadsides the Bluebird using a welded steel blade that protrudes from the hull of the boat—a demonstration of the kind of tactics Watson and the Sea Shepherds are known for. The film then goes into an account of Watson’s long and controversial history as an activist, going into depth about his role in co-founding Greenpeace, his subsequent disagreements with its other founders, and his separation from the organization to found his own Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. Using interviews with key figures in the environmental movement as well as news footage from the 1970s through the 2000s, the film recounts confrontations with various hunting and fishing bodies over the past 30 years which shaped Watson’s methodology as an activist. Throughout the film Watson faces problems with the international legal system, aging boats, inexperienced crew, fundraising, and criticism from his colleagues and family.

The Whale Warrior
Pirate for the Sea

Documentary 2008 NR 1hr 40m. Explore the controversial career and tactics of militant marine conservationist Paul Watson in this documentary that profiles his rise as an activist and his most daring attempts to stop hunters from illegally slaughtering sea creatures.

The Tillman Story

Documentary 2010 R 95 minutes. Pat Tillman’s family comes forward to tell the real story about what happened on April 22, 2004, in Afghanistan when the pro football player-turned-U.S. soldier was killed by friendly fire and not the Taliban, as first reported. Amir Bar-Lev’s documentary pieces together the Tillmans’ search for the truth, how they exposed a military cover-up that led to top-ranking officers and called to the carpet the likes of Donald Rumsfeld.See Full Review

Casino Jack and the United States of Money

Documentary 2010 R 118 minutes. Documentarian Alex Gibney (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room) turns his acute focus on convicted Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff, reproaching him and other legislators for their negative impact on U.S. politics. Gibney’s film plays less like a dry treatise and more like a high-stakes political thriller, fearlessly examining the ways American policies and political processes are undermined by an endless quest for power.

Winston Churchill:
Walking with Destiny

Documentary 2010 Not Rated 101 min. Walking With Destiny highlights Churchill’s years in the political wilderness, his early opposition to Adolf Hitler and Nazism, and his support for Jews under threat by the Nazi regime. As historian John Lukacs explains, Churchill may not have won the War in 1940, but without him, the War most certainly would have been lost. Sir Martin Gilbert, historical consultant for the film and Churchill’s official biographer, adds that had Churchill’s warnings about Nazi Germany’s racial policies towards Jews been heeded in the early 1930’s, the Holocaust may never have occurred. The film examines why Winston Churchill’s legacy continues to be relevant in the 21st Century and explores why his leadership remains inspirational to current day political leaders and diplomats.

Smash His Camera

Documentary 2010 PG-13 1hr 30m. While profiling the controversial career of pioneering paparazzo Ron Galella, this film raises questions about our celebrity-obsessed culture.

How Much Does Your Building Weigh,
Mr. Foster?

Documentary 2010 NR 1hr 19m. The wide-ranging and inspiring career of prominent English architect Norman Foster is profiled in this intriguing documentary. It’s just a joy to watch. The man himself in the interviews reveals himself to be both inspiring and a little egotistical, which is of course to be expected. His work stands on its own, though, and this film showcases it in all its glory.

Kevorkian

Documentary 2010 NR 1hr 30m. Filmmaker Matthew Galkin profiles Dr. Jack Kevorkian, the infamous “Dr. Death” who helped more than 100 people commit suicide in the 1990s.

The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu
(Autobiografia lui Nicolae Ceausescu)

Documentary 2010 NR 3hr 7m. Track the rise and fall of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu through this documentary which constructs his portrait by only using archival footage.

The Man with Half a Body

Documentary 2010 TV-PG 42m. Meet amazing Kenny, whose body ends at his waist. Kenny has never let his condition stop him from doing anything, and now he wants to be a dad. There is no freak show here. Only an impressive human who truly makes me wonder why I complain so much. I respect his strength, mentally and physically.

Leonardo da Vinci

Documentary Mystery Files 2010 TV-PG 23m. Is science beginning to doubt the historical notion that Leonardo da Vinci invented early versions of flying machines and other modern creations? To suggest that many of da Vinci’s most famous proposed mechanical devices had their roots in ideas of people who predated him doesn’t seem that unlikely, given how science and technology tend to progress. Furthermore, it is repeatedly pointed out that Leonardo significantly improved on these earlier ideas. A lot of people seem to have an awful lot invested an idealized myth that da Vinci was nearly a supernatural being who plucked inspiration out of the ether; however, it does seem more plausible that, as a starting point, he often really picked up on ideas and suggestions that were already circulating in his cultural milieu.

Chasing Madoff

Documentary 2010 NR 91 mins.  This eye-opening documentary chronicles the long and often frustrating campaign of financial analyst Harry Markopolos to bring federal regulators’ attention to the brazen investment scams engineered by now-convicted felon Bernie Madoff.  This is an in-depth exposé of how one man saw thru a fraud of huge magnitude and chose to do something about it — when others including the SEC did not.  A lot can be learned from this film about what really happened — the stuff we never saw or heard about in the media.  The movie unfolds like a thriller–but it is all true.  See Full Review

The Madoff Affair

Documentary Frontline 2009 NR 60 minutes. Sentenced to 150 years in federal prison, Bernie Madoff perpetrated the largest financial fraud in history. Following a timeline dating back to the 1960s, Frontline takes you inside the web of deception that snagged investors for $65 billion. In the mid-1960s, Bernard Madoff tapped money from Jewish businessmen at exclusive country clubs with the promise of steady guaranteed returns on their investments. Frontline producers Martin Smith and Marcela Gaviria unravel the story behind the world’s first truly global Ponzi scheme — a deception that lasted longer, reached wider and cut deeper than any other business scandal in history.

The Man Who Would be Polka King

Documentary 2009 NR 67 minutes. After defecting from Poland in the 1970s, Jan Lewan became a worldwide polka superstar, famous for his musical talent and dashing showmanship. Filmmakers Joshua von Brown and John Mikulak show that Lewan’s empire was built on a foundation of lies. This irreverent documentary reveals how the charming entertainer used his connections to bilk investors out of millions in a complicated investment scam that eventually landed the Polka King behind bars.

The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls

Documentary 2009 NR 1hr 24m.  Trace the fascinating lives of New Zealand’s provocative music and comedy duo Jools and Linda Topp through this enjoyable documentary, which details the lesbian twins’ rural upbringing, political activism and immense popularity at home and abroad. Featuring hilarious interviews with several of the sisters’ most outrageous alter egos, this joyous celebration also includes insights into New Zealand’s history.

