Recommended Documentaries – February 2012

I like watching documentaries, often of topics I have only a basic knowledge of, and whilst some are great, many are often flawed or too skewed. I thought that since it’d been a year since I last listed some, I’d drum up a new list

Inside Job – This was recommended by Gen Kanai after my brief listing last year of documentaries, and is a very well produced account of the 2008 financial meltdown, and how it happened. Like the Enron documentary (‘The Smartest Guys in the Room’), it looks past all the complicated financial tools, and presents the peoples and the motivations behind it, because like Enron, it’s always about people at the end of the day.

After watching it, you’re really left to wonder whether governments (especially in the US) were incompetent or somehow complicit with the bankers, and just how hand-in-glove the financial and governmental people are anyway. This would make you believe it’s a bit of all of the above. There’s a lot of intriguing interviews, some abandoned part way through, and of course, those who refused to be interviewed, and the question of what the goal really was all along, though the end result for the most part was that it was the poor who suffered. Matt Damon does a decent job on narration. [Sony Link]

The Cove –  Although it’s perhaps more well known for the furor it caused over the vicious slaughter of dolphins in ‘the cove’ in Taiji, Japan – leading to those cinemas who chose to show it in Japan being abused by right wing groups – it’s actually a much broader documentary, investigating the motivations and history of aquatic mammal culls in Japan, the joke which the International Whaling Commission appears to be, the economics and the health situation surrounding it.

lt essentially follows former Flipper trainer Ric O’Barry who turned environmentalist, as he tries to find out what is going on in the cove, and puts together an intelligent and motivated team to find out, which they of course do. Like all good documentaries, it’s about people – the people of Taiji and elsewhere in Japan who either don’t know the cove exists or are unsure themselves of why they support it, with several essentially citing the old Japanese establishment mantra of not letting foreigners dictate their actions, and yet most Japanese interviewed were shocked to see some of the footage. It also goes into the sale of dolphin meat, often as whale meat, and the dangerously high levels of mercury it contains, and the battle of local councillors trying to stop it being fed to local school children because of these health hazards. Some people have seen it as an attack on Japan, but I actually saw it highlighting how difficult it is for small Japanese groups to stand up against this kind of thing and effect positive change – these people are truly the Japanese heroes. [Website]

Man On Wire – I’ve been trying to hunt this DVD down for a while, and had trouble getting hold of a copy, but finally got me one! It’s the rather odd story of  Philippe Petit, who in 1974 put together a rag tag team of people to run a wire between the then newly built twin towers of the World Trade Centres in New York, and not only walked between them, but spent over 40mins performing a high wire routine before being arrested, and becoming something of a celebrity. The documentary tells the story of his life, and the very loose team he put together, several not knowing each other before the attempt, some of whom didn’t even share a language, and others who had known him for years; it also highlights his obsessive qualities, but also the exclusion within his private life that this kind of obsession or addiction brings. The actual act of walking a highwire so high up, and the detail of planning required just for the sake of doing it, is impressive, and you’re left respecting the man, admiring the sheer detail required, but also, that the price of such dedication is an amount of disconnection. [Wikipedia page]

The last two here were actually introduced to me by a friend when I was visiting the UK last year, and have more of a UK bent to them –

Starsuckers –  This assesses how the media works, and how peoples obsession with fame may have been an innate part of our evolution, and how it is exploited upon by the media to continue interest and growth, from childhood onwards. It’s really quite interesting, especially through some of the staged events they do and the set-up interviews. They also look into how news nowadays really isn’t news as we may think it is, but how it’s gossip, press releases and in some cases just completely fake – they call in to newspapers with completely false gossip tips, which are then repeated by several papers, each of which adds their own embellishments. They also follow one family who are trying to get their son into some kind of ‘fame’ career, it seems relatively harmless, though it feels odd that the goal is not to be an actor, or singer, it’s just to be famous, to be a celebrity. It’s an interesting look at modern celebrity culture from a different angle, and definitely worth a watch. [Official Website]

Taking Liberties – Taking Liberties assesses the effect of 10 years of Tony Blair’s policies on UK civil right laws, and what it shows as the erosion or outright elimination of them; in one example it cites Blair’s claims in the mid nineties to abhor national ID cards, but then just a few years later advocating them in the case of fighting terrorism. It takes the structure of assessing how Blair undermined the basic human rights identified after World War 2, which were largely shaped by Winston Churchill, and how in some people’s views, Blair’s Britain is more authoritarian and intolerant of demonstration than many former Soviet nations. Obviously a lot is tied back to the War on Terror, and the deals Blair did with George W. Bush, including allowing extradition of UK citizens with no hearing or cases to answer in the UK, to the US. Interestingly, when Dubya is discussing Blair’s morality as British nationals were being tortured in Afghanistan, I’m sure the backing music is a orchestral version of the BlackAdder theme. The film finishes with a quote from another statesman, Thomas Jefferson, “When the people fear the government, there is tyranny. When the government fears the people, there is liberty.” [Official Website]