There are movies that aren’t good but you still try to find a reason to like them. This was the case for me. There are very few redeeming qualities and instead this movie reads like a giant advertisement for attending carnaval and visiting Salvador, Bahia, Brazil. As someone who has been living out of Brazil for over 10 years this movie hit me with an intense sense of nostalgia that made me miss home and the warmth of the Brazilian people. This is one of the few things I enjoyed and found was transferred in the film successfully.
Plot wise this is an underwhelming endeavor. It tells the story of Nina, a social media influencer, whose influencer boyfriend cheats and dumps her before a couples trip. This misfortune leads to a sponsored trip to Salvador, during carnaval, where Nina requests that her 3 best friends join her. When they arrive they get put up in a shabby hotel while the more popular influencers stay at a fancy all inclusive resort. As the trip progresses Nina hooks up with a popular local musician which sees her follower count rise as her friendships fall apart.
Only when we are about an hour into the movie does it pick up a bit of steam. At this point Carnaval moves away from the influencer plot line, for a few minutes – at least -, and the audience as well as Nina get to see Salvador unfiltered, not through phone screens or social media posts, but through the eyes of a local who knows the city and its history. Here we see capoeira, the traditional cuisine street food acarajé, street vendors, the Lacerda public elevator, which separates the lower city from the upper city, Candomble, and other Afro-Brazilian traditions. When the movie leans into this it does well. But shortly after this reprieve we move back into the hollow plot line that costs Nina her friendships and her dignity.
At the end of the day, this movie does not really know what it wants to be. Is it a friendship drama? Is it an elaborate advertisement campaign? Is it a commentary on influencers and the social media age? By trying to do everything the movie ends up doing nothing. It does not spend enough time developing its characters in any meaningful way. This makes me wonder who this movie was made for? I don’t see an audience for this one especially for those who are unfamiliar with Brazil and its culture. The sights and sounds are infectious but, at the end of the day, by making Carnaval for everyone it ends up being for no one.
Dear Future Children is Franz Böhm’s first documentary feature. It narrates the story of three female activists in Chile, Hong Kong, and Uganda. While it offers an interesting premise it lacks the necessary nuance to tackle all the topics Böhm is trying to address.
In essence, the documentary follows three parallel story lines. In Chile, activists are protesting against inequality gaps and high costs of living. In Hong Kong, activists protested against an extradition bill, which they claim would undermine Hong Kong’s autonomy. In Uganda, climate change is the main focus. At no point in the documentary an effort is made to integrate these storylines. What we end up with is seeing flashes of activism that provide little insight into the context of the protests and what led these women to become activists in the first place.
It is almost as if the director tried to combine three documentary shorts into one documentary feature. The material presented by Böhm is very aspirational but without a strong connection to the activists he depicts the material falls flat. News buffs might enjoy watching this but I am not sure if it is worthwhile for anyone else.
The premise behind Bank Job is an interesting one. It tackles debt! Debt is universal and an integral part of economic systems around the world. In order to explore the debt crisis the documentary follows a community who decides to create their own currency and open a bank. The main goal here was to abolish local debt.
Directed by Daniel Edelstyn and Hilary Powell Bank Job is one of the most unconventional documentaries I have ever seen. Half protest art and half documentary it tackles the debt crisis in the United Kingdom. This might be by ignorance speaking but this just didn’t work for me.
While I am all for innovative styles of documentary film making the mixture of protest art and traditional documentary style filmmaking did not work for me. It all felt a little too rushed and unfocused. I could see how this documentary could work in specific contexts specifically in introductory-level economics courses. However, if you are looking for a documentary to watch just for fun this won’t be it.
The Big Scary “S” Word, is Yael Bridge’s first full length documentary feature. This documentary is incredibly timely given Bernie Sanders’ recent promising presidential campaigns, the rising stars in the progressive-wing of the democratic party including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, and IIhan Omar, Amazon’s recent union busting campaign at warehouse workers in Alabama, the 2018 Oklahoma teachers strike, and the role of big money in politics. There is a laundry list of items and examples that the documentary provides. The premise here is that capitalism is not working just fine and, in fact, it is creating a less humane society.
