Community Media is Alive and Well at Your Local Art Cinema and Video Store
(Published in Veer Magazine)
By Tench Phillips, co-owner Naro Cinema
Each of the last few years I have compiled an annual list of the year's best films and divided them into fiction and non-fiction categories. Since "best of the year" lists are so abundant, my own focus is on non-fiction documentaries that don't receive as much media attention.
Most movie documentaries are passed over by the big theater chains in our local market since they don't generate big boxoffice. But the best of these films take on important and complex issues that are too often neglected by mass media. These deserving films receive a local booking in the Naro "New Non-Fiction Film" series on Wednesday nights. This ongoing series includes a post-film audience discussion led by informed facilitators and speakers. These public forums allow for lively conversation that brings the vital national and world issues that are addressed by these films back to the interests of our own community.
Following their initial theatrical engagements, these features are for the most part ignored by all those hundreds of commercial broadcast networks. The films are deemed either too biased, too serious, or too agenda driven to fit into the programming of commercial broadcast media. But fortunately for those cineastes and community activists who have missed these films on the big screen, they do subsequently show up on the shelves at Naro Video.
Below is a list of the best non-fiction films of the year arranged into three broad categories and listed in no particular order of preference.
Best Non-Fiction Films of 2011
Entertainment and the Arts
BILL CUNNINGHAM For decades, this Schwinn-riding cultural photographer has been obsessively and inventively chronicling fashion trends and high society charity soirées for the New York Times Style section.
SENNA Brazilian Formula One racing legend Ayrton Senna's remarkable story, charting his physical and spiritual achievements on the track and off, his quest for perfection, and the mythical status he has since attained.
HARDCORE NORFOLK Norfolk and its surrounding cities have been a big player in the underground rock 'n' roll scene since the mid-50's - including Gary U.S. Bonds, Gene Vincent, Frontline, The M-80's, Buttsteak and The Candy Snatchers. Directed by Norfolk filmmaker Paul Unger.
MIGHTY UKE travels the world to explore why so many people of different nations, cultures, ages and musical tastes are turning to the ukulele to express themselves, connect with the past, and with each other.
TABLOID Errol Morris' documentary follows the salacious adventures of this beauty queen with an IQ of 168 whose single-minded devotion to the man of her dreams leads her across the globe, into jail, and onto the front page of British tabloid sheets.
BEATS, RHYMES, AND LIFE A Tribe Called Quest has been one of the most commercially successful and artistically significant musical groups in recent history, and they are regarded as iconic pioneers of hip hop.
MAGIC TRIP Recently found footage of Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters documents their legendary LSD-fuelled cross-country road trip in the psychedelic Magic Bus named "Further" during the mid sixties.
HEY BOO: HARPER LEE AND TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD This moving film unravels some of the mysteries surrounding Harper Lee, including why she never published again.
CAVE OF FORGOTTEN DREAMS Chauvet Cave in France is home to the most ancient visual art known to have been created by man, and Werner Herzog has beautifully documented the extraordinary artwork.
LAST TRAIN HOME Every spring, China's cities are plunged into chaos as 130 million migrant workers journey from their factory jobs in the cities to their home villages for the New Year's holiday.
WASTELAND Renowned artist Vik Muniz journeys from his home base in Brooklyn to his native Brazil and the world's largest garbage dump on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro to create a monumental art project that employs the people living at the dump
ECONOMICS OF HAPPINESS The world is moving simultaneously in two opposing directions. On the one hand, an unholy alliance of governments and big business continues to consolidate corporate power. At the same time, people all over the world are demanding a re-regulation of trade and finance-and starting to re-build more human scale, ecological economies based on a new paradigm—an economics of localization.
CHASING MADOFF Harry Markopolos and his team of investigators' ten-year struggle to expose the harrowing truth behind the infamous Bernie Madoff’s massive ponzi scheme.
THE UNRETURNED The overlooked legacy of the U.S. invasion of Iraq is the tragic displacement of almost five million Iraqis who had to flee their homes.
