Reel life

As much as I like reading a good memoir, I love watching a good documentary film. In my last blog post I wrote about Josh Kilmer-Purcell (author of “I Am Not Myself These Days” and “Bucolic Plague”) and mentioned that the image of him on a tractor reminded me of one of my favorite documentary films, “The Real Dirt on Farmer John”. 

The film follows farmer John Peterson as he returns to his childhood home to take over the running of the family farm. John faces many obstacles as he transitions the farm from traditional to organic farming.  He also struggles with some controversy he creates by incorporating the power of art and free expression in his farming techniques — ideas which don’t go over well in his conservative Midwestern town. 

I find myself watching fewer and fewer feature films, and when I do the script seems so contrived and unnatural compared to a documentary. (I guess that’s because feature film scripts are contrived and unnatural.)   For that reason, I increasingly head over to the non-fiction section of our DVD collection where I find all kinds of wonderful films that don’t just entertain me, but also make me think.

For example, I recently watched the documentary “How to Die in Oregon” and I cannot stop thinking about it.  This film takes a look at the very delicate and difficult subject of physician-assisted suicide by filming terminally ill people as they are faced with making the decision of how and when they would like to die.  Dying is the one thing that we are all going to do, and it is often the least planned-for event of our lives. We plan most of our major life events including graduations, weddings, childbirths and retirements, but very few of us invest the time to plan for dying.  Yet, death is important to plan for because it is so difficult to deal with when it’s happening, whether it’s happening faster than we want or not fast enough.  “How to Die in Oregon” is a tough film to watch but I highly recommend it.

Another all time favorite documentary film is ‘I like Killing Flies” which focuses on Kenny Shopsin who runs the famous Greenwich Village restaurant Shopsin’s. This is the film I was watching when I had the realization that I liked documentaries better than feature films. Kenny is such an interesting personality I doubt whether even the best Hollywood writers could develop a character like him.  It is an older film (gosh it’s from 2004), but we’ll see if we can purchase this wonderful DVD for our collection, so keep an eye out for it in our collection soon! 

In the meantime, check out the many DVDs we have in our collection.  And don’t forget about our “Films on Demand” streaming video service where you can watch a variety of wonderful documentary and non-fiction videos including a documentary on Andy Warhol, many from master documentarian Ken Burns, and (for the meta-minded) two documentaries on the making of documentaries: Capturing Reality: The Art of Documentary, and Documentary Filmmaking: Tips from the Trenches


Photo by pburt207, available under a Creative Commons Attribution license.

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