Drew Associates Classics and ‘Kids for Cash’ Top This Week’s Nonfics Home Picks

Jane Fonda

Most people don’t get to see documentaries until they arrive on a home video platform of some kind, whether it’s DVD, Blu-ray, VOD, iTunes, TV, Netflix streaming, etc. Join us every Tuesday for a look at what documentaries and reality programming is recommended by myself and other contributors to the site. As always, if you know of something we missed or should be aware of, drop us an email or a note down below.

Here are our ordered picks for December 2, 2014:

1. Jane and More Drew Associates Classics

[New to SundanceNow Doc Club] — Ten classic documentaries from the legendary Direct Cinema team known as Drew Associates — led by Robert Drew and including D.A. Pennebaker, Ricky Leacock, Albert Maysles, Hope Ryden, James Lipscomb and Gregory Shuker — are now online for the first time. They’ve been rare enough that I’ve only seen a few of them because I had the chance to see them on the big screen, including the incredibly candid Jane, which follows a young, pre-fame Jane Fonda in the lead up to her first real starring role on Broadway. Other titles in the bunch are The Chair, which I highlighted last week, Mooney vs. Fowle, The Children Were Watching, Letters From Vietnam, On the Pole: Eddie Sachs, Storm Signal, Susan Starr, Mission to Malaya and Yanki No! (★★★★★)

Most of these docs are also now available in a 10-film box set of Robert Drew films, though it apparently costs $995.

2. Kids for Cash

[New to DVD via Kino Lorber and on Amazon Instant Video] — I’m a bit bummed that this didn’t make the Oscar shortlist, as it’s a pretty great doc that didn’t get nearly enough attention. Here’s from my review: “this doc is about a scandal involving corrupt judges in Pennsylvania who sent thousands of youths to a detention center from which they received millions of dollars. The verdict on whether that was kickback money incentivizing the conviction of all those minors is both complicated and, I suppose, kind of a spoiler (never mind that it’s public record). And [director Robert May] was able to interview both of the men, Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan, meaning we get to hear their side of the story quite candidly. This is yet another doc that stands out by giving a voice to its villains, although in this case, particularly Ciavarella really tries to make the case that he isn’t a bad guy at all, maybe just someone who ironically lacked good judgement. […] May’s film is a good account of an isolated problem that has come to its conclusion, for the most part. It’s history, basically, and thereby it can now serve, in addition to being simply an outrageous story to be told, as a warning to youths, parents, communities and legal rights organizations that mishandling of juvenile cases is so easy and can go a long way without notice, and in the end the true culprits in these cases may pay for their crimes but the damage to thousands of lives is done and impossibly fully salvaged. Kids For Cash is a nonfiction horror movie complete with a massive teenage body count, and here’s hoping that unlike most scary movies this one doesn’t get a sequel.” (★★★★)

Also available on iTunes, Google Play and YouTube.

3. Gimme Shelter

[Now Streaming on Fandor] — As part of the latest crop of Criterion Collection titles to arrive on Fandor for a limited time, the Maysles brothers’ classic film on The Rolling Stones and the tragedy at Altamont is joined by such docs as Les Blank’s The Blues Accordin’ to Lightnin’ Hopkins and A Well Spent Life, Terry Zwigoff’s Louie Bluie and Total Balalaika Show and Trances. Gimme Shelter is the most essential. Here’s part of what Robert Greene wrote about it here: “The film is a sea of contrasts, beautifully untranslatable, thrilling and haunting in its impressions of human nature. It outlines experience and reflection, the individual and the mob, heaven and hell, sympathy and criticism. It’s about The Rolling Stones, it’s about filmmaking, it’s about the ’60s and it’s about us. Not for an instant do filmmakers Albert Maysles, David Maysles and editor Charlotte Zwerin steamroll real complexity for the sake of a simple, easily digestible story, and yet they have our rapt attention the entire time.” (★★★★★)

Also available on Criterion Collection DVD and Blu-ray, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video and iTunes.

