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Documentary Playlist: Nothing to See Here

“He that has eyes to see and ears to hear may convince himself that no mortal can keep a secret. If his lips are silent, he chatters with his fingertips; betrayal oozes out of him at every pore.” ― Sigmund Freud, Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis

“Nothing to see here, move along!” – Lt. Frank Drebin, The Naked Gun

Governments the world over have long tried to keep their less than valiant activities on the down low. These atrocities can be as massive and horrifying as the Nazi orchestration of the Holocaust, or as sickeningly insular as the abhorrent treatment US military forces imposed on Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib. Obviously, neither the German or US governments wanted these heinous actions to find their way into the public light. Somewhere in their being, they knew what they were doing was wrong, fearing both the legal and moral repercussions of their wrongdoing. Yet, the truth leaked out, slowly but surely.

Even today, systemic injustices continue to wreak havoc on communities around the globe – greed-filled wars are waged under the guise of democracy, poverty is implemented as a means to manage the have-nots, discrimination based on gender and sexual preference continue to hinder cultural progress, and the natural world is being ravaged by humans taking more than their fair share of what has been given to them. In each of these cases, misdirection and media convolution is being used to obscure the disheartening truth.

Yet, if you take a closer look, listen, and ask the right questions, the facts can be exhumed. What are we not being told? Who is responsible? What can we do to right the wrong?

This powerful set of films sees a variety of hushed systematic atrocities unveiled with a profound sense of political and moral urgency.

The House I Live In
For 40 years, the War on Drugs has accounted for more than 45 million arrests, made America the world’s largest jailer and damaged poor communities globally. Hear the stories of people from all levels of America’s drug war.

The Invisible War
A searing investigation into the cover-up of rape and sexual assault within the U.S. military, this film has helped change military policy.

Dirty Wars
Investigative reporter, Jeremy Scahill, delves into the heart of America’s covert wars, from Afghanistan to Yemen, Somalia and beyond.

The Act of Killing
Former Indonesian death squad leaders are challenged to re-enact the real-life mass killings in the cinematic genres of their choice, from classic Hollywood crime scenarios to lavish musical numbers.

The Cove
A group of activists, led by renowned dolphin trainer Richard O’Barry, infiltrate a hidden cove near Taiji, Japan to expose a shocking instance of animal abuse and a serious threat to human health.

Inside Job
A comprehensive analysis of the 2008 global financial crisis. Through exhaustive research and interviews with key insiders, this film traces the rise of a rogue industry which has corrupted politics, regulation, and academia.

Documentary Playlist: A Multitude of Drops

“He who would do battle with the many-headed hydra of human nature must pay a world of pain & his family must pay it along with him! & only as you gasp your dying breath shall you understand, your life amounted to no more than one drop in a limitless ocean! Yet what is any ocean but a multitude of drops?”     

David Mitchell’s mind-bending book, Cloud Atlas, weaves through six different time periods, from the mid-19th century to the year 2321. No matter the era similar characters emerge: there are those who prey upon others and those who are preyed upon. And then there are the few who stand up against oppression despite the consequences they suffer for exposing abuses of power.

The book evokes Friedrich Nietzsche’s theory of eternal recurrence which says that we live our lives again and again. An injustice tackled in one age returns in the next but in a slightly different form. Slaughter and enslavement, class differences, corporatocracy, truth and representation, environmental devastation, exploitation after exploitation. As time moves forward the human race becomes more endangered. Can humanity preserve itself by overcoming the animal instinct to boundlessly thrive and profit?

The 6 films in this playlist feature some of the people who have stood up against oppression and the unrestrained powers of our time. They are drops in the ocean and together a multitude of drops.

Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry
Ai Weiwei is a renowned Chinese artist and activist who continually champions the values of democracy and human rights, and thus works in opposition to China’s authoritarian government.

Big Boys Gone Bananas!*
What is a big corporation capable of in order to protect its brand? Filmmaker Fredrik Gertten and his partners refuse to be bullied and silenced by the fruit giant, Dole Food Company.

