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Romney’s Top Documentary Films of 2013

A Band Called Death

Romney’s Top Documentary Films of 2013. The following are my selections for the top documentary films of 2013.

My list of 2013’s top documentary films:

5.  Before the Sex Pistols and Johnny Rotten even played a single note there was Death. In the 1970’s, three teenaged brothers got together and formed a band playing music in a spare bedroom of their home like no one had ever heard before. They created a little buzz on the local scene and pressed a demo with the hopes of getting signed, but the emerging disco scene and dominant Motown sound helped to scuttle their dreams of making it big. They disbanded before cutting their first album, but found a new audience in the new millennium when their 1974 demo made its way out of an attic and into the ears of a new generation. Directors Jeff Covino and Mark Howlett pay homage to the first African American—first any kind of—punk band with A Band Called Death.

4. Even in the face of unimaginable excess, hunger remains a persistent and growing problem in the United States. 1 in 4 Americans suffers from food insecurity: they do not know with certainty where their next meal is coming from. Lori Silverbush and Kristi Jacobson examine the issue in A Place at the Table with a look at three of those Americans. Their stories just might change opinions on who constitutes the hungry in this country and how they got there. With appearances by Jeff Bridges and Tom Colicchio, the film takes the lofty mission to challenge America to decide once and for all to end the problem of hunger within its society.

3. Searching for Sugarman tells the story of two South African fans’ quest to find out the fate of their icon, 70’s rocker Rodriguez. Rodriguez was discovered in a Detroit bar by two hit music producers in the late 60’s. They immediately thought they had the next big star on their hands and set about producing an album they thought would change the course of rock & roll. Instead, the album tanked, prompting Rodriguez to fade into obscurity. A bootleg recording made its way around the world to apartheid-era South Africa where the artist gained a cult following over the next three decades.

2. Joshua Oppenheimer’s stunning documentary The Act of Killing was the official selection of the Toronto International Film Festival, SXSW Film Festival, the Human Rights Watch Film Festival, the AFI DOC, the Telluride Film Festival, and the Audience Award Winner at the Berlin International Film Festival. The Act of Killing examines the cult status of war lords in Indonesia, a place where their role in the revolution is celebrated. Executive produced by Werner Herzog and Errol Morris, the filmmakers encouraged the death squad leaders to reenact their grisly acts reimagined as scenes from famous films. The result is a surreal, sickening, and seductive experience that will leave your mouth agape.

1. SeaWorld is a popular worldwide destination, perhaps only second to Disney and Universal Studios franchises in the theme park arms races. Their main draw is their stable of majestic orcas and dolphins, initially captured in the wild, then bred to produce lines for shipment around the world to other marine theme parks.  These mammals are trained to perform in ways counter to their normal behavior for the amusement of visitors and housed in pools much smaller than their normal roaming range in the wild. The issue of marine mammals in captivity has only recently become the sexy cause célèbre.

Using interviews with trainers and whale harvesters interwoven with archival footage, director Gabriela Cowperthwaite provides a brave look at the history of one particular orca, Tilikum the killer whale in Blackfish. Tilikum has been tied to the deaths of three people during his life in captivity including two of his trainers. Cowperthwaite raises the question of whether life in captivity separated from his family and his normal behaviors has led Tilikum into a descent into madness and what role SeaWorld’s obfuscation of his origins and history have played in these deaths.

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Romney J. Baldwin

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