Category Archives: Documentary

RBG (2018) – My rating: 8.5/10

RBG is a documentary directed and produced by Betsy West and Julie Cohen, focusing on the life and career of Supreme Court of the United States Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  RBG chronicles the career of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, which spans several decades, and how she developed a legal legacy while becoming a pop culture icon. The film is a biographical depiction of Ginsburg from her birth, her college education and subsequent career as a law professor, her appointment to the federal judiciary by President Jimmy Carter, and eventual appointment to the Supreme Court by President Bill Clinton.  The film also chronicles Ginsburg’s status as a pop culture icon, starting with the publication of Notorious R.B.G.: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, written by Shana Knizhnik and Irin Carmon. Ruth Bader Ginsburg is the second female justice after Sandra Day O’Connor.

Ruth Bader was born in Brooklyn on March 15, 1933 to a first-generation, American Jewish family. She earned her bachelor’s degree at Cornell University, where she met her husband, Martin Ginsburg. (They remained married until his death in 2010). Ruth enrolled in Harvard Law School before transferring to Columbia University while her husband started a successful career as a New York City tax attorney. After graduating Columbia, Ruth became a law professor at Rutgers Law School and Columbia Law School.  Ruth Bader Ginsburg successfully argued five of six cases regarding gender discrimination before the U.S. Supreme Court. She advocated for both men and women facing sex-based bias: among the plaintiffs she represented was a woman facing housing discrimination in the U.S. Air Force and a male single parent denied Social Security benefits normally paid only to single mothers. Ginsburg argued these cases in the 1960s and ’70s, when gender discrimination was rampant in U.S. society and an all-male Supreme Court was generally skeptical of claims of bias against women.

RBG is a well made, significant documentary that goes on to tell Ruth’s entire history up until the present.  At 85, she still holds down her position on the seat of the Supreme Count despite being diagnosed with colon cancer in 1999.  She underwent surgery that was followed by Radiation and chemotherapy therapy. During the process, she never missed a day on the bench.  She is a remarkable person and deserves to be celebrated. RBG can be seen on DVD and Blu-Ray.  Check It Out!

[RBG is Oscar nominated for Best Original Song and Best Documentary Feature]


O.J.: MADE IN AMERICA (2016) – My rating: 9/10

ojmadeinamericaThrough interviews, new footage, and archival audio and video, O.J.: Made in America traces the life and career of O. J. Simpson, starting with his arrival at the University of Southern California as an emerging football superstar and ending with his incarceration in 2007 for robbery. Throughout the documentary, Simpson’s life – the football success, television career, relationship with Nicole Brown, the domestic abuse, Nicole and Ron Goldman’s murder, the trial – runs parallel to the larger narrative of the city of Los Angeles, which serves as host to mounting racial tensions and a volatile relationship between the city’s police department and the African American community.

TV critic James Poniewozik described the director’s technique in his New York Times review: “Ezra Edelman pulls back, way back, like a news chopper over a freeway chase. Before you hear about the trial, the documentary says, you need to hear all the stories — the stories of race, celebrity, sports, America — that it’s a part of.”

O.J.: Made in America premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on January 22, 2016, was released in theaters in New York City and Los Angeles in May 2016 and debuted on ABC on June 11, 2016, and aired on ESPN. The documentary has received widespread acclaim and has won numerous awards.

After seeing this documentary, I was impressed at how factual and straightforward it was.  I thought I knew everything about OJ, this gave me a new perspective and something to think about.  O.J.: Made in America is an excellent source of information into the whole picture from beginning to end, so if you care to know as much as you could about the life and times of O. J. Simpson, this is a great documentary to learn about him and all that went into shaping who he is.  O.J.: Made in America is currently streaming on Amazon, and can be gotten on Netflix.

