40 movies for 2017

**i began writing this in August and have continued to add movies I believe are important and relevant.

It’s hot. It’s summer. I’m uncomfortable.

But I have plenty of ways to physically cope with the heat.

In all the other ways, I’m ok. Mostly. I’m just constantly uncomfortable.

Uncomfortable because I love this place I live, I care, and I’ve realized how little I know, and have known in the realitive safety of my life, about my shared country.

So I’ve done what I do to try and understand why we are where we are. Why the temperature has been turned on high and is now boiling over with emotion and actions in every region, every social strata, across carefully constructed borders of race and religion and values in our United States.

If you want to understand and know America, past and now, and the heated situation our democracy is presently in, these movies and documentaries are part of your homework. They’ve schooled me.

None of these are particularly heartwarming nor feel-good, not in the regular sense. For a list of those, Go here.

Instead, these past months I’ve spent reading and watching and thinking and asking and talking about the previously unreadable, unwatchable, unthinkable, unaskable and the unspoken.

It was time I listened.

These are real people, real stories. They may provoke, may shock you, make you angry, make you feel helpless.  Defensive, sick, heartbroken, infuriated, indignant. Ashamed, exhausted. Maybe occasionally surprised or proud. Hopeful, if you’re lucky.

Mostly, I hope they make you see. See something more clearly, in a new way, maybe like my experience of waking up.

These documentaries and movies, altogether and on their own, tell a story of our nation. Of the people that make our nation.

Democracy only functions as long as all, not just a few, can and do participate in making sure the Constitution works for all. I don’t have the answers for how to make that happen. But I’ve been trying to listen hard, to the hard truths and realities of this place between shining seas.

These stories speak for themselves.

Get uncomfortable.

It’s time to listen.

I Am Not Your Negro -Writer James Baldwin tells the story of race in modern America with his unfinished novel, Remember This House.

Awake: A Dream From Standing Rock– The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota captures world attention through their peaceful resistance against the U.S. government’s plan to construct an oil pipeline through their land. It isn’t over.

13th – An in-depth look at the prison system in the United States and how it reveals the nation’s history of racial inequality.

Welcome To Leith – is a documentary chronicling the attempted takeover of a small town in North Dakota by notorious white supremacist Craig Cobb. And now we’ve seen a blatant rise of white supremacy publicly this summer.

American Jesus-American Jesus” is an exploration of Christianity in every faction of American Life, from the bread line to the yoga studio, from the humble churches of snake handlers to the mega churches of the ex-urbs. Christian cowboys, bikers and musicians, comedians, surfers and cage-fighters, they are all doing it for Christ. Aram Garriga travels from his native Barcelona to the politically divided United States to chronicle the sometimes bizarre relationship between faith, materialism, politics and personal passions in this uniquely American tableaux. Populated by an array of religious and secular characters offering candid, often illuminating testimonials, American Jesus is a vivid mosaic of personalities and conflicting points of view that emerges as a portrait of an America yearning for solace and meaning in the modern world. This was released in 2013 and I could not stop the fissure of fear I felt seeing the story of the rise of the religious right, and commentary about the consequences of, living in 2017.

Detropia-A documentary on the city of Detroit and its woes, which are emblematic of the collapse of US manufacturing base. Striking and frightening at turns. “There’s no buffer between the rich and the poor, only thing left is revolution.”

Generation Red Nation – Reckless government policies nearly destroyed Native American Peoples. Generation Red Nation gives a brutally honest view of life on Native People’s reservations, leaving the Reservation, and city life.

The Overnighters – Broken, desperate men chase their dreams and run from their demons in the North Dakota oil fields. A local Pastor risks everything to help them.

Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press – The trial between Hulk Hogan and Gawker Media pitted privacy rights against freedom of the press, and raised important questions about how big money can silence media. This film is an examination of the perils and duties of the free press in an age of inequality. This is about the fight for democracy, and it’s happening now.