Hugh Hefner
Playboy, Activist and Rebel

Documentary 2009 R 124 minutes. Through interviews and rare footage, this documentary chronicles Hefner’s journey, from the founding of Playboy magazine — and the launch of the sexual revolution — to his support for a wide range of progressive causes.

The Madoff Affair

Documentary Frontline 2009 NR 56m. Sentenced to 150 years in federal prison, Bernie Madoff perpetrated the largest financial fraud in history. Following a timeline dating back to the 1960s, Frontline takes you inside the web of deception that snagged investors for $65 billion.

The Most Dangerous Man in America:
Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers

Documentary 2009 NR 94 minutes. Revisiting a pivotal point in American history, this documentary chronicles Pentagon insider Daniel Ellsberg’s daring endeavor to leak top-secret government papers that disclosed shocking truths about the Vietnam War and Nixon’s presidency.

Man on Wire

Documentary 2008 PG-13 94 minutes. . Philippe Petit captured the world’s attention in 1974 when he walked across a high wire between New York’s Twin Towers. This Oscar winner for Best Documentary explores the preparations that went into the stunt as well as the event and its aftermath. See Full Review

Grizzly Man Diaries

Documentary 2008 NR 8 episodes. Drawing on still photographs, journal entries and hours of video footage, this documentary series tracks the life of Timothy Treadwell, the self-proclaimed bear lover who was literally eaten alive by the very grizzlies he worked to protect.

The Whale Warrior
Pirate for the Sea

Documentary 2008 NR 1hr 40m. Explore the controversial career and tactics of militant marine conservationist Paul Watson in this documentary that profiles his rise as an activist and his most daring attempts to stop hunters from illegally slaughtering sea creatures.

Zora’s Roots

Documentary 2008 NR 60 minutes. While many enjoy the writing of anthropologist and Harlem Renaissance author Zora Neale Hurston, few know the real woman behind the popular novel Their Eyes Were Watching God. This biographical portrait features reminiscences from those who knew her. Hurston drew constant inspiration from the tropical land where she grew up, a place that served as a source of comfort throughout the rest of her life.

Boogie Man
The Lee Atwater Story

Documentary 2008 NR 88 minutes. This documentary from director Stefan Forbes examines the political and personal life of the late Lee Atwater, notorious for his no-holds-barred strategies that powered the campaign of George H.W. Bush. Forbes analyzes Atwater’s pivotal role in the rise of the Republican Party in the 1980s, and also documents a decidedly less partisan side of the strategist, including his passion for playing the blues.

An Unlikely Weapon:
The Eddie Adams Story

Documentary 2008 NR 1hr 26m. A provocative look at photographer Eddie Adams, best known for his photo of the summary execution of a Vietcong guerilla fighter in Saigon in 1968.

Dear Zachary:
A Letter to a Son About His Father

Documentary 2008 NR 1hr 33m. Kurt Kuenne’s tribute to his murdered friend, Andrew Bagby, tells the story of a child custody battle won by Bagby’s ex-girlfriend and accused killer. I have never sobbed so much over a movie/documentary in my life. I couldn’t believe what these people actually had gone through. That shocker in the middle of it though…Like, what? What?!?! Like several others, I was initially caught off-guard by the quick edits in this film. I stuck with it though. In fact, I just watched this documentary of a third time in the course of three days.

The Hugo Chávez Show

Documentary Frontline 2008 NR 90 minutes. With Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez’s weekly show “Aló Presidente” as a backdrop, “Frontline” producer Ofra Bikel examines the controversial politician’s life and chronicles his rise to power. Interviews with Chávez’s associates, former public officials and average citizens offer insights into his personality, policies and shrewd use of the media. But these telling accounts also expose fissures in his anticapitalist agenda.

Blessed Is the Match:
The Life and Death of Hannah Senesh

Documentary 2008 NR 85 minutes.  Joan Allen narrates this riveting portrait of Hungarian poet Hannah Senesh, a remarkable woman who risked her own life to parachute behind enemy lines — enduring capture, torture and, ultimately, death — to try to rescue Jews from Nazi persecution. She had been living in Palestine for 5 years, and parachuted into Hungary with a group of Israelis to join up with partisans on the ground, liaison with Hungarian resistance — and for Hannah, to try and save her mother who was still in Hungary. They parachuted in on March 14 1944 and would have been able to ride transportation and make their way because in Hungary Jews could still move freely without yellow stars. But five days later on March 19 the Nazis invaded Hungary. Ahead of her time and on a mission of incredible odds, Senesh ultimately became a martyr in Israel, evoking the spirit of warrior-heroine Joan of Arc.

Bulletproof Salesman

Documentary 2008 NR 1hr9m. This film examines how a successful German war profiteer earns money when violence increases and soldiers’ lives are threatened, by selling armored cars in war zones.  Although most of the film takes place in Iraq and Afghanistan, it has much more to do with the art of selling than the art of war. In fact, the movie is structured as a series of “lessons” on what makes a good salesperson, lessons such as: “Trust the customer and they will trust you.” And if this doesn’t sound like it would make a for a very entertaining movie, watch how Mr. Cloer applies that message when the product being sold is an armored vehicle and the customer is a sheik who lives in a war zone. Although he is supplying a required service that would be done by someone else anyway (like Blackwater, which gets some well-deserved criticism in the film), it’s understandable that his detached disposition and matter-of-fact way of speaking may turn some people off. But that shouldn’t take away from the quality of the movie itself, which is exciting, intriguing, and easily one of the best documentaries I’ve seen.

Gonzo
The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson

Documentary 2007 R 1hr 59m.  Always ready to hurl himself into the heart of the action, journalist and author Hunter S. Thompson was fearless as well as reckless. This admiring documentary looks beyond his wild antics to focus on the pluck and principles that made him a success. Home movies, audiotapes and unpublished materials offer added insight into a complex cult figure renowned for his love of sex, drugs and alcohol. Johnny Depp narrates.  Included are his Aspen lifestyle and candidacy for sheriff in 1970, and his Fear and Loathing on Campaign Trail 72 with presidential candidate George McGovern.

John Perkins: Speaking Freely

Lecture 2007 NRAuthor and former economic consultant John Perkins takes aim at himself, confessing his shameful role in helping organizations such as World Bank and the IMF drive poor nations into crippling debt while enriching U.S. corporations. His social conscience awakened, Perkins finally got fed up and quit his job. Now, he runs a successful nonprofit group that works to help indigenous peoples protect and strengthen their environments and cultures. See Full Review

What Would Jesus Buy?

Documentary 2007 PG 91 minutes. Taking on rampant American consumerism with a focus on Christmas shopping, the Rev. Billy (Bill Talen) and the Church of Stop Shopping go on a cross-country journey to save citizens from the Shopocalypse in this hilarious documentary produced by Morgan Spurlock. Reminding shoppers of the true meaning of Christmas, Reverend Billy exorcises demons at Wal-Mart’s headquarters and preaches his message at the Mall of America and Disneyland.

