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Documentary films to catch this season

Aside from photography, I also enjoy documentary films for they fall in the same vein of visual reportage and storytelling. Documentaries enable a longer story to be told and are often more emotional and captivating than a series of photos due to their extended period of engagement. I haven’t been following the recent documentaries too closely but here are a few I feel that are worth catching before they bow out of the documentary circuit.

Gasland by Josh Fox

Gasland isn’t a particularly recent production but it’s relevance has recently jumped a couple of levels as hydraulic fracturing (also known as fracking) has recently become a very contentious issue between environmentalist and politicians. It’s been hailed as the magical remedy to America’s reliance on crude oil and many places have now been marked out for fracking developments. As the 2012 Elections near, this is bound to be an issue that will be brought up as Americans become more aware of this occurrence. Even if it doesn’t involve you directly, it is interesting to watch just to observe the relationship between the corporation, the government and the everyday man. The film does have it’s humorous characters and moments so despite all the unpleasant news that is being dished out, it isn’t just all doom and gloom.

Gasland won the special jury prize for the Sundance Film Festival (expect to see this name a lot, it’s quite synonymous with good documentaries) and an Emmy, and was also nominated for an Oscar.

Next up is Hell and Back Again, by Danfung Dennis

The film looks to be extremely visceral and intimate, the camera is never far from the combat. While trying hard not to take sides or make judgement, the film puts us into the eyes and shoes of a soldier and also what it means to be a soldier once the war is over. After watching Restrepo, I was greatly intrigued by the conditions of the war and I’m very interested in this film as well. I haven’t yet watched it but based on the reviews this is one film that should be caught as soon as possible.

Politically this plays a role in the rehabilitation of veterans as they return back home to peace. There have been multiple articles on veterans coming back and contributing to society in positive ways by taking up leadership positions and applying lessons learned in Afghanistan to situations back home. However, there have also been reports of negative impacts, such as the New York Times’ article on veterans anxiety while driving, you can read about it here: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/11/us/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-may-cause-erratic-driving.html

Ultimately this gives us a glimpse of the Afghanistan war and helps us to understand the situation of soldiers as they return back home. There will still be debate on whether the decision to get involved in the war as well as pulling out of it was a good idea, and this might add another layer to your perspective.

The film has won the World Cinema Jury Prize Documentary Award as well as the Cinematography Award at the Sundance Film Festivals. I don’t think the DVD has been released yet so I haven’t had a chance to watch it in full. I’ll put up updates once the DVD comes out.

Finally the most recent documentary that I’ve got my eyes set on hails from Japan. It’s titled The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom and it’s directed by Lucy Walker.

This one takes the prize of being the most recent, and it looks indeed to be a very promising summation of much of the shocking footage that emerged from the aftermath of the 2011 Japanese Tsunami (which was overshadowed greatly by the nuclear crisis). Besides being a summation, there seems to be very interesting glimpses of post-tsunami Japan and the much hailed resilience of the Japanese people in response to the entire event. The scenery is both catastrophic and beautiful and it looks to be a rather interesting mix of views. I’ll be interested to catch this because the media devoted most of it’s attention to the Fukushima crisis and I didn’t really get much about the rest of Japan.

While the scenery and film is beautiful, I read criticism on another website about the movie being too cinematic and not being true to the real situation of the aftermath. That really got me itching to go catch it somewhere, so that I’d be able to make my own judgement on that call.

The film still hasn’t won any major awards yet (for it’s still so fresh), but it’s making waves online and has already been selected as part of this year’s Sundance Selection as well as having been nominated for an Academy Award. Once again I have no idea how to catch the film because it’s unlikely to screen anywhere near here but I’m keeping my fingers crossed that they’ll bring it in for the Singapore International Film Festival. We’ll see.

A word of caution, I have yet to encounter a film that is perfectly neutral in it’s stance and presentation and almost all documentaries have their own personal agenda, so take the message of the director with a pinch of salt and be sure to cross check with other sources before taking all the facts as truths. Just because it’s entertaining doesn’t mean it’s true.

Take the following short documentary as an example, what do you make of it?

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