‘Remembrance of Things to Come’ and ‘Mistaken For Strangers’ Top This Week’s Nonfics Home Picks

Mistaken For Strangers

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. So, this may be the most important post of the week for fans of nonfics. 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 March 25, 2014:

1. Remembrance of Things To Come

[New to Fandor] — An essay film by Chris Marker and Yannick Bellon focused on the life and work of the latter’s mother, photographer Denise Bellon. At 41 minutes, it is a fairly brief biography of one woman and a kind of history of the early 20th century, through her eyes. The film is comprised mainly of still images taken by the elder Bellon, portraits of her surrealist friends and strangers from occupied Africa, as well as photojournalistic accounts of both World War I and World War II and events in between. The title may refer to the documents on screen being pieces of a chronological chain, acknowledging with hindsight how those pieces fit into a history before the fact, in the same way that you can look at a young Denise and know she must in retrospect appear to be a sign of the daughters (Yannick included) to come.

In addition to watching this short, you must afterward view Kevin B. Lee’s shorter essay Chris Marker: An Image Index (also via Fandor), which speeds through Remembrance of Things to Come while providing more context to the images and better understanding of the film.

Also available on DVD and Amazon Instant Video

2. Mistaken For Strangers

[Available on iTunes, Amazon Instant Video and more this Friday, March 28th] — You’ve got a few days before you can check this one out, as it hits digital outlets day-and-date with its theatrical release this weekend, but definitely check it out. Be warned that it’s not about The National as much as it’s a personal film about the director, Tom Berninger, brother of the band’s frontman, Matt Berninger, as he chronicles his experience on tour with them. In that way, it’s not quite a rock doc, yet it’s also one of the most interesting rock docs in years. The film landed at the top of guest contributor Andy Markowitz’s list of the top 10 music docs of 2013, where he wrote, “Mistaken for Strangers is a stroke of accidental genius. Berninger’s utter inability to make a standard-issue tour doc about his brother Matt’s band, indie darlings The National, yields instead a uniquely revealing and hilarious exploration of what it’s like to be the fuck-up little brother of a rock star — and, not unsympathetically, what it’s like to be a rock star with a fuck-up little brother.” I disagree about the accidental part, but I should have more to say in a full review later this week.

Also in theaters starting Friday

3. Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall

[Premieres on HBO on Monday, March 31st] — Of the five short documentaries nominated for the Oscar this year, this was the closest thing to a standout, according to Daniel. Here’s part of his four-star capsule review of the film: “The achievement of director Edgar Barens is two-fold. First, Hall’s hospice experience is an excellent means by which he can honestly portray the prison system. Prison Terminal hardly masks the brutal realities of the penitentiary, but its warm presentation of the inmate volunteers of the hospice and the interaction between prisoners and guards (and the families of guards) emphasizes the humanity of everyone involved, including the convicted felons. Secondly, Hall’s own story is also resonant on its own, and his journey toward accepting his own death allows glimpses into the greater experience of the ‘American Century,’ as we once called the 20th. The way that PTSD affected him and his friends, the residual horrors of war and their most insidious manifestations emerge as a subtle undertone of Hall’s life and how he ended up in prison in the first place.”

Also available on HBO GO and HBO On Demand beginning Tuesday, April 1st.

4. The Punk Singer

[New to DVD and Amazon Instant Video] — In addition to receiving a mention in Landon’s post on the best music docs of 2013, this film about riot grrl rocker Kathleen Hanna by Sini Anderson earned three stars in our review (also by Landon). Here’s an excerpt: “Anderson offers a passionate and informative character study of Hanna and creates an accessible and potent introduction for those who may not be familiar with the singer or Bikini Kill or social movements defined by deliberate misspellings of ‘girl.’ But even more impressively, Anderson captures the experience of Kathleen Hanna: the feeling of witnessing her on stage, the empowering attitude and philosophy of riot grrl culture, and the changes that life brings to one’s creative output. Yes, you’ll come away from The Punk Singer with a clear understanding of why Hanna is important, but the film is hardly a distant and methodical portrait of a figure important to recent music history. The Punk Singer goes well beyond simply studying Hanna and identifying with her.”

