Brad Smith (jesus_h_biscuit) wrote,
Brad Smith

Welcome To The Other Side

One of my favorite things to watch on television is a good documentary. At times, they have impacted my life in ways that I still cannot shake. For instance, I was watching a PBS documentary on the holocaust when I was about 8 or 9, and trying to figure out what was going on. I recall it not making a lot of sense to me, but feeling from the cold imagery of the SS troops goose stepping in unison and the vacancy on the faces of the strange, emaciated people behind the barbed wire. There were quick flashes of these huge dug out pits with limp bodies falling into them at odd angles, and of carts full of bodies. I probably thought it was mannequins or something creepy like that (mannequins have always kind of freaked me out). The part that had the most significant impression on me was the scenes involving the crematorium ovens. In one scene, I recall this grainy black and white footage of a smokestack belting out this steady plume of thick, black smoke. Then it went immediately to the crematory oven and that metal door that opened to reveal a stretcher with bones on it. All at once the entirety of what this meant pressed down upon me and I felt my blood run cold and my heart sink. All of it suddenly made as much sense to me as it could, given my age and subsequent world view. I began to cry and within seconds the TV switched off. I turned to see my mother standing behind me with the remote in her hand and that look that parents give a child who has just made an age-inappropriate discovery. She sat down next to me and answered my questions in between our sob soaked hugs for probably an hour. The point is that I learned about the holocaust from a documentary, and to this very day I have a very difficult time looking at smokestacks. I don't know that I have a fear of them necessarily, but I detest being around them and have on occaision spazzed out in their presence.

HBO has for a while now been producing really excellent documentaries in their series America Undercover. This summer they have a new one on celibacy in the priesthood, titled Celibacy. There's a preview link on that page as well. Last Letters Home premiered last Veteran's day. It's about the soldiers who have died in Iraq and their final letters to their families and friends, read by the families. It's really amazing. You can read more about that film here..

Heri To An Execution is about Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were executed in the 1950's as traitors for allegedly relaying the secret of the atomic bomb to the Soviet Union. The film is directed by their grandaughter, Ivy Meeropol. I remember the first time I ever heard of the Rosenbergs was in reading Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar, at a time when my life was The Bell Jar.

My Flesh And Blood is about a woman in California who has adopted 11 special needs children. A Boy's Life is about a child in rural Mississippi who has serious behavioral difficulties. Born Rich is about young adults who are born into some of the wealthiest families in the world and their perceptions of life, family, and their social societies. Terror In Moscow is about the Chechen terrorists who held 700 people hostage in a theater in Moscow in 2002, and the ensuing tragedy. Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer follows the life and death of Aileen Wuornos, and gives tremendously empathetic insight into the woman. I'm still reeling from Charlize Theron's phenominal portrayal of her in Monster.

Then there's the one that I saw not too long ago and meant to post about, but have forgotten for one reason or another. It is safe to say that it is my favorite. It is called Beah: A Black Woman Speaks and it is a story about Beah (Bee-uh) Richards. I remember the first time I can recall ever seeing or knowing anything about her, it was her performance in the film Beloved. She plays a character called Baby Suggs that is so endearing, so enchanting, that one cannot help but be totally charmed by her. Beah's performance was the highlight of an amazing film experience for me. I learned later that she played opposite Sidney Poitier in Guess Who's Coming To Dinner? and In The Heat Of The Night, two other films I can recall enjoying years before I was aware of her. Beah was a poet and a playwright. She acted on stage and screen. She taught her gifts to other artists over time, and involuntarily became an activist through her work and associations. Hers is a story about being a child in segregated Mississippi, and being moved by a dream of becoming something more than her environment. You can read more about the film by clicking here. You can also download [.pdf] a thoughtful classroom and community activity guide inspired by the life and words of Beah Richards.

My second favorite is called Before You Go: A Daughter's Diary. It is a film about the extraordinary relationship between a man and his only child, and his fight (and untimely death) from AIDS. It brought back a flood of memories of friends I have lost, and inspired me that people are capable of such honesty in the face of such horrific suffering.

There are many amazing films produced in this series, I'm leaving out a lot of the ones I've been enthralled by because thisd is already a long post, but the full catalog is available here. If you get the chance, take the time to watch these extraordinary films.
Tags: america undercover, documentary film
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