City Of Trees – During the Great Recession, joblessness exceeds 20 percent east of the Anacostia River in Washington, DC. City of Trees follows the intimate stories of Charles, Michael and James, three long-term unemployed residents struggling to gain employment through ‘shovel ready’ green projects.

Denial – Acclaimed writer and historian Deborah E. Lipstadt must battle for historical truth to prove the Holocaust actually occurred when David Irving, a renowned denier, sues her for libel.

The Last Mountain – A coal mining corporation and a tiny community vie for the last great mountain in Appalachia in a battle for the future of energy that affects us all.

Southside With You – The film chronicles the summer 1989 afternoon when the future President of the United States, Barack Obama, wooed his future First Lady, Michelle Obama, on a first date across Chicago’s South Side.

Accidental Courtesy – Daryl Davis is an accomplished musician who has played around the world. He also has an unusual hobby, particularly for a middle aged black man. When not displaying his musical chops, Daryl likes to meet and befriend members of the Ku Klux Klan.

America Recycled – Two brothers ride recycled bicycles through the American South over two years, seeking radical locality amid rampant globalization. As they learn to survive on the road, several modern homesteading communities take them in, guiding them toward the west coast and turning their idea of the American Dream on its head.

The Conspirator – Mary Surratt is the lone female charged as a co-conspirator in the assassination trial of Abraham Lincoln. As the whole nation turns against her, she is forced to rely on her reluctant lawyer to uncover the truth and save her life.

How to survive a plague – The story of two coalitions — ACT UP and TAG (Treatment Action Group) — and the many people in them, whose long suffering activism and innovation slowly turned AIDS from a death sentence into a manageable condition.

American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Boggs – Grace Lee Boggs is an activist and philosopher in Detroit who has dedicated her life to the next American Revolution and the possibility of a better, more just future for all of humanity. At age 97, she has been building movements and developing strategies for social change for most of her life — reminding us that revolution is not only possible and necessary, but a process that must always be in motion.

Bridge of Spies – During the Cold War, an American lawyer is recruited to defend an arrested Soviet spy in court, and then help the CIA facilitate an exchange of the spy for the Soviet captured American U2 spy plane pilot, Francis Gary Powers.

Wrenched – Wrenched reveals how Edward Abbey’s anarchistic spirit and riotous novels influenced and helped guide the nascent environmental movement of the seventies and eighties; Abbey’s friends were the original ecowarriors. In defense of wilderness, these early activists pioneered monkey-wrenching, a radical blueprint for wrenching the system in favor of natural lands.

Citizen Koch – a documentary that follows the money, the history,  and the people and players behind the money of the GOP and the birth of Citizens United.

The Brainwashing of my dad – Jen Senko, a documentary filmmaker, looks at the rise of right-wing media through the lens of her WWII vet father who changed from a life-long, nonpolitical Democrat to an angry, right-wing fanatic after his discovery of talk radio on a long commute to work.

The Fifth Estate – WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and his colleague Daniel Domscheit-Berg work together to create a digital platform where whistle-blowers are able to qanonymously leak covert information. The movie asks the question: what are the costs of keeping or sharing secrets in a free society?

Jackson – With a single abortion clinic remaining in the state of Mississippi, the city of Jackson has become ground zero in the nation’s battle over reproductive health-care. Jackson is an intimate portrait of the interwoven lives of three women in this town. Wrought with the racial and religious undertones of the Deep South, the lives of two women are deeply affected by the director of the local pro-life crisis pregnancy center and the movement she represents.

Breach – In February, 2001, Robert Hanssen, a senior agent with 25 years in the FBI, is arrested for spying. Two months earlier, Eric O’Neill, a computer specialist who wants to be made an agent, is assigned to clerk for Hanssen and to write down everything Hanssen does. (Listen for the college Eric attended-Spokane ties.)

Gideon’s Army – Follows three young, committed Public Defenders who are dedicated to working for the people society would rather forget. Long hours, low pay and staggering caseloads are so common that even the most committed often give up.

