Documentary Film Review “Mountain”

In times of pain or sorrow, human beings find refuge in different things.  I have a friend, who used to own a book store, whose refuge is in the pages of a book.  Another friend, in walking or swimming in the ocean.  For me, when not creating artwork, it is hiking in the mountains.

Of course, I enjoy getting out on the trail no matter what I am feeling.  The physical act of hiking and being surrounded by nature has an ability to help me see things clearer and feel invigorated.  I have been quoted saying that the worst day on the trail is better than the best day in the office.

John Muir said, “The mountains are calling and I must go.”  I couldn’t agree with him more.  Right now with the state of the world what it is…. it is a little more challenging getting out to the mountains.  So I did what anyone who dreams of mountains would do…. I watched a documentary about them.

Mountain still from film

Film Still from the documentary “Mountain”

Released in 2017 “Mountain” is an Australian documentary film directed by Jennifer Peedom.  The only word to truly describe the cinematography is spectacular.  While exploring high peaks from around the world, this film tells about the relationship between humans and mountains across time.  Parts of the film take one through the dizzying rush of ascending and descending the peaks.  Other parts of the film are soft and elegant.  For example, in one scene, the way the camera follows gently falling snow.

Besides the beautiful images, the film is Narrated by Willem Dafoe.  In my opinion, you couldn’t have a better narrator.  As part of his narration, Willem Dafoe reads passages from Robert Macfarlaine’s book Mountains of the Mind.

The musical score is performed by the Australian Chamber Orchestra.  The combination of the visual and musical of this documentary is exquisitely done.

Mountain documentary film

If given an opportunity to watch this documentary, do not pass it up.  I highly recommend this film.  A sensory feast for the eyes and ears, it is perfect during this time of social distancing.

Queen of the Sun

Bees are such interesting creatures.  Without them forty percent of our food would not get pollinated.  They work as a team to protect the queen and make honey.  Honey is an amazing super food.  Did you know that archaeologists have found honey in Egyptian tombs that are over 2,000 years old and the honey is still edible and delicious?  There are just so many fascinating facts and things to learn about bees.

queen-of-the-sun

Something that I have been hearing about is Colony Collapse Syndrome.  This syndrome which is hurting our honey bees worries me.  I was looking through documentary films when I saw this one that seemed to address this serious problem.

The documentary film “Queen of the Sun: What are the Bees Telling us?” was released in 2010 and directed by Taggert Siegel.  It is an informative and visually beautiful film.  The following is a description of the film from the website Food Matters TV.

“Taking us on a journey through the catastrophic disappearance of bees and the mysterious world of the beehive, this engaging and ultimately uplifting film weaves an unusual and dramatic story of the heartfelt struggles of beekeepers, scientists and philosophers from around the world including Michael Pollan, Gunther Hauk and Vandana Shiva. Together, they reveal both the problems and the solutions in renewing a culture in balance with nature.” -Food Matters TV website

Some of the theories for Colony Collapse Syndrome were discussed in this documentary:  systemic pesticides, the almond mono culture of California, genetically enhanced crops that cause genetic mutations in bees, new forms of pesticides that affect the nervous system of the bee, and the selective breeding practices for queen bees which causes bees to be weaker overall.

The film also looked at how people all over the world are trying to help bees through bee sanctuaries and integrating colonies in urban settings like New York City and London, England.

I recommend this film to people who are not familiar with honey bees and to those who are bee keepers.  It is such an interesting film and beautiful to watch.  Watching it, I felt very encouraged that I can make a positive impact to help save our honey bees.

Permanent Record

There are moments in ones life that cause an individual to change.  Some of those moments have a catalyst in the way of an experience, event, etc.  It’s kinda like when someone asks you where were you when you heard about the twin towers in New York City?  Really big events not only change one person but have the power to change everything.  There was before September 11 and there is after September 11.  This particular event also affected Edward Snowden the author of Permanent Record,

I remember when I watched the documentary “Citizenfour,” directed by Laura Poitras, having a serious shock and awe moment when I realized how much, how serious and how scary the amount of surveillance that my government was perpetrating on its own citizens, as well as every human being on this planet.  This isn’t a clever science fiction plot.  It is real life and it is terrifying.

