Category Archives: Documentary

13th (2016) Review

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13th

Time: 100 Minutes
Director: Ava DuVernay

Filmmaker Ava DuVernay explores the history of racial inequality in the United States, focusing on the fact that the nation’s prisons are disproportionately filled with African-Americans.

Full movie here:

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I don’t really do reviews of documentaries, nor do I watch many of them, the last one I can think of was Won’t You Be My Neighbor some years ago. However I was compelled to watch 13th with current events, with the recent protests sparked by the murder of George Floyd by 4 police officers. In this time, multiple movies and documentaries about racism have been recommended for people to watch, one of those was Ava DuVernay’s 13th. Netflix (who distributed the documentary) even posted the whole movie on YouTube for free. Now I heard of the movie but for whatever reason I hadn’t looked into it until now. I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to watch it. 13th is greatly made, it still remains relevant to this day and sadly I don’t see it ever not being relevant.

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Reviewing documentaries is hard because you are a lot of the time talking about the content of the documentary and it’s hard to separate from that the quality of how it’s made. Not that I don’t want to talk about the topic of the film, I just don’t want this review to be a brief summary of what the documentary is. I can however talk about some of the things that it talks about, there’s a lot more to it than what I say here. Essentially, while America abolished slavery, that was just replaced with systems of racial control and forced labour. The movie’s title of 13th refers to the 13th amendment to the American constitution, which abolished slavery in the United States and ended involuntary servitude “except as a punishment for conviction of a crime”. That last detail at the end was the massive catch, almost immediately slavery was substituted with criminality, and legislation like Jim Crow supressed minorities. Along with talking about the civil rights era, the documentary also talks about a lot of the actions by the government which made it worse for African Americans, mainly focussing on the Nixon Era, Reagan era, Bush Sr. era, and the Clinton era, and the policies that shaped the way things moved, including the war on crime/drugs from Nixon and Reagan, and the Crime Bill by Clinton. One thing I will say is that I do wonder why it doesn’t really cover the W. Bush and Obama eras, especially as they spent a good amount of time covering each of the previous Presidents’ eras, and it felt a little out of place when they didn’t go into those, not even touching on them. We know for certain that they didn’t really get better under them, so it’s weird that they didn’t even address that 16 year period. Another important aspect was how money played a huge role in prisons, specifically keeping African Americans in there for profit. With the mix of politicians and corporations now mixed in the political system, it makes actual change virtually impossible even inside that government. As for the storytelling of the movie, it was handled very well. It’s riveting from beginning to end, and it’s pretty accessible to everyone I’d say. Even at the length of an hour and 40 minutes, it gets a lot of information across. It’s especially chilling watching much of what’s in the film, especially knowing that this was made back in 2016. Not only because it’s horrific and depressing seeing that these events and periods happening in the first place, but there are also certain moments shown which reflects moments from the past couple of weeks, reminding all of us that really nothing has changed.

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Ava DuVernay is a good director, she’s shown that with Selma, and her work on 13th is also great. Generally it plays as most documentaries (or at least how I’d expect them to), there aren’t any criticisms I have on the filmmaking. On top of the interviews specifically being made for this documentary with the likes of Angela Davis, Bryan Stevenson, Van Jones, Newt Gingrich, Cory Booker and others, there’s also clips from news footage and the like, and it’s all edited together well. The most interesting stylistic choice was the transitions in sections/eras, especially with the use of rap music to illustrate the themes throughout the documentary.

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13th is a damning, harrowing, articulate and extensive documentary, incredibly well made, and is going to remain relevant for a very long time. It’s difficult to watch for sure, but it absolutely is essential and mandatory viewing. As I said, the movie is on YouTube right now, so you have no excuse not to watch it.

https://blacklivesmatters.carrd.co/#

Won’t You Be My Neighbour? (2018) Review

Time: 94 Minutes
Appearances:
Fred Rogers
Joanne Rogers (Fred’s widow)
John Rogers (Fred’s son)
Jim Rogers (Fred’s son)
Elaine Rogers (Fred’s sister)
François Scarborough Clemmons
Tom Junod
Director: Morgan Neville

An exploration of the life, lessons, and legacy of iconic children’s television host, Fred Rogers.

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I had heard about Fred Rogers but didn’t know much about him outside of what he basically was, which was a children’s television host. I’ve also been hearing about Won’t You Be My Neighbor? for a while, the thing standing out was that it was a documentary about Rogers. Outside of recognising the name, I wouldn’t normally be interested in it but seeing a bunch of people giving it acclaim, I decided to check it out. Having seen it, I can definitely that everyone should check it out whenever you can.

I have reviewed movies, I have even reviewed seasons of television, but this is the first time I’m reviewing a documentary. So I should probably preface this by saying that I have no idea how to review a documentary, whether it be structure or what aspects to talk about. I’ll try to cover what the documentary is about and go into some detail but I won’t dive into too much about what happens because it’s all there in the movie. Fred Rogers was a unique presence on television and had a massive impact on many people, especially children. Not many people know this, but Rogers was actually an ordained minister, and felt that he could use television to reach and teach children, and he did. Now while there were plenty of television shows for children at the time, none of them really delved into important (and at times heavy and difficult) subjects in such a meaningful way like his show MisteRogers’ Neighborhood. While there were a range of subjects covered, it also included assassination, divorce, death, all of that was covered in a children’s show, which is very difficult to imagine, but Rogers pulled it off incredibly well. Fred Rogers also didn’t talk down to the children in any way, he took them seriously and connected with them on a deep and emotional level and they learned important life lessons.

This documentary covers his life, his impact, and tried to get an insight into Fred Rogers as a person. It was all very interesting to watch from start to finish, and I think that’s even the case for people who watched it not knowing much about Rogers prior. Though it doesn’t feel like this entire documentary was made to just show how good he is, even though it’s taking a very favourable view on him. This isn’t the unmasking of Fred Rogers where it reveals some deep dark secrets about him either, however it does touch upon some of his worries and anxieties that some not everyone knows about. Having watched this documentary, if this was truly featured the worst that Fred Rogers was, then he is one impressive person.

Won’t You Be My Neighbour? was well put together by director Morgan Neville. The documentary is made up of footage from tv, the shows that Fred were on, behind the scenes footage and recent interviews of his family and colleagues. Maybe the bits of animation weren’t really necessary but it was effective enough and worked for the movie, it didn’t take up a large portion of the movie anyway.

Won’t You Be My Neighbour? is a heartwarming and inspiring documentary on a very inspiring and impactful man. Really everyone should watch it, whether it be people who already know who Fred Rogers was or the people who’ve never heard of him. I think everyone will be able to get something out of this.