‘Expedition to the End of the World’ and ‘The Sheik and I’ Top This Week’s Nonfics Home Picks

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 16, 2014:

1. Expedition to the End of the World

[Now Streaming on Amazon Instant Video] — One of our favorite docs of this year (stay tuned for that list), this is the kind of adventurous nonfiction cinema I wish was made more often. Daniel Walber gave it a positive review here, but I’d like to share a bit of my own from Film School Rejects: “When a movie as magnificent as Expedition to the End of the World comes along, it’s hard to find the right words to describe it. Awesome comes to mind, but that sounds so broad. […] The title of the film refers to both the edge of the earth as well as its demise, and yet the journey in question is hardly one of alarm. Just as the physical end of the world is an illusion, given that it’s not flat, the temporal terminus is just a point somewhere amidst the infinity. Expedition to the End of the World follows a group of explorers sailing toward the North Pole along the Northeast coast of Greenland, a trip made possible only recently thanks to global warming, in order to study the newly exposed environment on every level. Scientists aboard the schooner Activ include a geologist, a geochemist, a marine biologist, a zoologist, an archaeologist and a geographer. There are also artists along for the adventure, aside from the filmmakers, which provides for some of the doc’s deepest discussions, on art versus science and ultimately how each is important for our understanding the universe.” (★★★★★)

Arrives on DVD on January 13, 2015.

2. The Sheik and I

[New to Vimeo On Demand] — This unnecessarily controversial doc is provocative for sure but also all in good fun and legal safety. Here’s part of what I wrote out of SXSW 2012: “Sheik is the latest from filmmaker Caveh Zahedi (I Am a Sex Addict) and it’s a satirical semi-documentary filmed in and slightly mocking of Sharjah, one of the United Arab Emirates, as well the culture and religion of the region. It’s a movie you could associate with the works of Mads Brugger, Larry Charles (sometimes with Sacha Baron Cohen), Morgan Spurlock and maybe Jafar Panahi […] the film is not really aimed at Sharjah, Islam or any of the politics or rituals of either, in spite of what it apparently could look like to someone who isn’t paying attention. It’s a film directed at the ignorance of the West, and this includes the very self-aware, very self-reflexive Zahedi, who had never even heard of the place before being asked by the emirate’s arts council to make a film for the Sharjah Biennial.” (★★★★)

Also available on Amazon Instant Video.

3. Planet of Snail

[New to SundanceNow Doc Club] — One of the best documentaries of 2012 (according to both Daniel Walber and myself), this romantic film is part of Thom Powers’s latest curation at Doc Club for a program titled “Unforgettable,” referring to the subjects. The other docs selected are Marjoe, Broken Noses, Buck, Marwencol, A Small Act, Gypsy Davy, Sister Helen and Sick: The Life and Death of Bob Flanagan, Sadomasochist. Here’s what I wrote on Planet of Snail in the introduction to my interview with its director for Documentary Channel: “A lot of documentaries show us the worst of the world, so it’s nice to see a film like Planet of Snail come along and reveal the other side. Directed by Yi Seung-Jun, this new doc is uplifting, yet not in a manipulative or sentimentally sappy way. It just follows a deaf and blind man and his diminutive wife with care and honor and turns out a wonderful and rare look at perfect and true love.” (★★★★)

Also available on DVD and iTunes.

4. Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo

[New to Vimeo On Demand] — While many of us wait for the chance to see the latest from Jessica Oreck, The Vanquishing of the Witch Baba Yaga, here’s at least another way to see her 2009 breakout film. From my review at Spout: “The feature debut of by Jessica Oreck, otherwise an “animal keeper” at NYC’s Museum of Natural History, ‘Beetle Queen’ is kind of better seen on a small screen where the doc’s themes of boxing in creatures and cultures fit with the confines of what may be considered a filmic terrarium. Much of the film deals in Japan’s insect trade and shows us beautiful/scary creatures netted in forests and brought into the city and sold in small enclosures to kids and collectors. Oreck does the very same thing with the nation as a whole, showcasing strange, exotic yet magnificent elements of the Japanese culture, mainly as it relates to historical and folkloric interests in insects, in a neat package for Western viewers. “ (★★★★)

Also available on DVD and Amazon Instant Video.


