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Documentary Movies

The Adademy of Motion Pictue Arts and Sciences will soon be giving a gold-plated Oscar for the best for the Best Documentary film. Documentaries have come a long, long way since Robert Flaherty’s silente Nanook of the North back in 1922. Here are the nominated films. 5 Broken Cameras is a first-hand account of a Palestinian village’s non-violent resistance to the encroaching Israeli settlements that threatens it. The Gatekeepers is about the Shin Bet from people on the inside, namely six former heads of Israel’s secret security service. How to Survive a Plague is about the early years of AIDS. The Invisible War is about sexual assult in the United States military. That’s only four of the five nominated. They are informative and engaging and certainly worth seeing. And, of course, that’s why you watch a documentary, to be engaged while being informed, usually about something important. But you probably won’t come away feeling exhilerated, filled with a sense of quirky triumph, delighted that you’ve witnessed a happy ending, real-world fairy tale. But you might if you watch the fifth movie, Searching for Sugarman. The movie is about two Cape Town men who decide to find out whatever happened to the American singer/songwriter Rodriguez who was wildly popular in South Africa, especially among the rebellious young during the opressive apartheid years. When the search begins there are differeing rumors about Rodriguez’s death, but nothing is certain, except that he was virtually unknown in the United States. How it ends is almost miraculous. (OK, there are some inaccuracies in the film, but see it anyway. You’ll feel better.)The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will soon be giving a gold-plated Oscar for the Best Documentary film. Documentaries have come a long, long way since Robert Flaherty’s  silent Nanook of the North back in 1922.   Here are this year’s nominated films:

5 Broken Cameras is a first-hand account of some Palestinians’ non-violent resistance to the encroaching Israeli settlements that threatens their village. The Gatekeepers is about the Shin Bet from people on the inside, namely six former heads of Israel’s secret security service. How to Survive a Plague is about the early years of AIDS. The Invisible War is about sexual assault in the United States military. The first two are especially recommended.

That’s only four of the five nominated. They are informative and engaging and certainly worth seeing. And, of course, that’s why you watch a documentary, to be engaged while being informed, usually about something depressingly important. But you probably won’t come away feeling exhilarated, filled with a sense of lucky triumph, delighted that you’ve witnessed a real-world happy ending fairy tale.

Yet you might if you watch the fifth movie, Searching for Sugar Man. The movie is about the search by two Cape Town men who decide to find out whatever happened to the American singer/songwriter Rodriguez who was wildly popular in South Africa, especially among the rebellious young during the oppressive apartheid years. In fact, he was bigger than Elvis. When the search begins there are  a couple of rumors about Rodriguez’s death, but nothing is certain. The first thing they learn is that the man known to everyone in South Africa is virtually unknown in the United States where, as one man in the music business says, Rodriguez sold maybe six records.  How it ends is almost miraculous.

OK — if you must be fussy fussy and picky picky — there are some inaccuracies in the film, but see it anyway. We think you’ll feel better.

More Notes


Tim Carmody, in his excellent piece, "How Haiti Became Poor", notes that President Trump's racist policies and vulgar language have sullied the word "shithole" which used to be one of the all-time great swear words. He's right. It's another terrible power this careless President wields.