documentary film

Now That's Grand Theft

Director Michael Moore in Where to Invade Next
Director Michael Moore in Where to Invade Next

WRITING FOR a monthly magazine requires a long lead time. These columns are turned in several weeks before you see them, so they need to be timely, but not too timely. And that can be frustrating. But from now on, whenever I am tempted to complain about that fact of life, I will instead think of poor Michael Moore and the way current events have conspired against his latest movie, Where to Invade Next.

Way back in the 1980s, with the surprising success of his comic deindustrialization tale Roger and Me, Moore stumbled into a career as a feature-film director. But at heart he remains what he always was: an advocacy journalist. He wants to tell the story of his times in a way that will inspire people to act for change. In fact, his last job before he started making movies was a brief stint as editor of the monthly Mother Jones. Two constant themes resound through all his work, in any medium: outrage at the gross injustice of the U.S. economic and political order and faith in the capacity of ordinary Americans to change things.

But feature film is an even more unwieldy vehicle for telling the story of one’s time than a monthly magazine. The financing and logistics are byzantine and overwhelming, and the lead time is measured in years. A few times over the past three decades, Moore has managed to overcome those odds and get a message into the theaters at exactly the right time, most notably with his fall 2004 release of Fahrenheit 9/11. The national release of Where to Invade Next was scheduled for the same week as the New Hampshire presidential primary, the first primary of the season, apparently with the hope of hitting the election-year sweet spot again.

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The Stories We All Could Tell

Polley's parents dance along a snowy bridge. Screenshot from Stories We Tell.

Polley’s theater family has kept a rumor for years that Sarah’s dad may not be her biological father. Nagged by persistent jokes about her striking non-resemblance to the rest of the family, and unable to ask her long-since deceased mother, Polley sets out to put the record, and her family’s memories, straight.  

There’s much to love here, and what immediately distinguishes Stories is the openness — both uncomfortable and endearing — with which Polley invites the audience to see the intimate process of art-making.

In short, we see a family — recognizable, ordinary, and still very much in the process of living — grappling with what it means to be suddenly be subjects in an intimate story no longer their own.

"A Place at the Table": New Documentary Speaks Out on Solving Hunger in America

A Place at the Table premieres nationwide today. Photo courtesy Participant Media.

A new documentary from the producers of Food, Inc. premieres today, serving up the critical problem of rising hunger in the United States with a surprising thesis: we’ve already solved it.

… Forty years ago, that is. A Place at the Table, the newest documentary from Participant Media, reveals how political will in the 1960s and 70s ushered in an era of bipartisan-sponsored, government-funded programs that “nearly solved” the problem of hunger. 

Compare that with today, in which 50 million Americans rely on food assistance programs – and nearly one-in-two children will require food assistance in their lifetimes. The stark disparity between then and now begs the question: what happened?

Watch 'The Line': The Most Important Film You'll See This Year

Four real people. Four real stories.
Four real people. Four real stories.

Matthew 25 doesn’t say, “As you have done to the middle class you have done to me."

What it records Jesus saying is, “As you have done to the least of these, you have done to me.” Chances are that will never be the central message of political conventions during election years.

But every four years for the last 40 years (even before we were called Sojourners), our community has done what we can to lift up the issue of poverty during presidential elections. While political party platforms have changed, our commitment to the least of these has not.

So it is with that spirit, this election year, that I am proud to present a new short film called The Line.

Written and directed by Emmy-award winning producer Linda Midgett, it chronicles the very real stories of four real people struggling with real poverty in America today.

You’ll meet a banker in the suburban Midwest who used to earn six-figures a year and now, after the economic collapse, must go to a food bank to feed his three kids; a fisherman on the Gulf Coast of Louisiana who has watched his livelihood and his culture wash away in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and a devastating off-shore oil spill; a blue collar guy in North Carolina who worked hard his whole life but lost his job, became homeless, and started over as a restaurant bus boy; and a single mom in Chicago who battles daily to ensure that her son is safe, healthy, and has the opportunity to go to college.