[O.J.: Made in America WON the 89th ANNUAL OSCAR AWARD for Best Documentary Feature]


13TH (2016) – My rating: 9.5/10

13thMy reaction to this Netflix Original documentary is simply WOW!  For a Black person, it’s truly depressing but it’s history and it is what it is. This is the kind of information everyone should know. Maybe it can make some kind of a difference regarding the race issues in America. No matter what character or category of person you might fall into, criminal, bad  or compassionate, I don’t see how anyone could go along with the stinking thinking outlined in this film.  13th is titled after the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which outlawed slavery (unless as punishment for a crime). DuVernay’s,  documentary opens with the idea that 25 percent of the people in the world, who are incarcerated, are incarcerated in the United States and argues that slavery is being effectively perpetuated in the US through mass incarceration. 13th features several prominent activists, politicians, and public figures such as, Angela Davis, Bryan Stevenson, Van Jones, Newt Gingrich, Cory Booker, Henry Louis Gates Jr. and many others.  It’s been said that one of the most compelling defenses behind this documentary is that it’s not opinionated or accusatory, it only presents the facts that are non disputable.  Racism, Slavery, the 13th Amendment, Jim Crow, ALEC, Republicans, The South, Political Leaders and Organizations, Militants,  Murder and The Privatization of the Prison System are all featured.  13th has garnered acclaim from film critics everywhere, as a major historian contribution that should not be ignored.

13th is directed by Ava DuVernay who also wrote and produced it along with Spencer Averick.  Living with and and knowing a lot of the facts in 13th didn’t make it any less disturbing to see put together in 13th.  I feel the issue of racism will never be resolved.  It’s bigger than anything we face and it’s truly a problem that’s eventually going to be our demise.  See it for yourself and form your own opinion.  13th is currently streaming on Netflix.

[13th is nominated for Best Documentary Feature]


THE WHITE HELMETS (2016) – My rating: 7.5/10

thewhitehelmetsThe White Helmets is one of the most profound documentaries I’ve seen. Filmed in war torn Syria, one of the most dangerous places in the world. The film follows the daily operations of a group of volunteer rescue workers of the Syrian Civil Defense, also known as The White Helmets. The film is directed by Orlando von Einsiedel and produced by Joanna Natasegara.

These men called The White Helmets are the first respondents when a bomb(s) is dropped. It doesn’t matter who needs help, the White Helmets are ready to dig through the ruins to extract anyone they can. An infant was trapped under several layers of rubble for hours when a faint cry was heard. They were able to pull the baby out, calling him a miracle. These men risk their lives time and again, every day and treat every person as though they are family, plus they never give up. Early training of volunteers was initiated in 2013 by British security consultant, James Le Mesurier, the White Helmet’s founder. Volunteers who work full-time, receive a $150 monthly stipend and do manage to travel to Turkey for training. They are young men and this is their life!  GOD bless these brave selfless men who risk everything to do GOD’s work, rescuing anyone who is in need!

The White Helmets is streaming on Netflix and is very informative.  It is a 40 minute short documentary.

[THE WHITE HELMETS won the 89th ANNUAL OSCAR AWARD for Best Documentary: Short Subject]



LIFE ANIMATED (2016) – My rating: 8.5/10

lifeanimatedLife Animated is a documentary that I first heard about on WHYY when they interviewed Ron Suskind who wrote the story about his son Owen.  At the age of two, Owen started to lose his motor skills along with his perfectly structured speech patterns.  By three, his words had turned to gibberish and Owen was diagnosed with autism.  If you have a child with autism, you’re going to want to see this unique documentary.  Since I have a grandson with high functioning autism, I was very interested in seeing Life Animated and learned a lot from Owen’s journey.  I learned how he finally developed a way to communicate through the world of Disney, using animated Disney movies.  Owen, like my grandson, would watch a movie over and over and over again.  I never knew why, I just came to accept that was part of his personality.  In Owen’s case, he memorized every Disney, animated movie ever made and used the dialogue as a form of communication.

