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A Geek’s Month in Review: September 2013

by on 2013/09/30

Hacker RendersI recently saw — you might have guessed — a documentary. Called These Amazing Shadows, it examines the history, purpose, and progress of the American Film Registry. In it, two directors’ comments struck me as particularly appropriate this month.

Barbara Kopple (Harlan County, USA) said the content of documentaries tends to happen only once, which makes them especially precious resources.

Steve James (Hoop Dreams) opined they’re especially effective because we can’t escape them; we cannot remind ourselves it’s only fiction.

While all of our documentaries this month were Canadian in origin, they often look at international, or even global, phenomena. Many illustrate transience, yet affect more than just our home. They open up insular worlds for inspection, or bring the cosmos to our TVs, with modest human stories, grand ideas or sometimes a blend of both. It’s great when our usual entertainment can educate as well, not least for making often-guilty pleasures easier to defend.

Here then are this geek’s five picks for September 2013 . . . my favourite, surprise, disappointment, least-liked, and a “show me” suggested by a documented goth.


Favourite
Surviving Progress (2011)Surviving Progress (2011) on 2013/09/24

I thought to myself partway through, “This feels like a better version of Payback”, which was odd because, moments later, Atwood appeared for the first time. Here she summarized her work more succinctly than in her own film. Not only that, but I felt more questions raised were answered or addressed, including suggestions for the most important: what can we do next?


Surprise
Hugh Hefner (2009)Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel (2009) on 2013/09/16

I’m not entirely certain if I’m leaning one way or the other. I credit my neutrality to the filmmaker’s sense of balance. If “Hef” has his share of flaws, then he has redeeming qualities too. Or perhaps there is no good or bad; all his interests derive from shared roots. One of the participants refers to it as the schizophrenia of Playboy, an incongruous juxtaposition of nudity and intellectualism. Which pretty much sums up the wild and wonderful appeal of Hugh Hefner.


Disappointment
Payback (2012)Payback (2012) on 2013/09/08

The impulse to explore these disparate pieces through linguistic and conceptual similarity is interesting, but works much better in theory than in practice, at least in this presentation. While the net result is frequently diverting, it’s uneven, with too little connection. Payback seeks to conjure a synergy, yet suggests no grand direction for most viewers. It’s important stuff, no doubt, but will leave you with more guesswork than gestalt.


Least-Liked
Captains (2011)The Captains (2011) on 2013/09/12

This film isn’t (just) by William Shatner, it’s usually about him.

[He] amuses me, but I think I’m done with The Captains. It’s intermittently interesting but, once you’ve mined it for trivia, you’re done. Repeat viewings only serve to remind you what a self-serving wading pool it really is.
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Show Me
Petals (2010)Petals: Vagina Dialogues (2010) on 2013/09/29

Whatever Karras’ motivations – he explores them thoughtfully in this film – he’s done a good thing here. One of the most important functions of his work and the documentary, was underlining the point that there is no such thing as standard-issue womanhood. As one of the interview subjects said, “It is like a snowflake, there is not one that looks like the other.”
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