Top Docs: A Refugee’s SoCal Donut Empire; an Ode to Glamorous Movie Palaces

LJ’s documentary film reviewer picks four stirring new works, now available on DVD/Blu-ray.

The Donut King. 94+ min. Greenwich Entertainment. 2020. DVD UPC 738329251529. $19.95.
For some immigrants, the American dream can be found in the strangest places. Ted Ngoy, a refugee fleeing war-torn Cambodia arrived in California in 1975 and found something unexpected: the donut. A decade later, Ngoy had created a donut empire dotting the Southern California landscape. Through Ngoy’s story we learn the horrific history of Cambodia in the 1970s under the Khmer Rouge, and how he sponsored over 100 families also fleeing Cambodia, many of whom went into the donut business under “Uncle” Ted’s leadership. Director Alice Gu’s film is a heartwarming tale of perseverance, hard work, immigrants achieving the American dream, and yes, donuts. Lots and lots of mouth-watering donuts.
White Riot. 83+ min. Film Movement. 2019. DVD UPC 850021115074. $24.95–$200 (includes PPR license).
In the late 1970s, England was in turmoil. The bleak hopelessness that gripped the youth created the punk rock music movement. It also birthed an upswell of fascist-leaning hate groups spewing racism towards England’s immigrant community. Director Rubika Shah’s film is a fascinating snapshot of the collision between music and the anti-racist collective known as Rock Against Racism (RAR). Inspired by controversial comments by mainstream musicians such as Eric Clapton, Rod Stewart, and David Bowie, RAR began as a fanzine and morphed into a widespread musical movement with concerts by artists such as The Clash, Steel Pulse, and Polly Styrene. Bustling with nonstop energy, this film digs into this volatile moment in English culture and features a lot of feral music from the concert stage and bluntly asks the difficult question: How much has changed in the post-Brexit world of England?
Going Attractions: The Definitive Story of the Movie Palace. 84+ min. Passion River. 2020. DVD UPC 659245577893. $24.95.
2020 was a dire year for movie theaters with the pandemic shuttering doors across the country. For viewers missing that community experience, April Wright’s film will provide a calming balm, as it is a love letter to the glamorous days where theaters were literally palaces. Early on in film history, industry leaders in Hollywood recognized that theaters were the key factor in enticing the masses, and they constructed the idea of theaters as fantasy locales to escape the doldrums of life. Cavernous, ornate architectural wonders could be found across every American city in one breathtaking theater after another. Wright does not shy from the challenges and the heartbreaking examples where these unique places met the wrecking ball, but this documentary is ultimately a treasure trove of images, stories, and magical examples of American history.
Soledad. 24+ min. New Day Films. In English and Spanish with English subtitles. 2019. DVD $75–$195 (includes PPR license).
Soledad traces the disturbing story of a young woman seeking asylum to the United States after a harrowing existence of sexual assault, kidnapping, and forced prostitution as a teenager. Lisa Molomot’s documentary is very straightforward, as Soledad tells her story along with the team of individuals who fought for her freedom after she was arrested at the Arizona border. Shining a spotlight on the difficult process that those seeking asylum from perilous situations in their home country go through when they get to America, the film personalizes this issue in a simple but powerful way, and with its short running time it could be a terrific option in a classroom setting.
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