Eventually, he was able to speak again and express himself to others.  He started a club via the internet with other autistic children.  Today, Owen is around 25 years old and has his own apartment, a job and independence.  He will probably always need help but he’s come a long way.  I think this is a very significant film for anyone who knows or has an autistic child.  Life Animated is on DVD and is a worthy candidate for Oscar!

[Life Animated is nominated for Best Documentary Feature]


CARTEL LAND (2015) – My rating: 8.5/10

CartelLandCartel Land is a documentary produced and directed by Matthew Heineman.  It tells about what the Mexican people who joined together under two modern day vigilante groups are doing in, their desperation, to clean up the drug situation in their respective regions.  Dr. Jose Mireles aka “El Doctor” is a small-town physician in Michoacán, Mexico who heads up the “Autodefensas” against the very violent “Knights Templar” drug cartel that has wreaked havoc on the region for years. With unprecedented access, Cartel Land is a riveting, on-the-ground look at the journeys of two modern-day vigilante groups and their shared enemy.  Meanwhile, in Arizona’s Altar Valley, a narrow, 52-mile-long desert corridor known as Cocaine Alley, Tim “Nailer” Foley, an American veteran, heads a small paramilitary group called Arizona Border Recon, whose goal is to stop Mexico’s drug wars from seeping across the US border.

It’s too bad when citizens have to take matters in their own hands because their government has failed them.  To say their tasks are grueling and dangerous, often ending in death is an understatement.  These citizens are not really trained in law enforcement and from what I saw, have chosen some tactics that may cross the lines of justice.  While anything goes in their situation and while you can’t be to careful, it’s a horrible situation to be in.  Cartel Land is informative and shows one of the ways in which to fight a problem that was once deemed hopeless.  Cartel Land is now streamed on Netflix and has won countless awards.  It’s in Spanish with subtitles.

[CARTEL LAND is nominated for Best Documentary]



WinterOnFire_UkrainesFightForFreedomWinter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom, is a very hard documentary to watch.  You have to be able to stomach seeing innocent people being beaten up, murdered in cold blood, abused and treated like animals.  When I hear people complaining about the US, I wonder if they have watched any footage of some other countries and how the government treats their own people?  One thing about documentaries, it’s reality, not script.  This film documents a wave of demonstrations and civil unrest in Ukraine, which began on the night of November 21, 2013 with public protests in Maidan Nezalezhnosti (“Independence Square”) in Kiev, demanding closer European integration and many calls for the resignation of President Vikto Yanukovych and his government.  The protests led to the 2014 Ukrainian revolution.  Many protesters joined because of the violent dispersal of protesters on November 30th and “a will to change life in Ukraine.” By January 25th, 2014, the protests had been fueled by the perception of “widespread government corruption,” “abuse of power,” and “violation of human rights in Ukraine.” Transparency International named President Yanukovych as the top example of corruption in the world.

In February, police and protesters fired live and rubber ammunition across multiple locations in Kiev. There were a vast majority of casualties. Yanukovych was forced to make concessions to the opposition to end the bloodshed in Kiev and end the crisis. The Agreement on settlement of political crisis in Ukraine was signed by Vitaly Klitschko, Arseny Yatsenyuk and Oleh Tyahnybok. Vladimir Lukin, representing Russia, refused to sign the agreement.

“A turning point came in late February, when enough members of the president’s party fled or defected for the party to lose its majority in parliament, leaving the opposition large enough to form the necessary quorum. This allowed parliament to pass a series of laws that removed police from Kiev, cancelled anti-protest operations, restored the 2004 constitution, freed political detainees, and removed President Yanukovych from office. Yanukovych then fled to Ukraine’s second largest city of Kharkiv, refusing to recognize the parliament’s decisions. The parliament assigned early elections for May 2014.”

Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom tells a very grim story that appears to end well but as we all know, Ukraine’s fight for freedom is not over as they are currently dealing with Russia’s ongoing violence in eastern Ukraine among other issues of debt and territory.  The film is powerful and enlightening and is available on Netflix.

