Saturday Morning Documentary: Eco Pirate: The Story of Paul Watson

9 02 2013

It`s been quite a while since I last watched a documentary on Saturday morning, mostly because I always find myself having things to do and write on the weekend because of school.  With some time to spare, I was finally able to open my Documentaries folder and take a look at one of the movies that have been waiting patiently.  I remember when Eco Pirate played at Fifth Ave.  Hardly anyone went to see it, unfortunately, and we only screened it for a week.  It`s a good documentary, and director Trish Dolman isn`t afraid to show some very disturbing, graphic images, like whales being harpooned and killed, and even more terrifying and unexpected, baby seals getting bludgeoned in the Arctic.  But it`s moments like these, this uncensored look at what Paul and the rest of his followers really believe in stopping.  It`s the ugly truth of what goes on in the world, and people, as Paul says, are ”stupid”.  What some people believe to be eco-terrorism, this film examines the injustice of nations who proceed with illegal activity or in some cases, like Japan, blatantly lie about their whaling purposes (they call it ”research” yet others point out that you don`t need to kill whales to study them), Watson looks more and more reasonable in his actions.  He and his crew throw stink bombs onto other boats, clog their waste outlets (ie. the holes near the bottom of the ships where blood from whales pours out), and sometimes even ram the ships, all in the name of protecting animals and the environment.

If you have the stomach and eyes for watching animals getting killed a bit, then I would recommend this documentary.  It may be a little long, but the entire film is a well-made and fascinating portrait of a man willing to make the change no one else will do.

Andrew Marr’s Megacities

24 06 2012

At last: a documentary series about the world’s largest metropolises.  This three one-hour documentary series, yet another high-budget production from the BBC, narrator and host Andrew Mars takes viewers around the world at a look at various megacities — cities with populations of over 10 million people — and their influence on the world.  From obvious cities like London and Shanghai, to poorer cities such as Dhaka, Bangladesh, the series examines everything from buildings, to garbage and consumption, to crime in the usual dramatic, heightened BBC-produced way.

The music is, right off the bat, loud and overdramatic, as if trying to convey some sort of tension or drama in the series, which I guess should be the case in any series or program, but there really isn’t anything dramatic here.  Yes, these cities are large; yes, different cities do different things.  It’s how people react and why/how people do the things they do that, for me, is interesting.  The sewage treatment in Mexico City, for example, is a big open canal where sewage workers occasionally find dead bodies in.  That in and of itself is frightening, and when paired with the visual of the floating garbage and waste in the lake, as well as Mars’s narration that there isn’t really a bottom for workers to walk on — just a meter of unidentifiable trash — even without the boisterous soundtrack, the scene speaks for itself.

Far too often, cities are given numbers and statstics that don’t accurately put a face on the actual living situation.  The best thing aboutMegacitiesis that, well, we actually get to see the megacities in all their chaotic action.  And as Mars concludes in the final episode, the problems faced by the megacities, such as food shortages, is not just the individual cities’ problem, but a global problem.  As he suggests, perhaps looking back in the past to farming techniques, for example, are the key to relieving the burden and demand placed on some of the most important and influential places on Earth.

Andrew Mars is amazed at the speed of the Shanghai Mag-Lev.

Saturday Morning Documentary: If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front

20 03 2012

When I hear the term “eco-terrorism”, I can’t help but laugh.  It’s a word that seems like such an oxymoron that I don’t take it seriously because the meanest thing I have seen environmental protesters do is to block roads by sitting on them, or chaining themselves to trees so prevent them from being cut down.  This eco-terrorism is nothing compared to, for example, the terrorists connected to 9/11.  Right?

If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front is a documentary by Marshall Curry (who also did the fantastic documentary Street Fight) which examines a so-called eco-terrorist group called the ELF.  Founded in Eugene, Oregon, the film follows one of the ex-members, Daniel McGowen, as he first waits out his home arrest time and then his legal proceedings.  From there, Curry intersperses interviews with McGowen and a few other ex-members of the ELF about the beginnings of the group, and some of their plans, including the arson of a slaughterhouse for horses.  A lot of people on the boards on imdb have commented how remarkably balanced the film is: it also features interviews of the company owners of the burned buildings, an ex-police chief who had to deal with “violent” protesters, which is cleverly juxtaposed with archival footage of police beating and attacking quite peaceful protesters, including deliberately pepperspraying some people simply doing a sit-in.  “You can’t help but take it personal when someone throws a rock at you,” says the police chief, as the officers smear pepperspray into screaming protesters– both in pain, and at the authorities for doing such an unwarranted act.  Through explanations as to why the ELF began doing the things they did, mainly out of frustration that nothing was being done through the peaceful ways they had always been doing, the film really does a good job at creating sympathy then for McGowen and the possibility that he will spend the rest of his life not just in jail, but in a special jail created for terrorists (created after 9/11).