DVD bonus features: Deleted Scenes, Featurettes, Trailer

Also available on Netflix Watch Instantly, Google Play and YouTube

5. When Jews Were Funny

[New to iTunes] — Winner of the award for Best Canadian Feature at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival, this doc by Alan Zweig is about Jewish people apparently not being funny anymore, and it gathers such comedians as Shelley Berman, Judy Gold, Gilbert Gottfried, Howie Mandel and Marc Maron. From the fest, Daniel gave the film three stars and wrote, “somehow When Jews Were Funny is worth seeing in spite of its somewhat clueless director. He is, after all, talking to Jews. This is a people known for answering questions with yet more questions. The comedians gathered here are combative, unwilling to let Zweig get away with a simple elegy for what he perceives as a departed culture…The presence of so many great comedians makes When Jews Were Funny an automatically hilarious film.”

Available on DVD beginning next week

6. Let the Fire Burn

[New to DVD] — This listing previously appeared on another Nonfics Home Picks: One of the best directorial debuts I’ve seen in years, this Cinema Eye Honor-winning compilation film by Georgetown professor Jason Osder came in at #5 on my list of the best of last year and #8 on our critics poll. It is also #5 on Nonfics’s best of 2013 list, where Landon Palmer wrote: “The concept of an archival documentary can often suggest stale historical “objectivity,” a straightforward presentation of events unimpeded by the voice of the filmmaker. But Jason Osder’s Let the Fire Burn — an assemblage of occurrences before and after the Philadelphia Police Department set an activist group’s house aflame in 1985 — makes a case for the rich and affecting testimony that the archive alone can uniquely attest to. Meticulously constructing the film from news coverage, home videos, court testimonies and a passionate series of town council meetings, Osder presents a profound chronicle of the MOVE Organization that makes an intensely troubling historical moment feel like it’s unfolding right in front of you.”

Also available on DVD, Google Play, Vudu and YouTube

7. 20 Feet From Stardom

[New to Netflix Watch Instantly] — This listing previously appeared in another form on another Nonfics Home Picks: It may not have made Landon’s list of the five must see music docs of the year, but Morgan Neville‘s film about backup singers remains my favorite of the year in that category (see my entry in MusicFilmWeb’s end-of-year poll). And I’m still surprised at how great it is, because something like this doesn’t have to be so entertaining while also so insightful about the last 50 years of pop music history. Starring legendary voices Merry Clayton and Darlene Love plus newcomer Judith Hill and Lisa Fischer — and some of the stars that have long overshadowed them and others (Mick Jagger, Bruce Springsteen, Sting and more) — it’s also the winner of the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. Listen to The Realness podcast episode 4 for an in depth discussion and review of the film.

Also available on DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video, Vudu and YouTube

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

Alien Boy: The Life and Death of James Chasse

America’s Alien Invasion: The Lost UFO Encounters

Baby Boom Years: 1952

Baby Boom Years: 1959

Baby Boom Years: 1966

Boss Status Dive 3D [Blu-ray]

Everglades 3D [Blu-ray]

An Exorcism of Evil

Ghosts of Murdered Kings (Nova)

Grand Canyon 3D [Blu-ray]

Iberian Rail Trail

In Search of Josephine

Incas: The Lost City Machu Pichu [Blu-ray]

Israel: The Royal Tour

Kodo: Heartbeat of the Drum

Let the Fire Burn [Nonfics rating: ★★★★]

Lost Faces of the Bible

Pederecki: Paths Through the Labyrinth [also on Blu-ray]

Pope John XXIII: The Real Pope and Saint

The Punk Singer [Nonfics rating: ★★★; Film School Rejects review]

The Scene: An Exploration of Music in Toronto Secret State of North Korea (Frontline)

New to Netflix Watch Instantly:

20 Feet From Stardom [Nonfics rating: ★★★★]

Michael Jackson: The Life of an Icon

Nicky’s Family

War on Whistleblowers

New to iTunes/Amazon Instant/VOD:

