Eastland: Chicago’s Deadliest Day, And Then They Came For Us, & Out of Omaha | RealReels

LJ's top picks for documentaries from the February 2020 issue include gripping films on historical tragedies, social commentary, and modern issues.
And Then They Came For Us. 49+ min. 2018. dist. by Good Docs. DVD. $99. PPR/DVD $549 college & university; $249 non-profit & community.
This affecting documentary focuses on a shameful moment in American history: the incarceration of 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II. Featuring interviews with numerous people forced to leave everything behind, including actor George Takei, their personal stories include vivid details of their lives before, during, and after the war. Rediscovered images by the famed photographer Dorothea Lange help give historical perspective and bring to life the trauma and squalid living conditions in the camps. Written, produced, and co-directed by Abby Ginzberg, And Then They Came For Us makes the case that if this could happen to American citizens in 1942, it could happen again. A terrifying thought indeed.
Barbara Rubin & the Exploding NY Underground. 78+ min. Juno Films. 2018. DVD. UPC 6013725159.
For the 1960s counterculture movement in New York City, Barbara Rubin was a teenage trailblazer. Rubin was only 18 when her experimental 1963 film, Christmas on Earth, exploded minds with its large-scale nudity, graphic sex, and radical psychodelia. She circulated with a who’s who of the times: Warhol, Dylan, Ginsberg. Rubin wasn’t just hanging out observing, she was leading the charge as a rare female filmmaker from the era. Then she completely rejected that world. This is the captivating story of a provocative artist and her contributions to art and cinema over her short but memorable life.
Eastland: Chicago’s Deadliest Day. 83+ min. Moshman Productions. 2019. DVD UPC 8829593895. $19.95
Eastland, a steamship dubbed the “blue-collar Titanic,” was supposed to depart for a Western Electric picnic for immigrant workers and their families as they celebrated a rare Saturday off in 1915 Chicago. The ship never made it off the shore of the Chicago River, capsizing with over 2,500 passengers aboard. In one of the darkest moments of maritime history, 844 souls drowned, many of them women and children. The combination of gripping reenactments, historical photographs, lively accounts from experts and relatives of survivors, and the lurid newsreel that was banned from Chicago theaters give this film a devastating edge as it unspools the story in a fast-paced and surprisingly touching narrative. Eastland has it all: heroes, villains, corruption, legal shenanigans, carnage, teenage adventurers, greed, humor, injustice, and even romance. This is history at its most vivid, bringing a forgotten and tragic moment of Chicago’s past roaring back to life.
Out of Omaha. 92+ min. Passion River. 2018. DVD UPC 602573752845. $24.95.
This intimate coming-of-age film follows twin brothers Darcell and Darrell from age 19 to 25 as they struggle to become productive adults despite the challenges of poverty, racism, and generational trauma. The prospects in North Omaha are grim, and few make it out better off, especially young black men. The film traces a brief history of Omaha from the 1900s through the 1960s, covering racial segregation, violence, and the deep roots of white supremacy across the state. Flash-forward more than 50 years to the ongoing fight against injustice and inequity in the majority-black neighborhood of North Omaha’s where Darcell and Rell are growing up. Despite its bleak setting, the film is imbued with hope as we follow these big-hearted brothers for seven years on their complicated journey toward manhood.

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