Documentaries to Watch @Home - July 2019

Documentaries to Watch @Home - July 2019

Documentaries to watch at home - here are our latest recommendations

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The Great Hack

Showing on Netflix

Just released on Netflix - if you are a Facebook user, you might be concerned about your privacy? Think back to the 2016 election which if you have forgotten elected one Mr Donald Trump. There was a story about the abuse of data by a British company called Cambridge Analytical.

Data has surpassed oil as the world’s most valuable asset. It’s being weaponized to wage cultural and political warfare. People everywhere are in a battle for control of our most intimate personal details. THE GREAT HACK uncovers the dark world of data exploitation with astounding access to the personal journeys of key players on different sides of the explosive Cambridge Analytica/Facebook data scandal.

Academy-Award nominees Amer and Noujaim (The Square, Control Room, Startup.com) continue their tradition of exploring the seismic ripples of social media with this riveting, complex film. THE GREAT HACK forces us to question the origin of the information we consume daily. What do we give up when we tap that phone or keyboard and share ourselves in the digital age?

Five Came Back

Showing on Netflix

This three-episode docuseries is an adaptation of author Mark Harris’ non-fiction book of the same name, which looks at World War II though the eyes of five filmmakers who helped the war effort in different ways: John Ford, William Wyler, John Huston, Frank Capra, and George Stevens. These iconic Hollywood directors were enlisted to make various documentaries during the war to rally support, train troops, and document horrific experiences. The docuseries—narrated by Meryl Streep and featuring interviews with folks like Steven Spielberg and Guillermo del Toro—takes a look at their careers before the war, the kinds of films they made for the government during the war, and how their work was forever changed by their experiences. It’s a must-see for WWII buffs, and not only is it masterfully structured, but Netflix has also made available 13 of the documentaries discussed in the film to watch after it’s over.

When They See Us

Showing on Netflix

The twists and turns in this 40 minute film are absolutely amazing. Overall, the documentary focuses on Juan Catalan, who was accused of a murder and while our justice system likes to tout that the accused are “innocent until proven guilty,” Long Shot shows in its brief runtime that the truth is just the opposite. Despite the flimsy evidence against Catalan, he had to be extraordinarily lucky to prove his innocence and that we have a system that rewards detectives and prosecutors that close cases rather than find justice.

The defense rests on proving Catalan was in a crowd of 54,000 at a baseball game at Dodger Stadium with his six-year-old daughter, watching the home team lose to Atlanta Braves. Frustratingly, though, Catalan’s lawyer couldn’t find clear enough TV footage to prove it. Then came the head-spinning twist. It just so happened that an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm – titled The Car Pool Lane, in which Larry David pick up a prostitute to help him beat the traffic – was also being shot at the ballpark that night. I don't want to say anymore - watch the film.

Newtown

Showing on Netflix

Twenty months after a horrific mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., that took the lives of 20 elementary school children and six educators on Dec. 14, 2012, the small New England town is in a complex psychological tangle in the wake of yet another act of mass killing at the hands of a disturbed young gunman. The film provides access into the lives and homes of those who remain, all of whom have been indelibly changed by the events. The film is not an easy film to watch, nor should it be, but it is absolutely essential. The film is a tactful, powerful look at how the community of Newtown, Connecticut came together in the aftermath of the largest mass shooting of schoolchildren in American history. It is a deeply personal film, focusing on the parents, brothers, and sisters who were affected by this act of terrorism, and how it has impacted not just them but the community as a whole. The film forces the viewer to confront the consequences of gun violence in an unflinching, almost overwhelmingly emotional manner. It is not preachy and it has no agenda other than showing human truth.

At the Heart of Gold: Inside the USA Gymnastics Scandal

Showing on HBO Go and HBO Now

The harrowing, tragic, and infuriating story of the sexual abuse scandal that rocked the USA Gymnastics national team and Michigan State University lasted so long and affected so many people that it's virtually impossible to capture the full scope of it in a feature-length film. Dr. Larry Nassar is formally accused of assaulting at least 250 people during his time as an athletic trainer for both the women's national team and at Michigan State, though it's possible the true number will never be known. Carr finds a wide range of victims willing to share their story on film, which helps illuminate the depths of Nassar's manipulation, his brazenness, and the myriad institutional authorities who failed to protect children despite warnings and official complaints about this highly regarded trainer's behavior.