Granny D Goes to Washington

Documentary 2007 NR 26m. An 89-year-old idealist walks across the United States to demand that lawmakers reduce the role of special interest money in politics, focusing on campaign finance reform.

Nixon
A Presidency Revealed

Documentary 2007 NR 94 minutes. More than three decades after the notorious political scandal that ended his career, this revealing documentary explores the legacy of President Richard Nixon. Newly released audio and never-before-seen footage shed light on Nixon’s administration, from the heights — his historic trip to China and the end of conflict in Vietnam — to the shocking lows that made his name synonymous with political deception.

The True Story of Che Guavara

Documentary 2007 NR 94 minutes. In the years since his death, revolutionary Che Guevara has attained iconic status. This documentary explores the truth behind the myths, delving into Guevara’s plans to spread his philosophy throughout Latin America and his ultimate effect on the Cold War. Biographer Jon Lee Anderson takes viewers from Guevara’s Argentine homeland to the battlefields of the Cuban revolution and reveals the CIA’s plot to quell the activist’s tide of change.

Tom Hanks
The Luckiest Man in the World

Documentary Biography Series 2007 NR 50 minutes. From “Bosom Buddies” to back-to-back Oscars, Tom Hanks effortlessly made the transition from small screen to large and has even found success as a director. This documentary follows the beloved star’s phenomenal career. Included are clips from lesser-known roles and interviews with colleagues Gary Sinise, Peter Scolari, Steven Spielberg and more. Childhood friends and photos also reveal the humble, dedicated family man behind the screen icon.

Granny D Goes to Washington

Documentary 2007 NR 26m. An 89-year-old idealist walks across the United States to demand that lawmakers reduce the role of special interest money in politics.

Poisoned by Polonium:
The Litvinenko File
(Bunt. Delo Litvinenko)

Documentary 2007 NR 1hr 44m. This thought-provoking documentary looks at the role the Russian government may have played in the poisoning death of former spy Alexander Litvinenko. Brilliant exposé of the brutal Kremlin regime of Vladimir Putin. Exiled dissident Alexander Litvinenko (since murdered) comes across in interviews as an honest and articulate critic of Putin’s Kremlin and its FSB (Federal Security Service) murder gang. Formerly an FSB counter-intelligence officer Litvinenko makes his case as somebody who refused to be corrupted by the mafia culture within the FSB, risking prison and assassination by staging a notorious press conference in Moscow in 1998. During this event he accused his FSB superiors of betraying their duty to serve and protect the Russian people by instead engaging in policies of assassination and intimidation in the goal of self-enrichment. After his trial acquittal in 1999, Litvinenko was granted political asylum in Britain, where he continued to be a thorn in Putin’s side until his assassination by poisoning in 2006. Film-maker Andrei Nekrasov got to interview Litvinenko and the journalist Politkovskaya shortly before both were murdered. Nekrasov uses these exclusive interviews, hidden cameras, rare stock footage, and banned tapes from now forbidden Russian programs to paint a tragic picture of an entire nation, one that is both victim and an enabler of one of the most corrupt and cynical regimes currently in power. After seeing this film, you’ll have little doubt in your mind about who did it and why. This powerful and terrifying documentary offers a clear indictment of Putin’s criminal regime. This may not be laid out like a typical 60 minutes report, but the facts are all there. Director Andrei Nekrasov probably put his life in risk by doing this documentary. Heroic individual. His personal reflections of life in the Soviet Union and modern-day Russia and poignant and help to explain much about this sad tormented country. For those interested in the Litvinenko case and Putin’s Russia in general, this is a must see. Compelling story. Amazing this got so little expose in the western media

A/k/a Tommy Chong

A/k/a Tommy Chong

Documentary 2006 NR 80 mins.  In 2003 the U.S. government used entrapment and allocated an astounding $12 million to apprehend Tommy Chong — better known as half of the classic comedy team Cheech and Chong — for selling bong-like glass pipes over the Internet.  Filmmaker Josh Gilbert chronicles the sting that came to be known as “Operation Pipe Dream” in this fascinating documentary featuring interviews with Richard “Cheech” Marin, Jay Leno, and Bill Maher.   I really did not know that Tommy Chong was locked up for selling glass pipes on the internet!  It’s not that the Chongs were faultless, it’s just that government really, really wanted to use them as an example.  The federal government prosecuted this case with a clear intent to ‘send a message’.  Tommy Chong is an affable, easy-going guy in this documentary about the events leading up to his incarceration and his attitude afterward.  So this is the story about how the federal government used YOUR tax dollars, $12,000,000, to send Tommy to a plush federal prison for six months — for selling for selling glass pipe bongs on line?  And it was basically his son doing most of the promoting and just using Tommy’s famous name to sell the product.  Who came out the losers? — the U.S. taxpayers. Every taxpayer should see this movie.  Tommy came out of prison more popular than ever.  It also does a decent job of attacking the idiot former AG Ashcroft and their “war” on drugs — they didn’t even need Michael Moore to make the Feds look dumb.   Just when you thought our government couldn’t get any sillier, they do.  This is a must-see movie unless you are so against other people using pot that you miss the point.  I don’t use it, but I cannot see the point in locking up people who advocate its use and sell glass pipes!  Very interesting view of government misuse of power regarding the first amendment, prosecuting Chong for saying things that ‘could corrupt youngsters’ by encouraging them to smoke marijuana.  We are truly living in a post-constitutional era. The constitution and the Bill of Rights have been systematically compromised and are no longer able to protect our individual rights and freedoms from those who have corrupted our system.  Perhaps this will be a wake up call to those who don’t think it can happen to them.  Even if you aren’t a pot-head now, nor ever have been, this movie has fascinating points to make.

