This is my entry for “B” in the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Throughout April I will be watching and reviewing a documentary movie from A to Z. Some other “B” documentaries I’ve reviewed are Babies, Ballerina, Barbosa: The Man Who Made Brazil Cry, and Boredom.
Title: The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution
Release Date: January 23, 2015
Director: Stanley Nelson, Jr.
Production Company: Firelight Films
This straightforward but powerful film tells the story of The Black Panther Party from its establishment in 1966 until it began to disintegrate in the mid-1970s. The film’s strength lies in the wealth of archival film and photographs, as well as created by the Black Panthers, and interviews with over 30 former Black Panthers and those associated with them (including some still hostile former police offers who fought against the Panthers). The movie explores the popular image of the Black Panther as a gun-toting, beret-wearing man, but doesn’t neglect that much of the work of the Black Panthers was done by women and involved social programs such as free breakfasts and clinics. It also examines the ways in which the Black Panther Party helped redefine African American identity in a positive way for many Black Americans who were never directly involved with the Panthers. Unfortunately, the peak years of the Black Panther Party are all too brief as the FBI and police successfully infiltrate and attack the Panthers, killing or imprisoning some of the Panthers’ most promising leaders, and contributing to in-fighting among the surviving leaders. There’s a ton more that can be learned about the Black Panther Party, but this is a good introduction.
What Can One Learn From Watching This Documentary: As noted in the summary, this is a good introduction to a larger untold story of the Black Panthers. Since much of history and media has told the story of the Black Panthers from a privileged white perspective, this documentary does a good job of showing that the Panthers were more than militant black men with guns, but also the hard work that mostly black women did to provide community services, and the general boost to the feeling of black pride engendered by the Black Panthers.
If You Like This You Might Also Want To …: The film Wattstax depicts a concert in Los Angeles at the same time that the Black Panther movement was at it’s peak, and depicts the expression of black pride in the musical performances and the audience’s participation.
Source: I watched this movie on Netflix streaming.
Title: Secrets of Underground London
Release Date: 21 May 2014
Director: Vicky Matthews and Gareth Sacala
Not secrets of the London Underground (although there are some) but of 2000+ years of history hidden beneath the surface of England’s capital. There’s a lot of nifty bits of subterranean trivia in this admittedly corny and sensationalist documentary, including:
- ruins of the Roman amphitheater
- Black Death plague pits
- the labyrinthine Chislehurst Caves where miners extracted chalk for rebuilding London after the Great Fire
- the innovative Victorian-era engineering of the Thames Tunnel
- London Underground stations used both as air raid stations and to hide treasures from the British Museum during World War II
- Churchill’s War Cabinet rooms
- the lost Fleet River
- the construction of an expansion of the British Museum into a new space four stories undergroun
Title: Into the Amazon
Release Date: 9 January 2018
Director: John Maggio
Production Company: An ARK media and John Maggio Productions film for American Experience.
The American Experience documentary tells the story of the 1913-14 expedition to explore Brazil’s remote River of Doubt accompanied by former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt and his son Kermit Roosevelt. I’m familiar with the story from reading Candace Millard’s River of Doubt, so I was eager to see the documentary;s approach to the history.
It’s a well-produced but unimaginative take on the history documentary format with talking heads, archival photos shown with the “Ken Burns effect” (and curiously also making the figures in the photos appear 3-D against the background), and film of actors recreating the expedition in the Amazon. Another curious decision is to have the recreations in black & white, matching them with the archival footage, but denying the audience a glimpse of the vibrant colors of the rainforest that the men on the this journey would’ve seen.
I was slightly disappointed, but I expect if you were completely unfamiliar with this historical event that this documentary would be a good introduction.
Title: The Race Underground
Release Date: 31 January 2017
Director: Michael Rossi
The American Experience documentary adapts a portion of the book by Doug Most relating to Boston’s effort to create America’s first subway. As a Boston partisan myself, why not leave out the portion of the book about New York City, even if they built a far more extensive subway system very swiftly after Boston’s first tunnel opened? Kidding aside, it is a dramatic figure focusing on key figures such as Frank J. Sprague, who invented the electric trolley car, and Henry Melville Whitney, who consolidated the trolley lines into the West End Street Railway Company and persuaded city officials to approve the first tunnel. There are challenges along the way including negative popular opinion, graves of Revolutionary War era soldiers, and an explosion, but the subway is completed and convinces the doubters. The documentary is well-illustrated with photographs and vintage film, and is a delight to watch.