I’ve always loved documentaries. They are up front, tell beautiful stories, and are a true-to-form brand of reality programming. Over the years I’ve watched documentaries on all kinds of topics from natural childbirth to our country’s food system to arm wrestling to the quest for the highest score in King Kong. All captivating and individually inspiring.
As part of my 30 Before 30 Project I listed “watch 5 documentaries” as a goal. I knew that this one was easily attainable and I was really looking forward to it. I figured I’d like one or two of them but it turns out I loved all five that I watched, and would recommend all of them. Here they are, in no particular order:
1) Between The Folds (2008), directed by Vanessa Gould
Between The Folds tells the story of origami, past and present. It’s a beautiful history of origami which chronicles the work of 10 artists. The story captures the abstract nature of origami, finding perfection between the folds of a simple piece of paper. The movie is an oral history but, on a deeper level, is about transformation and beauty. I found it riveting. Origami is an austere craft not yet ready to fade into antiquity. I hope it never does.
Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop is a documentary about the 40 show tour (the “Legally Prohibited From Being Funny on Television Tour”) Conan did between being fired from NBC’s Tonight Show and when he began his new late night show on TBS. He hit the road throughout the US and Canada to perform, to stay connected to his fans, and also to use the show as a therapeutic outlet to cope with his anger and disappointment over the events that took place with NBC. It’s a raw portrait of what it takes to put together a live comedy show and the endurance it takes to tour that show all over the country. Conan uses humor to deal with hardship; proving, to me at least, that he is absolutely the hardest working man in show business.
Poster Girl tells the story of Robynn Murray, an Iraq war veteran coping with post-traumatic stress disorder. The documentary follows Robynn post-war as she tries to make sense of her PTSD, navigates the complicated governmental system of veteran’s benefits, and finds art therapy as a way to work through the scars of war. Not only does the movie share the deeply personal details of one veteran’s struggle with PTSD, it illuminates the hardships in returning to civilian life and the unmanaged and untreated disconnect many vets face upon returning home. You can watch the documentary in full here with an HBO subscription or on the HBO Go app for the iPad (like I did).
Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead follows Aussie Joe Cross as he fights his own obesity and an inexplicable autoimmune disorder with a 2 month juice fast. He travels through the US, educating obese Americans about juicing and the benefits of a micronutrient diet. He inspires others to begin their own detoxifying juice fasts to help cleanse the body and remedy sickness. It sounds unbelievable and like an unhealthy fad diet but this documentary captivated me (and made me want to buy a juice machine immediately). The film parallels Joe’s success story with that of an obese American man, Phil Staples, that he meets along the road and mentors, ultimately leading to a life changing experience for Phil as well. Both stories of weight loss, discipline, and regaining control really struck a chord with me. You can watch the whole movie here for free.
Of all five documentaries, this one was absolutely my favorite. PJ20 chronicles the band from the beginning through their 20th anniversary, highlighting the achievements, struggles, and evolution of the band along the way. The documentary itself is seamless; weaving images, performances, and interviews from Pearl Jam’s entire history into one incredible story. Cameron Crowe is a fantastic storyteller with a keen eye towards rock history, no one could have put together as brilliant a film as him. This is not the story of Eddie Vedder, it’s the cohesive portrayal of each band member and their contribution to the band over the last 20 years. It made me want to go listen to all of Pearl Jam’s records and rediscover them all over again. They truly know the meaning of what it takes to be a rock and roll band that stays true to themselves. In reference to the band’s ability to connect with their fans for 20 years Eddie Vedder said in the film: “There is obviously a line drawn between who’s on the stage and who’s in the crowd, but not really.” It’s my favorite line from the whole movie and totally sums up the values Pearl Jam has held for all this time.
Note: I watched all of these documentaries on Netflix Instant except for Poster Girl which is an HBO Production.
Have you seen any of these documentaries? What are your thoughts?