Holes in My Shoes

Documentary 2006 NR 1hr30m. New Yorker Jack Beers, 94, defies the concept of aging in this documentary that chronicles his diverse achievements and infectious enthusiasm. Even though he looks his age, you would not be able to tell from the way he talks. It is wonderful to see someone that age still showing a zest for life. This is the life story of a man I would have liked to know. A man full of unfailing energy, and love of life. I began watching it wondering why he was being documented, and for each segment of his life, I would think, ahh this is who he is. But no, within a few more minutes of the story, my perception once more changed. This man is inspirational, so don’t let the slow first few minutes in the opening distract you from the real meat of the film. Jack Beers is simply one of the most wonderful men I have ever heard of. His life story, were one to tell it, would seem to be a bit over-the-top, sure-you-did kind of story. It seems outlandish. But it’s all true! It is an inspirational biography about an ordinary man doing extraordinary things. He is not being honored for his longevity but for the endless energy and love of life that this man and his actions so clearly depict.  We should all live this way. His father advised him, “No matter what you do in life, be the best at what you do.” Truly had tears in my eyes when Jack sang at the top of the Empire State Building at the end: “…and when you’re smiling, the whole world smiles with you.” We can all glean from Jack as he continued to find a reason to smile his way through life, in the good and bad times. We can all benefit from him! Great story, and told so beautifully by the man himself. He did live a Wonderful Life, overcoming all obstacles along the way. From beginning to end, I absolutely and totally loved, loved, loved this extraordinary man’s bio. Watched this documentary three times, then I joined my husband who watched it twice! The BEST documentary I have ever viewed. I highly recommend this one, I recommend to anyone, anywhere. Watch this, you won’t be sorry!  Wonderful story, wonderful man. (I see online that he passed on two years after this film was made.)

Bolivia: On the Road with Evo
The Making of an Unlikely President

Documentary Frontline / World 2006. In this week’s Rough Cut, we present an insightful, and very timely, portrait of Evo Morales as he campaigned for the presidency last December. Like any good campaign film, “On the Road With Evo” combines public performance with private moments and helps to explain Evo’s popular appeal.

Ralph Nader
An Unreasonable Man

Documentary 2006 NR 2hr 2m. Thought-provoking and revealing, this biographical documentary profiles the personal and professional life of Ralph Nader, one of America’s most controversial consumer advocates and political activists. Interviews and archival footage help illuminate the career of an influential public figure whose willingness to take on big industry earned him a reputation as both a working-class hero and a public pariah after the 2000 presidential election. See Full Review

Deep Water

Documentary 2006 PG 92 minutes. In 1969, Donald Crowhurst, a former engineer whose bravado outweighed his sailing expertise, entered a London Times-sponsored yacht race around the world. This thrilling documentary highlights the harrowing conditions Crowhurst faced.

Con Man

Documentary 2006 NR 93 minutes. This riveting documentary profiles James Hogue, the quintessential con man who finagled his way into the hallowed halls of Princeton University, where he made a name for himself as a scholar and a track star. But little did anyone know that he was a 31-year-old serial liar pretending to be a freshman — and it wasn’t the first time he pulled such a scam. Via time lines and interviews, the film tries to learn the truth about the inscrutable Hogue.

The Big Buy: How Tom DeLay Stole Congress

Documentary 2006 NR 75 minutes. This compelling documentary, co-directed by Mark Birnbaum and Jim Schermbeck, sounds a wake-up call to every citizen in America to remain diligent and keep a watchful eye on our government. An in-depth examination of how one man’s agenda to “completely redesign government” can involve drastic measures and corporate power grabs, this hard-hitting film probes Texas congressman Tom DeLay’s unscrupulous efforts to bend democracy to his will.

Running with Arnold

Documentary 2006 NR 1hr 11m. This tongue-in-cheek documentary follows Arnold Schwarzenegger from his childhood through his Mr. Universe win, film stardom and political career.

Clint Eastwood

Documentary Biography Series 2005 NR 87 minutes. Via interviews and home movies, this riveting episode of “Biography” charts Clint Eastwood’s extraordinary life and career, including his California childhood, military service in the Korean War, early film roles and his steady path to superstardom. A Depression-era kid who once worked as a hay baler, the iconic Eastwood conquered Hollywood not only as an actor but also as a producer and an Oscar-winning director.

J. Edgar Hoover
and the Great American Inquisitions

Documentary 2005 NR 93 minutes. As director of the FBI for more than 40 years, J. Edgar Hoover served under a record eight presidents and oversaw thousands of investigations against individuals he deemed anti-American, including actors, politicians and members of protest groups. This fascinating documentary applies a critical eye to Hoover’s legacy with a special focus on his penchant for propaganda, preying on Americans’ fears of communism to achieve his personal aims.

The Last Mogul
The Life and Times of Lew Wasserman

Documentary 2005 PG-13 1hr 42m. For more than half a century, MCA president Lew Wasserman controlled Hollywood. This documentary reveals the story behind the movie mogul’s rags-to-riches journey, from his Mafia ties to his role in Ronald Reagan’s political career.

Giuliani Time

Documentary 2005 NR 1hr 58m. Rudy Giuliani catapulted to international fame (that had even Queen Elizabeth fawning over him) upon helming the post-9/11 relief effort. The former mayor of New York City is also credited with cleaning up the streets of the Big Apple during the 1990s. But Kevin Keating’s exposé tells a different story — one of First Amendment transgressions and police brutality — through interviews with legal experts, activists and even the homeless.

Karl Rove
The Architect (of President George W. Bush’s Elections)

Documentary Frontline 2005 NR 60 minutes. The acclaimed, hard-hitting PBS show Frontline takes on Karl Rove, so to speak, in this insightful profile of the man dubbed the architect of President George W. Bush’s return to the White House. As chief adviser and strategist, Rove has been a controversial figure in Washington. Get to know the very private politico largely believed to be one of the most powerful men of the Republican party, and see how he made his way to the top of the political chain.

Jackie Robinson

Documentary 2005 NR 60 minutes. The day Jackie Robinson took the field for the Brooklyn Dodgers, the world of sports changed forever. Dodgers president Branch Rickey chose Robinson to integrate baseball and become the first African-American player in the major leagues. But the MVP and Hall of Famer’s influence didn’t end on the field. This A&E; biography also tells of Robinson’s work with civil rights leaders, including Martin Luther King Jr., to fight racism.

Amelia Earhart

Documentary 2005 NR 45 minutes. This biographical documentary uses archival footage and interviews to chronicle the life of legendary female aviator Amelia Earhart, who captivated the world with her daring attempt to fly around the globe in 1937. Earhart’s success in a male-dominated arena makes her one of the most fascinating women of the 20th century. The program also examines new evidence relating to Earhart’s inexplicable disappearance during that fateful 1937 flight.

Death of a Princess

Documentary Frontline 2005. Twenty-five years after the initial broadcast of perhaps the most controversial program in the history of public television Frontline re-issues “Death of a Princess.” The 1980 docudrama recounting the public execution of a young Saudi Arabian princess and her lover for adultery triggered vehement protests from the Saudi government and an international uproar when it was first broadcast in the U.S. and Britain. The film which re-creates journalist Antony Thomas’s journey through the Arab world to investigate the executions is a portrait of the constricted lives of Arab women and a Rashomon-like exploration of the elusiveness of journalistic truth. This special presentation will feature new interviews with the filmmakers an inside view of the controversies surrounding the film and an analysis of how the lives of Arab women have and have not changed.