documentary Citizenfour

 

So of course, when I heard that Edward Snowden had written a book, I had to read it.  I was not disappointed.  The following is the description from the jacket cover:

As I proceeded down the Tunnel, it struck me: this, in front of me, was my future.  I’m not saying that I made any decisions at that instant.  The most important decisions in life are never made that way.  They’re made subconsciously and only express themselves once fully formed – once you’re finally strong enough to admit to yourself that this is the course your beliefs have decreed.  That was my twenty-ninth birthday present to myself: the awareness that I had entered a tunnel that would narrow my life down toward a single, still indistinct act.”  – (Page 214) from Permanent Record

“In 2013, twenty-nine-year-old Edward Snowden shocked the world when he broke with the American Intelligence establishment and revealed that the United States government was secretly pursuing the means to collect every single phone call, text message and email.  The result would be an unprecedented system of mass surveillance with the ability to pry into the private lives of every person on earth.  Six years later, Snowden reveals for the first time how he helped to build this system and why he was moved to expose it.

Spanning the bucolic Beltway suburbs of his childhood and the clandestine CIA and NSA postings of his adulthood, Permanent Record is the extraordinary account of a bright young man who grew up online – a man who became a spy, a whistle blower, and in exile, the Internet’s conscience.  Written with wit, grace, passion, and unflinching candor, Permanet Record is a crucial memoir of our digital age and destined to be a classic.”  – Book cover of Permanent Record by Edward Snowden

Written in a way that even the less than technical savoy can understand, I felt that I was given a view into the government’s development of its spying programs.  I also felt like Edward shared his struggle and motivation.  The words flow logically and Edward leads you through the story.  I appreciated his candor, humility and humor.

At one point in the chapter on encryption Edward makes the following comment.

“Breaking a 128-bit key would take 2 [to the 64th] times longer than a day, or fifty million billion years.  By that time, I might even be pardoned.”  – page 217 Permanent Record

I my humble opinion, Edward Snowden should be pardoned.  He is a hero.  He pointed out something that should be a concern to every human being on this planet.

I highly recommend the book Permanent Record.  It puts the record straight.  If you have read it, please post a comment.  Or if you would like to discuss the book with me, please contact me through my contact page.

The Human Experience

“Life is sacred, that is to say it is the supreme value, to which all other values are subordinate.” – Albert Einstein

If you are looking for an up-lifting film experience that will reaffirm your faith in others and in living life itself, look no further than “The Human Experience.”  Directed by Charles Kinnane, produced by Grassroots media and released in 2008, the message portrayed in this film is just as important and inspiring today as it was 11 years ago.

The Human Experienc. truck.

The film is based on three experiences.  Following two brothers, Clifford Azize and Jeffrey Azize and two of their friends, Michael Campo and Matthew Sanchez, as they search for meaning in their lives.  The film also interviews artists, human rights activists, philosophers, and others who are experts in their fields of study.

The quest to find meaning in one’s life is not new.  Who am I?  What is my purpose?  How do I fit into my family, society, my village, my world?  And many more questions have been asked since the dawn of humanity.  What is unique about this documentary film is the way in which participants go about their search.

The first experience is with Jeffrey and Clifford as they spend a week with the homeless community in New York City during a February cold snap.  One man helps the brothers set up a place to sleep the first night.  He tells them to sleep by a church because they are less likely to make you leave. A homeless woman who was interviewed by the brothers said that you must have family and friends to survive in this world.  She talked about how she had been homeless several different times.  One time she was standing on the street with four dogs.  People came and took the dogs and found homes for them, but left her there on the street.  A homeless man in a soup kitchen told the brothers that you can lose everything but they can’t take away your hopes and dreams.

For the second experience the brothers, Clifford and Jeffrey, join Surf for the Cause and volunteer at a hospital for abandoned children in Lima, Peru.  The founder of the hospital shared what inspired him to do this work.  There were temporary volunteers, people who just helped out for a specific amount of time and permanent volunteers who had dedicated their lives to the work.  Some of the children in this hospital would go back to their families once they were healed.  Their families did not have the skills or resources to take care of the children.  Other children were abused, abandoned and left to die.  For these children, the hospital was their home and their refuge.  No matter what type of situation the children had come from they were fed, safe and cared for at this hospital.  The thing I took away from this experience was the pure joy that children have.  Even in the face of insurmountable odds and horrible events in their past, you could see the joy in the faces of the children.