[WINTER ON FIRE: UKRAINE’S FIGHT FOR FREEDOM is nominated for Best Documentary.]


WHAT HAPPENED, MISS SIMONE? (2015) – My rating: 8.5/10

WhatHappenedMissSimoneWhat Happened, Miss Simone? is a direct quote from a Maya Angelou poem. “But what happened, Miss Simone? Specifically, what happened to your big eyes that quickly veil to hide the loneliness? To your voice that has so little tenderness, yet flows with your commitment to the battle of Life? What happened to you?”
Maya Angelou posed the question 45 years ago in an essay published in Redbook magazine, and it’s at the center of Liz Garbus’s powerful and brutally honest documentary, What Happened, Miss Simone?

So what did happen to Eunice Kathleen Waymon, (Nina’s real name) the little girl from Tryon, North Carolina, who dreamed of becoming the first famous black classical pianist? A White woman (Mrs. Miller) who Nina’s mother (Mary Kate Waymon) worked for, heard Nina playing the piano and decided she was worthy of piano lessons, so she paid for Nina to take formal training from an Englishwoman who’d moved to Tyron with her Russian painter husband and a strict devotee of  Joann Sebastian Bach, named Muriel Massinovitch. Not only did Mrs. Massinovitch continue to work with Nina everyday, Mrs. Miller continued to invest money into Nina’s education and future. Nina loved learning the music of super composer Bach and she loved playing classical music on the piano. She was considered a child prodigy and later a musical genius. As a child, Nina was isolated from her friends and family as she practiced everyday. She had no real friends and no real childhood life. As Nina grew older, her dreams stayed focused on being the first female Black, classic piano player in the world. She studied at Julliard School of Music in 1950 to 1951 before applying to Curtis Institute but was turned down — thinking she wasn’t good enough she quickly learned it was because she was Black and because the world was not like the wonderful White lady who had sponsored her. She soon gave up her dream and took on a job as her money was running out.

Her career started in bars where she began playing a different kind of music. It didn’t take long before Nina changed her name, became popular, got married then divorced and was well on her way to being the “High Priestess of Soul”.  She remarried in 1960 to former police detective Andy Stroud, who became her manager. They had a daughter, Lisa Celeste, in 1961, who Nina barely saw grow up because of the fast pace of life she was living. Eventually, Nina joined the political movement and her life because even more hectic. Her political stance consumed her and began to define who she was. Her record sales plumage and she began to display very odd behavior. She imposed a self exile from the US that lasted 15 years. She settled in Barbados, then in 1974 in Liberia, Africa then finally in Switzerland. She became broke and broken. Her story is quite a bitter one with many surprising twist. No one knew what was wrong with Nina, despite many examinations. After a suicide attempt, she found herself in a London hospital. What Happened, Miss Simone? explains the many answers to that question and finally tells of Nina’s bi-polar diagnosis, which brought many of her mood swings and odd behavior to light. Nina Simone left a powerful impression on the world before she passed in 2003, at the age of 70. This documentary is powerful and full of her most impressive music. What Happened, Miss Simone? can be seen on Netflix (streaming).  I highly recommend it to everyone.  There is currently no release date for DVD.

[WHAT HAPPENED, MISS SIMONE? is nominated for Best Documentary]