Burma VJ
Witness the incredible bravery of Burmese video journalists (VJs) who risked torture and prison to document events on the streets as they were happening during the 2007 Saffron Revolution.

The Case Against 8
Offers an incredibly personal behind-the-scenes look inside the historic case to overturn California’s ban on same-sex marriage. The film follows the unlikely legal team and the two same-sex couples who act as plaintiffs in the story of how they took the first federal marriage equality lawsuit to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Pussy Riot
A feminist art collective performs a 40-second “punk prayer” against Putin’s government in Russia’s main orthodox church, decrying the corrupt entanglements of church and state. Three members are charged with hooliganism and put on trial in a post-Glasnost Russia that is becoming increasingly restrictive and regressive.

The Square
A group of Egyptian revolutionaries battle leaders and regimes, risking their lives to build a new society of conscience. This is the real story of the the Egyptian Revolution told through the eyes of six different protesters.

Documentary Playlist: Go All the Way

“If you’re not gonna go all the way, why go at all?”    — Joe Namath

The image above is from the 1896 Summer Olympics. Held in Athens, Greece, it was the first international Olympic Games held in the modern era. The image depicts some of the runners competing in the marathon race, a long-distance running event of 42 kilometers (26 miles). Though the fastest runner wins, marathon running requires months and months of training that doesn’t necessarily build one’s speed – but one’s endurance.

Mastery in any endeavor requires endurance. According to reputable author/curator Sarah Lewis, mastery is a word we don’t use often and is not the same as perfectionism — an inhuman aim motivated by a concern with how others view us. Nor is it the same as success — an event-based victory based on a peak point, a punctuated moment in time. As Lewis said, “Mastery is not merely commitment to a goal, but to a curved-line, constant pursuit.”

Whether it’s weight-lifting or motor-racing, pastry-making or magazine publishing, here are 6 films about people who are going all the way, who are striving everyday to be better than they were yesterday.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi
As Jiro Ono’s son faces the pressure of stepping into his father’s shoes and taking over the legendary restaurant, Jiro relentlessly pursues his lifelong quest to create the perfect piece of sushi.

Kings of Pastry
Every 4 years, France’s top pastry chefs gather in Lyon for the World Cup of pastry – the Meilleurs Ouvriers de France. This film follows 3 long days of chocolate sculptures, cream puffs that look like crown jewels, and grown men crying over cracked sugar.

Pumping Iron
Arnold Schwarzenegger reveals both the physicality and psychology of bodybuilding. He attributes his bodybuilding success not to his muscles, but to his mind.  

An account of the vibrant life and sudden death of Brazilian racing driver, Ayrton Senna. Meet this spiritual and very competitive man who believed in pushing the limits further and further.

The Armstrong Lie
Biking legend and 7-time Tour de France champion, Lance Armstrong went to extremely great lengths to win. Not only did he exercise every day, but he doped illegally and secretly, building a myth around himself that turned out to be one of the biggest lies in sports history.

The September Issue
Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour and her team of editors set out to create the most important issue of the year. Though Vogue magazine is unrivalled in the fashion industry, there’s always room for improvement. The stakes are high, and Wintour’s standards are even higher.

Documentary Playlist: The Eyes of the Future

“The eyes of the future are looking back at us and they are praying for us to see beyond our own time. They are kneeling with hands clasped that we might act with restraint, that we might leave room for the life that is destined to come.”

American author, Terry Tempest Williams, grew up on the edge of the Great Salt Lake. Her childhood was deeply connected to the land. To weather patterns. To snakes, lizards, birds, bones. Years later, her adult heart would break as she watched those wild lands being destroyed and undermined. A thirst for oil transformed the open spaces into “an exposed nervous system with roads running every which way to support this energy infrastructure.”

Nowadays, most children do not roam open, wild lands. They spent more time indoors or in gates, on playgrounds and gyms. People in the U.K. describe jumping into an ocean, lake or river as “wild swimming,” as if normal swimming takes place in manmade, chlorinated pools. But perhaps there are too many risks involved in nature. No, we’re not talking about lions or sharks or poison oak. We’re talking about oil spills, nuclear radiation, mercury toxicity, mining or fracking leaks, and dozens of other environmental disasters.

