Documentaries to Watch @Home - November DocFest

Documentaries to Watch @Home - November DocFest

Documentaries to watch at home - here are our latest recommendations

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The Biggest Little Farm

Showing on Amazon Prime, Xfinity and others (Rent)

When a couple purchases a sustainable farm 200 acres outside Los Angeles, they embark on a real-life We Bought a Farm adventure. While they soon learn that cultivating livestock is no easy task, the documentary explores their successes and failures as they transform the farm into a profitable business.

The Biggest Little Farm chronicles the eight-year quest of John and Molly Chester as they trade city living for 200 acres of barren farmland and a dream to harvest in harmony with nature. Through dogged perseverance and embracing the opportunity provided by nature's conflicts, the Chesters unlock and uncover a biodiverse design for living that exists far beyond their farm, its seasons, and our wildest imagination. Featuring breathtaking cinematography, captivating animals, and an urgent message to heed Mother Nature's call, The Biggest Little Farm provides us all a vital blueprint for better living and a healthier planet.

The Gift: The Journey of Johnny Cash

Showing on YouTube

Johnny Cash‘s career and life are set to be explored in this feature-length documentary on YouTube.  The film premiered at this year’s SXSW Film Festival and contains interviews with the artist’s family and collaborators– also featuring newly-unearthed archive footage. The film can be streamed free on YouTube from November 11. 

Rosanne Cash, John Carter Cash, Bruce Springsteen, Robert Duvall, Emmylou Harris, Paul Muldoon, and Dwight Yoakam are among those who contributed to the film, which will delve into Cash’s career highs, personal tragedies and struggles with addiction. The 90-minute release was directed by Thom Zimny,who previously won an Emmy for Netflix‘s Springsteen on Broadway. Its original score comes from Pearl Jam‘s Mike McCready.

“Through the pain, comes confession and care and concern for myself and for my fellowman,” Cash says at the start of the trailer, which includes black and white photographs of the singer-songwriter. “Music was spiritual to him,” states another voice over. “It was the place he turned [to] in the darkest moments of his life.”

It does right by Cash, and furthers the impression that Zimny should be funded to make a dozen such movies, each at whatever length its subject demands. Quickly, please.  Hollywood Reporter

The Apollo

Showing on HBO

The HBO documentary THE APOLLO, helmed by Oscar- and Emmy-winning director Roger Ross Williams, chronicles the unique history and contemporary legacy of New York City's landmark Apollo Theater. The feature-length film weaves together archival clips of music, comedy and dance performances; behind-the-scenes verité footage of the team that makes the theater run; and interviews with such artists as Jamie Foxx, Angela Bassett, Pharrell Williams, Common, Patti LaBelle and Smokey Robinson. While uncovering the rich history of the internationally renowned theater that has influenced American music and culture for 85 years, Williams also examines the current state of race in America, following a new multi-media adaptation of Ta-Nehisi Coates' best-selling book "Between the World and Me" as it comes together on the theater's grand stage.

"So yes, The Apollo is a get-up-and-dance story about a small group of people working in a theater in upper Manhattan, doing its best to bring music to its neighborhood—which is beautiful enough on its own. But, Williams also drives home how this is more than a theater—one that has a larger place in American history as a stage for social change." Esquire Magazine

The Elephant Queen

Showing on Apple TV+

This might be hard to find as it is the first documentary released on Apple TV+ but worth findoing if you love elephants.

The Elephant Queen centers around a 50-year-old female elephant named Athena, and her herd, including two of her offspring, Mimi, “the newborn," and Wewe, “the toddler." According to the film’s description on Sundance Institute, The Elephant Queen starts off with the herd at their “green season” home, but soon, their watering hole begins to dry up and they have to travel to find a new home during a drought. Narrated by Chiwetel Ejiofor, The Elephant Queen speaks to environmental and poaching issues that elephants face through the lens of one particular elephant family. The film followed the herd's journey over 4 years

"I highly recommend at least watching the final half-hour in theaters or on Apple TV. It’s some of the most powerful nature footage in years."

For Sama

Showing on PBS Stations

Unconstrained by notions of balance, non-fiction cinema has done a more complete job of describing the devastation wrought by the Syrian conflict than swathes of the broadcast and print media. Framed as a mother’s letter to her young daughter and opening with footage of an airstrike as experienced from inside the target zone, the exceptional For Sama drops us into the thick of things from the start.

The film resembles a home video from a bomb site. Waad al-Kateab took up the camera in 2012 to document the protests of her fellow students against President Assad. She kept filming as Aleppo fell under siege, turning from the carnage only to record her growing affection for a doctor, Hamza, and the birth of their first child, Sama.


