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Movies That Could Change The World: The Best Non-Fiction Films of 2014
by Tench Phillips, co-owner Naro Cinema

Since the annual rankings of the “best films of the year” lists are now so prolific, my own focus has been on non-fiction documentaries that don’t receive nearly as much media attention. Below is a list of some of the deserving films that received a local booking at the Naro Cinema over this past year. Most of these films premiered in our “New Non-Fiction Film” series on Wednesday nights that include a post-film audience discussion led by informed facilitators and speakers. These public forums allow for lively conversation and bring vital national and world issues back to our own community.

This year we heard from David Swanson who came down from Charlottesville on two separate occasions to give clarity about U.S. transgressions and military adventures around the world. David is a prolific author, activist, and the founder of World Beyond War. We also hosted national peace activist Kathy Kelly, founder of Chicago-based Voices for Creative Nonviolence, who had just returned from another of her many visits to Afghanistan. Another noted guest speaker was filmmaker Steve James who had just returned to his hometown of Hampton and came to the Naro to present his moving film Life Itself, a homage to the late Roger Ebert.

My film choices are grouped into four separate categories and are listed in no order of preference. Those filmgoers who missed these films on the big screen have a second chance to view them on DVD when they show up next door on the shelves of Naro Video. These important films could enlighten our society. If only they could reach a wider audience.

Arts and Science

KEEP ON KEEPIN' ON Academy Award Nominee: Shortlist for Best Documentary. At 93 years of age, Clark Terry is a living monument to the golden era of jazz. He was a mentor to such greats as Miles Davis and Quincy Jones. Filmmaker Al Hicks highlights Clark’s friendship with the gifted Justin Kauflin, a blind, 25-year-old piano prodigy who lives in Virginia Beach and who attended Salem High School and the Governor’s School for the Arts. Not long after Kauflin is invited to compete in an elite jazz competition, Terry's health takes a turn for the worse. As the clock ticks, we see two friends confront the toughest challenges of their lives. Shows Sat and Sun matinees, Dec 20 & 21 with Justin Kauflin in attendance to introduce his film.

ART AND CRAFT Academy Award Nominee: Shortlist for Best Documentary. Mark Landis is one of history’s most prolific art forgers. His impressive body of work spans thirty years, covering a wide range of painting styles that includes 15th Century icons, Picasso and even Walt Disney. And while the copies could fetch impressive sums on the open market, Landis isn't in it for money. Posing as a philanthropic donor, Landis has given away hundreds of works over the years to unsuspecting museums across the United States. Art and Craft is a wild cat-and-mouse art caper that’s rooted in questions of authorship and authenticity. Shows Wednesday, Jan 14.

ALIVE INSIDE Patients with Alzheimer’s and dementia experience profound healing through music therapy. These case studies are well documented; so why is there so little institutional effort to implement these cost-effective life-enhancing techniques to patients in nursing and retirement homes?

LIFE ITSELF Over the years, Roger Ebert became the critical voice of the movie industry. Along with his partner-in-crime Gene Siskel, their reviews could make or break the films that played here at the Naro. In later life he became a cancer patient and a voice on the internet when he could no longer speak. Filmmaker Steve James (Hoop Dreams) is from Hampton.

THE PLEASURES OF BEING OUT OF STEP Nat Hentoff’s long-running Village Voice column covering culture, jazz, and politics influenced countless journalists who have written for the alternative press – including some current Veer columnists.

FINDING VIVIAN MAIER Now considered one of the 20th century's greatest street photographers, Vivian Maier was a loner who worked as a nanny most of her life, and shot over 100,000 photos that went unseen during her lifetime. Her life is a great puzzle and this compelling film pieces it all back together.

PARTICLE FEVER The Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland is the most expensive experiment in the history of the planet. Scientists from around the world seek to unravel the mysteries of the universe and find the Higgs boson, “the god particle” potentially explaining the origin of all matter.

Environmental Justice

COWSPIRACY Half of all human caused greenhouse gas emissions are generated by the cattle industry, animal agriculture, and the crops that are grown to feed the billions of livestock. In addition, factory farming is the primary driver of biosphere degradation and species extinction. And yet the major environmental and climate change groups primarily organize against the fossil fuel industry and coal-fired electrical power plants. The film makes a convincing case that if we were only able to change our diets and cut-back on our huge ingestion of animal products, the climate crises could be diverted.

