The Thin Blue Line

I didn’t find The Thin Blue Line to be my favorite documentary, which is probably why I had been watching a series of feel-good/inspiring films throughout the course of this class. When I first started watching The Thin Blue Line, I couldn’t stay awake. Perhaps I was falling asleep because I was in rehearsals for one show and running another that weekend. But, upon revisiting the doc, I came to realize I just wasn’t a fan of it.

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This doc had a real 1980’s feel to it (and I’m not even referring to the hairstyles), which I think added to my dislike. As a 21st century viewer, I’m used to quick cuts and fast paced editing. The Thin Blue Line featured longer shots with little cuts. During reenactments, the pace of the editing picked up, but I really wasn’t that intrigued by it. I was never really drawn in to the film.

The plot of the film and the effect it had after its release is really significant. Errol Morris, the director, is a well-known doc filmmaker and he created a documentary around a case that appealed to him.

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According to Wikipedia, he was a private investigator prior to the making of this film, which helped sparked his interest in the story of Randall Dale Adams in The Thin Blue Line. Morris was able to find the truth, where convicted murderer Adams was actually wrongfully convicted. Documentaries allow for their creators to be emerged in a story that is personal and that they have strong feelings for. This is what is significant about The Thin Blue Line— Morris’ dedication to the film and Adams’ story was the central force behind Adams’ eventual release from prison.

Randall Dale Adams after his arrest in 1976

Randall Dale Adams after his arrest in 1976

It’s crazy what movies can do. Films can change your life. And The Thin Blue Line saved Adams’.

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Blackfish

Blackfish is one of my favorite documentary films. I watched it for the first time last summer when it was a popular topic of conversation. I mostly watched it to see what all the fuss was about.

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Funny story: When I queued up Netflix on my television for my initial viewing of Blackfish it was met by much opposition by my younger sisters. They were unenthused because they didn’t want to watch a boring documentary, which they equated to watching an dull, informational film in a science class. It’s interesting to witness the stigma attached with docs and it’s even more interesting to watch it disappear. I started the movie despite the disapproval and my sisters were quickly entranced by the film.

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The opening of the film grabs your attention immediately. A blank screen fades into a dark tinted blue. The words “February 24, 2010 Sea World Orlando” appear onscreen. It suddenly cuts from the stagnant navy screen to an unsteady shot of light blue, assumed to be water. It quickly cuts back to the dark blue background with a line of opening credits and then back to the light blue shot. We see a pair of legs on the top left of the screen and a killer whale swimming in the background. The camera is underwater. Our anticipation grows as the 911 call continues to play. The screen cuts back to the dark blue with more credits shown onscreen. The 911 call is almost at its conclusion as the faint, pleasant music from a piano is heard. Now, the audience grows anxious to find out what happened at Sea World on this fateful day…

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This scene sets the stage for a theme that is carried on throughout the entirety of the film: nature is beautiful, but a force to be reckoned with– we should appreciate the world and everything in it, but we should not take advantage of our power as human beings whose purpose is to care for the planet. Nature is to be respected. The 911 call introduces the dangers that are shown throughout the film of man messing with nature. The shots of the killer whale swimming juxtaposed with the pretty and simplistic music of the piano illustrates the beauty of nature and how we should not ruin this beauty. Whales are meant to be free to live in the ocean and not pent up in a cramped pool for people’s entertainment. All of the elements seen in the first few moments of the film set up the themes found in the rest of the film in a thought-provoking, compelling, and captivating way.

My sisters stopped complaining within the first few minutes of Blackfish and I didn’t hear a peep out of ’em until the end of the film. (And when I paused the film to use the bathroom it was met with more opposition than when I first started the doc.) Albeit a great film, Blackfish is met with much controversy and has been labeled as propaganda. Is Sea World really portrayed accurately and fairly? Is it really as corrupt as it seems to be in the film? Here are a couple of blog entries that explore the controversies and claim that Blackfish is indeed a lie.

http://melissaasmith.hubpages.com/hub/blackfish-film

Blackfish is Dead Wrong and Here’s Why

And here’s Sea World’s response to the movie.

But here’s where my problem continues I find Blackfish very well made so that it entices people to want to help the shut-down-Sea World cause… I keep watching inspirational documentaries that make me want to help all the people and animals in need– I want to give all the young girls the education they deserve (Girl Rising,) save all of the people and gorillas in eastern Congo (Virunga,) and now I want to rescue all the whales from Sea World and release them into the sea. 

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I want to cuddle with killer whales, too.

Maybe one day I’ll be able to do it all. #givegirlstheeducationtheydeserve #savethegorillas #savethewhales #savetheworld

Virunga

Because Saunder’s second chapter focused on the popular trends featured in documentaries throughout the years, I wanted to watch a critically-acclaimed film to get an idea of the trends in documentaries today. Just through the few documentaries I have viewed thus far, I am beginning to notice a trend in recent documentaries– tear-jerking, inspirational films centered around controversial topics. I just recently watched Girl Rising, which left me with a similar feeling. It seems that documentaries are the modes through which people strive to make the changes they want to see in the world.