5. Fake It So Real

[New to Vimeo On Demand] — As most of us wait for the chance to see Robert Greene’s latest, Actress, there’s at least another way to see his previous doc. Here’s part of my review originally published on Spout: “Nothing in Fake It So Real is quite as revelatory as Barry Blaustein’s 1999 pro-wrestling doc Beyond the Mat, perhaps because it doesn’t feature well-known figures like Mick Foley and Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts, whose personal issues and emotionality are felt stronger as a result. Actually their problems would be just as significant if they weren’t celebrities, but the fame does contribute to our sympathy and attentiveness. Greene’s film is nevertheless a very absorbing and heartfelt look at a world curiously relative to the WWE realm. Many of the men in North Carolina’s independent scene strive to go pro. It’s like Fake It So Real is almost the Anvil! Story of Anvil to Beyond the Mat‘s Metallica: Some Kind of Monster.” (★★★★)

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

6. The Invisible War

[New to Fandor] — This Oscar nominee is three years old, but it continues to be an important and influential work, as the problem it addresses hasn’t gone away, even if there has been progress on the issue. Here’s what I wrote on the film at Movies.com when it played the Human Rights Watch Film Festival in 2012: “Although I’m not typically one to recommend a documentary on its cause alone, I believe this is one of the most important films of the year and addresses one of the worst unknown issues in America: sexual assault in the U.S. armed forces. And yes, it is sometimes a difficult doc to get through with all the tears being shed on screen as victims (one of them male) talk about their rapes and how their troubles didn’t end with the actual incident. Too often their stories made me think I was watching an Irish period drama about Catholic ‘fallen’ women being punished for having ‘tempted’ their violators. Considering how fair the film is in sharing the military’s side of the issue, the offense on the Pentagon’s part comes off particularly despicable. Directed by Kirby Dick (This Film is Not Yet Rated; Outrage), it’s not surprising that this is such a strong and quite damning expose.” (★★★★)

Also available on DVD, Netflix Watch Instantly, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video, iTunes, Google Play, Vudu and YouTube.

7. The Trials of Muhammad Ali

[Airs on PBS via Independent Lens on Monday, December 22nd] This listing previously appeared on another Nonfics Home Picks: One of my top 20 docs of last year, this historical film by Bill Siegel (co-director of Oscar nominee The Weather Underground) looks at Muhammad Ali’s life following his conversion to Islam and his protest of the Vietnam War, which landed him a prison sentence for draft evasion and ruined his favor with many Americans for decades. From my review: “[Siegel] doesn’t waste space with the usual, cliche stock footage of Vietnam and undefined shots of random protests in the streets. Every bit of material appears to be directly relevant. It helps that there is much archival footage of Ali to use, but even with access to and allotment of tons of footage many filmmakers still include familiar filler. I don’t know for sure how much here is previously unseen content, but it all definitely feels fresh while also being entirely essential … It’s a look at a history by way of Ali, and it’s a look at Ali by way of history, and it’s one of the best docs I’d claim to have learned something from all year.” (★★★★)

The Independent Lens airing is an abridged cut for television. The full version is available on DVD, Netflix Watch Instantly, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video, iTunes, Google Play, Vudu and YouTube.