McLibel

Documentary 2005 NR 85 minutes. Using carefully reenacted courtroom scenes, director Franny Armstrong brings the other trial of the century to life, chronicling the world-famous libel suit brought by fast-food franchise McDonald’s against British activists Helen Steel and Dave Morris. Far from focusing on hamburgers and fries, this fascinating documentary tells the story of two ordinary folks who endure a Big Mac attack of epic proportions — just for asking a simple question. “McLibel” is an enlightening, frightening, and intriguing documentary about two working-class folk (Helen Steele and Dave Morris) and their court battle against a global corporation’s attempts to quell dissent and free speech. It is also a revealing expose of the bombardment of advertising that is squarely aimed at children (“they exert immense influence on their parent’s choices of where to eat”); unsanitary and barbaric food processing; paltry wages; and fast food’s pronounced influence on obesity and health problems. Equally as appalling was McDonald’s expenditure of millions of dollars to hire a high-powered legal team, while David and Helen ended up representing themselves in court. Drained but determined, these two managed to fight their own battle, and at the completion of the longest court battle in British legal history, also established a Web site to keep the spotlight burning. (Note: lacking subtitles, the British accents in this film may be difficult to understand by Americans.)

The Education of Shelby Knox

Documentary 2005 NR 1hr 16m. Small-town Texas teenager Shelby Knox becomes an advocate for sex education (and the local media’s so-called “Sex Ed Girl”) when she tries to improve the county’s sky-high teen pregnancy rate by challenging her high school’s policy of teaching abstinence. In this documentary from Marion Lipschutz and Rose Rosenblatt — which uses footage shot over a three-year period — the action unfolds almost effortlessly, revealing a stunning transformation.

Writer of O

Documentary 2005 NR 80 minutes.  Published in 1954 under a pseudonym, the erotic novel The Story of O is an engrossing exploration of the relationship between sexuality and power, which became a worldwide sensation. But the author’s true identity remained a mystery until 1994, when Dominique Aury, a literary editor, revealed herself to be the writer.  This documentary assumes that the viewer is familiar with “The Story of O”. It gives an interesting glimpse of the writer, then 90 years old.  In this documentary, director Pola Rapaport uncovers Aury’s inspiration for one of the most scandalous works in modern fiction.  Aury created it as a sort of desperate love letter to a philandering literary figure who kept her as his mistress and admired the work of Sade. Numerous details about her history and brief interviews with other writers are interspersed with vignettes that reenact scenes from her novel. It is interesting, but will not appeal to everyone.

Susan B. Anthony
Rebel for the Cause

Documentary 2005 NR 50 minutes. Interviews with historians, illustrations, photographs and dramatizations document the life and legacy of suffragist Susan B. Anthony in this A&E; biography. The trailblazing feminist leader persevered in the face of mockery, threats, insults and arrest to realize her ambition: voting rights for women. Although Anthony died before passage of the 19th Amendment enfranchising women, her crusade forever changed America’s political landscape.

Louis B. Mayer

Documentary Biography Series 2005 NR 50 minutes. Many award-winning actors may not realize that when they’re thanking “the Academy,” they really should be thanking Hollywood mogul Louis B. Mayer, who hatched the idea for the Oscar-bestowing organization. This fascinating episode of “Biography” explores the life of a Russian immigrant who built a fortune in the American movie business — and built his reputation on producing classics such as Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1925).

George Gershwin Remembered

Documentary 2005 NR. Composer George Gershwin is honored in this award-winning documentary of one of America’s greatest composers. From his early Tin Pan Alley ditties to his monumental works “Funny Face,” “Porgy and Bess” and “Rhapsody in Blue,” Gershwin redefined popular music and captured the excitement of his times in music. The program features performances by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and interviews with celebrities, family members and friends.

Newton’s Dark Secrets

Documentary Nova 2005 NR 56 mins.  While pursuing his theories on the universal law of gravitation, scientific genius Isaac Newton was also searching out hidden meanings in the Bible, practicing the hidden art of alchemy and pioneering calculus. Using dramatic scenes starring Scott Handy as Newton, this “Nova” documentary re-creates the unique climate of late 17th century England, where a fascination with science and mathematics coexisted with extreme views on religious doctrine.

Koko

Documentary Nature 2004 NR 60 minutes. In the 1970s, a gorilla named Koko taught scientists much more than they’d imagined about how animals, humans included, communicate. This documentary, part of the popular Nature series and narrated by Martin Sheen, examines how Koko interacts with the doctors who studied her, including lead researcher Penny Patterson, with whom she forged a strong bond. By letting viewers in, Koko flung the doors wide open to the world of communication.  See Full Review

Monumental:
David Brower’s Fight for Wild America

Documentary 2004 NR 1hr 17m. From the part he played in passing the 1964 Wilderness Act through Congress to his instrumental role in saving the Grand Canyon, charismatic environmentalist David Brower demonstrates his commitment to saving the planet one cause at a time. See Full Review

Howard Zinn
You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train

Documentary 2004 NR 78 minutes.   Matt Damon narrates this documentary chronicling Howard Zinn’s commitment to social change through archival materials, commentary from Zinn and interviews with contemporaries Noam Chomsky, Daniel Ellsberg, Tom Hayden and Alice Walker, among others.

Unforgivable Blackness
The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson

Documentary 2004 NR 107 minutes. Long before Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier, boxer Jack Johnson became the first African-American to obtain the world heavyweight title. This documentary tracks the life of the trailblazing boxer, from his early days as the son of former slaves to his rise through the ranks of a traditionally all-white sport, culminating with the 39-year-old’s achievement of the prestigious title in 1908.

Joseph Stalin:
Red Terror

Documentary 2004 NR 50 minutes. Joseph Stalin ranks as one of the greatest tyrants of all time, responsible for the deaths of 20 million of his own countrymen. This portrait revisits the life of “Uncle Joe” via Soviet archival film and an astonishing collection of interviews. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the extent of Stalin’s atrocities has been revealed, and he has taken his place alongside Hitler as one of the most reviled leaders of the 20th century.

Paul Newman
Hollywood’s Cool Hand

Documentary 2003 NR 100 minutes. This installment of A&E;’s “Biography” series profiles charismatic leading man Paul Newman, a Tinseltown icon justly famed for his good looks and piercing blue eyes — but who was never just a pretty face. Capturing Newman in front of the camera, on the racetrack and in his role as a philanthropist, the intimate portrait also includes screen tests, film clips and interviews with co-stars such as Robert Redford and Eva Marie Saint.