4. Medora

[Now Streaming on Netflix Watch Instantly] — Another doc that deserved — no deserves — more attention. It’s one of last year’s snubs. The film is about a small Indiana town and the high school basketball team that has the dishonor of being the worst in the state, and it’s produced by actors Steve Buscemi and Stanley Tucci. In my review for Film School Rejects, I wrote: “Directors Andrew Cohn and Davy Rothbart seem to only use the basketball story as a means to show smalltown America as an underdog against the rest of the world, though not exactly positively. We’ve seen countless movies stressing the poverty and the hopelessness of areas like this, and a lot of them wind up peddling inspiration. Medora is at times quite moving, perhaps even crowd-pleasing, but it can’t really be called uplifting, even when its subjects are at their most triumphant. The endurance of the town and the team is more respectable than rousing.” (★★★★)

Also available on iTunes, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video, Google Play and Vudu.

5. Out of the Clear Blue Sky

[Now Streaming on Netflix Watch Instantly] — In the review we have of this doc on Nonfics, Daniel Walber rated it only two stars. He and I definitely disagree on it. In addition to my rating being double his and including it in the latest Netflix 100, here is a quote from my thoughts at the old Documentary Channel Blog (from which I’m blurbed in the trailer calling it “devastatingly original”) rather than anything from his critique: “It’s a 9/11 doc that chronicles the days and then years following the tragedy from the perspective of the investment firm Cantor Fitzgerald, which saw 658 employees killed in the destruction of the World Trade Center. How does a company immediately continue in such a disaster, and why must it? These are just two of the difficult questions people like surviving CEO Howard Lutnick had to respond to. [Director Danielle Gardner], whose brother was one of the employees lost, compiles a decade-long record of grief and commemoration that’s understandably very sad. Yet more-interestingly, it’s a complex work that explores the peripheral sides of death and tragedy that aren’t often addressed even in smaller scale incidents.” (★★★★)

6. Documented

[New to Vimeo On Demand] — From Dan Schindel’s review: “for all its faults, when it’s on point, Documented is an effective look at the problems that face millions of undocumented immigrants in the United States, especially the so-called DREAMers, young people who stand to benefit from the DREAM Act. Like many of them, [director/subject Jose Antonio Vargas] came to America as a preteen. He didn’t even know there was anything amiss about his status until his late teens. How anyone could look at such people and call them “illegal” is baffling. What else were they supposed to do? What are they supposed to do now that this is their home, far more than whatever country they or their parents come from? […] The last third is where the movie shines, as Vargas mulls over how he hasn’t seen his mother, still back in the Philippines, in nearly 20 years. They maintain communication, but a tremendous gulf exists between them that isn’t just geographical but emotional. It’s a gut punch emerging from what started out as a fairly conventional doc.”

Also available on DVD, Netflix Watch Instantly, iTunes, Google Play, Vudu and YouTube.

7. Fifi Howls From Happiness

[New to DVD via Music Box Films and on VOD] — From Daniel Walber’s review: “Once upon a time, Bahman Mohasses was one of Tehran’s most influential artists. Then he disappeared. It has never been easy for an outspoken gay painter and sculptor to work and live in the Iran capital, under the Shah or the Ayatollah. The rumor is that he destroyed many of his paintings, hopped on a plane and ended up in Italy. Then in 2010, decades later, documentarian Mitra Farahani found him, interviewed him and made Fifi Howls from Happiness. He did turn out to be in Italy, 79 years old and living in a Roman hotel suite, but Farahani won’t say exactly how she found him. This isn’t Searching for Sugar Man, or any other documentary masquerading as a detective story. Actually, Fifi Howls from Happiness is most successful in what it avoids. Mohasses is a larger-than-life character, who challenges the camera and tries to wrest control of the film. He even issues demands as to how it should be edited, which are sometimes ignored and sometimes tolerated. Yet Farahani manages to keep him at bay. His pushiness and aggressive charisma is alternately charming and frustrating, but it is always kept under control.” (★★★)

Also available on iTunes, Amazon Instant Video and Vudu.

