Documentaries to Watch @Home - Midsummer 2019

Documentaries to Watch @Home - Midsummer 2019

Documentaries to watch at home - here are our latest recommendations

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After Maria

Showing on Netflix

The film balances simple scenes of love and loss in its small-scale look at the daily instability following a massive disaster – in this case, of Hurricane Maria, which devastated the island of Puerto Rico in September 2017. The film, directed by Nadia Hallgren and produced by Lauren Cioffi, quietly portrays the daily toll of destabilization after the nation’s second-deadliest hurricane decimated the island’s infrastructure, specifically for the more than 300,000 islanders who fled to mainland America. Most specifically, for those who fled to Fema-assisted housing in Hallgren’s hometown, the Bronx.

In a tight 37 minutes, After Maria acknowledges the larger fabric of the tragedy – condescension from the Trump administration, indifference from federal aid agencies, the indignity of a death toll thousands higher than officially acknowledged – while hewing closely to the ground, seeing the disaster and its slow, paralyzing aftermath through the eyes of those buffeted by the storm. As day-by-day cinéma vérité, it’s less dispiriting than straight up, a portrait of clammy, constant anxiety peppered with daily joy, welfare calls with birthday parties.

The Edge of Democracy

Showing on Netflix

Once a nation crippled by military dictatorship, Brazil found its democratic footing in 1985 and then, in 2002, elected a hugely popular political disrupter: steel-worker-turned-activist Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Under his watch, 20 million Brazilians were lifted out of poverty, and his country rose to international prominence. In 2010, “Lula” passed the presidential baton to his prodigy, a fierce female guerrilla named Dilma Rousseff.

But beneath their sunny legacy, rumblings of populist rage and institutional corruption seeped into the mainstream—much of it abetted by a partisan judge who fed news outlets sensational, deeply flawed corruption reports that targeted Lula, Dilma, and anyone else who refused to scratch the backs of powerful politicians and special-interest groups.

With remarkably intimate access, The Edge of Democracy follows Brazil’s embattled leaders as they grapple with a scandal born out of their country’s fascist past and inflamed by a furious and ideologically divided nation. Like a great Greek tragedy, Petra Costa’s film carries a potent warning: Brazil’s crisis is one that is shared—and fomented—by Western superpowers run by equally treacherous political forces.

When They See Us

Showing on Netflix

Based on the true case of five black teenagers, labeled the Central Park Five, who were convicted of a rape they did not commit, the four part show follows the young men (Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana and Korey Wise) in the spring of 1989 when they are first questioned about the brutal assault of a Caucasian female jogger in New York’s Central Park. The later part of the series will also see them as men, spanning 25 years and highlighting their exoneration in 2002 and the settlement they reached with the city of New York in 2014. The film series recently hit the headlines due to the involvement of Donald Trump who, in 1989, took ads in major New York newsletters demanding the death penalty but even today hasn't changed his mind.

BathTubs Over Broadway

Showing On Netflix


This film opened last year's Newburyport Documentary Film Festival to great applause and we can only assume this convinced Netflix to offer the film makers a worldwide distribution deal.

When he started as a comedy writer for the LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN, Steve Young had few interests outside of his day job. But while gathering material for a segment on the show, Steve stumbled onto a few vintage record albums that would change his life forever. Bizarre cast recordings -- marked "internal use only" -- revealed full-throated Broadway-style musical shows about some of the most recognizable corporations in America: General Electric, McDonald's, Ford, DuPont, Xerox. Steve didn't know much about musical theater, but these recordings delighted him in a way that nothing ever had. While tracking down rare albums, unseen footage, composers and performers, Steve forms unlikely friendships and discovers that this discarded musical genre starring tractors and bathtubs was bigger than Broadway.

This is a true "sit down and enjoy the movie" experience. If you watched the movie at the Firehouse last September

The Dawn Wall

Showing on Netflix

Red Bull Media House production in partnership with Sender Films debuted the historic story on the big screen last year and it won the 2018 SXSW Film Festival Audience Award. The film captures the inspiring journey of rock climbers Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson from January 2015 when they successfully overcame the seemingly impossible 3,000 foot rock in California's Yosemite National Park. No one had ever finished the climb until these two came along and it took them 19 days to get through it.

However that's not the full story - the 19 days was the climb but this didn't include the amount of time they spent preparing for the trip and all the work the film crew did to portray their adventure on camera.

"Making the film was almost as big a mission as doing the climb itself," said co-director Josh Lowell. "It took them seven years to do the climb. We spent seven years filming with them and then another three making the film. In total we spent 60 to 70 days on the wall with them; it was a huge logistical challenge."

Ice on Fire

Showing on HBO

JENNA from Newburyport

Produced by Oscar-winner Leonardo DiCaprio, George DiCaprio and Mathew Schmid and directed by Leila Conners, Ice on Fire is an eye-opening documentary that focuses on many never-before-seen solutions designed to slow down our escalating environmental crisis. The film goes beyond the current climate change narrative and offers hope that we can actually stave off the worst effects of global warming.

Eleven years after Conners’ first collaboration with DiCaprio on The 11th Hour, which emphasized the problems of climate change, Ice on Fire instead focuses on the cutting-edge research behind today’s climate science – and the innovations aimed at reducing carbon in the atmosphere, which could pave the way for a reduction in the global temperature rise and a benefit to the planet’s life systems.