Touching the Void

Docudrama 2003 R 1hr 46m.  Docudrama 2003 R 1hr 46m.  This gripping docudrama retells the story of the mountaineering trek gone awry of Simon Yates and Joe Simpson, who breaks his leg while climbing in the Andes.  In 1985, they ascended a 20,000 foot peak in the Peruvian Andes, the never-before conquered west face of Siula Grande.  On descent, Joe shattered his leg, and what followed for the two men quickly spiraled into a nightmare chain of events.  See Full Review

Aileen
Life and Death of a Serial Killer

Documentary 2003 R 1hr 29m. Documentarian Nick Broomfield trains his lens on infamous serial killer Aileen Wuornos, who began her murder spree in 1992. A highway prostitute at the age of 13, Wuornos was convicted of killing six truck drivers who she insisted tried to rape her.

Bonhoeffer

Documentary 2003 NR 90 minutes.  This poignant documentary traces the life of German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was one of the first to speak up against Adolph Hitler throughout Hitler’s rise to power. Bonhoeffer organized the Confessing Church, the only structured revolt against Hitler, and turned to his roots as a devout Christian for the strength to take a political stand for Jews everywhere.

Hanged on a Twisted Cross:
The Life, Convictions and Martyrdom of Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Documentary 1996 UR.  Ed Asner narrates this documentary about German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who condemned the atrocities of the Nazi party and was executed just days before the end of World War II. Rare archival footage, documents and footage of original locations paint a portrait of Bonhoeffer’s life and times. The program examines questions still very relevant today, such as how a man of peace can accept the use of violence in order to combat evil.

J.S. Bach:
The Music, The Life, The Legend
(Il était une fois Jean-Sébastien Bach)

Docudrama 2003 NR 1hr43m.  A dramatic exploration of the life and struggles of J.S. Bach, from his orphaning at the age of nine to his eventual recognition after death.

The Kid Stays in the Picture

Documentary 2002 R 93 minutes. Based on the 1994 autobiography of film producer Robert Evans, this documentary follows Evans’s career as he went from fresh-faced clothing executive to Hollywood actor to Paramount executive to legendary producer (Marathon Man, Chinatown). We also follow Evans through a cocaine controversy, into disrepute and low times, and finally to his comeback producing several 1990s films. Evans himself provides the narration.

Fidel

Documentary 2002 NR 1hr 31m. This documentary by director Estela Bravo takes a look at the political and social impact the immensely powerful Cuban dictator Fidel Castro has had on the world during the 40-plus years he’s been in power. Through interviews with politicians (Nelson Mandela, Arthur Schlesinger), friends (Gabriel Garcia Marquez), and other cultural experts (Alice Walker), Fidel’s personality and work are explored and discussed.

Jack Kerouac: King of the Beats

Documentary 2001 NR 71 minutes. This biographical documentary chronicles the controversial life of beat poet Jack Kerouac — a fringe artist who posthumously became one of the most widely read writers in America — and the experiences that inspired his greatest literary works. Kerouac’s classic novel On the Road, with its stream-of-consciousness poetry (based on bebop jazz), greatly influenced the literary and rock music worlds.

Napoleon

Documentary 2000 NR 240 minutes. This gripping PBS-produced offering charts the course of this larger-than-life emperor, from his birth on the island of Corsica to his eventual exile on another island, St. Helena. In between, of course, are his military exploits and achievements. Also examined are his undying love for his muse, Josephine, his marriage to an Austrian royal much younger than him and his impressive failure to conquer Russia in an ill-conceived invasion.

Coming to Light:
Edward S. Curtis and the North American Indians

Documentary 2000 NR 1hr 23m. Coming to Light interweaves the story of Curtis’s life with the results of his work, and through it, we see the world he sought to preserve — one man’s incredible effort to capture insights about Native Americans before time washed away important details. The photos alone should bring tears to your eyes. The later days of Edward Curtis reveal a sad conclusion to a life well spent over 30 years in preserving the record of many American tribal groups that were so poorly treated by the United States government. This is just a beautiful heart-rending presentation. Present day Natives are incredibly lucky this man a had burning desire to record what he discovered was vanishing before America’s eyes. This is a wonderful documentary.

The Eyes of Tammy Faye

Documentary 2000 PG-13 80 minutes. Tammy Faye Bakker’s journey from traveling evangelist to weepy, scandal-scarred cult icon is chronicled in this tongue-in-cheek documentary from Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato that’s narrated by RuPaul. The film was nominated for a Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival and details Jimmy Bakker’s infamous affair — which, in essence, ended the PTL Ministry — as well as Tammy’s emergence as a hero to alternative-lifestyle communities.

Frank Serpico

Documentary Biography series 2000 NR 50 minutes. An honest cop who slammed into the “Blue Wall of Silence” when he complained of police corruption, Frank Serpico became famous for his integrity — a quality he maintained in the face of great personal danger. This engrossing program chronicles the bravery and perseverance of the remarkable New York officer who risked alienation — and his life — in his dogged efforts to blow the whistle on and clean up corruption within the force.

Michael Jordan
His Airness

Documentary NBA Hardwood Classics 1999 NR 55 minutes.  This retrospective documentary looks at the extraordinary life — on and off the basketball court — of Michael Jordan, whose talent, grace, speed, power and unparalleled drive made him a player of unquestionable greatness and a cultural icon. Interviews with teammates, coaches, writers and No. 23 himself — plus exciting game footage — chronicle how this engaging athlete became a sports legend in his own time.

Robert Redford: Hollywood Outlaw

Documentary 1999 NR. In The Sting and The Way We Were, he played the golden boy with perfection, but as this episode of the popular A&E; series shows, Academy Award-winning actor Robert Redford was about the work, not the glitz, of Hollywood life. A consummate thespian, he also made waves as a director and later created the independent film mecca, the Sundance Film Festival. Also included are interviews with such high-wattage types as Paul Newman and Sydney Pollack.

My Best Fiend: Klaus Kinski
(Mein liebster Feind – Klaus Kinski)

Documentary 1999 NR 100 minutes. Take a closer look at the tempestuous-yet-legendary pairing of two creative giants of the film industry: Werner Herzog and Klaus Kinski. Their love-hate relationship yielded five films, including Aguirre, The Wrath of God — as well as independently, simultaneously hatched plans to murder each other. Rage, trust, betrayal, destruction; truth really is stranger than fiction.

