I'm pretty consistent in my film tastes. I tend to go for dark, Indie films about failed efforts at personal redemption or fictional feature films that capture some signature moment in political history.
But my husband is a huge fan of documentaries. And so -- benefiting once again from the division of labor that characterizes our marriage -- I've seen my fair share of those as well.
While I doubt I'll ever become a documentary junkie, over the years I've grown to enjoy them more and more. Here are five documentaries worth seeing:
1. The Thin, Blue Line. This may have been the very first documentary I ever saw with my husband. It's an Errol Morris film -- which makes it worth viewing in and of itself -- that dramatically re-enacts the crime scene and investigation of a police officer's murder in Dallas. Apparently, the film was so powerful and convincing that it helped free an innocent man from prison. But I like it because it plays like a murder mystery thriller. Stylistically, it's also interesting. Interviews with suspects and their acquaintances, law enforcement officials and lawyers are interspersed with a stylized re-enactments of the murder. Among other things, you'll come away questioning the very notion of "truth."
2. Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired. This is another good film to see if you are interested in questioning the fairness and efficacy of the American judicial system. The film examines the famous, ongoing case against Roman Polanski, who had sexual intercourse with a 13-year-old girl 34 years ago, a crime for which he remains a fugitive from justice in the United States. However you feel about the controversial European film director -- and for the record, I side with those who see him as a child rapist -- this film makes you appreciate the horrible miscarriage of justice that his circus of a trial was. (It also shows just how bizarre, wounded and self-destructive a character Polanski really is.)
3. One Day In September. Shifting from domestic to international politics, this 1999 Oscar award-winning documentary about the murder of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 summer Olympics in Munich is guaranteed to keep you glued to the screen. Again, however you feel about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, you won't be able to look away as the narrator carefully walks you towards the bloody, suspenseful climax. Which is pretty impressive, given that we all know in advance how the whole thing turns out. You will also come away in awe of the Israeli secret service, Mossad.
4. Promises. This is an utterly different -- but equally worthy -- documentary about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. What makes it so compelling -- sad and hopeful in equal measure -- is that it examines the conflict through the eyes of seven children who live in Palestinian communities in the West Bank and Israeli neighborhoods of West Jerusalem. Some are secular; some are religious. Some are more militant; some are more peaceful. Above all, however, we see them as kids. And it is this universal bond of youth which cuts across the geo-political struggle that wages around them. Powerful stuff.
5. Hoop Dreams. If you only manage to see one documentary on this list, let this be it. This is, quite simply, an amazing film and something that all teen-agers should be required to watch. It narrates the lives of two African-American boys who are spotted for their talent on the basketball courts on the West side of Chicago and follows their lives as they try to realize their dream of playing in the NBA. In addition to the whole sports-as-ticket-out-of-the ghetto theme, you are also exposed to all of the other realities of inner city life that surround these boys, including drugs, crime, teen pregnancy and poverty. I saw it when it first came out but we watched it as a family this summer with my two children (ages 7 and 10) and we're still talking about it. I'm also delighted to learn that the film-maker, Steve James, has a new documentary out this summer about gang violence in Chicago called The Interrupters. Can't wait.
What have I missed?
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