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Hot Docs: The Best New Documentaries of the Past Year
By Tench Phillips

(Reprinted with the permission of

As co-owner and operator of the Naro Cinema, I've ben told over the years by devoted patrons that I have the best job ever. I have not always agreed with that observation over the last 32 years, but in the process of writing this article, I realize the unique opportunity that a venue for independent media provides as an alternative to the stories told from inside the corporate mind set that now dominates our culture.

This past year has seen a treasure of non-fiction films that have played in movie theaters across the country. Even in this age of advanced media where we're awash in visual images, these compelling stories drew audiences to specialized art screens in big cities. Most of these films premiered locally at Norfolk's Naro Cinema. Many of these films were presented in the fall's Green Screen Ecological Film Festival or the annual Festival for Peace and included guest speakers and after-film discussion. The people who attend these film events are able to meet up with others of like interest. Frequently this results in new relationships and the formation of local movements that just can't be generated through the web's social networking alone.

I've listed the best of the docs and divided them into four categories.

Arts and Entertainment

Beautiful Losers The innovative young street artists, designers, and skateboarders of the 1990s.
Harvard Beats Yale, 29-29 The legendary 1968 college football game is revisited: much more than just a sports movie.
Valentino He not only created a fashion empire but also the modern cult of celebritydom.
Anvil Even if you hate heavy metal music, you'll fall for these lovingly dedicated misfits.
Throw Down Your Heart Bela Fleck travels to Africa to build relationships and discover the roots of the banjo.
Yoo Hoo Mrs Goldberg Comic actress Gertrude Berg was the creator of early television's first sitcom in the late 1940s.
In Search of Beethoven The world's best conductors and musicians speak about the power of this musical genius and his compositions. This Is It: Michael Jackson The monster that the media and court case portrayed is revealed to be more talented, kind, sympathetic, and in control than many of us were prepared for.

Environmental Justice

Food Inc The unstoppable poisoning of our planet by giant agribusiness is documented in a movie that's a wake-up call for all of us. This little film was a huge boxoffice success.
The Cove The annual round-up and mass execution of dolphins in Japan is presented as a thriller.
Coal Country The ravages of mountain top coal removal in Appalachia is evident not only in the landscape but within the psyches of the poor communities who are waging a battle.
No Impact Man Colin and his young family struggle through a year of living off-grid in NYC.
The End of the Line Industrial fishing practices are driving oceanic life to extinction by mid century if the world's governments aren't willing and able to enforce international fishing bans.
Crude This real life Avatar story depicts the plunder of the Ecuadorian Amazon by Chevron/Texaco and the legacy of pollution left behind that now sickens the native peoples.

Social Justice

Profit Driven Medicine This expose of big corporate technology reveals a multi-headed monster that will soon engulf and bankrupt America -- leaving us only marginally healthier.
Capitalism: A Love Story In this culmination of his earlier work, Michael Moore has brought light to all areas of corporate activity and how it is consuming our planet.
The Good Soldier Three brave veterans who each fought in separate wars bear their souls in retelling their stories of combat.
William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe This frank portrayal of America's most famous civil rights lawyer was directed by his filmmaker daughters.
9500 Liberty Prince William County, Virginia becomes ground zero in the explosive war over immigration policy.
The Yes Men Fix the World Posing as corporate experts, these merry pranksters infiltrate conferences and stage events to gain media attention about corrupt business practices.
Young Freud in Gaza A young psychotherapist for the Palestinian Authority struggles in Gaza to provide for his patients traumatized by war and perpetual injustice.
Stop the Bombs The U.S. maintains over 9000 nuclear warheads and sabotages any attempts at international disarmament diplomacy.


Unmistaken Child The search for the reincarnated child of a deceased Buddhist monk in Tibet is a fascinating immersion into another world.
Enlighten Up Yoga has become big business, but can it transform the life of a young American male living in NYC in 6 months time?
For the Next 7 Generations The Council of 13 Indigenous Grandmothers is composed of native healers from tribal communities all over the world brought together for political action and to hold sacred ceremony for the planet.

Many of these films are now available for rental at Naro Video, or you may have to seek them out in order to see them. Since many of the important messages of these films are critical of corporate America, they will remain unseen on all those hundreds of media channels compromised by corporate advertising. I believe that the exclusion of these viewpoints within our public conversation results in an ill-informed citizenry and a society where we are fast losing our most cherished values of democracy, peace, and justice.

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