Little Dieter Needs to Fly

Documentary 1998 NR 74 minutes. Werner Herzog directs this fascinating, emotional documentary about the life of Dieter Dengler, a naval pilot in the Vietnam War who — during one of his first missions — was shot down over Laos and taken captive. Beginning with his hardscrabble youth in postwar Germany, the film explores Dengler’s incredible tale of survival, from the torture he endured at the hands of the Vietcong to the daring escape he mounted with his fellow prisoners. (see also the related story in the docudrama Rescue Dawn, both by Werner Herzog)

Martin Luther King, Jr: I Have a Dream

Documentary 1986 NR 25 minutes.  Relive one of the seminal moments in the history of the Civil Rights movement with these fascinating excerpted clips from Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s landmark speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963. In addition to King’s most famous address, this compilation also includes the last speech he delivered before his tragic assassination, as well as footage of the beautiful eulogy delivered by friend Bobby Kennedy.

King  (2008)

Documentary 2008 NR 94 minutes.  An insightful look into the life and legacy of American civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., this Tom Brokaw-hosted program digs deep to reveal King’s true personality through interviews with those who knew him as well as contemporary figures. In addition to comments from former President Bill Clinton, Forest Whitaker and Chuck D., civil rights advocates such as Andy Young and Harry Belafonte contribute moving testimonials.

Citizen King

Documentary American Experience 2004 NR 120 minutes.  A little-known chapter of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s life — his last five years, during which he spoke out against the Vietnam War and became an advocate for all of America’s have-nots, regardless of race — is the subject of this documentary. Much is known of his tireless efforts as a civil rights leader, but this film focuses on King’s later work — which actually caused some to accuse him of abandoning his original mission.

Rebel Without a Pause
Noam Chomsky

Documentary 2003 NR 75 minutes. MIT professor and respected political analyst Noam Chomsky speaks his mind on sober issues including the U.S. war on terrorism, anti-American sentiment, media manipulation, the after-effects of 9/11, and social activism at high-profile gatherings. The film also features interviews with his wife, activists, fans and critics, and examines the truths and myths surrounding the anti-capitalist and longtime advocate of liberty and justice.

The Trials of Henry Kissinger

Documentary 2002 NR 1hr 19m. This riveting documentary depicts former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger as a warmonger responsible for military cover-ups in Vietnam, Cambodia and East Timor, as well as the assassination of a Chilean leader in 1970. Based on a book by journalist Christopher Hitchens, the film includes interviews with historians, political analysts and such journalists as New York Times writer William Safire, a former Nixon speechwriter.See Full Review

MacArthur

Documentary American Experience 1999 NR 240 minutes. Gen. Douglas MacArthur rode into infamy with his famous words, “I’ll be back,” uttered during his battles against the Japanese in World War II. Get to know the general and his accomplishments in this fascinating PBS documentary. Esteemed for his leadership in the Pacific Theater, including the Philippines and South Korea, MacArthur faced political skirmishes at home with President Harry Truman.

Bill Gates: Sultan of Software

Documentary 1998 NR 50 minutes. One of the richest people in the world, software giant Bill Gates made it cool to be a nerd. The Harvard dropout played a key role in advancing personal computer and network technology, leading to an ever-evolving high-tech world. Through interviews with friends and associates (including Microsoft co-founder Steve Ballmer), this biography explores Gates’s formative years, his early software development days and the creation of Microsoft.

Rasputin: The Mad Monk

Documentary 1997 NR 50 minutes. Once a peasant, shady monk Rasputin worked his way into the confidence of Emperor Nicholas II, eventually becoming a dominant player during Russia’s final imperial years. But why did the royals tolerate his corrupt and scandalous behavior? Through the analysis of leading historians, period accounts and rare photos, this biography delves into Rasputin’s power over the Czar, his role in the Revolution and his death at the hands of aristocrats.

J. Pierpont Morgan
Emperor of Wall Street

Documentary 1996 TV-PG 44m. An art collector and incomparable financier, J. Pierpont Morgan twice rescued the American economy from the brink of bankruptcy yet was regularly denounced as a robber baron. With his stunning Wall Street success, Morgan amassed one of the country’s biggest fortunes and ultimately exercised as much clout as the president. This absorbing installment of “Biography” profiles the legendary banker and wheeler-dealer via interviews and archival film.

Audie Murphy
Great American Hero

Documentary 1996 NR 50 minutes. This installment of A&E;’s popular “Biography” series profiles Congressional Medal of Honor winner Audie Murphy, a brave soldier who held off 250 Germans and six tanks during combat in World War II and parlayed his fame into a career as an actor and writer. Using newsreel footage and clips from his postwar films — including Murphy’s portrayal of himself in the film version of his autobiography — this portrait reveals a true American hero.

Ishi, The Last Yahi

Documentary 1992 NR 56 minutes. Ishi, the sole survivor of California’s Yahi Native American tribe before his death in 1916, is the subject of this documentary featuring interviews and historical footage that tell Ishi’s story of survival in the face of non-native encroachment. Narrated by Oscar Award-winning actress Linda Hunt, the enlightening presentation chronicles not only Ishi’s story, but also the fledgling science of anthropology as it existed in the early 20th century. See Full Review

The story of Ishi, The Last Yahi documentary is also told in the docudrama The Last of His Tribe.

Who is David Duke?

Documentary Frontline 1992. Correspondent Hodding Carter investigates the life and political career of presidential candidate David Duke-exploring Duke’s troubled childhood, his intellectual journey into the extremist ideology of the Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan, and the effort to reshape his image so he could run as a national figure in the Republican party.

Jack Kerouac:
What Happened to Kerouac?

Documentary 1986 NR 96 minutes. Counterculture icon and On the Road author Jack Kerouac travels from fringe to fame and back again in this absorbing documentary. Numerous vintage TV clips reveal the troubled but undeniable genius of the Beat Generation king. Many of Kerouac’s contemporaries are also on hand for colorful and poignant anecdotes; the guest list includes Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, William Burroughs, Neal Cassady, Carolyn Cassady and others.

Jack Kerouac:
King of the Beats

Documentary 1985 NR 1hr11m. This biographical documentary chronicles the controversial life of beat poet Jack Kerouac — a fringe artist who posthumously became one of the most widely read writers in America — and the experiences that inspired his greatest literary works.  A terrific, non-Hollywood treatment of one of my favorite writers. Great interviews with Beat survivors mixed with on-the-road scenes that make you feel like you’re traveling with Jack. This is a skillfully edited docudrama mixing suprising historic footage and recreations done with rare artistry. You see a complete picture of Kerouac, his talent, tragedies, and relationships. A gem.

Chanel Chanel

Documentary 1986 NR. Profiling fashion icon Coco Chanel, this documentary explores her life, her work and her meteoric rise as a designer in the World War I era. Among many accomplishments, Chanel popularized the “little black dress” and created a classic perfume line. Archival footage and a series of interviews with those closest to her — including her successor Karl Lagerfeld — shed light on the influential Chanel, renowned for the simple elegance of her designs.