New to DVD [and/or Blu-ray]:

5 Seconds of Summer: So Perfect — The Ultimate Story

5 Seconds of Summer: Up Close & Personal

Austin City Limits Celebrates 40 Years

Bob Marley: The Lost Tapes

C.S. Lewis: Reluctant Disciple — Faith, Reason and the Power of Gospel

The Dark Matter of Love

Eric Clapton: The Best, The Rest, The Rare

Fagbug Nation

Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead 2

Music Box Films

Fifi Howls From Happiness [Nonfics rating: ★★★; Nonfics review]

Filmage: The Story of Descendents/ALL [Also on Blu-ray]

Florida Georgia Line: Life On Stage

Iggy Azalea: Her Life, Her Story


It’s Not Over

Kids for Cash [Nonfics rating: ★★★★; Nonfics review]

Leonard Cohen DVD Collector’s Box Set

Pay 2 Play: Democracy’s High Stakes

Robin Williams Remembered (Pioneers of Television)

Sam Smith: My Story

Sand Wars

Stories of WWII 10-Film Box Set

Struck By Lightning

There’s No Place Like Utopia

Tom Petty: I Won’t Back Down

Who Cares About the Saints?

Willie Nelson: On the Road Again

Words of Art

Worker The Movie


New to Netflix Watch Instantly:

Darius Goes West: The Roll of His Life

Legends of the Knight


Medora [Nonfics rating: ★★★★; Film School Rejects review]

Out of the Clear Blue Sky [Nonfics rating: ★★★★/★★; Nonfics review]


New to iTunes/Amazon Instant/VOD:

3 Billion and Counting — Amazon

Ariel — Amazon

Artel — Doc Alliance

Bicycle: The Film — Vimeo On Demand

The Blues Accordin’ to Lightnin’ Hopkins [Nonfics rating: ★★★★★] — Fandor

The Deadly Ponies Gang — Vimeo On Demand

Documented [Nonfics rating: ★★★; Nonfics review] — Vimeo On Demand

Edge of the Earth — Vimeo On Demand

The Factory — Doc Alliance

A Field Full of Secrets — Amazon

Fifi Howls From Happiness [Nonfics rating: ★★★; Nonfics review] — Amazon, iTunes

Ghosts & Witches of Olde England — Amazon


Gimme Shelter [Nonfics rating: ★★★★★] — Fandor

Grass — Vimeo On Demand

Gucci: The Director — Amazon

Happily Ever After — Amazon

Iceland Aurora — Vimeo On Demand

Landscape — Doc Alliance

The Last Play at Shea — Vimeo On Demand

Latino: America’s Secret War in Nicaragua — Vimeo On Demand

The Letter — Doc Alliance

Louie Bluie — Fandor

Masterclass of Sergej Loznitsa — Doc Alliance

The Miracle of Saint Anthony — Doc Alliance

Monkey Business — Fandor

Portrait — Doc Alliance

The Real History of Science Fiction: Time Travel Special — Amazon

Red Reign — Vimeo On Demand

Revue — Doc Alliance

RIP! A Remix Manifesto — Vimeo On Demand

Rockin’ the Wall — Amazon

Settlement — Doc Alliance

The Sheik — Amazon


Showrunners: The Art of Running a TV Show [Nonfics rating: ★★; Nonfics review] — Amazon

Sixth Man: Bluesanity — Vimeo On Demand

Total Balalaika Show — Fandor

The Train Stop — Doc Alliance

Trances — Fandor

Web Junkie [Nonfics rating: ★★; Nonfics review] — Amazon

A Well Spent Life [Nonfics rating: ★★★★★] — Fandor

You Drive Me Crazy — Amazon

Must-See Nonfiction TV:

