A blog about movies and filmmaking.

The Documentaries of 2010

In awards, Documentary on January 22, 2011 at 11:52 am

For the past week, I’ve been attending screenings for the Film Independent Spirit Awards (I managed my way into a membership, so I’m qualified to vote…Boy is that a mistake). Anyway, while there’s a lot of movies I’ve already seen, the ones that have really stuck out are the Documentaries.

While this year provided some great movies that comment on celebrity (I’M STILL HERE); what is art (EXIT THROUGH THE GIFTSHOP); and how we never really know what we’re getting through relationships on the internet (CATFISH) – as well as all these movies making you ask “what is real” while watching a documentary – it’s been two films that have really affected me. MARWENCOL and THUNDER SOUL are positive movies that tell the real life stories singular men and the effect they’ve had on the people around them and how they’ve chosen to live their lives.

One is recovering from a severe beating that left him brain damaged – though still fully functional. He’s just lost most of his memory and had to relearn everything from how to speak, write, and everything else. But to help him on his road to recovery, he’s created a fictional town called Marwencol and populated it with dolls (including Barbies) and is telling a grand tale of a WWII soldier who crashes in Belgium. It’s quite amazing and goes places you wouldn’t ever expect.

The movie’s lead, Mark Hogancamp, is an individual who seems determined to fully recover from his injuries – as much as possible – and does it with an attitude of positivity and focus. The problem comes, when people start to judge him for certain lifestyle choices – whether it be “playing with dolls” or, well, I don’t want to spoil it. But, the movie is worth seeing and I’m sure will cause almost everyone to leave their prejudices at the door. Mark talks to the camera about his lost memories, his former alcoholism, women, and at times gets so wrapped up in telling us about Marwencol, that it seems more memory than it does a fictional tale he’s creating.

Marwencol itself, is a story told through Mark posing dolls in realistic scenarios and then photographing them. The movie is full of the beautiful photography that Mark has taken and they’re absolutely stunning. The whole movie is the same.

The other movie that has affected me quite a lot is THUNDER SOUL, which tells the story of an all black school in Houston, Texas, that in the 1970’s had a Jazz band become world-renowned and after rejoining thirty years later, continue to play now. The students at Kashmere High School, were then taught by a man named Conrad O. Johnson, who took the band (at the time they were called a Stage Band, because schools thought the word “jazz” was inappropriate for schools) added some soul, and some funk, and came out leaving a life-long impression on the kids he taught, and in a lot of ways was the sole father figure in their lives.

The movie is powerful on so many levels, from telling the history of how this band came together and was able to sweep not only the national Stage Band competitions, but released albums, traveled the world and to this day are considered one of the best funk bands from that era – despite it just being a group of teenagers playing in a school room. The music itself is indeed thunderous and full of passion and soul, which we see win over many skeptical audiences and will certainly make you tap your head while watching. But, the most touching thing is seeing these adults that went to this school and lived through those adventures. How they’ve followed the path laid out before them by “Prof” (as they called Conrad). It’s quite amazing and uplifting, and even though a lot of it is looking back at the past it makes you think that the future can’t be all bad when there are people like Conrad O. Johnson, and the many students of his, out there doling out their wisdom and music.

Documentaries are a genre that a lot of people put off paying attention to. Mostly, because it seems that we get more tales about depressing or horrifying events of everything that’s wrong with the world. From the fantastic AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH, to Michael Moore’s films, and even this year’s quite spectacular RESTREPO and SWEETGRASS (which are also both nominated for the Spirit Awards “Best Documentary” award) – and while Sweetgrass isn’t quite in the same league as some of these other depressing movies, there’s still a severe downbeat that it ends on that really changed the tone of the whole movie afterwards. But, I feel like I want to support and promote the movies that are telling the good stories. The ones that can actually help people and change lives. I’m not saying that these other movies aren’t important – or even moreso – than Marwencol or Thunder Soul; just when it comes down to it, these are the two I will recommend to everyone. And not just people interested in only a singular current event or social movement.

Check out the trailers for both below, and please try and see these movies whenever you can. Documentaries like these need support; they don’t get seen often enough, and are therefore pretty hard to get funded.

Okay, I couldn’t actually find a trailer for the movie, so here’s the band itself to do the talking for it:

And check out their websites: http://marwencol.com and http://thundersoulmovie.com

Photo via MARWENCOL.com © Mark Hogancamp


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