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Virunga tells the true story of a group of park rangers who are risking their lives to protect Virunga National Park located in eastern Congo. This area of Africa has been at conflict for many, many years. Poachers have consistently remained a problem, as the national park is filled with elephants, gorillas, and countless other animals. Most recently, oil was discovered in the center of Virunga and so one large corporation is seeking the help of violent rebel groups to help stake their claim on this protected land.

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I like the way that this documentary flowed and followed a simple, linear narrative structure. It made the film easy to follow when a lot of information was being thrown at you. Prior to watching this doc, I had little knowledge of the situation in Congo, which is vital to comprehending the film. Virunga opened with shots of the gorillas, giving us a backstory to their being in the orphanage. It also makes viewers fall in love with the gorillas, who are the main characters that this film is centered on. The gorillas are actually the cutest things ever– they were hugging their caretakers. This doc definitely shows the gorillas acting so innocently and lovingly at the beginning so that audiences will fall in love with them and be driven to help them. Hey, it worked. I want to help all the gorillas.

I want to give a gorilla a piggy-back ride! I want to save all the gorillas!

I want to give a gorilla a piggy-back ride! I want to save all the gorillas!

I found that one of the most interesting parts of the narrative structure was the way that shots of the people and the gorillas fleeing when the rebels attacked Virugna National Park. The shots were woven together so seamlessly, as both the gorillas and the people knew to run before the rebels got to them. They way the gorillas and the people were juxtaposed gave the gorillas a human quality because they reacted in the same manner. This fact settles into viewers’ subconscious and makes them feel just as badly for the animals as they do the people.

virunga-615I really enjoyed this film and it was over before I knew it. I laughed out loud as the gorillas smiled as they were tickled by their caretakers and cried at the end when the rebel group chased out the park rangers, the citizens of Virunga, and the animals. If you have no interest in the situation in the eastern Congo or are afraid of gorillas, I still urge you to watch this film. First of all, it will make you interested in the happenings in Congo and make you fall in love with gorillas. BUT the cinematography of this doc is absolutely stunning. The African landscape is incomparable. Random shots of the national park are included throughout the film, convincing viewers through these images that Virunga is a park worth saving.

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Advanced Style

So as to prepare for this third entry, I began to watch the documentary Craigslist Joe and I wasn’t enjoying it in the slightest. The bad quality of camerawork and the overall picture were distracting from the actual story. And the editing did not help to convey the story in the best way, making for a boring film. I thought the concept was interesting, but soon realized, about 10 minutes into the documentary, that it wasn’t really a story worth being told.

I returned to Netflix in the hopes of finding another more entertaining film and came across Advanced Style. The cover image caught my eye:

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This is definitely eye-catching. I saw it and instantly realized I needed to watch this.

and I began to watch this captivating documentary about fashionable elderly women…

This documentary follows individualistic old ladies whose sense of style is noticeably out there. Advanced Style follows an observational form of filmmaking, where we observe the women in their daily lives. We also see these women in interviews with the man, Ari Seth Cohen, who produced the documentary, which is based on his blog of the same name. The film opens with Cohen approaching elderly women who are evidently dressed in statement pieces. He later explains that he created the blog after moving to New York City and realizing the fashion risks taken by the elderly population. This observational element is found throughout the documentary, where both we and Cohen are onlookers.

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Filmmaker Errol Morris is quoted in Dave Saunder’s text Documentary as having said, “There’s no reason why documentaries can’t be as personal as fiction filmmaking and bear the imprint of those who made them” (70). I think that Cohen’s desire to tell the story of these women comes across in the film as a very personal story, which I thought was important and enjoyable to hear. He says that his grandmothers were the two most influential people in his life and that he feels that he relates to older people better. It seems a sort of random topic for a blog/doc without hearing his backstory.

Ari and one of his fashionable friends

Ari and one of his fashionable friends

While this documentary was not as tragic or inspirational as Girl Rising, I think that it had an important message– that aging should not be viewed as a negative occurrence. Death and dying is such a scary topic and it is one that is attached to people of an older age. One of the women featured in the film actually collapsed at a fashion show during the filming and soon passed away. It is unavoidable for the elderly, who have more yesterdays than tomorrows.

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However, these women don’t see aging as such a bad thing. They celebrate their lives and show their creativity through their clothing. This documentary helps to remove the stigma attached to the elderly and transform people’s ideas about aging, for it is unavoidable.

I found Advanced Style to be very uplifting and motivating. And I hope that I will be just as insane and individualistic when I’m 80.

