Documentary Club (With 5 to Watch)

In my last post, I mentioned a documentary that Joe and I saw recently called 112 Weddings. It’s one of several we’ve watched over the last few months, as part of a club we’ve formed.

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(The club members.)

What is it about saying I am part of a club that makes me feel like I’m in a treehouse, waiting for the secret knock? Stand By Me really seeped into my psyche, I guess…though those boys weren’t even really in a club, they were just four 12 year-olds hanging out…

Anyway, to back up, I love documentaries. As in, one of my secret dreams is to make a documentary one day, ideally with my friends Josh and Garfield, who are both actual filmmakers. (I would be the rookie in this scenario, though I’m confident my storytelling skills would translate well to film.) I’m digressing. I hope they’re reading.

So, Joe and I watch a lot of documentaries. And last July, when his parents were visiting us in Oregon, we spent a weekend with them in Bend, a town three hours south of Portland. While we were sitting around the fire pit at the little house we rented, Joe’s mom Sue said something along the lines of, “We like the sound of all these documentaries you’re watching. We want in.” It wasn’t actually that dramatic of a statement, but that was the sentiment. They wanted in, as in, “Let’s all watch docs and discuss.”

I loved the idea. Joe’s parents live in Crystal Lake, Illinois, which from Portland is a four-hour flight to Chicago and an hour’s drive north. It’s the Midwest—a term that, as a West-Coast Canadian, confused me at first. It’s pretty far east, so why call it the Midwest? Historically, anything west of the East Coast was WEST…really west, so it made sense to call states like Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Minnesota the “Mid” west…but now? Not so much, in my (west-coast) eyes. Just a minor geographical aside.

The point is, when you live halfway across the country from each other, visits only happen a few times a year. So, we decided a documentary club was in order. The idea was to take turns choosing what to watch, and try to coordinate viewings within a week or so of each other. Then, on skype or texts, we’d have a whole extra thing to talk about, something relevant and current to all of us.

We started with Touching the Void.

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Backstory: It’s terrifying. The treacherous climb of Joe Simpson and Simon Yates in 1985 to the summit of a 6,344-metre mountain in the Peruvian Andes was enough to have me tensing up in angst; then they start the journey down. It gets way, way worse for these guys. Especially one of them. I don’t want to give away too much, so let me just say you will never think of the word “crevasse” the same way after watching this doc. I recommend.

Next up: Exit Through the Gift Shop

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This was Joe’s pick. All I knew going in is it had something to do with Banksy. It’s one of the weirdest films I’ve seen in the last few years. The central character, a French expat named Thierry, who owns a vintage clothing store, becomes immersed in the nocturnal world of street art and winds up meeting and spending time with Banksy (who is disguised on camera) in both England and Los Angeles. The entire time I was trying to figure out if Thierry, a somewhat bumbling dude who is obsessed with filming everything around him (but doing nothing with the footage), was for real, or a mock character. I’m still not sure.

Joe’s dad Al came across this article, which suggests that Exit Through the Gift Shop is essentially a prank (by Banksy) on its viewers, criticizing the over-commercialization of street art. I suggest watching the film first, then reading the article and deciding what you think. In any case, this doc is an insightful window into how, and why, street art gets made.

112 Weddings

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This was my pick. After two decades of shooting weddings, filmmaker Doug Block interviews nine of the couples who hired him to document their day. Aside from Heather and Sam, who are leading up to their wedding throughout the film, the couples reveal their perspective on marriage several years after they have said “I Do.”

Not surprisingly, the results are mixed: some still seem to be truly connected, some are clearly struggling, and two have divorced. The interviews are spliced with footage from each couples’ wedding, and shine a light on both the fulfilling and disappointing possibilities that exist when people team up for life. In some cases, one partner is more willing to open up about their experiences than the other, which in itself reveals a lot about their dynamic. This doc is a great conversation starter about relationships—it’s impossible not to reflect on your own while watching, taking note of the pitfalls to avoid.

Next on the list was Fed Up

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but we haven’t actually watched it yet.

Described by the filmmakers (Katie Couric, Laurie David—producer of An Inconvenient Truth—and Stephanie Soechtig, among others) as “the film the food industry doesn’t want you to see”, it dissects the food industry in America, the addition of sugar to foods that make up most of the American diet, disturbing rates of obesity, and the rise in health issues related to sugar consumption.

From The New York Times: “A whirlwind of talking heads, found footage, scary statistics and cartoonish graphics, the movie is a fast, coolly incensed investigation into why people are getting fatter.”

Have you seen it? What did you think? I recently started using Nustevia in my coffee instead of sugar. I have a feeling that after watching Fed Up, I will be inspired to make a few more radical changes to my diet…which sadly may mean giving up the dark chocolate sea salt and caramel bar from Trader Joe’s that Joe and I have taken a liking to. Hmm, maybe that’s why we have haven’t gotten around to seeing it yet…

Rich Hill.

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If you watch only one of the documentaries on this list, make it Rich Hill.

We first heard about this doc through Jon Stewart, who raved about it when he interviewed the director, Tracy Droz Tragos in August. It follows the lives of Andrew, Harley, and Appachey, three boys from three different families growing up in the town of Rich Hill, Missouri. These kids face massive struggles: poverty, family turmoil, abuse, neglect…and in allowing the filmmakers to so closely observe how they grapple with their daily lives, we are given incredible insight into not only the scope of their challenges but the hope that’s possible despite them.

Rich Hill won the U.S. Grand Jury Prize at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. Though the stories these boys tell are heart wrenching, the film is beautiful, both for its honesty and its cinematography. The camera disappears, giving the viewer the sense they are right there in the boys’ living rooms. I highly recommend.

Have you guys watched any docs lately? Any must-see’s we should know about?

I like the idea of doing a Documentary Club series on the blog, sharing the latest ones we’ve watched with a brief lowdown. Maybe I’ll ask the other members (Joe, Sue, Al, and Joe’s sister Annie, who recently joined) if I can include their thoughts, so you guys get a little perspective beyond mine.

I would love to know your suggestions!

ps. Other docs I recommend: Searching for Sugar Man, Pray the Devil Back to Hell, and Blackfish.

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4 responses

  1. Have you guys watched Begin Again yet? Not a doc but certainly worth a watch!! As far as docs…if you haven’t watched Dear Zachery you should. Just be prepared with a box of kleenex.

    Such a great idea to form this little club with Joe’s family! I just asked Jay if he could download Rich Hill.

    Last night we watched “Boy” not a doc but an interesting film…New Zealand’s highest grossing film. Look it up and give it a go too:)

    Love H

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    • Heather, we actually just watched Begin Again last week when my sister was visiting! I will definitely look up the others, thanks for your suggestions. Look forward to your thoughts on Rich Hill :)

  2. Being in a club is so cool! Here’s a new recommendation. I just watched “The Last Patrol” a new doc. by Sebastian Junger; a war correspondent and has written some great stuff. 4 men back from Afghanistan take a 3oo mile trip up the east coast and meet regular Americans along the way.

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