Saturday Morning Documentary: Collapse

30 03 2011

Originally a documentary about the CIA, as it says in the opening titles of Collapse, the filmmakers, upon interviewing Michael Ruppert, a former journalist, discovered that he had a different and arguably more powerful message to say.  Filmed in 2009 in the middle of the global recession, the only person interviewed in the documentary is Ruppert — and he has, as we find out, a lot of things to say.  He starts off talking about the reason for the recession, believing the economy has reached peak oil, and the importance of it everywhere — oil is apparently in everything from tires to toothbrushes.  He outlines alternative fuel sources including solar power, electric, and nuclear, while also saying why these options aren’t any better (ie. since electric car parts such as tires need to be made from oil, they are, long-term, not a good solution, in his eyes).

Despite almost an hour and a half of him ranting, he comes across as an extremely intelligent and passionate man, really honestly trying to urge people to change, and he gives people advice that will either come across to viewers as helpful or crazy: he tells people to grow their own vegetables, keep seeds for crops, change your fiat currency (paper money) to gold since it pretty much will always have value, etc.  Some people might say he’s paranoid about the recession and that taking such drastic measures isn’t needed while others might find his words holding truth.  It is up to viewers to decide.

What is clear, however, is that at oil does impact the world at least more than I ever knew.  And as of the time of the filming, even after passionately pleading to people about all this, Ruppert was living with his dog, behind on his rent, and was apparently no longer giving talks anymore.  While he doesn’t come across as the most lovable man on the planet, you do feel some sympathy for him, especially after he fervently believes what he does.

A very well-made film that is definitely thought-provoking. How did this not get nominated for an Oscar?

Michael Ruppert

Saturday Morning Documentary: Winged Migration

15 10 2010

Yes, this film is about birds and them flying around the world.  What the film makes up in lack of plot or story is done with fantastic, gorgeous cinematography.  Climbing great heights to fly alongside or even below the birds, this documentary that took 3 years to film was nominated for an Oscar in 2003.  Produced in France, Winged Migration follows several species of birds as they, well, migrate over vast distances all around the world.  Their difficult and arduous journeys make you — or at least me — see birds in a different light; they are really tough creatures, arguably tougher than humans.

A must-see for all nature lovers or if you want to have a new respect for our feathered friends.

Birds in Winged Migration

Saturday Morning Documentary at the Queer Film Festival: Holding Hands

15 08 2010

I was sad when I realized I would be missing my Saturday Morning Documentary since I had to journey to UBC to do a study, petting this furry robotic creature.  Then I realized after that I had planned to see a documentary today, and why not have it be my film? (even if it’s in the afternoon)  Oh, and I’ve altered slightly how I review things after minutes of consideration.

Holding Hands

Synopsis: Shane and Craig are a gay couple living in Australia.  One night, they get jumped by some men on the street and Craig is pretty badly hurt, having taken his face stepped on by one of the men.  The film chronicles their fight to change the police department in Sydney, Craig’s numerous operations, and the relationship between the two lovers over the next few months.

Super awesome things: If you’re expecting a tear-jerker, you’ll get it.  Quite possibly the most devastating and upsetting quote from Craig is when he explains what happened after he was bashed and taken to the hospital: he calls his family up, all bloodied, and asks his mom if she’ll come see him in the hospital (the family lives in a small town nearby).  She says no, that it’s too far and too late.  He says Shane will go and pick her/them up.  She refuses again, and says how disappointed they are in him, for being gay and how badly they have embarrassed them and their family name.  She tells him it was selfish to tell them about his sexuality.

His own mother refused to go to the hospital to see her own son after he was beaten and required surgery.  Wow.  I can’t believe that.  And this happened in 2007, so it’s not like some era of Neanderthals (well, apparently there still are some).  Though I couldn’t see beside me, I could hear the woman sitting on my right crying.  And of course, I was tearing up too, and I couldn’t help but wonder if my mom would come see me in the hospital if I was nearly dying.