PHIL OCHS: THERE BUT FOR FORTUNE Sixties folk music singer/songwriter Phil Ochs sought both the bright lights of fame and social justice in equal measure—a contradiction that eventually tore him apart.
LIVING FOR 32 Colin Goddard, a survivor of the tragic massacre on the Virginia Tech campus in 2007, redirects his physical and emotional pain into activism for gun control on Capital Hill.
PAGE ONE: THE NEW YORK TIMES With the Internet surpassing print as our main news source and newspapers all over the country going bankrupt, Page One chronicles key editorial decisions made by the Times over the last two years.
WE WERE HERE illuminates the profound personal and communal issues raised by the AIDS epidemic in the early 1980s as well as the broad political and social upheavals it unleashed
HELL AND BACK AGAIN When Sergeant Harris returns home to North Carolina after a life-threatening injury in battle, the film evolves from stunning war reportage to the story of one man's personal apocalypse.
MY REINCARNATION is a twenty year film odyssey of Tibetan Buddhist Master, Chögyal Namkhai Norbu and his rise to greatness as a Buddhist teacher in the West, while his western-born son, Yeshi, recognized at birth as the reincarnation of a famous spiritual master, breaks away from his father's tradition to embrace the modern world.
THE VANISHING OF THE BEES Honeybees have been disappearing across the planet, literally vanishing from their hives. Known as Colony Collapse Disorder, this phenomenon has brought beekeepers to crisis in an industry responsible for the pollination of 40% of our agriculture.
DIRTY BUSINESS investigates the well funded propaganda campaign by industry and government to convince the public to support the building of coal-fired electric plants like the proposed ODEC power plant in Surry County.
THE LAST LIONS Lions are also vanishing from the wild. In the last 50 years, lion populations have plummeted from 450,000 to as few as 20,000. The husband and wife filmmakers weave their dramatic storytelling and breathtaking, up-close footage of the sentient beings that still inhabit Botswana's Okavango Delta.
QUEEN OF THE SUN What are the Bees Telling Us? Nature's pollinators are disappearing in mass numbers from their hives – an early warning sign ignored at our own peril. Mankind must heal our desecration of nature and reconnect with ancient wisdom.
FORKS OVER KNIVES The premise of the film is backed up by medical evidence - degenerative diseases that afflict us can be controlled, or even reversed, by rejecting our present menu of animal-based and processed foods and by adopting a whole-foods, plant-based diet.
BUCK Buck Brannaman is a true American cowboy and sage on horseback who travels the country for nine grueling months a year helping horses with people problems.
IF A TREE FALLS The Earth Liberation Front (ELF)—an organization the FBI has called America's "number one domestic terrorism threat." The film asks hard questions about environmentalism, activism, and the way we define terrorism.
PROJECT NIM The chimpanzee named Nim became the focus of a landmark experiment that aimed to show that an ape could learn to communicate with language if raised and nurtured like a human child.
THE LAST MOUNTAIN A battle is being fought over mountaintop coal removal. It is a life and death struggle to protect our health and environment from the destructive power of Big Coal.
FARMAGEDDON The U.S. government protects the powerful interests of agribusiness and factory farms at the expense of small family-operated farms. The film encourages action to preserve access to safe locally grown produce, along with humanely raised animal products, and dairy.
ONE LUCKY ELEPHANT Circus producer David Balding realizes that Flora, the orphaned African elephant he adopted and then made the star of his show, is tired of performing. What unfolds is a nine-year odyssey to find Flora a good home.
REVENGE OF THE ELECTRIC CAR Director Chris Paine (Who Killed the Electric Car?) takes his film crew behind the closed doors of Nissan, GM, and Silicon Valley start-up Tesla Motors to chronicle the story of the global resurgence in electric cars.
Best Fictional Films of 2011
(Films that played at the Naro Cinema)
MY DOG TULIP
OF GODS AND MEN
EVEN THE RAIN
TREE OF LIFE
MIDNITE IN PARIS
THE DOUBLE HOUR
THE NAMES OF LOVE
MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE
THE SKIN I LIVE IN
THE MILL AND THE CROSS