ADVANCED STYLE Karen-Walker-and-Advanced-Style2

#goals

Girl Rising

This documentary is easily one of the most inspiring films I have seen. While watching, I found myself wondering about the ways in which I can help make a difference in young girls’ lives and support the cause for a girl’s right to be educated. The film told the stories of nine girls from all over the world and the hardships they’ve endured in order to receive an education.

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Girl Rising is split up into nine segments where each of the girls’ stories are shared with viewers. In between each segment, we are provided with disheartening facts about the inadequacies of girls’ education globally and the improvements the world would see if more girls were educated.

The film is narrated by famous actors and actresses (including Anne Hathaway, Liam Neeson, and Meryl Streep), who read the words written by the girls– Sokha, Wadley, Suma, Yasmin, Azmera, Ruksana, Senna, Mariama, and Amina– and a writer from each of their countries. With the narration, we watch reenactments of the stories, featuring the girls themselves or actors portraying them. The narrators are advocates of Girl Rising, an organization that supports the education of girls all over the world. The fact that so many popular actors are backing this movement is inspiring in and of itself, but the stories that are told through this film are what attract viewers’ attention and make them want to help.

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For example, the final story told in the film is Amina’s. She is an Afghan girl who was married at 11 years old in exchange for about $5,000. Her parents used this money to buy her brother a used car. This statement alone fueled my desire to go out and help these girls. But Amina refused to let her patriarchal society suffocate her. She defies her so-called duties by attending school despite the dangers she faces for doing so.

Amina does not show her face on camera, for fear of her life. Despite the dangers, she shares her store with the world in Girl Rising.

Amina does not show her face on camera, for fear of her life. Despite the dangers, she shares her story with the world in Girl Rising.

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Not only were the stories told in this documentary wildly inspiring, but it is also beautifully crafted. The imagery is spectacular, with perfectly composed shots throughout. I noticed this specifically in Wadley’s portion of the film. In between the reenactment of 8-year-old Wadley refusing to be denied an education in Haiti after the earthquake, we see stunning visuals of Wadley running through a field. I was in awe while watching it.

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Another interesting aspect of the visual elements of this film is that it included some animated sequences. Yasmin’s story was recreated in this fashion because hers was one of the more difficult to tell because Yasmin was raped. Instead of watching a reenactment, like that of the other girls’ stories, we see an animated version of it, because otherwise it would be impossible to watch.

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This film was clearly meant to convince viewers to get involved and support the Girl Rising organization and does an excellent job in doing so. But it’s easy to get on board with a movement that makes so much sense.

I urge everyone to watch this film not only for its truly inspirational and eye-opening quality, but because it is also a beautifully composed film. You can catch a glimpse of the awesomeness of this documentary from its two minute trailer:

Am I right or am I right?

Room 237

One of Stanley Kubrick’s most influential and prolific films, The Shining, is the focus of the Rodney Asher’s documentary Room 237. The documentary attempts to unveil some of the hidden meanings unnoticed by most viewers in The Shining. While some of the interviewees’ suggestions may seem to be a bit of a stretch, their conclusions drawn from minute visual details complicates Kubrick’s modern horror masterpiece and introduces us to a new way of watching The Shining.

In the documentary, it is stated that we, as viewers, experience a form of acceptance and ignorance of visual information that is illustrated to us while we watch films. It is argued that every detail in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining has a hidden meaning that, once explored, proves to uncover the true meaning of the film as a whole. One of the theories surrounding The Shining is that it is really a story about the Holocaust. Visual messages are sent to viewers through a stack of suitcases representative of the suitcases of the Jews who were murdered by the Nazis. Another detail that suggests the theme of the Holocaust is the typewriter, which is a German brand, said to illustrate the “mechanical killings” that occurred during the Second World War. While these small details are seemingly unimportant, the documentary argues that Kubrick was a perfectionist and every shot was well composed and completely thought out. Nothing was filmed by accident.

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Does this image serve as proof that The Shining is really about the Holocaust?

It is also suggested that The Shining is a critique of the Indian Genocide or a movie about pastness and the entirety of the mistakes the world has made throughout man’s existence. Some reasonings seem quite ridiculous, but who really knows? Maybe Kubrick did none of this intentionally, but it is accepted by some as a legitimate reading of the film.

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One of the more ambiguous images seen throughout The Shining– is this representative of the blood shed in the Indian Genocide or the murderous blood spilled by mankind as a whole? Will we ever know?

No individual who was interviewed and featured in the documentary Room 237 is ever seen on-screen. We hear their voices as they recount their relationship with The Shining— anecdotes about their first time seeing the movie, their thought processes as they studied and theorized about it… This makes me question if Rodney Ascher’s documentary is sending viewers subliminal messages through his own visuals in his film… Maybe we shouldn’t believe anything that these unseen “talking heads” are suggesting to us. Or maybe we should choose what we want to believe.

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Mind. Blown.