The third experience takes place in the African nation of Ghana.  The brothers join their friends, Michael and Matthew, as they travel to visit people dying from AIDS/HIV and visit a leper colony.  One of the young men’s mother had died of AIDS when he was nine years old.  At one point they are interviewing a young woman, who is dying from the disease, and they ask her what wisdom would she leave to her children.  She said she would want them to know about her faith in God and His love.  She goes on to say that she would want her children to know how much she loved them.  It was an incredibly powerful moment in the film.

Leprosy was/is considered to condemnation.  Many of the people who lived at the colony had been left there by family members.  Never seeing their familes again.  A man at the colony asked the Jeff, Cliff, Matthew and Michael if they were afraid of the people with leprosy.  They said no that you are human beings like us.  This made the man very happy.  He went on to say that his son never came to see him that he was ashamed of him because of the disease.  The hope, faith and sense of community shared by those interviewed in this section of the film is truly inspiring.

Upon returning to New York, all of these young men had been changed by their experiences.  At one point Jeff says that no matter what your difficulties and experiences are life is still good.

As an added component to the film, is the story of Jeff and his interview about his life.  Jeff and Cliff’s father was abusive and an alcohoic while they were growing up.  Jeff had not seen his father in ten years.  Keep in mind that he is only twenty at the time this was filmed.  Cliff arranges for Jeff and their father to meet.  In an emotional reunion, Jeff forgives his father for past events and makes arrangements to see him again.

I cannot recommend this Documentary film enough.  See it.  You will be glad that you did.

Lo and Behold

The documentary film “Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World” directed by Werner Herzog is a must see for anyone curious about the internet.  Released in 2016, this film is a meditative examination of the history, present and future of the internet.  The documentary features interviews with experts whose insights and technological breakthroughs helped shaped the internet at its inception and interviews with people whose lives have been affected by the internet, as well as hackers, inventors and creators who are influencing the internet of today and tomorrow.

Lo.Behold

The film is broken into 10 sections that examine a different aspect of the internet:

  • Early Days
  • The Glory of the Net
  • The Dark Side
  • Life Without the Net
  • The End of the Net
  • Earthly Invaders
  • Internet on Mars
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • The Internet of Me
  • The Future

If you get this documentary on disc, I highly recommend watching the interview of Werner Herzog in the bonus materials section.  Hearing the director describe his research, methods and why he wanted to do the film was very interesting.  He states at one point that he had never used a telephone until he was seventeen years old.  That the kids of today can’t even relate to that idea.  It makes sense if you think about how many people have smart phones today and how young children are when they start to learn how to use them.

This film is a very creative and human look at the internet.  One of the things I enjoy about Werner Herzog’s films are the questions he asks during interviews.  You can hear his curiosity.  These are the types of questions I would want to ask and have answered.

The thing that I took away from the film is that this invention, the internet, has changed the way in which we live and interact with each other.  At one point, Werner Herzog is asking scientists what the future of the internet will look like.  And of course, they all have different visions depending on their areas of expertise.  One scientist asked the question of will we need other people or will we just need the internet in the future.  I thought that was an excellent question.  One question that I keep pondering is does this technology bring us closer together or separate us further?

Lo and behold, we know not what the future of this technology will bring.

The Eagle Huntress

The documentary film “The Eagle Huntress” is one of the most inspirational films I have seen.  I highly recommend this film.  It was released in 2016 and is considered a Kazakh-language British-Mongolian-American documentary film.  The film was directed by Otto Bell and Daisy Ridley was the executive producer and narrator of the film.

TheEagleHuntress

The documentary follows the story of Aisholpan, a 13-year-old Kazakh girl from Mongolia.  She is attempting to become the first female eagle hunter to compete in the eagle festival in Ulgii, Mongolia.  Aisholpan’s family are nomads that spend their summers in a yurt in the Altai Mountains and winter in a house in town.  Growing up watching her grandfather and father compete, she wants to become an eagle hunter.