There are some very affecting moments in the film, and I do wish that this film was more widely known/distributed.  It did manage to get nominated for Best Documentary at the Oscars, which always helps. I think Curry knows what a good documentary is all about, and I wouldn’t doubt that he’ll get his Oscar one of these days.  Though not a flawless film, If a Tree Falls handles a tricky and controversial subject that, ultimately, has its roots in something deeper: as Daniel McGowen puts it in the film, if no one hears you screaming, what’re you supposed to do?

The ELF graffiti some words after an arson.

Saturday Morning Documentary: Sound and Fury

29 07 2011

“If you could make your deaf children hear, would you do it?”  That’s the tagline and the question posed in the 2000 documentary Sound and Fury.  Though the choice may seem clear at first, the film explores the complex questions that also arise when deaf children have the opportunity for cochlear implants that would allow them to hear like regular hearing kids.  Two sets of parents who both have kids are both contemplating the implants– one thinking yes and the other on the fence– and debates and arguments ensue.

“If your child was blind, wouldn’t you want them to see?” asks the mother who is for the surgery, and it’s a convincing argument.  She argues that it would be a setback for her child if he were to be deaf, that he would be missing out on so much in the world like music, the sound of rain; other aspects of life, like finding a job, would also be a lot harder, she says.  On the other hand, the mother who is investigating both sides of the situation says that by giving her child an implant, they would be missing out on deaf culture and may not learn and use sign with other deaf people, and that the deaf world and culture may be wiped out completely if all deaf people were given implants.  “I’m proud to be deaf,” says her husband, and you see from the way he signs that he really means it.

I don’t think I’ve seen a documentary on deafness before but this was really insightful.  It did seem a little outdated with the choice of music and the way it was shot but the film was pretty interesting nonetheless.  A provocative film about a sense that most people take for granted.

Saturday Morning Documentary: Nova ScienceNow

8 07 2011

Hosted by famed astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson (who has appeared on other shows the Colbert Report Nova ScienceNow is a mix of typical informational PBS documentary series and kid’s show — if a little older.  A show like Nova can be super informational but at the same time, super serious to the point where learning becomes boring.  What Nova ScienceNow tries to do is have an intelligent, charming host + green screen cheesy graphics and animations + simple, easy to understand segments and instantly, the show becomes a lot more accessible, and, in essence, a lot more fun to watch.

I’ve only seen one season of the show but each episode is focused on a question; ie. Episode one asks, “Can we make it to Mars?”.  From there, the hour long episode is divided into various segments that explore the question.  Researchers go into the field, interviewing scientists and experts alike.  What I like about the show is that sometimes, the show attempts to try and get to actually know the researchers rather than interview them because their smart and that they’ll say intelligent things.  For instance, in the last episode, titled “What’s the Next Big Thing?”, one segment focuses on a scientist Jay Keasling, who is developing biofuels from bacteria that would hopefully replace oil in cars.  Instead of the segment just based on his research and the future of biofuel, they interviewed him on a bit of his life, and even mentioned briefly that he’s gay (which was a pleasant surprise).

Though the show borders on dumbing-down things sometimes, it’s all in all a good watch if you’re in the mood for some not-so serious learning.

Neil deGrasse Tyson and Chaser, a super smart dog in Ep. 4

Saturday Morning Documentary: oh wait.

5 06 2011

I’ve been missing my Saturday Morning Documentaries because last month, I was going to classroom sessions, learning how to drive.  And sure, I could’ve watched something on Sundays because I’ve cheated and done that before, but I didn’t even do that.  I’ll post something tomorrow about another documentary.  Pinky swear.

Saturday Morning Documentary: Echo: An Unforgettable Elephant

10 04 2011

Alright, this is my last BBC Natural World episode, so no more David Attenborough and nature at least for the time being.  The documentary episode follows the journey and life of Echo, an African elephant and the matriarch of a family of elephants.  Using older footage taken in the ’80s as flashbacks to her earlier life, we get a very intimate and fascinating look at what we discover is a very special elephant.

