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All In This Tea


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Take something as simple and ordinary as tea, then dig deeply into its roots to show that it is far more complex, subtle, varied, challenging and interesting than you would have ever believed. That’s the recipe for a delicious documentary, and this one delivers. A fanatical tea drinker in California becomes a connoisseur of fine teas, and then goes on to restore now forgotten traditions of organic artisan tea growing in China. Along the way he reveals the fascinating intricacies of how tea is hand-crafted, almost like a bottle of wine. This low-key journey into the hinterlands of China will completely transform your idea of tea.

– KK

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All In This Tea
Les Blank, Gina Leibrecht
2007, 70 minutes
$2, Amazon Instant Video rental

Official website

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Posted December 20, 2012 at 5:00 am | comments


No End In Sight


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It’s hard to be neutral about a war, any war, or even war itself. This is the most neutral inspection of the Iraq war to date. Perhaps because of this neutral perspective, the effect of this documentary is all the more shocking and maddening. It sets aside the controversial reasons for going to war in Iraq and focuses on what happened once it began. This is no Michael Moore prankster rant. It is a non-partisan recounting of the facts by the principle players themselves of what happened. We are talking generals, secretaries of state, ambassadors. Mincing no words they tell how the Iraq war became an ill-planned descent into a generational disaster. One interview after another with key administration and military leaders confirm the colossal scale of this misadventure. The degree of self-admitted incompetence, waste, and hubris among the war planners is simply mind-boggling. Some claim this three-trillion dollar debacle is the worst planned war in the last 100 years. Sadly, as this film makes very clear, there is no happy ending in sight.

– KK

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No End In Sight
Charles Ferguson
2007, 102 min.
$3, Amazon Instant Video rental

Official website

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Posted May 27, 2008 at 9:15 am | comments
| in category Explaining


Why We Fight


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This is a complex anti-war film. I recommend all lefties and righties see it. It’s sort of a civics class.

Its main thesis was articulated by President Dwight Eisenhower, who was no peacenik. As a former US general, Eisenhower was deeply familiar with how the agendas of military contractors meshed with the agenda of a vast standing army to form one large mutually self-reinforcing force called the “military-industrial complex” — a term he coined. This complex was hard to vote against, and therefore hard to constrain. By the end of his term Eisenhower was sincerely alarmed by its influence. He felt that if unchecked it threaten to overtake the interests of a democracy.

To illustrate Eisenhower’s fear of a military-industrial complex gone berserk this film traces its unequivocal expansion since Eisenhower. It retells recent US wars, chiefly Iraq, in the language of the ones who benefit most from the wars. When we fight, they win. Do we fight so that they can win? The filmmakers don’t deal with alternative or supplemental reasons for “why we fight,” so their case is not a balanced trial. But it is a very informative and eye-opening argument. I found it convincing enough that it moved me to agree with President Eisenhower. We should be alarmed by the complex’s power since it gains so much when we fight. The film is a little preachy, suggesting that in order to purify “why we fight” we need to relentlessly push back against this entrenched system which often hides its self-interest in a flag. The desires of the military-industrial complex are not the only reason why we fight, but as this film makes so visible and plain, it can easily become the only reason if we aren’t vigilant.

– KK

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Why We Fight
By Eugene Jarecki
2005, 98 min.
$20, DVD

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Posted May 14, 2007 at 5:00 am | comments
| in category Explaining


The Navigators


Once upon a time Polynesian sailors could cross 6,000 miles of open ocean and land on a tiny pinpoint of an island using only the stars and waves as guides. Most of those navigators have died, and their secret knowledge with them. This film records one of the last navigators as he teaches his art to fairly clueless students. To demonstrate his skill for the benefit of the students and skeptical Westerners, he navigates across the Pacific with a film crew. The last navigator uses an oral ballad handed down through generations and encoded with instructions as the compass, and without sleeping much he watches the complex interactions of the waves to gauge speed and direction. At the end of weeks he arrives in Hawaii on schedule. A simple film showing what the human mind can do. It also honors the sophistication of supposedly simple societies.

(This film was formerly only available at overpriced “educational” prices, but it is now available as a low resolution digital download for a reasonable consumer price, which is how I watched it. While the price is great, the quality is just barely acceptable. Think YouTube.)

– KK

The Navigators: Pathfinders of the Pacific
Sanford Low
1983, 59 min.
DVD, $20

Available from Documentary Educational Resources

Official website

Posted April 30, 2007 at 7:04 pm | comments
| in category Explaining


Who Killed the Electric Car?


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Since GM has just introduced a new electric car, the odd circumstances of their coordinated destruction of all their older electric car seems less sinister. However, take the murder mystery metaphor of this fun film as simply a good narrative device to communicate the peculiar and disheartening politics surrounding alternative energy. There’s a lot broken. This film does a good job in outlining all the forces conspiring against electric cars (many, powerful, and desperate), and the unceasing technological forces converging to make it happen. Now that the reactionary forces have been exposed in full video daylight, the inevitable electric car may happen sooner. This film makes the virtues of an electric car seem so utterly sane and desirable, you’ll want one immediately. I’ve ridden in two different independent luxury electric cars being developed by eager Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, and boy, electric cars are powerful, fast, and amazing. This movie finally explained to me why I can’t buy one yet.

– KK

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Who Killed the Electric Car?
Directed by Chris Paine
2006, 91 min.
$9, DVD

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Posted February 9, 2007 at 5:00 am | comments
| in category Explaining


My Voyage to Italy


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Famous film director Martin Scorsese annotates clips from his favorite Italian films and discusses their influence on him and his art. You get a 3-hour crash course in Italian films, and an appreciation of older films in general. The professor in this case is brilliant. Every great artist should do this: outline and celebrate their influences. Two things this obviously well-made documentary did for me. Made me realize how important Italian filmmaking is, and made me want to see the many legendary ones I have not yet seen. But even if all you see are the excerpts and commentary by professor Scorsese in this film, you’ll have a new level of film understanding.

– KK

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My Voyage to Italy
By Martin Scorsese
1999, 123 min.
$30, DVD (used)

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Posted January 3, 2007 at 5:00 am | comments
in category Explaining