Four Powerful Documentary Recommendations

Dark Days: “Near Penn Station, next to the Amtrak tracks, squatters have been living for years. Marc Singer goes underground to live with them, and films this “family.” A dozen or so men and one woman talk about their lives: horrors of childhood, jail time, losing children, being coke-heads. They scavenge, they’ve built themselves sturdy one-room shacks; they have pets, cook, chat, argue, give each other haircuts. A bucket is their toilet. Leaky overhead pipes are a source of water for showers. They live in virtual darkness. During the filming, Amtrak gives a 30-day eviction notice. I caught Dark Days in a documentary film class as the last example of the semester, and it’s by far one of the best I’ve ever seen. The first-time filmmaker shot in black & white due to his inexperience, but I can’t imagine this as strong if it were in color.

Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room: “Enron dives from the seventh largest US company to bankruptcy in less than a year in this tale told chronologically. The emphasis is on human drama, from suicide to 20,000 people sacked: the personalities of Ken Lay (with Falwellesque rectitude), Jeff Skilling (he of big ideas), Lou Pai (gone with $250 M), and Andy Fastow (the dark prince) dominate. Along the way, we watch Enron game California’s deregulated electricity market, get a free pass from Arthur Andersen (which okays the dubious mark-to-market accounting), use greed to manipulate banks and brokerages (Merrill Lynch fires the analyst who questions Enron’s rise), and hear from both Presidents Bush what great guys these are.” To say I was shocked by this film would probably be a slight understatement, moreso by my own naivity about the far reaches of Coporate America. An especially enlightening moment comes when you see a few market analysis controlling the rolling blackouts in California. Unbelievable.

Why We Fight (2005): “He may have been the ultimate icon of 1950s conformity and postwar complacency, but Dwight D. Eisenhower was an iconoclast, visionary, and the Cassandra of the New World Order. Upon departing his presidency, Eisenhower issued a stern, cogent warning about the burgeoning ‘military industrial complex,’ foretelling with ominous clarity the state of the world in 2004 with its incestuous entanglement of political, corporate, and Defense Department interests.” Having studied war as a focus in my history education, it’s no question why I was drawn to this film. The subject matter struck me early on, and by the end, I was a bit upset – mostly due to how much the American people were taken for fools.

Harlan County, USA: “This film documents the coal miners’ strike against the Brookside Mine of the Eastover Mining Company in Harlan County, Kentucky in June, 1973. Eastover’s refusal to sign a contract (when the miners joined with the United Mine Workers of America) led to the strike, which lasted more than a year and included violent battles between gun-toting company thugs/scabs and the picketing miners and their supportive women-folk. Director Barbara Kopple puts the strike into perspective by giving us some background on the historical plight of the miners and some history of the UMWA.” This is gritty and raw, looking into a world of blue collar America I really didn’t know to much about. I personally was left still conflicted.

[all summaries via the users of IMDb]

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