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

25 Years of Wacken: Snapshots, Scraps, Thoughts & Sounds

Alex Lambert’s The Mark of Cain


Animal World Volume 3

Brian and the Boz (ESPN 30 for 30)

Edith Wharton: The Sense of Harmony

Emperor’s Ghost Army (Nova)

ESPN 30 for 30 Five-Year Anniversary Collection [Blu-ray only]

Finding Your Roots Season 2

‘Levitated Mass’ (First Run Features)

Ghetto Fights: Street Brutality

The Gilded Age — An IndiePix Special Collection

Katy Perry: Getting Intimate

Hotel Folly: Folie a Deux

How the World “Really” Is

Legends of the Square Circle: Shawn Michaels

Levitated Mass [Nonfics rating: ★★★; Nonfics review]

Live at Wacken 2014 [Blu-ray only]

Makers: Women Who Make America 2


Red Hollywood

Sacrifice: In the Name of Goddess Gadhimai

Still the Enemy Within

The Tortured: Stories of Survival

‘Korengal’ (Saboteur Media)

New to Netflix Watch Instantly:

Ai Weiwei: The Fake Case

Breastmilk [Nonfics rating: ★★★]

I Am Ali

Korengal [Netflix rating: ★★; Nonfics review]


Two: The Story of Roman & Nyro

‘Fake It So Real’ (Drafthouse Films)

New to iTunes/Amazon Instant/VOD:

Antonio Sena — A Mao Esquiva — Doc Alliance

Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo [Nonfics rating: ★★★★] — Vimeo On Demand

Brock Enright: Good Times Will Never Be the Same — Vimeo On Demand

Broken Noses — SundanceNow Doc Club

Buck [Nonfics review: ★★★] — SundanceNow Doc Club

Deepsouth — Vimeo On Demand

Duane Michaels: The Man Who Invented Himself — Amazon

Elena [Nonfics rating: ★★★] — Fandor

Exile Nation: The Plastic People — Amazon

Expedition to the End of the World [Nonfics rating: ★★★★/★★★★★; Nonfics review; Film School Rejects review] — Amazon

The Family Jams — Vimeo On Demand

Fake It So Real [Nonfics rating: ★★★; Spout/Nonfics review]

Fire Lines — Amazon

Granito — Fandor

Gypsy Davy — SundanceNow Doc Club

Happiness (Jorge Silva Melo) — Doc Alliance

Hempsters — Vimeo On Demand

I Am Secretly an Important Man — Vimeo On Demand

‘The Invisible War’ (Cinedigm/Docurama Films)

The Invisible War [Nonfics rating: ★★★★] — Fandor

Kids of Today — Vimeo On Demand

Level Five [Nonfics rating: ★★★; Nonfics review] — iTunes

Liemba — Amazon

A Life Outside [Nonfics rating: ★★] — Vimeo On Demand

Marjoe — SundanceNow Doc Club

Marwencol [Nonfics rating: ★★★★] — SundanceNow Doc Club

The Mexican Suitcase [Nonfics rating: ★★★] — Fandor

NY Export: Opus Jazz — Vimeo On Demand

OK Buckaroos: The Life, Music and Good Times of Jerry Jeff Walker — Vimeo On Demand

On the Whiskey Trail: The History of Scotland’s Famous Drink — Amazon

People’s Park — Fandor

Planet of Snail [Nonfics rating: ★★★★] — SundanceNow Doc Club

Rio Breaks — Vimeo On Demand

Santa Quest — Vimeo On Demand

The Sheik and I [Nonfics rating: ★★★★] — Vimeo On Demand

Sick: The Life & Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist [Nonfics rating: ★★★★] — SundanceNow Doc Club

Sister Helen — SundanceNow Doc Club

A Small Act — SundanceNow Doc Club

The Souls of New York — Vimeo On Demand

The Thanhouser Studio and the Birth of Cinema — Fandor

When the Mountains Tremble — Fandor

Without Shepherds — Vimeo On Demand

The Word is Love — Fandor

Must-See Nonfiction TV:

(All Times Eastern)

‘Stories We Tell’ (Roadside Attractions)

Wednesday — 12/17

4:40am: Cool It [Epix 2]

7:45am: Tim’s Vermeer [Starz East]

10:45am: Soul Power [Starz East]

10:45am: Tim’s Vermeer [Starz West]

11:15am: Banksy Does New York [HBO2 East]

12:30pm: Last Days Here [Showtime East]

1:00pm: Cool It [Epix 2]