AMY (2015) – My rating: 8.5/10

AmyAmy Winehouse, a dynamic song writer and jazz and pop singer, found dead from alcohol poisoning at the age of 27, is documented in this sad but clear story of her brief life and career. I’ve formed a strong and definite opinion of Amy’s life and reasons for her early demise. “Amy” was quite painful to watch, especially after reading that her father (Mitch Winehouse) was protesting the film because he felt it made him look bad and also, at times, showed Amy in a bad light. I found his words hard to believe. In the documentary, her mother admitted she was unable to handle Amy with a simple no when needed. The film brilliantly showed times when Amy acted up as a small child, needing guidance and discipline and her mother (Janis Winehouse) giving up and giving in to Amy’s pressure tactics. I would say Amy was one of those special children, overactive, or what we call a “D” child. Hard to control, aggressive and in need of a disciplinarian. I felt watching her story that her parents were ill equipped to handle her. At 16 years old Amy and a friend had their own flat. That says a whole lot right there. As Amy got older and more popular with more responsibilities, she became more withdrawn from adulthood and was handling her life in a way most adolescence without proper training would.  Adding booze, drugs, sex and a “I don’t care” attitude on top of everything just for the fun of it.  Friends and family tried to intervene but she didn’t really want their help.  She was in and out of rehab but she attached to mates who kept her where she didn’t want to be, even marrying Blake Fielder who really aided in bringing her to rock bottom by introducing her to drugs.  She actually served as a gravy train for a few family members who looked out for themselves instead of Amy.  When she started to grow up, it was really too late, she was unable to deal with all the problems she had created for herself which included bulimia, drug addiction, alcoholism and depression.

“Amy”, the documentary, captures the very heart of what she was about, which is an amazing person and a true musical genius.  “Amy” has already won 25 awards and is predicted to win more, including Oscar.  It’s hard to get it out of my head and I am so sorry for this loss.  Amy Winehouse had a gift that put her up there with the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Bob Dylan and Tony Bennett, who she made her last album with, in terms of uniqueness and talent as a song writer and singer.  This documentary is worth the time to see — no one is bigger than substance abuse — it will bring you down to your knees!  It’s best not to get started, it’s best to treat it like a venomous snake bite for which there’s no coming back.

[AMY is nominated for Best Documentary Feature]



THE HUNTING GROUND (2015) My rating: 8.5/10

TheHuntingGroundSince this is a documentary, I don’t really think it needs rating.  However, I have to present this as an alleged account of sexual assaults as presented by the makers/writers of this film.  The Hunting Ground tells the blatant truth about RAPE on campus and how it’s ignored.  An edited version of The Hunting Ground aired on CNN, November 22, 2015 before it was released in December.  This film starts out showing the excitement of several young girls and their families when they found out they were accepted in various colleges, which included the likes of Harvard, Berkley, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Amherst College, and Notre Dame.  It didn’t take more than a couple of weeks before many of these girls lives were changed forever.  Apparently, rape is a huge problem for colleges today and ignoring complaints is the way it’s dealt with.  The film implies that many college officials were more concerned with minimizing rape statistics for their universities than with the welfare of the students, thus the message told over and over is that the college has to be protected, not the student.  Other students, college administrators and city officials are accused of contributing more problems for students who try to aggressively pursue their claims.   “The Hunting Ground also includes testimony from male victims of sexual assault. Producer Amy Ziering stated the filmmakers “felt it was important to show men and women. For men it’s often harder to speak up because there is a social stigma associated with rape. Many male victims were feeling ashamed.”

“A section of the film is focused on Jameis Winston, the former star quarterback for the Florida State Seminoles football team (now with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers), and the accusation of sexual assault against him while at Florida State. His accuser, Erica Kinsman, publicly discusses the incident for the first time.”

“The narrative of The Hunting Ground is structured around the story of Andrea Pino and Annie Clark.   Pino and Clark, rape victims and students at the University of North Carolina, became campus anti-rape activists, filed a Title IX complaint against The University of North Carolina on January 16, 2013 (along with three other students) and co-founded the group End Rape on Campus.”

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) makes a brief appearance in the film.  The Hunting Ground is on DVD and in my opinion is worth seeing, especially if you have a child that’s about to attend college.  There much, much more to this film — judge for yourself.  BTW:  Lady Gaga wrote the song (“til it happens to you”) for this film.

[THE HUNTING GROUND is nominated for Original Song]