“Amazing Grace” is 87 minutes of pure joy. No matter who you are, any one of any age, race, or religion, this film of a 1972 recording session in a small church in Los Angeles, will lift your spirit to the sky. Aretha Franklin, still in her 20’s and one of the top recording artists in the world, returns to the music of her youth to record what is still the number one gospel album of all time. A young filmmaker named Sidney Pollack was there to record it. But for a number of reasons, including an audio track that was not in sync with the visual, it was never shown to audiences.
Now it is here. Ms. Franklin barely says a word. Her father does, though, as does another preacher, James Cleveland. Other than that, it is just music, one of the greatest voices in history singing the church music she grew up with, accompanied by a choir led by Alexander Hamilton (that is his name), whose conducting is a movie of its own.
They Shall Not Grow Old Director Peter Jackson has added color to footage of WWI soldiers that makes them seem no longer a part of the distant past but vibrant and present.
The World at War This classic is considered the definitive history and a landmark of television reporting. It was created long enough after the war ended to have perspective but close enough in time to have access to the participants, with eyewitness accounts by civilians, enlisted men, officers, and politicians as well as historians. The 30th anniversary DVD set issued in 2004 has three hours of new material and additional documentaries.
GI Jews Fifty thousand Jewish American fought in WWII, often struggling with anti-Semitism in the military. They look back on their experiences and how it affected their lives.
Korea, The Forgotten War It was the Cold War era, but a real war was being fought in Korea that embodied the geopolitical conflicts. This documentary covers that story, from Inchon to Pork Chop Hill.
Vietnam War: America’s Conflict Many documentaries cover the politics and the protests, and that is covered here, too, but this series focuses on the stories of the battles and the men who fought them.
Hidden Wars of Desert Storm Interviews with General Norman Schwarzkopf, former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark, former UN Iraq Program Director Denis Halliday, former UNSCOM team-leader Scott Ritter and many others help tell the story of the American response to the invasion of Kuwait.
Restrepo This is the award-winning story of one of the most dangerous postings in the U.S. military, covering the deployment of a platoon of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley. The remote 15-man outpost was named after a platoon medic who was killed in action.
The War Tapes Three National Guardsmen (“citizen soldiers”) document their time in Iraq.
The AFI Docs festival in Washington DC (June 19–23) is the best place to see the latest, the most searingly powerful, the most surprising, and the most touching films of the year - because they are all documentaries, true stories about real people and places.
This year is especially exciting because a remarkable 48 percent of the films in the festival were directed by women and 68 percent had female Producers. The film is truly international with 72 films From 17 countries, including six world premieres. There will be films about famous people like Toni Morrison, Mike Wallace, Miles Davis, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg (following last year’s “RGB” and “On the Basis of Sex”), and films about not-famous people like “17 Blocks,” the story of a family who lives just a few blocks from the US Capitol, whose son documented their daily lives and struggles over almost two decades and “The Amazing Jonathan Documentary,” a sort of dueling documentary as two crews compete to make a film about an elderly magician.
A group of documentaries about music includes profiles of David Crosby, the San Francisco Gay Men’s chorus on tour through the South, and Linda Ronstadt, the legendary Apollo Theater and the also-legendary record producer Rick Rubin, who has worked with everyone from the Beach Boys to Public Enemy, Lady Gaga, and Shakira.
There are documentaries that are an exceptionally compelling form of journalism, covering the most vital contemporary issues from gun safety (“After Parkland” to criminal justice “True Justice: Bryan Stephenson’s Fight for Equality,” “Ernie and Joe”) to immigration (“Border South”) and cybersecurity/election tampering (“The Great Hack,” “Slay the Dragon”).
The festival will also present three classic documentaries: “An American Family,” “Tongues Untied, and Frederick Wiseman’s “Law and Order.”
Some of the other films I am most excited about:
“American Factory,” this year’s Centerpiece film, is directed by Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert, which examines the culture clash resulting from the takeover of a Dayton, OH, factory by a Chinese company.
“Raise Hell: The Life and Times of Molly Ivins” is the tale of one of the sharpest (in both senses of the word) political journalists of the 20th century. I’ve already seen it, and it is a treat. No matter who you support politically, you will be captivated by her wit, her honesty, and her dedication to her readers.
“Chasing the Moon” commemorates the historic trip to the moon, where Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin not only walked on the moon but, with the help of Michael Collins and hundreds of engineers, scientists, military, and contractors, came safely home. (Watch for the companion book coming out next month as well.)
“Maiden” is the story of 24-year-old Tracy Edwards, who led the first all-female sailing crew to compete in the Whitbread Round the World Race thirty years ago.
Low-key peril and violence, predators eat an egg and try to eat the penguins
Date Released to Theaters:
April 17, 2019
If there’s anything cuter than an Adelie penguin, it has to be a penguin voiced by Ed Helms (“The Office,” “The Hangover”). He provides the perfect slightly nerdy but always hopeful narration for the story of Steve, a young penguin on his first trek to find a mate, raise some chicks, and get them home.
As we know from “March of the Penguins,” it’s a long trek. Steve tells us it’s “a monumental expedition that favors the early bird and Steve is the last one to the party.” He gets lost on the way and ends up confusedly consulting some Emperor penguins, who smack him away. “I just got beat up by a baby,” he says dejectedly. It’s pretty disorienting even when he gets back to his own species. The millions of black and white birds look like that page in Where’s Waldo? that’s all Waldos.
We see Steve painstakingly collect stones to build a nest so he can tempt one of the female penguins, despite the efforts of the older penguins to steal them away. But Steve succeeds, and he does attract a female named Adeline. They tenderly sing to one another, memorizing each other’s voices, which they will recognize for as long as they live.
The film takes us through the year as Adeline lays her eggs, they hatch, and their penguin parents feed them (by barfing into their mouths, Steve explains). There are predators and other challenges, but there are also pop songs (REO Speedwagon’s “Can’t Fight this Feeling Anymore”) and Steve’s bumbling but sincere devotion to Adeline, the chicks, and, well, life, is very touching.
Parents should know that this film includes a gentle depiction of some of the harsher aspects of nature and environmental challenges and a brief mild word.
Family discussion: How is Steve most like a human? Why did the other penguins want to steal Steve’s stones? What could he do to stop them?
If you like this, try: “Monkey Kingdom,” “Bears,” and “Born in China” and of course “March of the Penguins”
Share the Stories of Martin Luther King on MLK Day 2019
Posted on January 20, 2019 at 12:41 pm
As we celebrate the birthday of Martin Luther King, every family should take time to talk about this great American leader and hero of the Civil Rights Movement. There are outstanding films and other resources for all ages.
I highly recommend the magnificent movie Boycott, starring Jeffrey Wright as Dr. King. And every family should study the history of the Montgomery bus boycott that changed the world.
The March, narrated by Denzel Washington, is a documentary about the historic March on Washington with Dr. King’s famous “I have a dream” speech.
The brilliant film Selma tells the story of the fight for voting rights.
The Long Walk Home, starring Whoopi Goldberg and Sissy Spacek, makes clear that the boycott was a reminder to black and white women of their rights and opportunities — and risk of change.
Citizen King is a PBS documentary with archival footage of Dr. King and his colleagues.
Martin Luther King Jr. – I Have a Dream has his famous speech in full, still one of the most powerful moments in the history of oratory and one of the most meaningful moments in the history of freedom.