Many movies have made me cry. Very few have been as difficult or impossible even to write about without crying as Nanfu Wang and Jialing Zhang’s brilliant, devastating Sundance Grand Jury winner One Child Nation.
“Honor, greetings and blessings to you, conquerors of the moon, pale lamp of our nights and our dreams!” Paul VI exclaimed in his July 21 message to the astronauts on the day after the lunar landing. “Bring to it, with your living presence, the voice of the spirit, the hymn to God, our Creator and our Father.”
Forgiveness in the face of murderous violence is a radical act that remains as shocking and controversial today as it was when a Second Temple–era Palestinian prophet commanded his disciples to love and to pray for those who persecuted them and ended his mortal life praying for divine forgiveness for his own executioners.
How can you watch a movie when you keep wanting to close your eyes in prayer?
Patrick Creadon (I.O.U.S.A.) offers a compellingly attractive if one-sided portrait of a figure of exceptional gifts, astonishingly diverse accomplishments and extraordinary influence.
Anyone who directs a movie about the converging efforts of Pope St. John Paul II and Ronald Reagan to take on the Soviet Union is someone I’m interested in talking to. But Robert Orlando isn’t just anyone to me.
For a few formative years of our lives, Mr. Rogers showed us the way. Why don’t we walk that way? Because of all the voices dominating the discussion ever since.
The year’s second-best inspirational documentary about an iconic leader with an ability to connect with people as individuals is still pretty good.
Wim Wenders, whose eclectic career has embraced arthouse dramas, documentaries, music videos and concert films, approaches the subject of his latest nonfiction film from an unusual perspective: the significance of an unprecedented papal name.
I am only a permanent deacon and a film critic, not a priest and certainly not an exorcist, but if Cristina’s voice hasn’t been digitally tweaked, for my money the devil needs a new sound design team.
If the global refugee crisis seems like too immense a problem to wrap one’s head around, Ai isn’t interested in narrowing his focus. Going for scope over depth, Human Flow isn’t a definitive study of the problem, but it offers an incomparable starting point for further discussions.
Possibly the best and most cinematic sequence in Hillsong – Let Hope Rise is a montage that strikingly captures how the music of the Australian Evangelical church-based praise band Hillsong United touches, and unites, people all around the world.
Filmmaker Michael Whyte actually lived across the square from the monastery for years without realizing it was still occupied. One day he heard the monastery bell calling the sisters to prayer.
Above all, it’s the story of the incredible lengths to which the Make-a-Wish staff and volunteers go in order to create special experiences for long-suffering children to make up in some way for their lost childhood.
Jesse Moss’s The Overnighters is an existentially probing documentary with more layers than a twisty Hollywood thriller, at turns inspiring, challenging, sobering and finally devastating.
Want to know the truth behind the “Devil’s Bible”? Or the Dead Sea Scrolls? How about one of the Old Testament’s two famous arks? Curious about UFOs, Bigfoot or the Bermuda Triangle?
Disneynature’s Chimpanzee has the makings of a great nature documentary. It takes us places other films haven’t and shows us sights we haven’t seen on any screen. Visually, it’s a triumph of intripid nature documentary filmmaking, with an extraordinary and heartwarming twist in the lives of a chimpanzee community. Yet like other recent nature flicks, including Arctic Tale and African Cats, it’s wrapped in increasingly tiresome, condescending kiddie-movie packaging. It’s like discovering a rare dish prepared by eminent chefs, drizzled with waxy treacle and stuffed in a Happy Meal box.
Really, Born to Be Wild is as much a celebration of the better side of human nature as of the natural world. In their own way, these ladies are carrying out the Edenic mandate given to Adam to take responsibility for creation, to tend the garden and share in God’s providential oversight of the animal world (cf. CCC #373).
American public school students have fallen far behind other developed countries in basic skills: reading, math science. In one respect, though, we’re still number one: American students have the most confidence in their scholastic abilities. Johnny can’t read or add, but he has boundless self-esteem. Is the glass one-third full or three-quarters empty? Would Johnny know the difference?
Everyone should see Babies. Even people who have cats instead of children should see Babies. There are a number of cats in this movie, and some feline moments that must be seen to be believed, especially for cat lovers.
Nature docs thrive on firsts, though, and Oceans has some eye-poppers. The unprecedented spectacle of a blue whale feeding on krill, its ventral pouch inflated with water, is breathtaking (you never see blue whales in these things; humpbacks get all the glory). The colorful silken splendor of the blanket octopus and the ribbon eel were a surprise to me (nicely complemented by the Spanish dancer sea slug). And my new favorite freaky thing, supplanting the anatomical absurdity of the leafy seadragon, is the wack-eyed mantis shrimp, a testy little fellow who gets violently territorial with crabs loitering around his front door — as one learns to its grief. Get off my lawn, punk.