On the other hand, you have conservatives, moderate democrats, journalists, and pundits that insist that capitalism is the only way forward for America. In a clip featured in the documentary, MSNBC contributor Donny Deutsch states “I find Trump reprehensible as a human being, but a socialist candidate is more dangerous to this country as far as the strength and well-being of our country than Donald Trump.” How is it possible that Americans are so scared of socialism? How is it possible that there is so much inequality in the richest country in the world? These questions inform the crux of this doc as Bridge explores what socialism means for ordinary people, scholars, and politicians.
There is nothing incredibly innovative to see here. Although, I have to admit that, a quarter of the way through, we are provided with beautiful visuals that trace the history of capitalism, the transition of capitalism into an economic system and a way to organize the production of goods and services, up to its modern form. In the end, it asks more questions than provides answers. This approach is completely okay but at times it “reads” a bit too academic.
What is an information terrorist? The Face of Anonymous (2020) directed by Gary Lang provided an inside look into the work of cyber-activism through the eyes of Anonymous hacktivist Christopher Mark Doyon also known as Commander X. Christopher appears to resent the information terrorist moniker and instead asks how can I terrorize the world with the truth? Visually there is nothing extraordinary to see in this documentary. What somewhat makes it work is the story told by a compelling and questionable set of Anonymous activists allies, and Doyon crisma in particular. The throughline in this story starts with 4chan in 2004 or as defined in the documentary the crucible for Anonymous.
What started off as a joke and protest against Scientology grew into something bigger as hacktivists set their sights on bigger targets. The first Anonymous operation that gained significant notoriety happened in 2010 and was a DDoS attack on Visa and Mastercard websites in response to donation denials for Wikileaks payment in response to leaked video footage that showed a US military strike against civilians in Iraq. One of the motivations for Anonymous’ anger was that Visa, Mastercard, and PayPal still authorized donations on websites like the KKK and Westboro Baptist Church but would not allow them to continue on Wikileaks. The documentary also detailed how Anonymous allegedly helped protesters in Tunisia and Egypt during the early stages of the Arab Spring.
This documentary is also the story of big egos and FBI raids that curtailed Anonymous progress and made US hacktivism move underground. Christopher Mark Doyon, however, is an Anonymous true believer to the bitter end. As of today, he has received political asylum and emergency refugee status in Mexico where Doyon claims he refound his freedom. I finished this documentary itching for more. Particularly I wanted more details about how online activism occurs and how it is then translated online. By itself this documentary does not add a lot to the discourse on hacktivism and cyber intelligence. Nevertheless, this documentary would make a good double feature with the HBO series Q: Into the Storm which offers a much more detailed account of the rise of another online movement who, coincidentally, also started on 4chan.
I would recommend this documentary with a small caveat: do some prior research or reading going in. I’d suggest starting with a piece by David Kushner featured in the New Yorker called The Masked Avengers.
In Fruits of Labor, directed by Emily Cohen Ibanez, we are introduced to 15-year farm workers and high school student Ashley Solis who was born in California but whose family originally immigrated from Mexico. At its core this is a documentary about the human experience, told through the eyes of a girl, as she navigates life and the blessings that come with being from an immigrant family in the United States. The more I watch stories about immigrants the more in awe I am of those who made that journey. They remind me of my own immigrant experience and how it made me who I am today.
What made this documentary work wasn’t the horrific and cruel images of child separation and ICE raids that overlap with Ashley’s story. We know the US immigration system is broken. Instead, this narrative works because it tells a story of a girl coming into her own and finding her own voice so she can tell her story in her own words. Even though the odds are stacked against her Ashley perseveres, often unnoticed, putting her future on hold, and, at the same time, preserving her family’s tradition of curandera (healing) and storytelling. It is hard not to be moved by Ashley’s journey.
Kid Candidate was an unexpected and fun surprise. In this documentary, we are introduced to a well meaning 24 year old called Hayden Pedigo and his run for City Council in Amarillo, Texas. Jasmine Stodel’s directorial debut also gives us an inside look into local-level politics and the often maligned Texas panhandle.
Part of what made Kid Candidate such a fun experience was how Jasmine integrated Hayden’s amateurish and hilarious campaign videos, testimony from his wife and friends, as well as Amarillo residents and local politicians to explain the reality of small town politics in Amarillo. There was an unexpected universality to their descriptions which focused not only on politics but the lack of opportunities in small towns that often lead to an exodus of people looking for opportunities elsewhere. Hayden’s view, I am sure resonates with many people that were brought up in a similar town, was that people could not excel in Amarillo and he wanted to change this dynamic and give people a reason to stay. His mayoral run was also inspired by a desire to get more young people to become active participants in politics at the local-level.