With sweeping cinematography of a world worth saving, Ice on Fire was filmed across the globe, from Norway to Alaska, Iceland to Colorado, Switzerland to Costa Rica to Connecticut. The film highlights firsthand accounts of people at the forefront of the climate crisis, with insights from scientists, farmers, innovators and others.

Note: This recommendation come from community member Jenna who says "It does get a little scientific at times, but keep with it, its very informative"

The Final Year

Showing on HBO

The Final Year documents the last year of President Barack Obama’s last year as the president of the United States. No matter what your politics are, this documentary is a fascinating look into the inner workings of the government. The crew of The Final Year has unprecedented access to the White House and to the president and his staff. For anyone interested in politics and how U.S. foreign policy works, this is an important documentary. It shows the work and the people behind the decisions the government makes.

Running with Beto

Showing on HBO

We'll all get the chance to meet and greet Beto O'Rourke as candidates travels just north of us across over the state line. But who is he?

“Running With Beto” is a fly-on-the-wall documentary following Beto O’Rourke’s highly publicized, richly funded effort last year to unseat incumbent U.S. Senator Ted Cruz from the Republican stronghold of Texas. He didn’t win, but he came awfully close, and he shook up the complacent notion that Texas is inevitably a red state. The former El Paso mayor and congressman runs from county to county across the massive state, famously hitting all 254 of them, and he runs on coffee and the occasional donut crammed into his mouth while driving between campaign stops. Sometimes we are literally running with Beto, too, joining him as he steps out the front door of his Washington D.C. townhouse and goes for a morning jog toward the Washington Monument. He’s young, long and lanky at 6-feet-4, and his boyish exuberance is a major facet of his appeal.

But there’s an inescapable undercurrent to director David Modigliani’s film. It’s not the fact that O’Rourke lost in 2018, which we know at the outset. It’s that it’s impossible to watch it without viewing it through the prism of current presidential politics, where O’Rourke is among about two-dozen Democrats vying to run against President Donald Trump in 2020. He entered the field with a big splash and great expectations, but has faltered somewhat as more probable contenders have joined the race. Of course, we’re a long ways away and a lot can change between now and Election Night, but you still get the feeling that “Running With Beto” functions somewhat as a time capsule at a time when political fortunes can change at the speed of light.

Still, Modigliani effectively conveys what it is about O’Rourke that made him so exciting in the first place, especially through the eyes of the handful of volunteers and activists whose efforts he also follows. They include a lesbian Latina who engages in polite but firm debate with her conservative stepfather and a group of teenagers from Santa Fe, Texas, whose high school was the site of a massive, deadly shooting in May 2018. We see the candidate listening intensely to their concerns about gun control and taking notes, and his sincerity and empathy are palpable.

I Am Another You

Showing on Amazon Prime

ANKE from Newburyport

In I Am Another You, filmmaker Nanfu Wang explores the meaning of personal freedom through the eyes of a young American drifter.

When 20-something Chinese filmmaker Nanfu first came to America in 2011, Florida seemed like an exotic frontier full of theme parks, prehistoric swamp creatures, and sunburned denizens. Staying at a hostel on a break from her studies at New York University, she encounters Dylan, a blonde, charismatic, 22-year-old drifter who has left a comfortable home and loving family in Utah for a life of intentional homelessness and unfettered adventure.

Fascinated by his choice and rejection of society's rules, Nanfu follows Dylan with her camera, living with him on the streets. But what begins as a portrait of a uniquely American quest for freedom is soon upended, unfolding instead as a haunting and unforgettable story of family, illness, and love.

Landfill Harmonic

Showing on YouTube ($4.99), Amazon Prime ($4.99)

Gary T. from Newburyport

This is not free but an amazing inspirational movie. According to Gary, who recommended the film, "It has great pathos and global message concerning the environment. Thought provoking too , both from a global and local perspective."

Even you do nothing more than watch the trailer, this is a ray of sunshine. Landfill Harmonic focuses on one remarkable group in Paraguay: an orchestra that plays instruments created out of literal trash, made lovingly for them by their community.

The young musicians all come from Cateura, a slum that's built upon a landfill; the 2500 families who live there survive by separating garbage for recycling. A 2010 UNICEF report about this slum notes that more than 1500 tons of solid waste arrives each day. Illiteracy is rampant there, and Cateura's youngest inhabitants are often the ones responsible for collecting and reselling the garbage. The water supply is very dangerously polluted; on rainy days, the town floods with contaminated water. "A violin is worth more than a house here," says Favio Chavez, the orchestra's director and founder.

In the midst of such an existence, these musicians have created something both special and truly awe-inspiring. "My life would be worthless without music." says one girl in pigtails. A young man named Juan Manuel Chavez, nicknamed Bebi, has a cello fashioned out of an oil can and old cooking tools. For the camera, he plays the Prelude to Bach's Cello Suite No. 1 — beautifully.

"People realize that we shouldn't throw away trash carelessly," says Chavez, "Well, we shouldn't throw away people either."

If you have a recommendation for a documentary, a festival, or a local film showing, please share with the community