Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Eugene Jarecki (director) and Alex Gibney (writer) made The Trials of Henry Kissinger (2002) as an inflammatory, damning, blood-pressure-rising indictment of Kissinger's war crimes. The film makes its case with documents, interviews, and archival footage. Christopher Hitchens (second still) and a flood of evidence explain the rottenness of Kissinger's actions in Chile, East Timor, Cambodia, and elsewhere. (Hitchens published a book on the same subject.) The film is as relevant and pointed today as it was in 2002: what characteristics from the Kissinger era continue to have a hold on US foreign policy?
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
You are invited to take a look at the brand new e-book from Duke University's Center for Documentary Studies: Visual Storytelling: The Digital Video Documentary. The e-book is free and on a Creative Commons "share-alike" license. It's a fun do-it-yourself guide to making watchable short documentaries using a consumer camcorder, digital SLR camera, or cell phone. Visual Storytelling is based on my 12 years of teaching people who want to make a documentary -- have the access to their subject and the drive to document -- but need to learn how to get started.
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
A classic study of neo-colonialism gone amok, Black Harvest (1992), is the final piece in a trilogy of films about the highlands of Papua New Guinea. Black Harvest was made by a husband-and-wife team, Robin Anderson (sound) and Bob Connolly (camera) using 16mm observational techniques. The filmmakers tell the story of Joe Leahy (top still) and his attempt to run a coffee plantation in partnership with the Ganiga tribe. (Leahy is the son of a Ganiga woman and an Australian gold miner; Leahy's dad was one of the first outsiders in the highlands in the 1930s.) Hard times strike Leahy and the Ganiga when coffee prices crash. The workers complain that they're being paid slave wages -- and Ganiga men stop working on the coffee harvest entirely to wage a bloody war against other tribes. Anderson and Connolly (with editor Ray Thomas) give shape to a complicated and absorbing story, which maintains intimate access to a variety of characters amid the larger issues in globalization and development.
Wednesday, April 6, 2011
The Murder of Fred Hampton (1971) by Howard Alk gives the history of and circumstances behind the December 4, 1969 assassination of the 21-year-old Hampton (top still), who was then leading Chicago's Black Panther Party. Hampton's girlfriend Deborah Johnson was pregnant with Fred Jr. at the time; her interview for the documentary (above) offers a chilling condemnation of "the pigs" who invaded her bedroom and fired on Hampton. The film shows that the official story, elaborately told and reenacted by the police and Illinois State's Attorney Edward Hanrahan, was a series of untruths. Fred Hampton himself almost seemed to have forseen his own death when he talked about a "revolutionary happy hunting ground" a few months before he died. Black-and-white footage and formidable observational technique (the film has no narration) add to the timeless power of the film.