Alien Boy: The Life and Death of James Chasse— Amazon

Awake Zion [Amazon] Crocodile Island— Amazon

The Invisible Men — iTunes

Justin Bieber: Believe— iTunes

Liv & Ingmar [Amazon]

The Master Designer: The Song [Amazon]

Painter: Caio Fonseca [Amazon]

Philanthropy, Inc. [Amazon]

The Punk Singer [Nonfics rating: ★★★; Film School Rejects review] — Amazon

Remembrance of Things to Come [Nonfics rating: ★★★★] — Fandor

Russia’s Open Book: Writing in the Age of Putin— Amazon

The Scene: An Exploration of Music in Toronto— Amazon

Snake Island— Amazon

When Jews Were Funny [Nonfics rating: ★★★; Nonfics review] — iTunes

Must-See Nonfiction TV:


99 Percent: The Occupy Wall Street Collaborative Film [3/26 on Pivot 7am ET]

We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists [3/26 on Pivot, 10:30am ET]

Paycheck to Paycheck: The Life and Times of Katrina Gilbert [3/26 on HBO East, 11am ET, and HBO West, 2pm ET]

Inside Job [3/26 on Starz Cinema, 6:30pm ET]

A Place at the Table [3/26 on Pivot, 9pm ET]


The Garden [3/27 on Free Speech TV, 2am ET]

Waste Land [3/27 on Showtime Women, 2:15am ET]

The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia [3/27 on Showtime Next, 4:30am ET]

Chimpanzee [3/27 on Encore Family, 4:50am, 2:35pm and 8:45pm ET]

The Crash Reel [3/27 on HBO East, 6am ET, and HBO West, 9am ET]

A Place at the Table [3/27 on Pivot, 11am ET]

Head Games [3/27 on Al Jazeera America, 3pm ET]


West of Memphis [3/28 on Starz Cinema, 2:35am ET]

Paul Williams Still Alive [3/28 on Showcase, 6am ET]

In the Shadow of the Moon [3/28 on the American Heroes Channel, 9am ET]

Paycheck to Paycheck: The Life and Times of Katrina Gilbert [3/28 on HBO Signature, 5pm ET]


Paycheck to Paycheck: The Life and Times of Katrina Gilbert [3/29 on HBO East, 4:45am ET, and HBO West, 7:45am ET]

Wordplay [3/29 on Sundance Channel, 6am ET]

Beware of Mr. Baker [3/29 on Showtime Next, 12:30pm ET]

Pearl Jam Twenty [3/29 on VH1 Classic, 4pm ET]

Queen of the Sun: What Are the Bees Telling Us? [3/29 on Free Speech TV, 6:30pm ET]


The Flaw [3/30 on Link TV, 3am ET]

Head Games [3/30 on Al Jazeera America, 4am and 3pm ET]

Gloria: In Her Own Words [3/30 on HBO2 East, 8am ET, and on HBO2 West, 11am ET]

The Crash Reel [3/30 on HBO Signature, 3:30pm ET]

Pearl Jam Twenty [3/30 on Palladia, 8pm ET]

Hubble 3D [3/30 on 3net, 8pm and 11pm ET]


Hubble 3D [3/31 on 3net, 3am, 6am and 2pm ET]

Kumare [3/31 on Pivot, 7am ET]

Man on a Mission: Richard Garriott’s Road to the Stars [3/31 on Pivot, 9am ET]

Paycheck to Paycheck: The Life and Times of Katrina Gilbert [3/31 on HBO 2 East, 2pm ET, and HBO 2 West, 5pm ET]

Free Angela and All Political Prisoners [3/31 on Centric, 8pm ET]

Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall [3/31 on HBO East, 9pm ET]


Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall [4/1 on HBO West, 12am ET]

Free Angela and All Political Prisoners [4/1 on Centric, 1:30am ET]

Mad Hot Ballroom [4/1 on The Movie Channel, 5:35am ET]

The First Movie [4/1 on Pivot, 7am ET]

Carol Channing: Larger Than Life [4/1 on Showtime Women, 5:30pm ET]

(Editor in Chief)

Christopher Campbell is the founding editor of Nonfics.