Saturday, August 13, 2011

Ten Documentaries To See Before You Die...

When I watch a documentary, I am looking to be entertained as well as enlightened. A good documentary should draw the viewer in and broaden your horizons, engage you, and challenge you. I want the documentary to confront my thinking and help me become a more understanding, thoughtful person. I mean, how can you watch a documentary series like Ken Burns' "The War" or "WWII in HD"and not be a more grateful, thankful American for the sacrifice many young men made on our behalf? We live in such comfort and ease while those before us fought our battles and in many cases lost their lives, never to experience the joys of marriage or family, or growing old.

I have assembled ten documentaries which you MUST see before you die. I try to make a case for why you should go to the trouble of seeing each of these films which will make you cry, laugh, smile, and maybe even angry. Here they are...and you can find them at Netflix, iTunes, as well as at your public library.

The Long Way Round

A sort of Motorcycle Diaries for the Hollywood set, this documentary miniseries chronicles the cross-continental adventures of actors Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman as they set out on their BMW bikes to travel round the world. Embarking from London and arriving 115 exhausting days later in New York, the duo tackles 20,000 miles of tough terrain, explores offbeat destinations and takes in colorful local culture. They traveled through Western and Central Europe, Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Siberia, Canada and through the U.S. for a cumulative distance of 18,887 miles.

You don't need to own or ride a motorcycle to enjoy this documentary. This is a film about discovering the world we live in and how wonderful and special people are whether in Europe or in the barren wasteland of Outer Mongolia. Ewan McGregor is very personable, engaging and funny. He invites you to join him on this amazing journey which you get to enjoy vicariously at his expense. Warning: If you are bothered by the use of the four-letter word "F_ _ _", then don't watch this film. The language used in this film is what one would typically hear at work or in the military.

The Long Way Down

Together again, Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman make another outrageous excursion in this Fox Reality Channel follow-up to the actors' first trip, which was documented in the series "Long Way Round." Kicking off their travels in the Scottish village of John o' Groats, the pair eventually make their way to Cape Town, South Africa, journeying through Europe and Africa to reach their final destination.

Once again, Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman team up for the trip of a lifetime from Scotland down through Europe and down to Capetown, Africa, and they take us along for the ride. Loved this documentary and you will too!

The Trials of Ted Haggard

In this telling documentary directed by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's daughter, Alexandra, former evangelical preacher Ted Haggard discusses his fall from grace in a highly publicized 2006 scandal involving crystal meth and a male prostitute. Among other things, the film reveals that Haggard remains committed to his wife and children despite a "personal struggle" with homosexuality he's long kept secret -- until now.

So you're saying right about now, Dale, are you crazy? Why would I want to see a film about a fallen preacher who disgraced his church as well as himself and his family? He's a hypocrite. Yes, he is. In fact, I had the opportunity to attend his church and hear him preach about 3 years before his downfall, and I came away with the impression that this man was self-absorbed and self-righteous. But this documentary reveals a broken man who has more compassion and empathy for people than he ever had before. God delights in bringing us to the end of ourselves so that He can redeem us for his glory and honor and that's what He has done with Ted Haggard. I would trust Ted Haggard more now as a pastor and minister of the Gospel more than some of the preachers that we have in the pulpit today. This film also reveals his wife as the bedrock of their family. She has chosen to stick with Ted and has suffered greatly because of it, but she has sought to remain true to her marriage vows. She is the "hero" in this story. She is the example of a godly woman who is trusting Jesus and His will for her life & family in spite of pain and trials.

Sebastian Junger, author of The Perfect Storm, teamed with photographer Tim Hetherington, spent a year embedded with the Second Platoon in Afghanistan, chronicling the hard work, fear, and brotherhood that come with repelling a deadly enemy. Hunkered down with the soldiers in one of the region's most strategic valleys, the filmmakers uncover the dark humor, sleepless surreality and constant anxiety of war in this Oscar-nominated documentary.

Photographer Tim Hetherington was killed this summer during the early days of the Arab uprising in Egypt. This powerful documentary gives insight into our war in Afghanistan and our future effort to win an ill-defined victory at the expense of our military. These young men in this documentary are real heroes and they are real leaders, doing a dirty, thankless job without any complaints.