Available to Rent on Amazon Prime

One of the most popular films at the Screening Room this past summer, Maiden is the inspirational story of how Tracy Edwards, a 24-year-old cook on charter boats, became the skipper of the first ever all-female crew to enter the Whitbread Round the World Race in 1989. Tracy’s dream was opposed on all sides: her male competitors thought an all-women crew would never make it, the chauvinistic yachting press took bets on her failure, and potential sponsors rejected her, fearing they would die at sea and generate bad publicity. But Tracy refused to give up: she re-mortgaged her home and bought a second-hand boat, putting everything on the line to ensure the team made it to the start line. With the support of her remarkable crew she went on to shock the sport and prove that women are the equal of men.

Hail Satan?

Available to rent on Amazon Prime

While Satan has been around for a long time, The Temple of Satan, the primary focus of this sly documentary, was founded in 2013 by Malcolm Jerry and Lucien Greaves. The spokesperson for the group, Greaves speaks with authority and humor about the organization's larger political, social, and theological goals, which center around religious freedom and the separation of church and state. (Justifiably, The Temple of Satan does not like when governments install the Ten Commandments in State Capitals.) Though they wear black and often enjoy heavy metal, these aren't the Satanists of the Satanic Panic in the '80s, which gets a Cliff Notes treatment here, or the robe-wearing fanatics from horror films. Using archival material of Sunday school cartoons and news programs, Lane gives the viewer a crash course on Satanism's place in history while also emphasizing the activist nature of modern Satanists. Despite some repetitive interviews, Hail Satan works as a funny, thoughtful primer on a group that trolls with the best intentions.

This film was shown at this year's Newburyport Festival winning the David Kleiler Award. The award was named for a long time festival judge that passed away in 2019. David always loved films that were a little quirky but nevertheless made valid points and Hail Satan! would have appealed to him. Let's be clear, the film is not about Satanism, its about the separation of church and state in the US.

For the Birds

Now Showing on Netflix

For the Birds will baffle and frustrate and gut you in ways that are difficult to parse after the first viewing. The documentary looks at five years in the life of an upstate New Yorker named Kathy Murphy, whose acquisition and insistence on keeping 200 chicken, turkeys, ducks, and geese at (and inside) her home causes several conflicts with local authorities and animal welfare groups. What begins as a portrait of mental illness eventually explores Kathy's evolving relationship with her husband as both their lives change dramatically in the face of outside interference. It's certainly not a clean film in any sense of the word, having begun as Miron's side project while he was working with an animal welfare group; the quality of the early footage, especially, doesn't exactly evoke Werner Herzog. Still, that rawness is appropriate for the subject. Equal parts heartbreaking and inspiring, For the Birds will stick with you long after its final shot gazes into the sky.

“For the Birds” stand out is its editing, which carefully builds a story from multiple perspectives, sympathizing with Kathy, Gary and the workers at the Woodstock Farm Sanctuary. Miron avoids easy conclusions about what drives Kathy, and he stays with her long enough for her story to surprise. The reward of his patience is a psychological portrait that develops mystery the more it reveals. From filth springs life — no less precious for its muddy origins. New York Times

Country Music

Showing on PBS Stations

Here's something to keep you busy for many dark evening evenings. Ken Burn's 16-hour, eight-episode look at the evolution of a music that went from “hillbilly” to honkytonk to hit parade covers a massive amount of ground. Burn's latest project plays as something of a palate cleanser after 2017's harrowing The Vietnam War. Like Burns' Jazz, Country Music delves into the history of another of America's homegrown musical styles, though its limited scope and mostly rosy outlook at times leave the docuseries feeling slightly undercooked. In tracing the development of American country from the Carter family and Jimmie Rogers through Garth Brooks and the Judds, Country Music relies on the usual Burns tricks: Talking-head interviews, still photography, original recordings, and archival footage tell a story that largely runs through Nashville, but connects to all forms of American music that span the entire continent. While it mimics its subject in encouraging nostalgia for the past while ignoring some of the troubling political and racial causes with which country stars and fans have aligned themselves (see: George Wallace), it nevertheless is an essential watch that reveals the complex roots of America's favorite music genre.

American Factory

Showing on Netflix

This film was first shown at Sundance and an up and coming couple was so taken with the film, they acquired distribution rights for their newly formed company Higher Ground Productions. The couple, we believe at the Newburyport Documentary Festival, will go far so so key your eye on Michelle and Barack Obama.

The film is an intriguing 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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