Apollo 11

Showing on CNN - also Amazon Pay Per View - $5.99, XFINITY On Demand $3.99

Plenty of films have tried to capture the experience of space travel, from sci-fi movies (see: Alien, also the subject of a 2019 documentary) to historical dramas (like last year's First Man). Apollo 11 may not have any visual effects, but it still may make you gulp in wonder. Compiled from never-before-seen footage provided by NASA, the documentary charts the first flight of the moon from launch to touchdown through primary sources alone. Miller adds little 21st-century embellishment, aside from simple graphics that help to explicate the stages of the mission. Otherwise, everything we see or hear was available in 1969, with dialogue culled from 11,000 hours of recordings. The result is an awe-inspiring testament to the miraculousness of the event, buoyed by the crystal-clear 65 millimeter large-format images, recently unearthed by NASA staffers and digitized under Miller's supervision. But the moments that make Apollo 11 are the ones that come back down to Earth -- metaphorically speaking, that is. In digging through thousands of hours of audio, Miller found moments in which American heroes aren't deities, but just regular humans, with heart rates that escalate and silly jokes to spare. Buzz Aldrin making a crack about making sure he doesn't lock the module door behind him as he descends onto the moon? Classic.

The Amazing Johnathan Documentary

Showing in Hulu from August 16

Charming and antagonistic, comedic magician John "The Amazing Johnathan" Szeles, who began performing in the '80s and eventually became a Las Vegas headliner with his brazenly confrontational act, makes for an ideal documentary subject. He's a showman with an understanding of the dramatic -- the movie centers around a "farewell tour" he embarks on following a bleak medical diagnosis -- but he also has the self-loathing streak of many successful stand-up comedians and he's not afraid to turn his anger against his wife, his fans, or, most essentially here, his director. In a series of absurd twists that recall David Farrier's nail-biter Tickled and Nathan Fiedler's gonzo reporting project Finding Frances, Untitled Amazing Jonathan Documentary transforms from a showbiz bio into a clever, often shocking variation on a reliably absorbing type of documentary: the meta non-fiction film about the tricky responsibility a director has to his or her subject. Given his background as a director and editor for projects from Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim, it's not surprising that Berman is willing and able to sit in uncomfortable moments. What's refreshing is that he digs deeper into himself and his subject as the film progresses, breaking down his own intentions and motivations as his project threatens to implode from within. He's not simply content to let the audience squirm.

I Love you Now Die

Now Showing on HBO

This was very disturbing and raises questions about the role of technology, social media and mental health. It was In July 2014, 18-year-old Conrad Roy died by suicide in his car at a parking lot in Fairhaven, Mass. Police soon discovered a series of alarming text messages from his girlfriend, 17-year-old Michelle Carter, that seemed to encourage him to kill himself. This discovery sparked sensational headlines nationwide, leading to a trial that raised difficult questions - can one person can be held responsible for the suicide of another?

The film includes footage from Michelle Carter’s trial, where the filmmakers had the only camera allowed in court and supplied the pool camera for this historic case. It also features interviews with key individuals in the story, including: Conrad Roy’s immediate family; Joseph Cataldo, Michelle Carter’s defense attorney; Dr. Peter Breggin, an expert witness for the defense; police detectives; and journalists who covered the case extensively.

One Child Nation

Showing on Amazon Prime from August 9

Filmmaker Nanfu Wang grapples with the realities of China’s horrific former one child policy (it ended in 2015), as she becomes a first-time mother herself. The resulting film looks so spooky, so awful, that even watching the trailer I had to remember that it really did happen—and for a long time, and in one of the biggest nations on earth.

Wang's goal in making the film was to unmask the tightly held secrets of China’s one-child policy and, in so doing, free the voices of millions irreparably harmed by the practice.For Wang investigating the policy of forcibly restricting family size spawns traumatic recollections from her own family’s recent past. These stories, in turn, unleash a dizzying number of revelations from journalists, officials, parents, and activists about the widespread enforcement of sterilization, child abandonment, and state-sponsored kidnappings.

With chilling clarity, Wang’s documentary reveals how relentless propaganda brainwashed and terrorized countless Chinese citizens into committing unspeakable crimes against fellow villagers and family members. Through interviews with both victims and instigators, along with revelatory data regarding the sheer number of abandoned children (nearly all of them infant girls), One Child Nation breaks open decades of silence on a vast, unprecedented social experiment that shaped—and destroyed—countless lives.

American Factory

Showing on Netflix - August 21

This film does not have a trailer yet - so here is an interview with the film makers at Sundance.

This film impressed Barack and Michelle Obama so much at Sundance they acquired rights for their Netflix-partnered Higher Ground Productions last spring “to harness the power of storytelling,” as the former U.S. president described it at the time. This marks the company's (Higher Ground) first title to premiere on Netflix.

“American Factory,” an eye-popping look at the differences between American and Chinese workers when they come together at a Chinese car-glass factory in Ohio. Netflix acquired Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert’s non-fiction feature out of the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Directing Award for U.S. Documentary and became a top early contender in the 2020 Oscar race.

The production focuses on the dramatic culture clash when a Chinese billionaire opens a new factory in the husk of an abandoned General Motors plant, hiring two thousand blue-collar Americans. Early days of hope and optimism give way to setbacks as high-tech China clashes with working-class America.

The filmmakers capture every key moment in this high-stakes intercultural chess game, revealing how American and Chinese workers view themselves within systems of authority. It’s a collision of the future of American labor and Chinese economic dominance, all within the confines of a factory in Ohio.

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