(All Times Eastern)


Wednesday — 12/3

12:45am: My Kid Could Paint That [Starz Kids]

9:00am: The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz [Pivot]

11:00am: Grizzly Man [Starz Cinema]

1:25pm: Mad Hot Ballroom [Showtime Familyzone]

10:00pm: Top Chef: Boston [Bravo]


Thursday — 12/4

5:05am: Milius — SD version [EPIX 2]

8:45am: Captivated: The Trials of Pamela Smart [HBO2 East]

10:00am: Pearl Jam Twenty [Palladia]

11:45am: Captivated: The Trials of Pamela Smart [HBO2 West]

5:00pm: Best Worst Movie [Chiller]

11:00pm: Best Worst Movie [Chiller]

no no 2

Friday — 12/5

8:15am: A Good Job: Stories of the FDNY [HBO East and HBO Latino East]

11:15am: A Good Job: Stories of the FDNY [HBO West and HBO Latino West]

3:00pm: Mad Hot Ballroom [Showtime 2 East]

4:45pm: No No: A Dockumentary [Showtime Extreme East]

6:00pm: Mad Hot Ballroom [Showtime 2 East]

7:45pm: No No: A Dockumentary [Showtime Extreme West]

8:00pm: The Amazing Race [CBS]

10:00pm: Senna [ESPN Classic]

11:00pm: Food, Inc. [Pivot]

11:00pm: Ivory Tower [CNN]

Producers Distribution Agency

Saturday — 12/6

1:00am: Senna [ESPN Classic]

2:10am: How to Eat Your Watermelon in White Company (And Enjoy It) [Encore Black]

4:00am: Senna [ESPN Classic]

11:30am: Banksy Does New York [HBO East and HBO Latino East]

1:30pm: Elevate [ESPN Classic]

2:30pm: Banksy Does New York [HBO West and HBO Latino West]

3:00pm: Gunnin’ for That №1 Spot [ESPN Classic]

9:00pm: Sicko [Pivot]

10:00pm: Senna [ESPN Classic]

HBO Documentary Films

Sunday — 12/7

12:00am: Sicko [Pivot]

4:00am: Senna [ESPN Classic]

6:00am: Kings Point [HBO Signature East]

6:30am: A Place at the Table [Pivot]

9:00am: Kings Point [HBO Signature West]

10:05am: Mad Hot Ballroom [Showtime Familyzone]

12:00pm: Gunnin’ for That №1 Spot [ESPN Classic]

4:30pm: Beware of Mr. Baker [Showtime Extreme East]

4:30pm: Mad Hot Ballroom [Showtime Familyzone]

6:30pm: December 7th [TCM]

7:00pm: Senna [ESPN Classic]

7:30pm: Beware of Mr. Baker [Showtime Extreme West]

9:30pm: Louis C.K.: Hilarious [Epix East]

10:00pm: Senna [ESPN Classic]


Monday — 12/8

12:30am: Louis C.K.: Hilarious [Epix West]

1:00am: Senna [ESPN Classic]

3:30am: West of Memphis [Starz Cinema]

4:00am: Senna [ESPN Classic]

4:20am: Louis C.K.: Hilarious [Epix East]

7:20am: Louis C.K.: Hilarious [Epix West]

9:45am: No No: A Dockumentary [Showtime Extreme East]

12:45pm: No No: A Dockumentary [Showtime Extreme West]


Tuesday — 12/9

2:00am: Last Call at the Oasis [Pivot]

3:40am: I Am Divine [The Movie Channel Extra East]

6:40am: I Am Divine [The Movie Channel Extra West]

9:45am: The Other Dream Team [Epix East]

12:45pm: The Other Dream Team [Epix West]

(Editor in Chief)

Christopher Campbell is the founding editor of Nonfics.