Anyway.  Back to the film.  Holding Hands shows the couple’s fight against the police system, how they allegedly tell Craig that it would take a death for them to actually investigate hate crimes (ie. the little people versus the big, powerful people is always a winning formula).  Also well-done is how they show the couple’s relationship, how comfortable they seem in front of the camera and how happy they are.  The grainy re-enactment scene using Super 8 (I think?) film is also effective in capturing that fateful night and showing the grittiness.  Shane and Craig also = super cute couple!  🙂

Not so super awesome things: The first two thirds are very good, very absorbing, and emotional.  The last third focuses more on Craig’s multiple surgeries and how the relationship between Shane and Craig change, which isn’t necessarily bad or boring, but I thought the main point was about changing the system and finding the guys who did this to them.  Yes, their relationship goes up and down after and going to hospital for yet another surgery is definitely harrowing, but the cause of all this was those bashers, and at the end of the film, *spoilers!* because there’s no update on what happened to their case, I don’t even remember what the last point was about it.  I also thought some bits, such as Craig explaning his family’s religious background, could have been moved to the beginning rather than in the middle of the film, and I also wanted to know a little more about Shane’s family and their reaction when they found out their son was gay.  A little more of that humanity that people can relate to.

Overall:  A good look at how unresponsive police forces not just in Australia but most likely in many other parts of the world can be.

Grade: B

Saturday Morning Documentary: Wonders of the Solar System

12 08 2010

Everyone knows the solar system and the planets; we’ve all learned it in primary school.  But this BBC series, narrated and hosted by professor Brian Cox, takes us on a voyage to the little known wonders of space.  It’s not a general look at the planets, but more of the road less taken, the cool attractions in a city one doesn’t get to see.  Again, it’s been a while since I saw the series so I’m not super familiar with everything, but there are 5 episodes total, all an hour long.

With Cox’s mellow narration and his simple constructed diagrams like bottles of condiments at a diner which make it easy for stupid people to understand (a good thing, btw), the series examines things from the beginnings of life on Earth in episode two, “Order Out of Chaos”, to volcanic activity on Saturn’s moons in the “Dead or Alive” episode.  This is a fascinating, interesting, high-definition look at the rarely talked-about things in our solar system that is sure to make you wonder how complex, bizarre, and cool the world is beyond our planet.

The only thing that bugged me about everything was Cox’s pronounciation when it came to words that end in a “g”.  It’s part of his accent, I’m sure, but for whatever reason, it kinda annoyed me whenever he would say words like, “thing-guh” or “thinking-guh”, always saying the “g”.  Anyway, that’s just me and North American-ness.

Wonders of the Solar System

Wonders of the Solar System

Saturday Morning Documentary: Outrage

10 08 2010
outrage poster


Gays can be pretty mean mofos.  That’s essentially the premise of Kirby Dick’s 2009 documentary, Outrage.  But we’re not talking trash talk mean–it goes way beyond that.  As we see from Dick’s examination of closeted American policitians, apparently gays will do anything to keep their image as a heterosexual–even if it means denying their own people rights.  Dick attempts to out several allegedly gay policitians with his film; whether it is right or not is up to the viewer to decide.

This is a film you have to watch for yourself and anyway, Dick explains things a lot better than I can right now (also it’s been a while since I’ve seen the film).  If you aren’t outraged at any point during the movie, I’d be surprised, at the things some people will do for their reputation.  In the wake of the recent overturning of Prop 8, Outrage is a reminder that there are certainly gay policitians in the US, though you could’ve just as easily confused them with a Republican.

Saturday Morning Documentary: Story of the Weeping Camel

5 08 2010
Story of the Weeping Camel

Story of the Weeping Camel

What a unique and interesting title, it pretty much explains the significance of the movie itself.  In a rural village in Mongolia, it’s camel birthing season (there’s a season for that?) and the herd of camels are doing their thing.  One particular camel has a difficult birth, and it takes her around 2 days to finally deliver her calf.  Perhaps it is the hard delivery, or maybe it’s because her calf is a rare white camel instead of the more common brown or tan.  Whatever the reason, the mother rejects her baby and refuses it milk.  The folks in the village do their best to try and get them to bond because if not, the calf won’t be able to get the milk it needs to survive and may die.  I won’t spoil what happens, but The Story of the Weeping Camel is an interesting look at a remote village in Asia and the different customs and culture they have.  The kids in the village also venture on camelback to the city, and the distinction between city and town and the traditional versus the modern  is interesting to note.

Done cinema verite style, there is no narrator or host to guide viewers along, which may frustrate and bore people.  The film takes a while to establish the setting and the villagers before focusing on the camel and the birth.  After watching this little film, I really wanted a baby camel.  So cute!

