True Films

The Journey of Man: A Genetic Odyssey


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A fantastic documentary tracing the earliest human migration on this planet, as shown by our genetic roots. This informative film, full of surprising news, is based on the work of Spencer Wells, who is both innovative scientist and enthusiastic host. He and crew scour the world for indigenous people with deep roots in one place, asking for samples of DNA to test, in order to piece together our “big family” genetic tree. In Indiania Jones mode, Wells tacks down common ancestors and comes up with some surprising candidates which he interviews. The best parts are when he returns with DNA results and we see the diverse ways in which people and tribes react to the news of what science says about their arrival and relations. View this as adventure travel or as a painless way to begin your genetic literacy.

– KK

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The Journey of Man: A Genetic Odyssey
With Spencer Wells
2003, 120 min.
$14, DVD

Read more about the film at Wikipedia

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Available from Amazon

Posted July 31, 2006 at 5:00 am | comments
| in category Investigative


Gotham Fish Tales


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True stories from the most unlikely fishing hole ever — New York City. Because New York is an island port there’s far more places to fish than most New Yorkers would imagine, and now that environmental laws have cleaned the Hudson’s water, the fishing is actually great. This lighthearted, cheery film documents the many ways New Yorkers fish, and why. And being New Yorkers, everyone has a story.

– KK

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Gotham Fish Tales
Directed by Robert Maass
2003, 74 min.
$25, DVD

Rent from Netflix

Available from Amazon

Posted July 26, 2006 at 5:00 am | comments
| in category Culture


Touch the Sound


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Evelyn Glennie, from Scottland, is a virtuoso percussionist. Her musical performances are stunning and original. She also happens to be profoundly deaf. While we all can hear low vibrations with our body, Glennie has learned to hear high sound vibrations (and music) with her body instead of her ears. She literally “touches” sound, and what a touch! In constant motion and with infinitive child-like curiosity, she plays with sounds everywhere she goes, even though she has to lip-read to hear people talk. This unexpectedly visual film explores the soundscape. You begin to hear things you’ve not heard before, and then see things not seen before. The exquisite cinematography is so in tune with the sonic explorations, that you even begin to see the sounds as well; to in fact hear sounds as bodily things as Glennie does. This is an art film in the most accurate use of the term: it is a work art about artists. Two artists: Glennie and her incredible music, and the filmmaker, who has made the invisible visible and beautiful. As the film progresses, Glennie emerges as original visionary and world-class inspirational hero. I hear the world differently now because of her and this great documentary.

– KK

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Touch the Sound: A Sound Journey With Evelyn Glennie
Directed by Thomas Riedelsheimer
2004, 99 min.
$3, Amazon Instant Video rental

Official website

Read more about the film at Wikipedia

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Available from Amazon

Posted July 24, 2006 at 5:00 am | comments


C’mon Geese


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A maverick sculptor imprints baby goslings to follow his homemade ultra-light airplane as if it were their mother, and in so doing he gets the flock of geese to fly alongside him, where he can film them. Hollywood turned this true story into the family movie Fly Away, and the great documentary Winged Migration borrowed the same technique for other wild birds. But this is the original low-rent documentary made by the Canadian artist himself, wherein he films his journey of invention, with its many dead-ends, failures and ingenious solutions. You get the raw energy and details of an artist at work. It’s an engaging tale, a brilliant achievement, and a marvelous act of imagination.

– KK

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C'mon Geese
Directed by Bill Lishman
1989, 28 min.
$15, VHS

Available from Operation Migration, a non-profit organization co-founded by Bill Lishman

Posted July 19, 2006 at 5:00 am | comments


Century of the Self


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The “self” is a recent invention. It arose out of the confluence of many cultural trends, not least, the invention of media. This remarkable BBC four-part series tackles this very heady subject with great intelligence and imagination. It manages to successfully visualize something ghostly abstract, yet one that is at our core (our selves!). Like a good psychology class, after this series you feel you understand yourself a bit better. But even within academic circles the birth of the self remains a fringe idea. I had heard about the series for years from various enthusiasts, but it was unavailable on tape or DVD, either in the US or the UK. And so it still is. But recently a copy has been floating around BitTorrent, so I downloaded it. Took 8 hours with my DSL. It’s well worth the trouble.

– KK

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Century of the Self
Directed by Adam Curtis
2002, 240 min.

Read more about the film at Wikipedia

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Posted July 17, 2006 at 5:00 am | comments


Reader Survey


Greetings True Film Fans,

Documentary films continue to surprise me. On average they are better than most fictional films these days. They have a wider scope of interest, more ways to be different, and they tickle your mind as well as your heart. Enjoy.

(There was a reader survey here, but its job is done.)

Kevin Kelly

Posted July 10, 2006 at 5:01 am | comments
in category Uncategorized


Mr. Death


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Let’s follow an odd fellow as he strives to perfect the electric chair for the death penalty. By his calculations, the quicker the more humane. He shows us how he does this for various prisons in the US. He then goes on to “perfect” the lethal injection machine, the gallows, and eventually the gas chamber — all for humanitarian reasons of course. His supposed expertise in the gas chambers leads to an invitation by revisionists to examine the gas chambers of the Holocust. Once our hero does his naive engineering analysis in a stealth visit to the death camps ruins, he comes back converted as a Holocust denier. And then his life gets really interesting. This is a story about the consequences of expertise without context or guiding morality. Like all of Erol Morris documentaries, it is extremely well done.

– KK

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Mr. Death: The Rise & Fall of Fred A. Leuchter Jr.
Directed by Errol Morris
1999, 91 min.
$13, DVD

Read more about the film at Wikipedia

Rent from Netflix

Available from Amazon



Word Wars


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Just as Spellbound made the spelling bee cool, Word Wars lifts the invisible world of championship Scrabble into the spotlight. But rather than cute kids, the champs of Scrabble are lone guys without jobs or relationships. They are misfits who neurotically memorize words, and word orders. Their competition is less the joy of winning and more a compulsion. The joy of this film, then, is less the drama of who will win, and more the pleasures of following an odd obsession to see where it takes us. We go deep into a subculture, one of many hidden from the mainstream, and discover strange guys who find the meaning of life in the order of words.

– KK

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Word Wars: Tiles and Tribulations on the Scrabble Game Circuit
Directed by Eric Chaikin and Julian Petrillo
2004, 81 min.
$45, DVD

Read more about the film at Wikipedia

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Posted July 5, 2006 at 7:58 pm | comments


Lewis & Clark


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Well done reconstruction of Lewis and Clark’s scientific/exploratory expedition to the northwest by master historical documentarian Ken Burns. Thorough, fascinating, important.

– KK

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Lewis & Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery
Directed by Ken Burns
1997, 240 min.
$18, DVD

Available from PBS

Read more about the film at Wikipedia

Rent from Netflix

Posted July 3, 2006 at 5:00 am | comments
| in category History