Huey Long

Documentary Ken Burns’ America 1985 NR 1hr 30m. The world of American politics has long been peopled with interesting characters — but few of them have been more colorful than Huey P. Long. Award-winning documentary filmmaker Ken Burns captures the charisma that made Long the people’s politician, the “Kingfish.” This documentary explores Long’s life as a child, his ascent to power and his assassination in 1935.

The Times of Harvey Milk

Documentary 1984 UR 90 minutes. This is about San Francisco’s most colorful — and tragic — political figure: Harvey Milk, a staunch fighter for gay rights who helped forge a presence for the city’s gay community in city hall. Milk became the first openly gay member of San Francisco’s combative city council. But his life, along with Mayor George Moscone’s, was cut short by infamous fellow politico Dan White.  This is what I knew of Harvey Milk before watching the movie: that he was a gay rights activist, the first openly gay person to ever get into political office, made the “pooper scooper law”, and he was killed. This film reveals a man who would not be defeated, fought for the rights of any minority, was outspoken even if his thoughts were in the minority, articulate, and loved by many. The Academy Award nominated Best Documentary explores his political career up to the aftermath of his death along with Mayor Moscone’s and the reaction from the SF community. The documentary does an excellent job at exploring the gay rights movement during the 70’s and the ballot proposed for the California Constitution (Prop 6) and how Harvey was brilliant at coming up with plans to stop it.  It’s too bad his life was cut too short. In a miscarriage of justice, their killer Dan White was convicted only of manslaughter rather than murder, which outraged the constituents of Harvey Milk.  A great documentary.  Highly recommended.

Richard Feynman Film Trilogy

Documentary series. Between 1981 and 1993, documentary producer Christopher Sykes shot three films and one TV series dedicated to the charismatic, Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman (1918-1988).

1. The Pleasure of Finding Things Out, 1981. It features Feynman talking in a very personal way about the joys of scientific discovery, and about how he developed his enthusiasm for science. About the program, Harry Kroto (winner of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry) apparently once said: “The 1981 Feynman [production] is the best science program I have ever seen. This is not just my opinion – it is also the opinion of many of the best scientists that I know who have seen the program. It should be mandatory viewing for all students whether they be science or arts students.”

2. Fun to Imagine, a Sykes-directed television series that got underway in 1983. Feynman hosted the series and, along the way, used physics to explain how the everyday world works – “why rubber bands are stretchy, why tennis balls can’t bounce forever, and what you’re really seeing when you look in the mirror.”
12 episodes await you on YouTube. Thanks to Metafilter, you can access them easily: 1) Jiggling Atoms, 2) Fire, 3) Rubber Bands, 4) Magnets (and ‘Why?’ questions), 5) Bigger is Electricity!, 6) The Mirror, 7) The Train, 8) Seeing Things, 9) Big Numbers and Stuff (i), 10) Big Numbers and Stuff (ii), 11) Ways of Thinking (i) and 12: Ways of Thinking (ii).

3. The Last Journey of a Genius, 1989 PBS’ NOVA.  A television film that documented Feynman’s final days and his longtime obsession with traveling to Tannu Tuva, a state outside of outer Mongolia. For the better part of a decade, Feynman and his friend Ralph Leighton schemed to make their way to Tannu Tuva, but Cold War politics frustrated their efforts. Sykes’ documentary runs roughly 50 minutes and features an ailing Feynman talking about his wanderlust. He died two weeks later, never having made the trip.

4. No Ordinary Genius, 1993 BBC.  This is the final documentary in the trilogy directed by Sykes five years after Feynman’s death. This film traces the professor’s adventures inside and outside of science, using stories and photographs provided by Feynman’s family and close friends.

5. Also don’t miss the introductory physics lectures that Feynman presented at Cornell in 1964. You will find them listed on www.openculture.com in their big collection of 750 Free Courses Online. Just scroll down to the Physics section and enjoy.

The Richard Feynman Film Trilogy is another case of the whole being greater better than the sum of the parts.  Link to see Richard Feynman Film Trilogy:  http://www.openculture.com/2012/01/the_richard_feynman_film_trilogy.html

Ali the Fighter

Documentary 1975 G 93 minutes. Director William Greaves’s compelling documentary about boxer Muhammad Ali chronicles the champ’s 1971 bout against Joe Frazier. Greaves goes behind the scenes of the event, capturing footage of the training, press conferences, negotiations and celebrity attendees as well as graphic film of the “fight of the century.” Part biography, the movie also details Ali’s earlier days in Louisville, Ky., when he was known as Cassius Clay.

Marjoe

Documentary 1972 PG 88 mins.  This Oscar-winning documentary explores the life of one-time child evangelist and faith healer Marjoe Gortner. The son of professional evangelists, Gortner was preaching on the Southern tent-revival circuit by the age of 3. Twenty-eight at the time of the film’s release, Gortner freely admits to being a scam artist — but still maintains a compelling charisma, possibly explaining his later career as an actor in B movies and in 1974’s Earthquake.

Elizabeth R

Documentary Series 6 Episodes 1971 NR. This miniseries artfully recounts the long, tumultuous and historically unique reign of Elizabeth Tudor, queen of England from 1558 to 1603. Glenda Jackson gives an acclaimed performance as Elizabeth from her youth to old age. The writing and direction are superb and the casting and performances are universally excellent. But what makes this series such masterful cinema is the performance of Glenda Jackson in the title role. In a role that defines her career, the 35 year old Jackson, plays the queen from the age of 25 until her death at 70…no one has ever played her better. If you are looking for the definitive biopic of Elizabeth I, this is it.

The Eleanor Roosevelt Story

Documentary 1965 NR 1hr28m. This award-winning documentary chronicles the life of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, whose pioneering spirit inspired generations of feminists to come. This film explains how she became a huge force on humanitarian issues. She set a high standard for First Ladies through all her acts inside our country and around the world. I never learned about her in school and feel much more informed. Her impact on the United Nations was great and most Americans probably have no idea. I am glad I watched this documentary.

Nanook of the North

Documentary 1922 NR 79 minutes. In what’s considered the first documentary ever made, director Robert Flaherty’s landmark film grippingly chronicles the often-brutal relationship between humans and nature’s unforgiving elements. Over the course of a year, the movie’s subjects — Inuit Nanook and his family — must hunt, fish and build an igloo to survive in the pristine but inhospitable environs of Canada’s frigid Hudson Bay region.

See also:   Biography Docudramas    or    Biographies of Women

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