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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.

Top 10 Reasons to Start a Doc Film Club

The heart and soul of Influence Film Club is getting people together to talk about stories. Here are 10 reasons why we think you should start a doc film club:

1.   Great excuse to get your friends together
2.   Leave Hollywood and go on a real journey
3.   Feed your intellectual curiosity
4.   Discover what you’re passionate about – and share it with others
5.   Spark interesting conversations that stay with you
6.   Find out what your friends and family really care about
7.   Meet new people in your community
8.   Its like a book club for busy people
9.   Dig deeper into stories, issues, and what it means to be alive
10.  It’s free


We’d love to hear how it’s going with your club! Feel free to drop us a line at forum@influencefilm.com

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.

Take the Influence Film Club Challenge!

How well do you know your documentaries?

We’re at Tribeca film festival this week, handing out decks of discussion cards representing 45 of our favorite documentaries. Each card has a beautiful image from a film, plus a conversational question on the back. Not only are the cards a fun way to break the ice, but they’re also a great way to get to know friends and family better. Use them in your film clubs, dinner parties, or at the family breakfast table. Take them on long flights or road trips to meaningfully pass the time. Challenge yourself with one question each day.

Or… take the Influence Film Club Challenge! Simply match the images on the cards to the films they represent. Check your answers in the file below.

If you did not receive a card deck, don’t worry. You can still participate in the challenge. Find the 45 images on our Pinterest board, then come back here to check your answers.

Have fun, and let us know how you’re using your discussion cards!

Influence Film Club Challenge – Correct Answers

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.

Movie Snacks, Vol. 1

No matter how cozy one’s living room is, people tend to congregate in the kitchen. Historically, food and drink has always helped bring people together. Whether at large social gatherings, or in family conversations that linger for hours over the dinner table, there is something potent in the combination of food and meaningful conversation. With this in mind, we are offering some ideas for simple snacks you can share with your film clubs. Sweet or savoury, they’re all easy to prepare. The films on our site will give you plenty to talk about, and these movie snacks will keep the conversation going. Enjoy!


Sweet and Crunchy Nut Seed Clusters, from 3191 Miles Apart
Salted Dark Chocolate Popcorn, from The Kitchn
3-ingredient Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies, from Skinny Taste
Dark Chocolate + Ginger Flatbreads, from Sprouted Kitchen
Homemade Apple Chips, from A Beautiful Mess
Cinnamon and Chocolate Covered Nuts, from Green Kitchen Stories


Chile Lime Tequila Popcorn, from 101 Cookbooks
7 Secrets to a Beautiful Cheese Board, from Design Mom
Smoked Salmon Potato Tartine, from Blogging Over Thyme
Champagne Onion Dip, from Gather Journal
Spicy Fennel, Orange and Garlic Marinated Olives, from Local Milk
Bite-size Omelet with Peas, Proscuitto, and Saffron, from Kitchen Culinaire


If it takes an invitation, we are inviting you!

Dear friends and friends of friends,

Welcome to what we hope is the beginning of a long meaningful conversation and a love affair with documentary film. We want to invite you into a space where you can engage with incredible stories that will move you, open your mind, and challenge the way you see the world.

My invitation into documentary film began in 2005 when one of my closest friends called and suggested that we make a film together. It took two years, but that’s what we did, and I have been hooked ever since. At that time, I was a new mother feeling isolated and yearning for some kind of intellectual stimulation in my increasingly hectic life. So I made a decision to invite some friends over to watch and discuss “my” documentary.

That evening was the beginning of a long meaningful conversation, which has continued over several years. Documentaries give us a platform for having some of the most meaningful and important conversations. We laugh, we cry, and sometimes we get angry, but we always part with deeper friendships.

My hope is that Influence Film Club will provide you with the tools and resources you need to facilitate a small intimate film club of your own. Please be in touch and tell us how it’s going. We hope that you will love it enough to pass on the invitation, because that’s all it takes!


Cristina Ljungberg
Co-founder, Influence Film

Our Oscar Pick for Best Documentary Feature 2014

As March approaches, we can’t help but start to feel a little Oscar fever. Five fantastic films have been nominated for Best Documentary Feature:

THE ACT OF KILLING, by Joshua Oppenheimer and Signe Byrge Sørensen
CUTIE AND THE BOXER, by Zachary Heinzerling and Lydia Dean Pilcher
DIRTY WARS, by Richard Rowley and Jeremy Scahill
THE SQUARE, by Jehane Noujaim and Karim Amer
20 FEET FROM STARDOM by Morgan Neville, Gil Friesen and Caitrin Rogers

It was a tough decision, but Influence Film chooses THE ACT OF KILLING to win this year’s Oscar for Best Documentary Feature! Since attending The Puma Impact Awards in NYC a few months ago, we have not been able to stop thinking about Joshua Oppenheimer’s masterpiece about the 1965 mass killings in Indonesia, featuring the real mass murderers who eagerly reenact the brutal events of 1965. This film is revolutionary in its class, pushing the entire genre of documentary filmmaking into new definitions. We were on the edge of our seat throughout the entire film. It’s a MUST see.

