Top Documentary Films for November

A documentary about an art town showcases the transformative process of creativity, plus more true stories for the month.

Detainee 001. 88+ min. Showtime. 2021. UPC DVD 1007254634. $32.99.

Infamously known in the press as the “American Taliban,” John Walker Lindh became the center of a media firestorm in 2001 when he was arrested at the age of 20 with fellow al-Qaeda soldiers in Afghanistan. Partly the story of Lindh and how he found himself there, partly a philosophical treatise on the nature of treason, this complex film from director Greg Barker tells a complex story. It isn’t easy viewing at times, especially the lengthy section with a wounded Lindh after he’s discovered in a squalid makeshift hospital, but it is extremely fascinating to watch nonetheless. VERDICT An intense film that digs into all the gray areas of the post-9/11 political environment in the United States and the heavy concepts of terrorism and accountability.

Invisible Valley. 87+ min. Kino Lorber. 2021. UPC DVD 3832925933. $19.99.

Southern California’s Coachella Valley, home of the famous music festival and Palm Springs, has an image as being beautiful and exciting. Below the superficial is the stark reality of an area battling issues of economic disparity as the working poor, many of whom are undocumented immigrants, make up an “invisible” labor force. Director Aaron Maurer introduces us to a mix of farmworkers, wealthy snowbirds, festivalgoers, and various locals who scrape by on seasonal jobs. It’s the focus on the migratory undocumented people that makes this documentary emotionally resonant; their struggle to achieve a better life despite low wages and few rights will pull viewers in and make them hope that good things will soon come the workers’ way. VERDICT Shines a welcoming humanistic light on an often-unseen segment of the American population.

The King of North Sudan. 96+ min. Gravitas Ventures. 2021. UPC DVD 1009777088. $18.99.

A small-town Virginia farmer and family man tries to make his young daughter a princess by attempting to form a sovereign monarchy in an unclaimed piece of land in the North African desert—what could go wrong? In 2014, after Jerimiah Heaton planted a made-up flag on the Egyptian and Sudanese border and the media story went viral, his life became a chaotic whirlwind of shadowy military consultants, political lobbyists, and Chinese business criminals with questionable intentions trying to monetize his “kingdom.” It can be both humorous and sad to watch Heaton’s life be consumed with the ramifications of his silly flag-planting. VERDICT In this quirky documentary, an innocent lark turns into a tale of small-scale greed.

Museum Town. 76+ min. Kino Lorber. 2019. UPC DVD 3832925938. $19.99.

This documentary directed by Jennifer Trainer and narrated by Meryl Streep tells the transformative story of post-industrial American blight and its transformation into a haven of art and creativity. The former industrial mill town of North Adams, MA, isn’t an obvious location for one of the largest contemporary art museums in the world, but it has been home to MASS MoCA since 1999 (after the town’s trials in dealing with politicians, finding funding, restoring buildings, and resolving with various controversies with weary locals). The film tells how MASS MoCA came to occupy a vast industrial complex dedicated to art and performance. It also follows the artist Nick Cave (not the singer) as he works on a massive exhibition and gives proof to a museum credo that says MASS MoCA exists to “make art happen.” VERDICT Should be pleasing to anyone interested in art or urban design.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing