Eugene Jarecki: Documentary recommendations

One of my favourite guests so far was documentary filmmaker Eugene Jarecki. At the end of my conversation with Eugene I asked him what his favourite non-fiction films were. Of the four films he mentioned, I’ve only seen one, Man On Wire, but they all look brilliant. Here are his recommendations:

Sherman’s March, Ross McElwee, 1985/6

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First of all, the subtitle for this movie may just be the best (and longest) in the history of film. Sherman’s March: A Meditation on the Possibility of Romantic Love in the South During an Era Of Nuclear Weapons Proliferation.  Here’s a segment from the Wiki for the film followed by a short clip.

McElwee initially planned to make a film about the effects of General William Tecumseh Sherman's march through Georgia and the Carolinas (the Georgia portion of which is commonly called the "March to the Sea") during the American Civil War. A traumatic breakup McElwee experienced prior to filming made it difficult for him to separate personal from professional concerns, shifting the focus of the film to create a more personal story about the women in his life, love, romance, and religion. Other themes include the spectre of nuclear holocaust in the context of the Cold War and the legacy and complexity of General Sherman's own life.

The Gatekeepers, Dror Moreh, 2012

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This film interviews every head of the Israeli intelligence agency, Shin Bet. Here’s a short synopsis of The Gatekeepers from the site attached to the film followed by the official theatrical trailer.

For the first time ever, six former heads of Israel’s domestic secret service agency, the Shin Bet, share their insights and reflect publicly on their actions and decisions.
Since the Six Day War in 1967, Israel has failed to transform its crushing military victory into a lasting peace. Throughout that entire period, these heads of the Shin Bet stood at the center of Israel's decision-making process in all matters pertaining to security. They worked closely with every Israeli prime minister, and their assessments and insights had—and continue to have—a profound impact on Israeli policy.

The Act Of Killing, Joshua Oppenheimer, 2012

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I can’t believe I’d never heard of this doc before. It sounds and looks amazing. Here’s the blurb for the movie from the site followed by the trailer.

Anwar Congo and his friends have been dancing their way through musical numbers, twisting arms in film noir gangster scenes, and galloping across prairies as yodelling cowboys. Their foray into filmmaking is being celebrated in the media and debated on television, even though Anwar Congo and his friends are mass murderers.

Medan, Indonesia. When the government of Indonesia was overthrown by the military in 1965, Anwar and his friends were promoted from small-time gangsters who sold movie theatre tickets on the black market to death squad leaders. They helped the army kill more than one million alleged communists, ethnic Chinese, and intellectuals in less than a year. As the executioner for the most notorious death squad in his city, Anwar himself killed hundreds of people with his own hands.
Today, Anwar is revered as a founding father of a right-wing paramilitary organization that grew out of the death squads. The organization is so powerful that its leaders include government ministers, and they are happy to boast about everything from corruption and election rigging to acts of genocide.
The Act of Killing is about killers who have won, and the sort of society they have built. Unlike ageing Nazis or Rwandan génocidaires, Anwar and his friends have not been forced by history to admit they participated in crimes against humanity. Instead, they have written their own triumphant history, becoming role models for millions of young paramilitaries. The Act of Killing is a journey into the memories and imaginations of the perpetrators, offering insight into the minds of mass killers. And The Act of Killing is a nightmarish vision of a frighteningly banal culture of impunity in which killers can joke about crimes against humanity on television chat shows, and celebrate moral disaster with the ease and grace of a soft shoe dance number.

Man On Wire, James Marsh, 2008

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This is the only one of Jarecki’s recommendations that I’ve seen. It chronicles Philippe Petit’s 1974 wire walk between the twin towers in New York. It also includes one of my favourite one-liners in cinema. When Petit was asked by the New York press why he had risked his life to walk between the towers he replied: “There is no ‘why’. When I see a beautiful place to put my wire I cannot resist. I see three oranges and I have to juggle. I see two towers and I have to walk.” Here’s the original theatrical trailer for the film.

Listen to my interview with Jarecki about his brilliant documentary which explores the war on drugs, The House I Live In, here .

It's good to talk

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