This documentary is beautifully filmed and the scenery is breathtaking.  The film also provided the ability to see into Aisholpan’s world and the challenges and rewards of training to be an Eagle Hunter.  It was exciting learning about and watching this amazing young woman grow.

I watched this documentary with several family members.  My seven-year old niece and my mom were really getting into the film.  We were excited to see Aisholpan training, competing and becoming “The Eagle Huntress.”

 

 

 

Note by Note

Note by Note: The Building of Steinway No. L1037

This documentary is about the building of a Steinway piano starting with the shaping of the lumber and going all the way through the process to the finished instrument.  This documentary was filmed by Ben Niles and was released in 2007.

I was personally interested in the film because my friend Karen Atwood is a professional pianist.  She has a nine foot Steinway in her living room.  I love listening to her play her Steinway piano.

steinway.poster

It takes approximately a year to make a piano.  This documentary follows one piano in particular number L1037.  There are literally thousands of small details that go into making a Steinway sound beautiful.  In our modern times the Steinway pianos are some of the last pianos that are made completely by hand.  That is why each Steinway has its own unique voice.

Not only is this the story of one piano but the story of the people at the Steinway factory, who make the instruments.  One woman, who is a wood worker and builds the pianos, has worked at the factory for 32 years.  The Chief Concert Technician from the Concert Department of the Steinway show room in New York City talked about the fact that the making of a Steinway piano has not changed in 100 years.  He went on to say that he has been working for Steinway for 28 years and learns something new about pianos every day.

One very nice feature of this documentary is the conversations by musicians and pianists talking about the pianos, how they choose them and what speaks to them about the piano they have chosen.  Another exciting aspect of this documentary is the beautiful piano music that accompanies the film.

I can think of nothing more creative than watching a documentary about the creation of a Steinway, a musical instrument that people will create beautiful music with.  I highly recommended this documentary.

Antarctica: A Year on Ice

I just watched a documentary by Anthony Powell called “Antarctica: A Year on Ice.”  The film was released in 2014 by Music Box Films.  The filmmaker states at one point that it took 10 years to capture all of the images of this film and thousands of dollars in cameras and film equipment (specially modified cameras, time-lapse photography and cameras he made himself).

antarctica-image

In the beginning of the film, Anthony Powell talked about how he wanted to capture the experience of what living on Antarctica all year was like.  Many of those interviewed in the documentary stated how difficult it was to explain the experience of living there to their friends and family who live in other parts of the planet.

Those who live in Antarctica year round are not just scientists, but technicians, tradesmen and craftsmen.  They are often isolated from the rest of the world.  They endure months of darkness during the winter, to then face summer and periods when the sun never sets.  It is easy to forget how cold Antarctica is when watching images full of sunshine.  The people living on Antarctica live in temperatures that make the -6 degrees Fahrenheit that I am experiencing today seem breezy and warm.

To say that this documentary is beautifully filmed seems like such an understatement.  This film is truly a visual feast.  Be prepared to see stunning images of Mt. Erebus, penguins being penguins, hellacious storms, the night sky like you’ve never seen it before and the pristine beauty of nature.

One part of the film that I found particularly intriguing was when Anthony Powell talked about noise pollution and how quiet parts of Antarctica are.  (Especially when the wind isn’t blowing.)  I like knowing that there are places that one can still experience silence.

This film is successful in sharing the experience of life on Antarctica for a year.  Not only are the images of Antarctica stunningly beautiful, but the stories shared by the people who live there are deeply moving.  I highly recommend this film.  Not only is it creative and beautiful, but it captures the adventurous human spirit.

The following sentence taken from the Rotten Tomatoes Website description of the documentary and sums it up perfectly:

“ANTARCTICA: A YEAR ON ICE gives testament to the planet’s natural wonders, humanity’s thirst for adventure, and the emotional extremes that accompany a year within the last pristine wilderness on the planet.”

Forbidden Art and Censorship

“I am an artist first, a censor second.”

This is how the book The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra begins.  Set up like a cassette tape with a Side A, Intermission and Side B, the book is a collection of short stories that stand alone but are all intricately connected.  The book spans across a century, a continent and a striking group of characters who are bound together by an obscure nineteenth century painting.

