Documentary Suggestions (Part 1)

From the dangers of Pipeline to Olympic sized scandals.

Documentary Suggestions (Part 1)

When faced with choosing a movie, I have a bad habit of spending up to one hour browsing through trailers. Not only does it irritate those around me, but by that time, I have essentially watched twenty mini movies and my attention span no longer has any desire to continue. While this article is tailored to those who can appreciate a non-fiction film and embrace a more somber side, it will hopefully spare the trailer watching part, and provide some sound advice if you are in need of external inspiration for your life ambitions. I will also be including the rating given by Rotten Tomatoes – the source that tends to overly dictate my decisions.

Momentum Generation (Rotten Tomatoes: 100%)

First off, look at that score. When my friend suggested this to me, I was in awe. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a 100% from Rotten Tomatoes. Because of this I had high expectations. And they were meet. The 2018 documentary depicts the immense trials and successes of a group of professional surfers that started out living in a house together as teenagers on O’ahu’s North Shore.

Most of them came from nothing, abusive homes, poverty, and split parents. Nevertheless, with the supportive community and friendships fostered by “Benji’s House” (above right), they obtained incredible achievements in the surfing community (Kelly Slater boasts the record of 11 world titles). They led their generation by introducing surfing into mainstream culture in the 1990s and early 2000s, and by re-gaining a respectable reputation for American surfing on a global level. The film features footage, interviews while honing in on the very real awkward transition from childhood to adulthood. They discuss the mental side of the sport, its cut-throat competition, the value of genuine friendships, and what they accomplished after their professional surfing careers.

Icarus (Rotten Tomatoes: 92%)

Another A-grade rating. In this 2017, Oscar winning film, American cyclist and filmmaker Bryan Fogel sets out to expose the doping industry in elite sports. His personal human experiment on the effect of steroids for an athlete’s performance encounters Russian scientist Grigory Rodchenkov, the former head of Russia’s national anti-doping laboratory, who was involved in the state-run doping program in Russia. Rodchenkov formulates a plan for Fogel to take banned performance-enhancing drugs in a way that will evade detection from drug-testing, helping Fogel’s experiment to prove that the current way athletes are tested for drugs is insufficient. Eventually, the scientist reveals the extent of Russia’s state sponsored Olympic doping program that he oversaw. When these allegations emerge in international media, Rodchenkow is at risk of being “silenced” by the Russian government, and Fogel flies him out to Los Angeles under protective custody. Ultimately, it is hard to describe the shocking nature of all that happened in the Sochi Olympics, the peak of the scandal, but this film was certainly enthralling.

Free Solo (Rotten Tomatoes: 97%)

The man this film is about, Alex Honnold, experiences no activation of the brain’s amygdala when confronted with situations that trigger fear in others. In turn, Free Solo features his quest of scaling El Capitan, a 3,000 foot rock face in Yellowstone National Park, in one go with nothing to protect his fall. So if he falls, he dies. Even lazily sitting down, watching the film, there is a sense of pure adrenaline. The footage of the park is incredible, and in the end, Honnold’s conquering of El Capitan was, according to the New York Times, “one of the greatest athletic feats of any kind, ever.” In my humble opinion, I would have to agree. It is a great inspirational go to if you are looking for proof of what humans are capable of, or a role model to become enamored with.

Cameraperson (Rotten Tomatoes: 99%)

Rotten Tomatoes comes through again with another “certified fresh” status. Lacking a perfect score by 1%, Cameraperson, released in 2016, is classified as an “autobiographical collage.”

Boasting numerous film awards on an international scale, it features cinematographer Kristen Johnson as she composes a memoir of decades of footage and time behind the camera, from her travels all over the world. It grapples with the extent to which documentary makers should engage with the lives of their subjects, and is disjointed in an intentional way to provide a realer sense of Johnson and her personal, creative vision. It is an ode to memorializing the individual experience of life, specifically the unexpected part of it. Excuse the more philosophical review, but I definitely suggest this not only as a very fascinating documentary, but an accessible one too.

Stay tuned for a “Documentary Suggestions Part 2,” possibly featuring 14 Peaks: Nothing is Impossible, Grey Gardens, Summer of Soul, among others. If you feel you have a very compelling documentary recommendation that deserves some Talon attention, please let us know!