Documentarians Justine Shapiro and B.Z. Goldberg traveled to Israel to interview Palestinian and Israeli kids ages 11 to 13, assembling their views on living in a society afflicted with violence, separatism and religious and political extremism. This 2002 Oscar nominee for Best Feature Documentary culminates in an astonishing day in which two Israeli children meet Palestinian youngsters at a refugee camp.

I love this documentary which gives some insight into the Palestinian mindset in E. Jerusalem. If you love Israel, this film is for you. It shows "enemies" coming together for one day to play and eat together and in some cases, having their hard hearts softened. See this film!!

Mad Hot Ballroom

Ballroom dancing goes from lame to cool for a group of New York City students in this insightful documentary, which follows a group of 11-year-olds as they learn to dance old-school styles including the merengue, rumba, tango, foxtrot and swing. Candid interviews capture the kids' initial reluctance at learning ballroom dance and their transformation into serious competitors determined to win a citywide competition. 

This documentary reveals how the arts can transform rebellious students and give them self-respect and discipline. Even if you can't dance, this is a feel-good film about success among public school students in the inner-city, a rare occurrence, but one to celebrate!.

WWII in HD (10 DVDs)
The History Channel presents this epic documentary that chronicles the deeply personal stories of soldiers, sailors, journalists, nurses and others who served in the front lines of the European and Pacific theaters of World War II. Weaving hours of rare, pristinely restored color footage with diaries, interviews and other first-hand accounts, this series recounts the global sweep of the war as experienced by those who were there.

Powerful series filmed in color in the midst of conflict. At times, it has such a contemporary look that you feel you're watching young men in battle in Vietnam or Iraq. This film will stir your patriotism, and also keep you from having a pity party. No matter how bad things are going in your life right now, it's NOTHING compared to what young men have had to endure on islands like Corregidor, Iwo Jima, Midway, Guadalcanal, Battle of the Bulge, Bastogne, etc.

The War (Ken Burns)

Documentarians Ken Burns and Lynn Novick bring the harrowing history of World War II to life through the personal accounts of a handful of participants from four "typical" American towns -- proving nothing was typical during this terrible time. Historical footage and photographs combine with realistic sound effects to create visceral scenes of the battles at Omaha Beach, Guadalcanal, Okinawa and more in this seven-part PBS presentation.

The Eyes of Tammy Faye

Tammy Faye Bakker's journey from traveling evangelist to weepy, scandal-scarred cult icon is chronicled in this tongue-in-cheek documentary from Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato that's narrated by RuPaul. The film was nominated for a Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival and details Jimmy Bakker's infamous affair -- which, in essence, ended the PTL Ministry -- as well as Tammy's emergence as a hero to alternative-lifestyle communities.

I witnessed, firsthand, PTL's rise from a furniture store studio in Charlotte to the massive Heritage Village. I also saw the lives of people in Burlington, Vermont and elsewhere who came to Jesus and heard the gospel for the first time thanks to PTL. For many Catholics in New England, PTL was the only place where they could receive affirmation , encouragement, teaching and strength after being filled with the Holy Spirit.

Jim and Tammy were not charlatans out to rob people. They may have been misguided but they were never deceitful crooks. This documentary reveals the 'heart" of PTL and the love that Jim and Tammy Bakker had for people. More insight can be gained from reading Jim Bakker's autobiography, "I Was Wrong." It's a powerful and poignant read. There's no excusing the fact that they did some wrong-headed, misguided things which God did NOT tell them to do. Sinners, yes. Fallen from God's grace and mercy? No.

The Civil War (Ken Burns)

This documentary masterpiece from Ken Burns depicts the strategies and action of famous Civil War battles, and relates the stories of generals, field soldiers, politicians, heroes and a beleaguered president. The Emmy-winning miniseries begins by looking at the factors that led to the firing on Fort Sumter, and covers specific notable battles, climaxing with Gen. Robert E. Lee's surrender and Pres. Abraham Lincoln's assassination.

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