Murals and a Great Divide

Documentary: "Concrete, Steel, and Paint"

THOSE OF US who are passionate about prison reform could talk at length about the injustices of the penal system, but prison activists and concerned citizens sometimes gloss over the internal conflicts of prisoners in their daily lives as well as the pain and fears of crime victims in local communities. The documentary Concrete, Steel, and Paint raises some essential questions about hope, forgiveness, and reconciliation through the moving story of unlikely partners—those incarcerated for committing violent crimes and those affected by violent crimes—who come together to create a mural in their community.

The film begins at Graterford Prison near Philadelphia, a maximum-security institution where men are serving long sentences for violent crimes, including homicide. The men interviewed for the film seem thirsty for opportunities for healing. One of the first prisoners we meet, Tom, says: “When you do wrong that you can’t correct, it’s horrible.” Another inmate, Zafir, tells the camera: “I don’t want my legacy to be that I was a murderer.”

The energy for a mural project came from Jane Golden, the executive director of the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, who believes in the power of art, and murals in particular, “to shift the consciousness of a community.” Golden began working with prisoners in Graterford in the early 2000s. The men in her workshops eventually came up with the idea to reach out to the community. “I thought it was an interesting idea,” Golden says, “but I told them the only way this can possibly work is if we can get the community involved.”

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Must Watch: Hard Times Generation: Families Living in Cars

Homelessness is a growing problem for children around the United States.
Homelessness is a growing problem for children around the United States.

This weekend, 60 Minutes aired a piece that has been commended by many as a shocking but must-see insight into poverty in the United States today.

Sixteen million children now live in poverty, and for many, they don’t even have a proper place to call home. These situations are even more frequent in areas of the country where traditional industries have collapsed in the wake of the financial crisis – such as the construction industry in central Florida.

Afternoon Links of Awesomeness: Monday, Nov. 21, 2011

http://youtu.be/cJRBNbuaonc

Awesome tweet of the day: The father of liberal theology, Fred Schleiermacher, was born today in 1768. “Born” and “today” are just metaphors, of course. (via @shipofools) Plus interfaith bridge building, an extensive interview from U2, Jana Riess is Flunking Sainthood, Pakistanian cell phone censorship, Oscar-worthy documentaries, urban farming, Malawi introduces an anti-farting law (seriously, see above) and more.   

 

Food for Life

THE DOCUMENTARY film Forks Over Knives is saddled with the worst title I’ve seen in decades. It also suffers from a severe case of moderation and reasonableness in a culture in which ignorant extremism usually carries the day. This is too bad, because the movie happens to tell a story that holds at least half the answer to America’s health-care crisis.

The makers of Forks Over Knives are here to tell us that many of our most common, and expensive, diseases—diabetes, heart disease, even some cancers—are the result of a bad diet. The film follows several individual patients, including the director, Lee Fulkerson, who suffer from multiple chronic ailments. They come under the care of a doctor who prescribes a radically low-fat, plant-based regimen of whole grains, legumes, fresh produce, and exercise. Within months all of the patients, director included, have shed dozens of pounds, cancelled their many costly prescriptions, and rendered redundant the army of medical specialists, technicians, and health insurance bureaucrats they had formerly employed.

Forks Over Knives is based on research by Cornell University professor T. Colin Campbell and Cleveland Clinic physician Caldwell Esselstyn Jr. Campbell was one of the lead researchers for the China-Cornell-Oxford Project, a study of diet and health that tracked 6,500 people over two decades and found hundreds of statistically significant associations between the consumption of animal protein and the occurrence of heart disease and cancer. Meanwhile, at the Cleveland Clinic, Esselstyn, an endocrinologist by training, was working with a group of heart patients whom the clinic’s cardiologists had essentially given up for dead. He placed them on a low-fat, all-plant diet, with astounding results.

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