Survival is not the supreme value, but it has a unique power to put other values into perspective. We say, too often and unthinkingly, that we would “rather die” than do this or that. It is a salutary thing not to fear death, but there is nothing salutary about trivializing the precious gift of life — precious, not only to ourselves, but also to those left behind.
Welcome to Earth. Adapted by directors Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield from producer Fothergill’s groundbreaking 550-minute BBC miniseries “Planet Earth,” Earth offers an impressive selection of some of the most astounding images ever captured of the natural world. Many of the film’s sights had never been witnessed or photographed before Fothergill and the BBC Natural History Unit set out to create “the definitive look at the diversity of our planet,” as “Planet Earth” is not unreasonably billed.
The most serious problem with Constantine’s Sword, though, is not its historical distortions. The most serious problem is its out-and-out attack on Christianity as such. It is not merely antisemitism that troubles Carroll. It is not even only Jesus’ death and resurrection. Ultimately, it is the very belief that in Jesus God did something both unique and definitive, something with universal applicability for all mankind.
Man’s own shadow, as much as the moon’s, lies across In the Shadow of the Moon, David Sington’s moving documentary of the U.S. Apollo program. An eloquent testament to the grandeur of creation as well as man’s unique place in it, In the Shadow of the Moon offers a remarkable look at the history and technology of the Apollo program, but an even more extraordinary glimpse of the men who lived it and made it happen.
Arctic Tale is co-presented by National Geographic Films, which released March of the Penguins, and Paramount Classics, which released An Inconvenient Truth, and when it grows up Arctic Tale would like to be both of those films.
Directed by Helen Whitney (“John Paul II – The Millennial Pope”), “The Mormons” is at once as scrupulously respectful and sympathetic as any religious adherent might hope for in such a treatment, while also dealing directly and fairly with thorny subjects from Joseph Smith’s evolving accounts of his religious experiences to the Mountain Meadow Massacre of 120 travelers by Utah Mormons and the subsequent church cover-up.
Ultimately, Into Great Silence reveals itself to be about nothing less than the presence of God. So many spiritually aware films — The Seventh Seal, Crimes and Misdemeanors — are about God’s absence or silence. Here is a film that dares to explore the possibility of finding God, of a God who is there for those who seek him with their whole hearts.
The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill is the third intriguing nature documentary of 2005, a charming sleeper hit that focuses like March of the Penguins on the life challenges faced by a population of exotic birds, and also, like Grizzly Man, on an eccentric California man’s intimate involvement in their lives.
To human observers, the ways in which animal behavior variously resembles or contrasts with human behavior is an inexhausible source of fascination. Catch animals behaving one way, and we can’t help marveling at how “almost human” they seem. Catch them behaving another way, and we’re struck by the unbridgeable gulf between the animal and human worlds.
Who was Timothy Treadwell, the “grizzly man” whose thirteen-year love affair with Alaska’s brown bears came to a tragic end in the fall of 2003 when a hungry brown killed and partially ate him and his girlfriend?
In the crowd of TV documentaries on the life of Pope John Paul II, there is Witness to Hope, and there is everything else.
Pope John Paul II gets the A&E Biography treatment in Pope John Paul II — Statesman of Faith, a 50-minute documentary made in 1993 focusing particularly on the Holy Father’s crusades against totalitarianism and violence.
Though the documentary plays like a “a day in the life” at the Vatican, National Geographic filmmakers actually spent three months in Rome amassing footage and interviews. The result is a well-rounded portrait, or series of portraits, of Vatican life: Vignettes include the ordination of a bishop, the restoration of a priceless tapestry, the swearing-in of a Swiss Guard soldier, reception of world leaders, and a race to digitally preserve disintegrating documents.
Born into Brothels both illustrates and exemplifies the power of art and artists to make a difference. It’s one of the most constructive and inspiring takes on the relationship of art and responsibility, of the artist and the world, that I’ve ever seen.
None of these camel myths seems as curious, improbable, and magical as The Story of the Weeping Camel itself. Presented by National Geographic, the film relates the birth of a rare white camel calf among the herds of an extended family of four generations living under one roof in the wilderness, and of the camel calf’s struggle for survival after its mother, traumatized by the difficult labor, rejects it and refuses to allow it to suckle. How this family of herders deals with this small crisis is an unguessable miracle that will delight children and adults alike.
The pursuit of happiness. That’s what Louis Schwartzberg, a stock cinematographer who took a break from shooting landscape and cityscape footage for Hollywood movies to roam the country collecting the two dozen portraits that make up America’s Heart and Soul, has captured.
Forget Cast Away. Forget Alive. Touching the Void, the true story of a pair of daredevil mountain climbers in the Peruvian Andes, may be the most harrowing, dazzling, haunting survival story ever filmed.