More information on the 86th Academy Awards can be found here.

Read The Guardian’s review of THE ACT OF KILLING.

Spot on Docs: The Interrupters

From THE INTERRUPTERS film team comes InterruptViolence.com

Interrupt Violence is a multi-platform community engagement campaign inspired by the Emmy award-winning documentary film, THE INTERRUPTERS. The film is a moving and surprising story of three “violence interrupters” in Chicago who – with bravado, humility and even humor – try to protect their communities from the violence they once employed during a time when the city became the national symbol for violence. We loved this film (find it in our library here), and we love this team’s ongoing efforts to better our cities and communities.

If you are interested in promoting safe and healthy communities, here are some ways you can use InterruptViolence.com:

•  Engage thoughtfully with diverse media that will broaden your worldview
•  Read the stories of those who are battling it out in their own communities
•  Encourage creativity and story narratives by asking students to create living shrines
•  Share your own experiences of coping with violence
•  Find a plethora of resources, strategies, and inspiration
•  Nurture social and emotional learning and improve conflict resolution tools
•  And much more…

Please visit InterruptViolence.com, particularly the Interactive Stories section that allow you to interact with others’ stories and even download lesson plans created to complement 10-minute excerpts of the film.

Top 10 Documentaries of 2013

Influence Film Club’s Top 10 Documentaries of 2013 represent the stories that make up our lives, they remind us of what connects everyone and everything, and ultimately show that no matter where you are in the world many of us share common experiences, joys and struggles. These films are filled with stories of musical expression, family relationships, the pursuit of dreams, how our health transforms and impacts us, and the effect of how we treat the creatures we share our planet with, both human and animal, has on the world around us. So pick a film and discover power of the real life stories told in our top 10 documentaries of 2013. You might even see a piece of yourself reflected back from the screen.

Who is Dayani Cristal?
Arizona border police discover a male body, lifting a tattered t-shirt, they expose a tattoo that reads “Dayani Cristal”.  WHO IS DAYANI CRISTAL? follows director Marc Silver as he embarks on a journey to give this anonymous man an identity.

Cutie and the Boxer
CUTIE AND THE BOXER is a candid 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.

Blood Brother
Traveling India, American college graduate Rocky Braat met a group of HIV-positive orphans, an encounter that changed his life. BLOOD BROTHER is a tale of disease and abject poverty, of a life stripped down to its essence, and of love enduring in the face of death.

Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer
PUSSY RIOT: A PUNK PRAYER reveals the story of Pussy Riot, a punk band who performed a 40-second “punk prayer” against Putin’s government in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior. Three members were charged with hooliganism and put on trial.

The Crash Reel
U.S. champion snowboarder Kevin Pearce takes a near-fatal crash. THE CRASH REEL is the story of his recovery, which exposes the irresistible but potentially fatal appeal of extreme sports.

Muscle Shoals
MUSCLE SHOALS, Alabama helped create some of the most important, resonant songs of all time. Meet Rick Hall, the Swampers, and many musicians who bear witness to Muscle Shoals’ magnetism, mystery, and undeniable influence.

BLACKFISH tells the story of Tilikum, a performing killer whale that killed several people while in captivity. The film shows just how nature can get revenge on man when pushed to its limits.

20 Feet From Stardom
20 FEET FROM STARDOM Shines a spotlight on the untold true stories of the backup singers behind some of the greatest musical legends of the 21st century. Millions know their voices, but no one knows their names.

The Genius of Marian
THE GENIUS OF MARIAN is a visually rich, emotionally complex story that follows Pam White in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease as her son documents her struggle to retain her sense of self and family members grapple with their new roles as caregivers.

Sepideh: Reaching for the Stars
Can a young Iranian woman become an astronaut? SEPIDEH: REACHING FOR THE STARS is the story of a remarkable teenage girl named Sepideh who defies societal expectations and courageously works to make her dream come true.