Mother and her calf

Mother and her calf

Saturday Morning Documentary: BBC Life

4 08 2010
Swordfish and shoal

Swordfish and a shoal of fish

Following in the tradition of fantastic fascinating documentary series produced by the BBC is Life. After the worldwide acclaim for Planet Earth, Life stepped in after for those who want a high-definition look at our world.  The series, ten episodes in total, covers various species and, well, life forms around our planet–from the first episode, Challenges of Life, to whales in Mammals, to even unique vegetation in Plants, this series is arguably on par with, if not better, than Planet Earth.  The original British series is hosted once again by David Attenborough, while the US version is narrated by Oprah; I’ve read many comments about how bad Oprah is as a narrator so I’d stick with Attenborough’s narration instead.

There really isn’t much I can say about this series except that the images and cinematography are phenomenal and captivating.  My favourite episode is probably Mammals (ep. 3) or Fish (ep. 4); there’s a sequence where the crew is filming flying fish and it looks like nothing I’ve seen before.

Though the episodes are an hour in length, the last 15 minutes are a unique behind-the-scenes/making-of documentary within a documentary, giving viewers a glimpse of the challenges of filming, the different and exotic locations they traveled to, and their interaction with the animals.  In the second episode, Reptiles and Amphibians, the crew must get extremely close to Komodo dragons in order to film them, putting their lives at risk amongst the unpredictable animals.  And in the Insects episode, the crew struggles to get their camera high enough in the trees with limited daylight to film monarch butterflies in South America (or was it Mexico?).

All in all, Life is definitely worth checking out especially if you enjoyed Planet Earth.  I’ll admit that the first episode left me a little disappointed but the following episodes featured some pretty amazing, cool, and of course, bizarre things on Earth.

BBC Life

BBC Life

Saturday Morning Documentary: Freeheld

17 07 2010

Laurel and Stacie

Laurel and Stacie

At first, I thought watching a documentary short would be cheating for my documentary mornings on the weekend, but now that I think about it, it’s not the length that counts, it’s the fact that it is a documentary — a film that shows real life.  I was randomly scouring the pages on imdb like I do sometimes, aimlessly clicking on link after link of things.  I think I started off with Christopher Nolan’s Inception since it’s coming out this weekend, then clicked on Ellen Page, then clicked on one of her upcoming movies, titled Freeheld.  The synopsis was intriguing enough, about a lesbian couple trying to obtain pension benefits when before one of them dies from lung cancer.  As I scrolled down the page, I noticed it was a remake of a 2007 film of the same name, and instinctively thinking, “Oh god.  Another crappy remake”, I clicked on the original title.  What surprised me what that 1) the original is a 38 minute documentary short and 2) it won an Oscar.  More intrigued than ever and being very interested in social issues like this, I decided to Freeheld my film for this morning.

“You have denied Lieutenant Hester a pension she worked hard for.  A pension, that like every other officer who worked, derserves.  And you’re denying those benefits to her partner because her partner is not a man.”


The Freeholders

This is the opening line of the film, spoken by George Farrugia, part of the Gay Officers Action League (I didn’t know there was such a thing but I’m not really surprised).  Laurel Hester, a former Lieutenant of Ocean County, New Jersey, is dying from lung cancer.  She wants to pass on pension benefits to her partner, Stacie Andree but of course, there’s a problem — the county won’t allow it, that it only applies to hetersexual couples.  The film chronicles Laurel and Stacie’s fight for justice not only for themselves and their situation, but for same-sex couples in the county and in New Jersey.  What surprised me was how many people supported Hester and Andree.  Perhaps I’m merely pessimistic when it comes to gay rights and issues and assume that there must be opposition ALWAYS but I was pleasantly surprised.  The only people that were holding back were the Freeholders, the county officials who determine whether or not the benefits can be passed on; they are the people who can change the life for the couple.  As Hester’s health worsens, time slowly runs out for the couple to get permission from the Freeholders, who are hesitant to allow them the pension benefits.  Although the reasons behind their denial are only speculative (someone in the film suggests why they’re reluctant to say yes, but I won’t spoil it), they can’t ignore the voices of people in the room, powerfully chanting,”You have the power!  You have the power!”