Bonhoeffer notes the seeming oddity of the prominence of its subject, whose celebrity today may seem from one perspective disproportionate to his importance as a theologian and ecumenist and certainly as a relatively unimportant conspirator in a failed assassination attempt. Yet as another 20th-century saint once said, We are called upon not to be successful, but to be faithful. Bonhoeffer was faithful to the giving of his own life, which he did as willingly and serenely as any martyr.
Secret Lives: Hidden Children and Their Rescuers During WWII, directed by Oscar-winning documentarian Aviva Slesin, who is herself a childhood Holocaust survivor hidden from the Nazis by a Lithuanian Christian family, is an uplifting, shattering, heartfelt tribute to the Gentile families across Europe from Poland to the Netherlands who risked their own lives to take in and hide Jewish children in their homes. Based entirely on interviews with the Jewish survivors and with their rescuers and parents, Secret Lives explores the devastating impact of the Holocaust even on those who survived it, as well as the nobility and heroism displayed by many during one of the darkest chapters of human history.
The Face, a remarkable two-hour documentary produced in conjunction with the Catholic Communication Campaign, is a visually sumptuous and spiritually rewarding exploration of Christian art that surveys the history of how Jesus Christ has been portrayed, and how Christian teaching has been understood, interpreted, and given different emphases by the art of different times and places.
Nathaniel was 11 when his father died in 1974 at the age of 73. Nathaniel’s film, made nearly 30 years later, represents both an instrument and a chronicle of his efforts to explore who his father really was, what legacy he left behind, and what it might mean for his son. Part travelogue, part interview documentary, part home movie, My Architect surveys the elder Kahn’s most important buildings, from La Jolla’s Salk Institute to the Exeter Library to the Bangadeshi capital, along the way interviewing colleagues, peers, family members, even chance acquaintances — anyone who might have light to shed on the mystery of his father’s character and personality.
Spellbound, Jeffrey Blitz’s endearing, heartbreaking, deeply rewarding documentary about eight brainy middle-school kids competing with nearly 250 other spellers in front of the ESPN-watching world, is full of such unforgettable moments. Not just a documentary of a contest, Spellbound is a behind-the-scenes look at the lives of contestants of various regional and socioeconomic backgrounds whose only common bond is a facility with putting words together.
What Winged Migration did for birds and Atlantis did for life under the sea, Microcosmos does for the insect world. It’s an astonishingly up-close and personal look at an infinitesimal world as alien as anything captured by the Hubble telescope or the Mars rovers — but also a world of strange fascination and unexpected beauty.
Director Jacques Perrin and his crew of pilots and cinematographers spent four years traversing the globe, capturing unprecedented images of migratory birds in flight and on land. Shooting from hot-air balloons and ultralight aircraft, the filmmakers insinuate the camera’s eye so intimately into the midst of airborne flights of birds that one can almost count the hairlike barbs on the feathers. Other times, one is staggered by the sheer number of birds captured in a single shot, sweeping across the sky like a curtain being drawn or covering an island to the horizon and the edges of the screen.
If the toe-tapping gospel music of The Fighting Temptations appeals to you but you were put off by that film’s negative Christian stereotypes and lack of even rote Hollywood spiritual uplift or pro-faith sentiment, treat yourself to this engaging, gospel-infused documentary tribute to the African-American men and women who first began combining the heart and soul of Negro spirituals with the infectious rhythms of jazz and blues.
God bless Sister Helen Travis, with her foul
mouth, black wimple, "I ♥ Jesus"
Highlights include daredevil cartwheeling baboons, the remarkable partnership of the badger and the honey-guide bird, and the astonishingly intricate lengths to which the Kalahari bushmen go to find water. There’s a sequence with the animal residents of the fertile Kavango flood plains intoxicated on fermented fruit, and footage of an ostrich mating dance that strikingly resembles Fantasia’s animated ostrich ballet.
Loosely structured into thematic "chapters" such as "light," "rhythm," and "grace," accompanied by an ecclectic Eric Serra score, Atlantis is a documentary Fantasia, a poetic marriage of image and music (though the score, apart from an aria from Bellini’s La Sonnambula, lacks the pedigree of Disney’s masterpiece). Marred only by a brief opening voiceover, which muses pretentiously about man’s evolutionary origins in the ocean, Besson’s otherwise wordless film lets the beauty of the undersea world speak for itself.
Quest For the True Cross is the somewhat misleading name of a recent bestselling book coauthored by scholar Carsten Peter Thiede and of this companion documentary produced by Mel Gibson’s Icon Films for the Discovery Channel.
Period letters and songs, archival and modern photography, and illustrative anecdotes as well as broad analysis are all deployed to convey the flavor as well as the sequence of historical events. We learn how Irishmen came to America expecting streets paved with gold, and wound up not only paving the streets themselves but building the bridges, skyscrapers, and railroads.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.