Real Reels | Documentaries To Note, Dec. 2022

From a documentary about a groundbreaking feminist living in exile from Iran to gun violence in the U.S., these documentaries enhance collections and expand understanding. 

From a documentary about a groundbreaking feminist living in exile from Iran to gun violence in the U.S., these documentaries enhance collections and expand understanding.  

Be My Voice. 83 min. Video Project. In Farsi & English w/English subtitles. 2021. $89 with PPR license.

Talk about timely. Currently in the news in Iran, led by Iranian women, furious protests regarding the restrictive hijab (headscarf) laws have turned into a revolutionary movement. A figure in the current protests, Iranian journalist/activist Masih Alinejad, is at the center of this documentary about the groundbreaking feminist who has lived in exile from Iran, in fear of retribution for her relentlessly outspoken critique of both the hijab and the ruling Islamic Republic. The courageous Alinejad is a tireless ball of energy, a fast-talking free spirit, who is unwavering in her social media assault on Iran’s punitive hijab laws. Make no mistake, it is extremely dangerous for women in Iran to defy these laws, as this film makes clear; they risk beatings, prison, and even death. VERDICT Inspiring, infuriating, and timely, Nahid Persson’s documentary gives voice to fearless women in Iran seeking change.

Bulletproof. 84 min. Grasshopper Film. 2020. DVD UPC 5329400799. $29.99.

Any documentary about school violence is going to have disturbing elements, and although this documentary is absent of scenes of bloody carnage, it is still tinged with sadness as realization sets in that mass murder of children is something that might occur during any given school day. Todd Chandler’s film is a bit different from other school violence docs. It doesn’t detail shootings that have occurred; instead it focuses on the myriad ways institutions prepare themselves to stop an in-progress shooting or prevent one entirely. The film has no discussion of gun control—this is the United States after all—but vieweers see everything else, from extremely detailed active shooter drills, teachers learning to shoot guns as if in combat training, the emerging billion-dollar mass shooting prevention industry, and the use of technology to monitor people. VERDICT Covering a tough but important subject matter, this film is quietly heartbreaking.

Searching for Mr. Rugoff. 94 min. @nyindieguy. 2019. UPC DVD 1010368118. $18.99.

In the annals of film history, Don Rugoff has slipped into the forgotten category. Director Ira Deutchman attempts to rectify that in his low-key ode to New York City movie nostalgia with this picture. In the 1960s and ’70s, Rugoff was a key player in movie distribution and exhibition, running glamorous theaters and promoting adventurous films from around the globe. Rugoff’s management style might be described as toxic in today’s language; he was prone to rages and treated staff terribly, and this film is full of stories of bizarre actions and bad behavior. But, interviewed decades later, even Rugoff’s poorly treated former employees seem to respect the man for his zealous love of film. VERDICT Movie lovers will take note and learn about a forgotten eccentric in the business.

Summer of Soul. 118 min. Searchlight Pictures. 2021. DVD UPC 8693689416. $19.99.

In 1969, the same year as the famed Woodstock festival, another concert event was taking place in uptown New York City—the Harlem Cultural Festival. While the former got a lot of attention, the latter all but disappeared into the memories of those who were there—until now. Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson’s directorial debut brings attention to the Harlem Cultural Festival’s performances, but it’s more than a concert film; it’s also a joyous celebration of Harlem and Blackness amid the social and cultural zeitgeist of the late 1960s. And it features an absolutely blazing lineup of musical artists, including Stevie Wonder, Sly and the Family Stone, Nina Simone, and the 5th Dimension. Perfectly paced and edited, this documentary is bursting with an electric kaleidoscope of life that puts viewers right in the audience. VERDICT An essential purchase for all public libraries. Turn the volume up and revel in the sights and sounds of this rousing Oscar winner.

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