1:30pm: Stories We Tell [Epix East]

1:45pm: Soul Power [Starz West]

2:15pm: Banksy Does New York [HBO2 West]

3:30pm: Last Days Here [Showtime Showcase West]

4:30pm: Stories We Tell [Epix West]

7:00pm: Food, Inc. [Pivot]

8:00pm: Crips and Bloods: Made in America [Fusion]

10:00pm: Top Chef: Boston [Bravo]

11:00pm: Banksy Does New York [HBO2 East]

11:00pm: Crips and Bloods: Made in America [Fusion]

11:40pm: Louis C.K.: Hilarious [Epix 2]

‘West of Memphis’ (Sony Pictures Classics)

Thursday — 12/18

12:00am: We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists [Pivot]

2:00am: Banksy Does New York [HBO2 West]

2:30am: West of Memphis [Starz Cinema]

7:00am: Crips and Bloods: Made in America [Fusion]

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

12:35pm: Every Little Step [MoviePlex]

‘Beware of Mr. Baker’ (SnagFilms)

Friday — 12/19

2:00am: Crips and Bloods: Made in America [Fusion]

4:00am: Food, Inc. [Pivot]

5:00am: A Good Job: Stories of the FDNY [HBO East and HBO Latino East]

6:25am: Standing in the Shadows of Motown [Encore Black]

7:25am: Kings Point [HBO Signature East]

8:00am: A Good Job: Stories of the FDNY [HBO West and HBO Latino West]

10:25am: Kings Point [HBO Signature West]

12:40pm: Beware of Mr. Baker [Showtime Extreme East]

3:40pm: Beware of Mr. Baker [Showtime Extreme West]

4:10pm: Standing in the Shadows of Motown [Encore Black]

8:00pm: The Amazing Race [CBS]

‘Inside Job’ (Sony Pictures Classics)

Saturday — 12/20

7:00am: Crips and Bloods: Made in America [Fusion]

11:00am: Our Vinyl Weighs a Ton: This Is Stones Throw Records [Revolt]

7:00pm: Blackfish [CNN]

9:00pm: Inside Job [Pivot]

11:30pm: Inside Job [Pivot]

11:40pm: Mad Hot Ballroom [Showtime Family Zone]

‘Our Vinyl Weighs a Ton’ (Syndctd Entertainment)

Sunday — 12/21

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

8:00am: Food, Inc. [Pivot]

9:00am: Our Vinyl Weighs a Ton: This Is Stones Throw Records [Revolt]

9:00pm: No No: A Dockumentary [Showtime Extreme East]

‘Unraveled’ (Showtime Networks)

Monday — 12/22

12:00am: No No: A Dockumentary [Showtime Extreme West]

6:45am: How to Eat Your Watermelon in White Company (And Enjoy It) [Encore Black]

10:00am: Paycheck to Paycheck: The Life & Times of Katrina Gilbert [HBO2 East]

1:00pm: Paycheck to Paycheck: The Life & Times of Katrina Gilbert [HBO2 West]

1:30pm: How to Eat Your Watermelon in White Company (And Enjoy It) [Encore Black]

3:00pm: Unraveled [Showtime Showcase East]

4:25pm: Jodorowsky’s Dune [Starz Cinema]

6:00pm: Unraveled [Showtime Showcase West]

‘A Good Job: Stories of the FDNY’ (HBO)

Tuesday — 12/23

12:30am: Richard Pryor: Omit the Logic [Showtime East]

3:30am: Richard Pryor: Omit the Logic [Showtime West]

10:00am: A Good Job: Stories of the FDNY [HBO Signature East]

1:00pm: A Good Job: Stories of the FDNY [HBO Signature West]

1:10pm: Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest [Starz in Black]

3:00pm: The Newburgh Sting [HBO East and HBO Latino East]

6:00pm: The Newburgh Sting [HBO West and HBO Latino West]

8:20pm: Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest [Starz in Black]

(Editor in Chief)

Christopher Campbell is the founding editor of Nonfics.