I received the Documentary “The Desert of Forbidden Art” from Netflix.

synopsis

The description of the documentary reads as follows “Trace the incredible story of defiant visionary Igor Savitsky, an artist and museum curator who cunningly acquired more than 40,000 banned Soviet Union paintings and hid the illegal collection from the KGB in Uzbekistan’s Nukus Museum.  In addition to rare archival footage and interviews with the artists’ children, this absorbing documentary also features letters and diary entries read by Ben Kingsley, Sally Field and Edward Asner.”

Upon finishing the book, I then watched the documentary.  The book was fictional stories about censorship, struggles of the people in the Soviet Union and a particular painting.  This painting wove itself in and around the characters lives.  The documentary was the true story about censorship and state sponsored art or propaganda.  It was also about the extraordinary work of Igor Savitsky, who worked tirelessly to save the work of disgraced artists, pay their families and create a museum to show the work.  It was interesting to watch the documentary after reading the fictional story about the censor or correction artist.

Here is where novel and documentary intersect.  The correction artist would erase disgraced individuals from photos, paint Lenin and Stalin into historic moments, and make the party icons look young and vigorous even as they aged.  The Soviet Union tried to erase the identity of its diversified populations by only allowing art that showed the Communist parties idealized vision of the common good.  Cultural traditions and crafts of the people of Uzbekistan were being lost and destroyed.  The creative and artistic identity of an entire nation was being destroyed by the censor, the Gulag and Soviet concentration camps.

What did I learn from the documentary?  That even though the Soviet Union tried to destroy the very soul and essence of the diverse cultures within its borders by destroying their art, music, dances, songs, poetry, craft and cultural traditions and by trying to erase or rewrite history, it was not able to do it.  People fought for their creativity and often paid with their lives.  Others hid art and created safe spaces artwork to be shown.  The human spirit, creativity and the need to express oneself through art, music, dance, songs, poetry, craft and cultural traditions is stronger than the censor.

What did I learn from the book?  Our stories are connected.  Sometimes in surprising ways.

I highly recommend the collection of stories The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra and the documentary “The Desert of Forbidden Art.”  I was surprised and inspired by what I learned from both of them.  

Cave of Forgotten Dreams

Recently I viewed the documentary “Cave of Forgotten Dreams.”  Filmmaker Werner Herzog and a small film crew were given a rare chance to film inside France’s Chauvet Cave.  The walls in this cave are covered with the world’s oldest surviving cave paintings.  In order to preserve the site, people are only allowed to enter the site for two weeks a year.

I enjoyed this documentary immensely.  And if you have a chance to see it, I highly recommend it.  This documentary is an extraordinary glimpse into the past.

Chauvet cave was discovered in December 1994.  The cave is home to some of the earliest known (Approximately 32,000 to 30,000 B.C.) and best preserved cave paintings in the world.   This cave also has fossilized remains, foot and animal prints, and markings from a variety of animals.  Some of which are now extinct.

caveofforgottendreams

There were a couple of things in the documentary that really stood out to me.  At one point, one of the scientists interviewed by Herzog pointed out that they had found a child’s footprint and next to it was a print of a wolf.  The scientists did not know the chronological order of the prints.  Maybe the wolf print was first?  Maybe the child’s?  Maybe the wolf was stalking the child and followed him into the cave?  Maybe the wolf was a pet and walked with the child side by side?  Some discoveries created more questions than they answered.

One of the artists of the drawings could be identified by a crooked finger.  And others by their style and technique.  We do not know their names.  Only that the pieces they created are beautiful and speak of another time.

What I liked about Werner Herzog’s approach was that the discussions with scientists and art scholars centered around the idea that the artwork of the Chauvet cave represents humanity’s earliest dreams.

After viewing this documentary, I began to think about dreams that I had set aside in the caves of my soul.  Some are sealed off and left alone, not to be re-examined.  Others I have left a trail and may explore again some day.  And others…. I am actively adding to the images on the wall.  What dreams have you hidden away in the caverns of your heart?  Which dreams would you like to fulfill?  So many of us have our own “Cave of Forgotten Dreams.”