There are few documentaries (and films, for that matter) that really resonate with me and make me cry.  But this little film does that.  It made me think of what would happen if I were in Laurel and Stacie’s situation, and made me very, very glad to be living here in Canada.  There are some powerful words spoken in the film, like this one by Joan Hervey, of the Garden State Equality: “Please don’t let her die.  Don’t let her die remembering you saying ‘No.  No, you’re not good enough; your 25 years of service was not good enough.  The criminals you put away, the lives you saved was not worth our time.'”

Thank you to Laurel Hester for such a compelling and moving story, and to Cynthia Wade for directing and making this film available to people.  It really touched me, and I’m willing to bet it did with plenty of other people.  Perhaps Laurel herself sums everything she goes through in the film thebest: “We’re just average people that have a home and a couple dogs and pay our taxes.  And we just wanted everything to be… equal.”


Supporters of Laurel and Stacie

Saturday Morning Documentary: Paul Merton in China

16 07 2010
The funny Paul Merton

The funny Paul Merton

Who’s Paul Merton?  Well, for those of us North Americans, he is well-known in England as a comedian/occasional actor and his travels in China are unique and interesting, to say the least.  His goal was to explore China the unconventional way, avoiding the typical tourist attractions like the Great Wall to get a glimpse of the true heart of the country.  Merton’s charm and humor draw viewers in every episode and he serves as the perfect host for the series.  With only 4 episodes of his travels in China, he still manages to do quite a lot — from eating exotic and strange cuisine like a donkey’s penis in the first episode to buying a pair of fighting crickets that escape on the train to visiting a Shaolin temple complete with martial arts-practicing monks.

What makes this series unique is the people he meets along the way who are full of heart, full of stories that we never see in other travel shows.  The villagers in rural China who have lived that way are unsure of their children’s future as urban areas expand and cover their land is a sad an unfortunate situation — the traditional and the modern way in conflict.  Because it’s been a while since I’ve seen the series, I can’t fully recall all the things Paul does and all the people he meets but I can say that this is a fun, humorous series — like a B-sides disc to the more well-known album.  A definite favourite of mine to watch for the beautiful landscape and to take a look at the China people rarely, if ever, see.

Saturday Morning Documentaries: The Cove

4 07 2010

I was never the kind of kid who would wake up bright and early on Saturday mornings to watch a block of cartoons — since I preferred sleeping in instead and I would always catch the episodes later on that week after school. I wonder who thought of such a concept; programming multiple cartoons on the weekend early in the morning so kids will wake up, probably make lots of noise and wake up their parents. Brilliant.

Since January of this year, every Saturday morning, I’ve taken to watching not cartoons, but documentaries (though a few times, I’ve had to postpone my Saturday mornings to Sunday mornings/afternoons). The best thing about this is I don’t have a set time for my Saturdays — whenever I wake up is when I start which, then technically, it should be called Saturday Morning/Afternoon Documentaries.

I don’t remember the exact order of all the documentaries I’ve watched since I started but I thought I’d start making a list of everything I’ve seen and then provide a weekly update to what I’ll be watching. Luckily, I go to imdb after I watch anything and rate it, so I do have a list of most, if not all, the documentaries I’ve seen.

The Cove posterThis is definitely not the first documentary I saw for my series, but it’s certainly one of the most memorable. The Cove, which I’m sure most people have heard of one point or another unless they’re worshippers of Twilight in which case they haven’t heard of much at all, centers around a pool of water in Japan where fishermen presumably kill dolphins. No one has documented any footage of what actually happens in the cove and a group of experts — including some dealing with high-tech spy gear, two divers from Vancouver (yay!), and Rick O’Barry, who we learn has dealt with releasing dolphins around the world and has gotten into trouble loads of times which of course makes things that more interesting — all come together to try and find out what exactly goes on in the cove. Trying to stop them are various men from the area, blocking the film crew’s cameras with either their own cameras or signs, and as the film progresses, the each side go to more and more extreme lengths to stop the other.

It’s tense and riveting and almost feels like an action film with all the equipment and the danger of going into forbidden territory. I’m trying to avoid putting spoilers in here, but I feel like I should say there are parts in the film that are genuinely disturbing; The Cove is one of those film that, like An Inconvenient Truth, is a call to action and will make you think — not just about your impact in the world, but how to change it.