The 10 Best Documentaries of 2012

While Influence Film Club’s 10 Best Documentaries of 2012 couldn’t be more representative of the incredible variety of documentary film’s available to watch and discuss, they all have one core theme – people facing a challenge and staying true to who they are. Whether that challenge be a one of oppression, a lack of justice, a broken system, carving out a creative space, or simply defining one’s personal truth. 2012’s best documentaries take a step outside of the box, tell the stories of our times in ways one might never expect, and invite discussion not only about the film’s themselves, but how we define and stand for who we are.

Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry
AI WEIWEI: NEVER SORRY takes a fascinating up-close look at renowned Chinese artist and activist, Ai Weiwei, as he prepares for a series of exhibitions and finds himself repeatedly clashing with the Chinese government.

The Act of Killing
THE ACT OF KILLING follows former Indonesian death squad leaders as they 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. Note: We recommend that you watch the “Director’s Cut” version of this film

56 Up
Initially pitched as a documentary delving into the British class system, 56 UP revisits the same group of people every 7 years, from age 7 to 56, interviewing each and discovering just what the passing of time reveals and exposing their hopes and disappointments to a vast public.

Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present
MARINA ABRAMOVIC: THE ARTIST IS PRESENT follows the provocative performance artist Marina Abramovic as she prepares for a retrospective at MoMA in New York City, while also taking a closer look at her 40 year career.

Searching for Sugar Man
SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN follows two fans seeking the truth about their hero – folk musician Sixto Rodriguez, who had a short lived career in the states but  – without the knowledge of Rodriguez himself – became a pop music icon in South Africa.

The Stories We Tell
STORIES WE TELL is 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 House I Live In
For 40 years, the War on Drugs has accounted for more than 45 million arrests and made America the world’s largest jailer and damaged poor communities globally. THE HOUSE I LIVE IN tells the stories of people from all levels of America’s drug war.

The Central Park Five
THE CENTRAL PARK FIVE examines the 1989 case of five black and Latino teenagers who were convicted of raping a woman in Central Park. After having spent between 6 and 13 years each in prison, a serial rapist confessed to the crime.

The Invisible War
THE INVISIBLE WAR is a searing investigation into the cover-up of rape and sexual assault within the U.S. military that has helped change military policy.

Call Me Kuchu
In Uganda, a new bill makes homosexuality punishable by death. CALL ME KUCHU follows the activists working against the clock to defeat state-sanctioned homophobia while combating vicious persecution in their daily lives.

The 10 Top Documentaries of 2011

Influence Film Club’s Top Documentaries of 2011 shows is a testament to the power of documentary film. These are real stories about real people (and our animal friends) that deserve to be seen and talked about. These docs tell the stories of David and Golliath, those who have redefined and stood up against cultural norms, people who have dedicated their lives to a passion, and those who remind us that there is more than meets the eyes. Our top documentaries of 2011 inspire us to be the change we want to see in the world, and invite meaningful discussions about the world immediately surrounding us and the world at large.

The Black Power Mixtape
Essential viewing to anyone concerned with contemporary U.S. history, THE BLACK POWER MIXTAPE is a compilation of footage shot by a group of Swedish journalists following the American Black Power Movement between 1967 and 1975.

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.’

If a Tree Falls
IF A TREE FALLS offers a rare and provocative look at the Earth Liberation Front, the radical environmental group that the FBI calls America’s number one domestic terrorist threat.

PINA is a visually stunning documentary featuring the ensemble at Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch. The film pays tribute to and reflects upon the unique and inspiring life and art of the great German choreographer, Pina Bausch, who died in the summer of 2009.

Project Nim
PROJECT NIM tells the story of a chimpanzee who was the focus of a 1970’s landmark experiment to prove that an ape could learn to communicate through sign language if raised and nurtured like a human child.

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

KUMARÉ is a documentary about a man who impersonates a wise Indian Guru and builds a following in Arizona. At the height of his popularity, the Guru Kumaré must reveal his true identity to his disciples to unveil his greatest teaching of all.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi
JIRO DREAMS OF SUSHI is a thoughtful and elegant meditation on work, family, and the art of perfection, chronicling Jiro Ono’s life as both an unparalleled success in the culinary world and as a loving yet complicated father.

Miss Representation
By exploring the under-representation of women in positions of power and influence in America, MISS REPRESENTATION challenges the media’s limited portrayal of what it means to be a powerful woman.

BULLY is an intimate account on how bullying affects 13 million American children every year. Bringing human scale to this startling statistic, the film offers an unflinching look at how bullying has impacted 5 kids and their families.