Echo, named so because of the echo on the tracking device researchers put on her collar many years ago, has been through a lot.  She’s given birth over 5 times and one of the baby elephants has trouble walking for three days.  As David Attenborough explains through his as usual fantastic narration, other elephant mothers would have left their young to die while they went in search for food and water.  But Echo stays with her child, urging him to stand on his legs, and when he does, you can’t help but hold your breath as it looks like he’s about to do it.  Great cinematography and story.

However, Echo is dying.  After her natural death, a new leader needs to take over.  Will the lessons she taught her children and her grandchildren be enough to help them survive one of the worst droughts in area’s history?

More than anything, the episode is and feels like a biography of the legacy of this special, intelligent elephant.  Her death impacts not only her family but the researchers who had spent decades studying, observing, and befriending the animal, and reminds us of humans’ roots to the Earth.

Echo, largest elephant, with Enid, one of her daughters, and her newborn struggling to walk

Saturday Morning Documentary: Polar Bear, Spy On the Ice

20 03 2011

I’m sure I don’t have to explain what a polar bear is: vicious white bears who kill seals!  Also, the cubs are adorable.  According to yet another BBC produced documentary called Polar Bear, Spy on the Ice polar bears have not been captured on film very much in the wild and a lot of their behaviour is still not completely known.  Scientists have built a variety of different spy cameras ranging from “Snowball cam,” a spherical camera that is “almost indestructible”, “iceberg cam,” which is exactly as it sounds — a camera mounted on a small, fake iceberg to follow the bears in the water or on icebergs at sea, and my favourite one, “blizzard cam,” a camera propelled by two propellers on a set of skis that allow the entire camera to travel to 40 miles per hour.  Pretty darn cool.

On the islands of Svalbard in Norway, these cameras — no humans — are placed, waiting for the bears to come out of hibernation as they make their way onto the drifting sea ice in search of food during the upcoming summer.  The bears have to hurry though; once the ice melts away, the distance will be too far to swim to the icebergs and bears that don’t make it on the ice will be stranded on land where food is harder to come by.  The documentary follows two families of bears: a mother with a cub and another mother with two cubs.  One of them gets left on the island while the other makes it onto the icebergs.

What the documentary finds is the bears being extremely curious to the cameras, showing remarkable intelligence, and showing the differences between the two polar bear families and survival strategies.  Nonetheless, there are lots and lots of the obligatory shots of super cute polar bear cubs.  And in HD, the entire documentary looks fantastic.

Blizzard cam

Mother and her cub, stranded on Svalbard

Saturday Morning Documentary: Attenborough’s Journey

19 03 2011

Famously known for narrating wildlife documentaries including BBC Planet Earth and Life, David Attenborough is rarely seen in front of the camera by viewers (or at least I didn’t know what he looked like prior to watching this documentary).  As David sets out to film yet another documentary series called First Life, one that takes a look at the beginning of life on Earth, a documentary crew follows him along on his journeys across the world, providing us with a face of the mysterious man with the passionate, deep voice.

As we see through the documentary, David has a great sense of humor, even about the setbacks he and the crew have on their filming.  Despite this, it is clear to see that he really enjoys nature a lot, and the tender age of 83, he is still adventurous and learning, reading books, being mobile, climbing mountains and walking with his own to feet.

One things for sure (and this is super cheesy, I know): David Attenborough is one rare species.

David Attenborough

David on top a mountain on the Rockies

Saturday Morning Documentary: Deliver Us From Evil

5 03 2011

Even before I explain that this film is about a Catholic priest who was accused and also confessed to molesting and raping children, the preconceptions of priests has probably already popped up in your mind.  And what a sad thing that is: that we now have this stereotype of priests molesting children.  Amy Berg’s Oscar-nominated Deliver Us From Evil focuses on Father Oliver O’Grady, who molested and raped several children in the 1970s.  While this seems infuriating as it is, we get to hear and see O’Grady confessing to these crimes many years later (this film was made in 2006 so sometime then).  And he speaks with such clarity, with such softness, that we do inexplicably feel some sympathy for him.  He is not a monster.

The film also deals with the Catholic church’s repeated attempts at relocating Father O’Grady in order to cover up the growing scandals and accusations against him.  This is the real infuriating part.  Instead of stripping him of his priesthood and turning him into authorities, the church moves him from town to town, where O’Grady finds himself doing the same things to new victims.

It is easy to point the finger at one person.  But as the film shows, it is harder to point it at an entire organization — one that is clearly corrupted but is somehow able to get away with it.  A gripping, revealing look at a man’s struggle with his demons and the church that refused to let them get out.

Deliver Us From Evil