The big picture dynamics of this documentary tell the story of political greed that runs rampant in the American political system by highlighting the role big money plays in politics. It was not surprising but fascinating to understand that 6-figure elections were being run in this relatively small city. While Hayden did not win the election he had a somewhat moral victory by being the only candidate to run without donations or official promotion. In the end, this documentary shows us that it is possible to imagine a new political future All incumbents might have held their place in the Amarillo elections but Hayden’s journey brought in a little bit of hope and humor into a vision of what Amarillo and American small towns could look like in the future.
You can check out some of the above referenced campaign videos here. Hayden and his friends were inspired by director Harmony Korine and were even able to set up a digital billboard to ask him to visit Amarillo.
Featuring well-known and up and coming comedians Hysterical is Andrea Nevins’ inside look at the world of stand-up comedy and the women taking over the industry. Admittedly before this documentary I wasn’t well versed in the world of comedy or stand-up for that matter, but this documentary made me want to learn even more about comedians and the strides women are making to reshape this industry. Told through a series of vignettes, childhood pictures and videos as well as stand up segments this piece was remarkable.
Women have been in comedy for so long and not given their due respect. It was perplexing, but not surprising, that women were largely ignored by the comedy world. The sexism and misogyny they experienced and this idea is exclusively for men is what this doc pushes back on. As the comics in the documentary describe, women have been dabbling in feelings for so much longer than men, making them perfect for comedy.
What I enjoyed most while watching this is this emphasis is nothing more than telling a story that connects with people. Many of the comics featured in Hysterical said their itch for comedy started in their childhood and a lack of being seen and heard drove them to this profession. As cliche as it sounds, comedy was the medium that propelled them forward and allowed them to break for their shell.
Being a comic was also a story of ups and downs for the comedians featured in this picture. This struggle brings a universality that allowed me to connect with it in a way that I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to. Descriptions of assault, insecurity, and the belittlement these women faced really resonated with me even though we are in completely different worlds. I would highly recommend this documentary to any one that is interested in comedy.
Utterly broken! This documentary resonated with me deeply. I was reminded of my own mother and her struggle within the health care system. Ady’ Barkan’s resilience and activism as he battles ASL is nothing short of remarkable. His story transverses both the personal and political.
We get an inside journey of his tour across swing districts of the United States. During the 2018 midterm elections, his goal is to try and fix the broken American health care system. Throughout this journey we are introduced to Ady’s remarkable wife, Rachel, and their son, Carl, as well as a plethora of remarkable activists. The most notable of which are Liz Jaff and Ana Maria Archila. Who help organize and participate in a series of actions with Ady and his supporters.
It is very hard to put into words all the emotions I felt watching this documentary. I was just so moved that Ady was able to give it his all despite the numerous difficulties he’s faced. The moments of levity and the jokes Ady cracks make an otherwise difficult journey easier to watch. I cannot do this documentary justice with my review. I highly recommend that anyone who watches this documentary does so with a box of tissues in hand.
If you want to learn more about Ady and Liz’s political action committee and guaranteeing access to universal healthcare you can click here.
The Hunt for Planet B, directed by Nathaniel Khan, explores big questions about the early universe, cosmos, and exoplanets. This documentary takes on a journey of discovery and reflects on the big questions, and makes us question the worlds that may be out there. Lead by a team of remarkable female scientists including Dr. Seager (MIT) and Dr. Batalha (USC) this doc was the perfect viewing for women’s history month and to explore the contributions of women in science.
On the surface, this documentary tells us the story of the James Webb telescope which is 100 times more powerful than the Hubble telescope and will allow us to explore outer space unlike ever before. The James Webb telescope as depicted here seems to indicate the rediscovery of the American Frontier that started in the 1980’s with the space shuttle program. But this documentary is so much more than just another documentary about science.
Instead, what we witness is a story about the power of human connection and the loneliness a lack of connection brings. This need to explore what’s in outer space is fueled by our need to fulfill our need for connection. Undoubtedly the James Webb telescope is an act of collective genius. But the throughline that really stuck with me is the human need for connection and the longing to discover what else is out there while trying to stay grounded in our collective humanity.