What will be left for our children? How do we reconcile our desire for a ‘good life’ with our environmental concerns? What can we do to change things for the better? What would happen if we asked ourselves this question every day?

Here are 6 films that shed light on some of the environmental issues of our time:

Bag It
Our crazy-for-plastic world has finally caught up with us. The landfills are overflowing. The oceans are polluted. Key researchers warn us about BPA, the synthetic chemical found in everything from plastic bottles to cash register receipts. This film explores plastic’s conquest of the world and how we can reckon with it.

Encounters at the End of the World
Filmmaker Werner Herzog said he was not interested in making a typical nature documentary, but to ask questions about the nature and meaning of things. Once in Antarctica, however, Herzog confronts the ramifications of global warming and the overall failure of science and technology to achieve any real ‘progress’ except to hasten the end of the meaningful, human world.

America’s desire to become energy-independent has led to hydro fracking, a drilling method of natural gas extraction which major corporations believe to be a potential new source of cheap energy, but which has displaced hundreds of people and posed health risks for millions more. When will we have the courage to end our love affair with oil and start building alternative energy sources?

If A Tree Falls
When peaceful protests don’t work, a group of environmentalists take harsher measures. Earth Liberation Front (ELF) quickly became known as America’s “number one domestic terrorism threat,” calling into question the definition of ‘terrorism’ and the political motivations and influence behind this word.

Manufactured Landscapes
Edward Burtynsky’s stunning, large-scale photographs function as mirrors in which we view our impact on the world, and ultimately, in which we view ourselves. We want the ‘good life’ and all the modern conveniences of mass production, and yet we know, consciously or unconsciously, that the earth is suffering for our success.

The Island President
For the Maldives, climate change is not an abstract issue. If carbon emissions and the global temperature continue to rise, the Maldives—an archipelago of 1,200 islands with a population of 400,000—could soon be submerged in the ocean and uninhabitable.

Documentary Playlist: Perhaps We Are Like Stones

“I am beginning to believe that we know everything, that all history, including the history of each family, is part of us, such that, when we hear any secret revealed, a secret about a grandfather, or uncle, or a secret about the battle of Dresden in 1945, our lives are made suddenly clearer to us. For perhaps we are like stones; our own history and the history of the world embedded in us, we hold a sorrow deep within and cannot weep until that history is sung.”    —Susan Griffin

This playlist is all about family. No matter who we are or where we live, most of us were born into families and continually deal with family relationships of some sort, whether it’s with parents, mentors, partners, or children. 

We’ve chosen 6 films that deal with family in some way:

A look inside the life of Buck Brannaman, a man with an almost surreal aptitude for communicating with horses. He overcame tremendous odds to become the real life ‘horse whisperer.’

Capturing the Friedmans
A seemingly average middle-class American family is turned upside down when the father and youngest son are charged with sexually abusing neighborhood children. Through a strange criminal case, we learn about the elusive nature of truth.

Cutie and the Boxer
A candid New York love story exploring the chaotic 40-year marriage of famed “boxing” painter, Ushio Shinohara, and his artist wife, Noriko. Anxious to shed her role as her overbearing husband’s assistant, Noriko finds an identity of her own.

Grey Gardens
Meet Big and Little Edie Beale—mother and daughter, high-society dropouts, reclusive cousins of Jackie O.—thriving together amid the decay and disorder of their ramshackle East Hampton mansion. 

Stories We Tell
A highly original documentary that explores how we construct our own reality through stories. Sarah Polley’s family and friends weave different narratives into a complex portrait of her mother who died when Sarah was eleven. 

The Crash Reel
A dramatic story of one unforgettable athlete: Kevin Pearce; one eye-popping sport: snowboarding; and one explosive issue: Traumatic Brain Injury. A comeback story with a difference.

If there’s anything these six films reveal, it’s that no two families look the same, but understanding one’s history is oftentimes the key to understanding one’s self.