EXPEDITION TO THE END OF THE WORLD An ocean schooner with an international crew of artists, scientists and ambitions worthy of Columbus, sets sail for the end of the world – the rapidly melting massifs of uncharted North-East Greenland. Global warming and impending species extinction creates a running dialogue about the meaning of life.


AWAKE: THE LIFE OF YOGANANDA The spiritual classic Autobiography of a Yogi has sold millions of copies worldwide and is a favorite book for seekers, philosophers and yoga enthusiasts everywhere.

WHEN THE IRONBIRD FLIES The film title is an ancient Tibetan prophesy that is now manifesting - "When the iron flies and horses run on wheels, the Tibetan people will be scattered like ants across the face of the earth." Tibetan Buddhist teachers only arrived in the western world fifty years ago but their cultural influence has been profound.

WALKING THE CAMINO: SIX WAYS TO  SANTIAGO For centuries pilgrims have crossed the entire country of Spain on foot in a spiritual quest for their true authentic self. This beautiful film follows a few of these modern-day vision seekers.

Social Justice

CITIZENFOUR Academy Award Nominee: Shortlist for Best Documentary. Filmmaker Laura Poitras and reporter Glenn Greenwald broke the biggest story by a whistleblower in decades when they interviewed Edward Snowden in Hong Kong. This real-life thriller unfolds minute by minute before your eyes.

LAST DAYS IN VIETNAM Audiences were deeply divided by filmmaker Rory Kennedy’s (the youngest daughter of Robert) emotional film that covered the fall of Vietnam and the U.S. betrayal of the South Vietnamese who were left behind when Americans were evacuated from the embassy in Saigon. The film’s lack of historical context about the government’s lies that had brought U.S. troops there in the first place, made for ethical omissions too damning to overlook. Next stop for the film – PBS’ American Experience.

GORE VIDAL: THE UNITED STATES OF AMNESIA No twentieth-century figure has had a more profound effect on the worlds of literature, film, politics, historical debate and the culture wars than Gore Vidal. Raised among the political elite of Washington, DC, he later turned on the establishment and raged against the empire for his entire career. This is his last word and testament.

THE KILL TEAM Filmmaker Dan Krauss investigates the ongoing story first revealed in a Rolling Stone expose titled “How U.S. Soldiers in Afghanistan Murdered Innocent Civilians”. The devastating impact of military indoctrination and institutionalized violence on the moral frailty of young men has never been better illustrated.

CODE BLACK Filmmaker and resident physician Ryan McGarry transports us to the front lines of America’s busiest emergency room, Los Angeles County Hospital’s legendary trauma unit. The dedicated staff provide the only safety net available for most of the poor and the uninsured in L.A. county.

IVORY TOWER As tuition rates spiral beyond reach and student loan debt passes $1 trillion, this popular new documentary asks: Is college worth the cost? How did colleges embrace a corporate business model that promotes expansion over quality learning.

THE INTERNETS BOY Aaron Swartz was a young programming prodigy who later became one of the country’s leading information activist. His groundbreaking work in media democracy and a free internet ensnared him in a legal nightmare with the Feds. It was a battle that ended with the taking of his own life at the age of 26.

THE GHOSTS IN OUR MACHINE Are non-human animals property to be owned and used, or are they sentient beings deserving of rights? This heartbreaking film investigates the use and abuse of billions of animals by the global fashion and food industries.

FED UP Diabetes and obesity are one of the largest health epidemics in history and the next generation of American children will now live shorter lives than their parents did. This high profile documentary reveals a 30-year campaign by giant corporations, aided by the U.S. government, to mislead and confuse the American public.

GOOGLE AND THE WORLD BRAIN In 2002 Google began to scan millions of books in an effort to create a giant global library that they controlled. The only problem was that Google did it without asking. The legal fallout since then has been non-stop but the tech giant keeps on winning in court.

THE UNKNOWN KNOWN Academy Award winning director Errol Morris (The Fog of War) offers a portrait of Donald Rumsfeld, one of the key architects of the Iraq War. This interview reveals his intelligence, hubris, ideology, and pathology in all its larger-than-life horribleness.

CITIZEN KOCH Originally funded through PBS station WNET, the board pulled the plug on completion funds for the film due to pressure from billionaire David Koch. The filmmakers later turned to crowdsourcing for funding. It follows the influence of the corporate-backed tea party on the recall campaign of Wisconsin governor Scott Walker. The obstacles encountered in the making of this film exemplify the corrupting influence that private wealth can have on the public good.

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