Outrage – An indictment of closeted politicians who lobby for anti-gay legislation in the Congress. (PNW ties in here as well.) Even more hypocritical sounding now in 2017.

The Student Body – When a brave high school student takes a stand against state-mandated BMI tests of her peers, she finds herself in the middle of an exhausting journey and heated national controversy, sparking a battle of wills between herself and government officials.

Gleason – After he is diagnosed with ALS, former New Orleans Saints football player Steve Gleason begins making a video diary for his unborn son, as he, his wife, and their friends and family work to raise money for ALS patients as his disease progresses. (Spokane ties also.)

The Best Of Enemies: Buckley vs. Vidal – A documentary about the legendary series of nationally televised debates in 1968 between two great public intellectuals, the liberal Gore Vidal and the conservative William F. Buckley Jr.  Intended as commentary on the issues of their day, these explosive encounters came to define the modern era of public discourse in the media. Best of Enemies’ also delves into the entangled biographies of these two great thinkers of their time.

Damnation – This film odyssey across America explores the change in our national attitude from pride in big dams as engineering wonders to the growing awareness that our own future is bound to the life and health of our rivers. Dam removal has moved beyond the fictional Monkey Wrench Gang to go mainstream. (Important PNW ties.)

Weiner – Anthony Weiner was a young congressman on the cusp of higher office when a sexting scandal forced a humiliating resignation. Just two years later, he ran for Mayor of New York City, hoping to redeem his wife’s, Huma Abedin, and his reputation.

The National Parks, Americas Best Idea – The history of the U.S. National Parks system, including the initial ideas which led to the world’s first national parks and the expansion of the system over 150 years. The parks system is currently vulnerable to massive cuts in funding as well as selling off land to private owners.

The Hand That Feeds sandwich-maker Mahoma López unites his undocumented immigrant coworkers to fight abusive conditions at a popular New York restaurant chain.

The World According to Dick Cheney –  This is not so much a traditional documentary as a character study, of Cheney political life, in his words mostly. “I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about my faults,” Cheney says. Neither, it seems, do members of the current GOP.

Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story – Lee Atwater, a blues-playing rogue who rose from the South to Chairman of the GOP. He worked with GOP leaders while leading the Republican party to historic victories, helping make liberal a dirty word, and transforming the way America elects our Presidents. Boogie Man examines his role in America’s shift to the right.

The Least of These – The Least of These explores one of the most controversial aspects of American immigration policy: family detention. As part of the Bush administration policy to end what they termed the “catch and release” of undocumented immigrants, the U.S. government opened the T. Don Hutto Residential Center in May 2006 as a prototype family detention facility. Painfully current.

We the people: The Market Basket Effect – The story behind the epic six-week boycott of the Massachusetts-based Market Basket supermarket chain in the summer of 2014: when beloved CEO Arthur T. Demoulas is deposed by his cousin, majority shareholder Arthur S. Demoulas, Market Basket’s 25,000 employees and millions of supportive customers successfully enforce a boycott of the 71-store regional chain, leading to a leveraged buyout of the company, the reinstatement of “Artie T.”, and a victory for democracy.

Extra credit::

The Handmaids Tale – Set in a dystopian future, a woman is forced to live as a concubine under a fundamentalist theocratic dictatorship. Based on a book by Margaret Atwood. This series is stunning in both filming and in the horror of what the United States and North America could become.

It is a brutal and scary af series to watch, that is no exaggeration. Many times, it feels as if our country is right on the precipice of this happening.

I recommend one episode at a time, to allow time to process all of the layers and nuances of each one, and also to recover between episodes. (It’s now available as the entire Season 1 on hulu.) I will not forget any of the stories in this series.

Unfortunately has felt all too real this fall.

The Man in the High Castle – A glimpse into an alternate dystopian history of North America. What life after WWII may have been like if Nazi Germany and Japan had won the war. It’s not pretty. Two seasons on Amazon Prime. Very bingeable watch.

(Synopses from IMDb)


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