“Let’s watch something tonight.”
“Sure. What do you want to watch?”
“I don’t know. You?”
“Uhh…I have no idea either.”
Does this sound familiar? Here’s a suggestion for you! Why not check out these documentaries related to art and social change! These documentaries raise some very important questions and, perhaps, will spark some new ideas, thoughts and discussion.
Note: This is list is in no particular order or preference.
Searching for Sugar man (2012)
The Oscar-winning documentary Searching for Sugar Man tells the almost unbelievable story of a Mexican-American songwriter whose two early Seventies albums bombed in America, but who wound up finding a huge audience in Apartheid-era South Africa. Sixto Rodriguez had no idea he was a legend there until a group of fans found him on the Internet and brought him to the country for a series of triumphant concerts.
(Synopsis via RollingStone)
Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry (2012)
AI WEIWEI: NEVER SORRY is the first feature-length film about the internationally renowned Chinese artist and activist, Ai Weiwei. In recent years, Ai has garnered international attention as much for his ambitious artwork as his political provocations. AI WEIWEI: NEVER SORRY examines this complex intersection of artistic practice and social activism as seen through the life and art of China’s preeminent contemporary artist. From 2008 to 2010, Beijing-based journalist and filmmaker Alison Klayman gained unprecedented access to Ai Weiwei. Klayman documented Ai’s artistic process in preparation for major museum exhibitions, his intimate exchanges with family members and his increasingly public clashes with the Chinese government. Klayman’s detailed portrait of the artist provides a nuanced exploration of contemporary China and one of its most compelling public figures.
(Synopsis via IMDB and MUSE Film and Television)
Miss Representation (2011)
Written and directed by Jennifer Siebel Newsom, Miss Representation exposes how mainstream media and culture contribute to the under-representation of women in positions of power and influence in America.
The film draws back a curtain to reveal a glaring reality we live with every day but fail to see – how the media’s limited and often disparaging portrayals of women and girls makes it difficult for women to feel powerful and achieve leadership positions.
In a society where media is the most persuasive force shaping cultural norms, the collective message we receive is that a woman’s value and power lie in her youth, beauty, and sexuality, and not in her capacity as a leader. While women have made great strides in leadership over the past few decades, the United States is still 33rd out of the 49 highest income countries when it comes to women in the national legislature. And it’s not better outside of government. Women make up only 4.6% of S&P 500 CEOs and 17% of directors, executive producers, writers, cinematographers, and editors working on the top 250 domestic grossing films.
Stories from teenage girls and provocative interviews with politicians, journalists, entertainers, activists, and academics, like Katie Couric, Rosario Dawson, Gloria Steinem, Margaret Cho, Condoleezza Rice, Rachel Maddow, and Nancy Pelosi, build momentum as Miss Representation accumulates startling facts and statistics that will leave the audience shaken, but armed with a new perspective.
(Synopsis via The Representation Project)
Chuck Norris vs Communism (2015)
In communist Romania, thousands of Western films on bootleg VHS tapes — mostly Hollywood action movies — were smuggled behind the Iron Curtain, opening a window into the free world.
Under President Nicolae Ceaușescu, Romania was culturally isolated and ideologically censored. Images of life outside its borders were cut off and TV was reduced to propaganda bulletins. From the drab concrete housing blocks to the food ration lines, the threat of surveillance prevented people from stepping out of line.
But in the mid-1980s, under the nose of the Securitate, Ceaușescu’s secret police, thousands of Hollywood films were smuggled into the country by an underground operative named Zamfir, and they were all covertly dubbed by Irina Nistor, a courageous translator whose distinct voice captivated the nation and became a symbol of freedom.
As we see through evocative re-creations in Chuck Norris vs Communism, a network of secret screening rooms sprung up across Romania as families, friends, and neighbors gathered to watch action heroes like Norris, Van Damme, and Stallone, along with romantic comedies, dramas, and Hollywood epics. While the stories captured the imagination, it was the lavish settings and backdrops that mesmerized the audience. The films offered Romanians glimpses of the abundant West, which prompted the regime to clamp down on the clandestine screenings, casting an atmosphere of ever-present danger and suspicion.
Ilinca Calugareanu’s film brings us to a time and place when films that were made for entertainment also helped spark the coming revolution.
(Synopsis via PBS Independent Lens)
Alive Inside (2014)
This stirring documentary follows numerous visionaries in healthcare including social worker Dan Cohen, founder of the nonprofit organization Music & Memory, as he fights against a broken healthcare system to demonstrate music’s ability to combat memory loss and restore a deep sense of self to those suffering from it. Rossato-Bennett visits family members who have witnessed the miraculous effects of personalized music on their loved ones, and offers illuminating interviews with experts including renowned neurologist and best-selling author Oliver Sacks (Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain), healthcare visionaries Dr. Bill Thomas, Dr. Al Powers, Naomi Fiel, and musician Bobby McFerrin (“Don’t Worry, Be Happy”).
(Synopsis via Alive Inside)
Capital C (2014)
In just a few years, crowdfunding has empowered a whole new generation of artists to create things in a way never been done before. CAPITAL C is the first feature length documentary dedicated to crowdfunding, focusing the hopes and dreams as well as the fears and pitfalls of independent creators in the wake of the digital age. Over a period of three years, the film follows the inspiring endeavors of ZACH CRAIN, JACKSON ROBINSON, and BRIAN FARGO who reach out to the crowd to change their lives forever.
(Synopsis via Capital C)
Chasing Ice (2012)
In the spring of 2005, acclaimed environmental photographer James Balog headed to the Arctic on a tricky assignment for National Geographic: to capture images to help tell the story of the Earth’s changing climate. Even with a scientific upbringing, Balog had been a skeptic about climate change. But that first trip north opened his eyes to the biggest story in human history and sparked a challenge within him that would put his career and his very well-being at risk.
Chasing Ice is the story of one man’s mission to change the tide of history by gathering undeniable evidence of our changing planet. Within months of that first trip to Iceland, the photographer conceived the boldest expedition of his life: The Extreme Ice Survey. With a band of young adventurers in tow, Balog began deploying revolutionary time-lapse cameras across the brutal Arctic to capture a multi-year record of the world’s changing glaciers.
As the debate polarizes America and the intensity of natural disasters ramps up globally, Balog finds himself at the end of his tether. Battling untested technology in subzero conditions, he comes face to face with his own mortality. It takes years for Balog to see the fruits of his labor. His hauntingly beautiful videos compress years into seconds and capture ancient mountains of ice in motion as they disappear at a breathtaking rate.Chasing Icedepicts a photographer trying to deliver evidence and hope to our carbon-powered planet.
(Synopsis via Chasing Ice)
To be Takei (2014)
Over seven decades, actor and activist George Takei boldly journeyed from a WWII internment camp, to the helm of the starship Enterprise, to the daily news feeds of five million Facebook fans. Join George and his husband Brad on this star’s playful and profound trek for life, liberty, and love.
(Synopsis via To Be Takei)
P.S. These documentaries also available on Netflix.