Saturday, February 2, 2013

Non-lollipop Docs.

A few days ago I wrote about documentaries I attended via theater in 2012. Today I'm remembering a few I also caught last year, but on DVD or some other streaming format.

We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists. (Brian Knappenberger)

A year-by-year history of the Internet hacker group Anonymous, this film brings you that much closer to understanding their roots in on-line discussion forums, and how they emerged into a multi-national, headless organization unafraid of speaking out (and certainly lashing out) at groups and governments as they see fit: from Scientology (the dispute that unified them, giving them purpose and making them famous) to aiding in the Tunisian Revolution, to their most recent stand against Westboro Baptist, the Fred Phelps "church" most known for bashing gays and protesting deceased soldiers' funerals. I have always wondered about this fascinating group, a social conglomerate known for its pranks, its mystique, and its zealous spirit which stops at nothing. Anonymous's main cause is found somewhere in enabling information -- making it as free flowing as possible -- and a stoppage of censorship in any form. The path they take to get to their goal contains side roads for change in political and cultural areas. We meet members of the group, many setting their Guy Fawkes masks aside and showing their faces (somewhat a danger these days to them personally), and we meet quite a few who are facing, or have already faced jail time. We even meet a turncoat, an established member who turned in several members' names to the FBI. This is enlightening, and interesting, and it reminds us that we are all part of a collective, whether we choose to be anonymous or not.

The Invisible War. (Kirby Dick)

A sure-fire eye-opener for anyone ready for a tough subject, The Invisible War begins with a caption reading that the statistics in the film are from legitimate government sources. If that is true -- and as it progresses, it shows that it is -- it is damning, and unjustifiable, and there is a serious problem in our military. This is not typical fair regarding the US military though -- a standard doc which displays the horrors of war, or Iraq, etc. This is a film about rape, and how our military lets it happen: to its own members, by its own members, and brushed aside by many other members into higher and higher ranks. To see the women -- and men -- crying in front of the camera is to see the people that have fought for your (and their) freedom, cast aside because our military lets deviant pigs get away with it. And it's just that simple. There is no huge conspiracy here other than the fact that the higher ranking officers who could put an end to this simply don't care. If there were a film I saw last year that I hope would be an impetus for change, The Invisible War is certainly that film. Until that change is made, I will never let my daughter, or son, be in the military.

How To Survive a Plague. (David France)

A heart-breaking doc on AIDS advocacy groups ACT and TAG, and a chronological telling of their members stories, and how they saved their own future lives by staring down the disease in the days when no one understood it, by campaigning for awareness and challenging drug companies and politicians to step up. There are gripping stories here in which we see the disease, and the horrible way it can end young lives, and a group of people that rise up to raise awareness and fight it and find medicine (and insurance for its sufferers). The film as a whole is an incredible journey, but the first fifteen minutes are the most: using archival footage from the 80s, when these groups first began, it takes us through their early meetings, nary an interview or a word of narration. Millions were dying at the time, and the disease was dismissed by even hospitals who didn't understand it. Were it not for the protesting of this collective group of individuals (some gay and some not), AIDS might not have received the awareness it eventually did, and it certainly wouldn't be as manageable today. A film like this brings hope for the sufferers of a film like The Invisible War.

Indie Game: The Movie. (Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky)

When you think about a so-called "starving artist," you usually think of a writer, or a painter, perhaps a ballerina or an out of work actor. You might think about that crazy looking guy with all the tats, the one you saw at the last city art fair -- he was stooping over his creation, lovingly close to the thing he made, and you were wondering why he made it, and where in the house you could hang it -- and maybe you understood that if he was a starving artist, it was deservedly so. Indie Game: The Movie is a little long-winded. At 103 minutes, it feels like a little much. But it's still a very rewarding film which shows us a side of art we may have never before considered. Here are some extremely talented men on a journey to create video games, games in which they feel a part of their own heart is coming forth. The creators of Fez and Super Meat Boy are made up of teams of only one or two people at the most, and it takes years for them to develop, and sell, their game -- if their game is to sell at all. The labor going into the making of these games is incredible, and like any act of art, or any long journey on a tough project, they get half way through it and realize it might not work at all. Their dream of finishing it, and selling it, might come true -- and they might make millions -- or all their dreams might soon be crushed. One of the makers even suggests, facing bankruptcy and having to carry on his work alone, that if he can't see some kind of decent end result on the current game he's making, it might be the end of the road for him -- the kind that ends with his life. Indie Game: The Movie turns out to be a very sentimental film about the creation process, the making of indie art. But it also balances on the idea of a common need -- we all need to figure out how to somehow make money. It's a fine line the makers of these lower-budget games face: the desire to create what you like, compared to having to sell it and get others to like it (and buy it) as well.

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