In case you can’t tell from the headline, there are A LOT of documentaries hitting home video this week, including one that makes my best of list for 2011. See documentaries on rappers (A Tribe Called Quest and Soula Boy), Caribbean athletes, newspaper men, Starship captains, Danish soldiers, economics and history, plus a classic civil rights film that hasn’t been available in decades. Here are your nine features and two miniseries out on DVD today:
If you like “Restrepo” you must see Janus Metz Pedersen’s own intensely cinematic Afghanistan War documentary, this one involving Danish troops stationed at the titular army base, where they were involved in 30 enemy encounters over a six month period. Pedersen does some filming himself, with cinematographer Lars Skree, but he also attaches little cameras onto the soldiers’ helmets and tanks for material that’s right there in the fight. As if that wasn’t stunning enough, there’s also a controversial story regarding the troops’ rules of engagement with some Taliban fighters they kill. It’s an unforgettable film and without a doubt one of the best documentaries of the year.
Winner of the 2010 Critics Week Grand Prize at Cannes and named Best Documentary at the 2011 RiverRun International Film Festival, the 2011 Robert Festival and the 2011 Bodil Awards, at which Skree also won Best Cinematography.
Actor-turned-filmmaker Michael Rapaport surprises with one of the best music documentaries in years, the kind that transcends its subject’s fanbase and simply tells a great, universal story of a group’s rise and then the internal strife that came with it. Most of the attention on this film was with the continued fighting between rappers Q-Tip, who was for a time against it, and Phife Dawg, who was a full supporter. Whether you like A Tribe Called Quest or not, this is a must see. Features interviews with members of Tribe, as well as Ludacris, Common, the Beastie Boys, Mos Def and others.
Winner of the Audience Award for Best Documentary at the 2011 Los Angeles Film Festival.
Also available on Blu-ray.
Baseball fans are likely focused on the World Series at the moment, but as soon as that’s over, here’s a documentary for them — and perhaps anyone who enjoys watching kids confidently reach for their dreams. Director Keith Aumont went down to beautiful Curacao in the summer of 2008 and documented the small Caribbean island’s little league team as it attempted another go at the Little League World Series, with particular emphasis on their ongoing rivalry against Japan. Not quite an underdog sports movie or a real-life “Bad News Bears,” this is a film about tremendously talented junior baseballers who ultimately face another type of drama based on such high expectations. If you hated “Moneyball,” you’ll likely appreciate this well-directed doc.
William Shatner directed this feature in which he interviews all the other “Star Trek” Starship captains, including Patrick Stewart, Scott Bakula and the new James T. Kirk, Chris Pine. Plus, his friend and Klingon general, Christopher Plummer. It’s also a bit of an autobiographical portrait that traces Shatner’s entire acting career and how his most famous role as Capt. Kirk fits in and overshadows most of it.
Another sports documentary involving Caribbean athletes, Stevan Riley’s film takes us to multiple locations in the West Indies, including Jamaica and Barbados, for an oral history of the World Cup-winning cricket team that unified and represented the area. The story of The Windies is also a story of post-colonial triumph, like a nonfiction version of the great Indian fiction film “Lagaan,” as the players faced much racism and social oppression even while on top. The film, which is from producers of “One Day in September” and “Restrepo,” is also a musical feast, including a mostly upbeat reggae soundtrack plus terrific on screen performances of reggae and mento songs in tribute to the sport and team.
Nominated for the British Independent Film Award for Best Documentary and the Grierson Award for Best Historical Film.
Even if Andrew Rossi’s look at the New York Times media desk circa early 2010 seems a bit dated now, it’s incredibly engaging and entertaining for what’s often just shots of reporters at their desks on phone calls. Proof it’s not only about the content with documentary. And certainly columnist David Carr deserves his praise calling him a journalistic rock star, as he provides the majority of the doc’s energy with his bold and profane personality.
Also available on Blu-ray.
This adaptation of Naomi Klein’s book of the same name, directed by Michael Winterbottom and Mat Whitecross (“The Road to Guantanamo”), tackles the history of disaster capitalism, the form of capitalism that feeds on natural and man-made disasters, including war and terror. Given that Klein is in the news lately for her support of Occupy Wall Street and its “shock resistance,” followers of the movement in particular will want to check out her take down of Milton Friedman-based Laissez-faire economics.
The latest rap doc from Oscar-nominated filmmaker Peter Spirer (“Blood Ties: The Life and Work of Sally Mann”) focuses on the life of Soulja Boy and his rise to fame through the Internet and a certain dance sensation. Sounds like a good companion piece to “Justin Bieber: Never Say Never.”
This 1985 documentary from “Word is Out” producers Lucy Massie Phenix and Veronica Selver finally arrives on DVD after making its debut at the Sundance Film Festival 25 years ago. A chronicle of the Civil Rights Movement in the South centered on the significance of the Highlander Folk School, alumni of which includes Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr., Harry Belafonte and film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum.