I figured since I started talking about documentary television a few entries back, that I would list a few documentary films off the top-of-my-head that I've enjoyed at one time or another.
I Am a Promise: The Children Of Stanton Elementary School (1993) -- A heartwrenching examination of an inner-city elementary school in North Philadelphia riddled with poverty, problems of drug addiction and various other troubles.
Come on Children (Directed by Allan King, Canada, 1973) -- It's Canadian, filmed in the year of my birth, the pregnant girl reminds me of how I imagine my own mother during her pregnancy with me, the guy from Rush is in it... This documentary is like a distant precursor to "The Real World: Episode 1" (before they had the formula down). Ten teens and young adults from the big city are housed on a farm in the country for 3 months (?) while the cameras watch their every move. As you can imagine there's tons of pot smoking and folk music jams. I just love this film and have watched it many times. My favourite part is when the former speed head kid plays 'Mr. Bojangles'. Another great scene is when the parents come for a visit. As soon as they're out the door the pot head girl can't wait to get high. Come to think of it my new hair (which is already growing in) is frightneningly similar to hers.
Stevie (Directed by Steve James 1993) -- Directed by the same man who made another documentary jem, 'Hoop Dreams', this film is a disturbing and bleak but also compassionate look at the life of a troubled boy who has grown into an exceedingly troubled man. While I found the subject matter difficult to watch, I applauded the real attempt to examine the notion that people who do bad things weren't born that way.
Hell House -- I was brought up with fundamentalist and evangelical christianity (It didn't take, been an athiest ever-since, yet I can still recite verse after verse from memory.) and as a result have an enduring fascination with any sort of portrait of religious extremity. "Hell House" follows the rather 'unique' version of a haunted house put on annually by the congregation of Trinity Church, Texas. Their attempt at 'Soul Winning' is so fucked up, violent and extreme I've been unable to sit through the actual tour through the haunted house but have watched the rest of the film several times.
The Devil's Playground (Directed by Lucy Walker) -- This film follows several Amish teens as they enter the rite-of-passage known as Rumspringa. This period of their lives starts at age 16 and continues until they either decide to join the church or leave. I found what transpired when these kids were given free reign to go nuts really fascinating. While it would seem that they had a great deal of choice, it seemed to me that when the choice is be free but lose everything you know AND face the possibility of hell, or go back and join the church, there is no choice at all.
Procedure 769: Witness to an Execution (Directed by Jaap van Howijk, 1995) -- Documents the vastly different accounts of 11 people who were witness to the 1992 execution (by gas) of Robert Alton Harris. It was astonishing how each witnesses experience of the situation differed. For some people every moment and every detail hung suspended in slow motion, and others were very limited and quick in their recall.
Standing in the Shadows of Motown -- Terrific film but I truly wish they had thought to have someone (anyone!) other than Chaka Khan perform Marvin Gaye's "What's Goin' On". That was so very, very wrong.
Grey Gardens (1976) -- To say these women are eccentric is an understatement. A testament to what I can imagine my mother and her mother could have become had they been left alone together for 30 years... and were white, upper class former debutantes living in the Hamptons.