The last six years have been an amazing time for documentaries.

I am not thinking of the Usual Documentary. That is a movie about important issues you ought to care about: global warming, AIDS, Iraq, the Bush Presidency, the war on terror, the curtailment of civil liberties, genocide in Africa, Columbine, abortion, homosexuality, Iraq, big tobacco, the food industry, the capitalist exploitation of XXX, Iraq, etc..

Or it’s a movie about an important person you should care about (famous athlete, rock star, Hollywood celebrity, or historical figure). Or it’s a movie about Science or Nature, which everybody should care about.

Don’t get me wrong: those movies are great in their own way, and some amazing stuff of this sort has been made in the last 6-7 years too. For example, in the famous rock star category, I was personally crazy about “Metallica: Some Kind of Monster.” In the Iraq meets Famous Person meets the War On Terror (three categories for one) I liked the miniseries “The House of Saddam.”

But the Usual D is not what I want to talk about today.

What I am thinking of here are movies that are ultimately about people, often families, and their friends, children, and enemies — all people you wouldn’t normally have heard of outside the movie being made. They are ultimately movies that are just like a great work of fiction — with the unexpected virtue that the stories really happened.

Strolling backward in time, they are:
* Bigger, Stronger, Faster (2008)
* Surfwise (2007)
* My Kid Could Paint That (2007)
* King of Kong (2007)
* Deep Water (2006)
* Murderball (2005)
* Born Into Brothels (2004)
* Capturing The Friedmans (2003)
* My Architect (2003)

Like any standard documentary, all of these movies appear at first to be about a subject: steroids, surfing, modern art, arcade games, and so on. But very swiftly you get drawn in and realize that’s not what they are really about at all. They are in fact stories, often incredibly gripping, about people and their joys and fears and hopes and suffering; their quest for identity and meaning; and most all the way that Judgment and Love, law and grace, play out in their lives.

God bless, and have a good time at the movies.

Bigger, Stronger, Faster
Is it a documentary about steroids, or a poignant story about three brothers? One of my favorite movies of the last few years.


Surfwise

A movie about a family of surfers: father, mother, eight boys, and one daughter, all living in a 24-foot camper during the 60s and 70s.

My Kid Could Paint That

A young girl becomes the darling of the media and the modern art world, who then turn on her.

Fascinating movie not only about art but about childhood and parenthood.

King of Kong (2007)

Lovely movie about two guys duking it out over the right to be the best Donkey Kong player ever.

Here’s a Mockingbird thread about this movie from January 2009, along with two really fun clips.


Deep Water (2006)

Based on the true story of Donald Crowhurst and the 1969 Sunday Times Golden Globe Race round the world — alone — in a yacht.

A movie about ambition, love, and an abyss of madness and loneliness that threatens to engulf this man.

Beautiful and touching and frightening.


Murderball (2005)
Documentary about quadriplegics who play full-contact rugby in Mad Max-style wheelchairs. More truly a movie about rage, grief, brotherhood, forgiveness, one-way love and implacable law.

Born Into Brothels (2004)

“A portrait of several unforgettable children who live in the red light district of Calcutta, where their mothers work as prostitutes.

Zana Briski, a New York-based photographer, gives each of the children a camera and teaches them to look at the world with new eyes.”

Capturing The Friedmans (2003)

One of the best movies of the last 10 years. True story of a family disintegrating under charges of sexual misconduct.

Not since The Crucible and The Scarlet Letter has there been such a close examination of witch hunts and community self-righteousness.

My Architect (2003)

Partly a movie about the great 20th century architect Louis Kahn, but in truth really a touching meditation about the man’s son, who is searching for his father, “my architect.”

Nice quote from the movie: “How accidental our existences are, really, and how full of influence by circumstance.”