‘Roger & Me, ‘Last Hijack’ and ‘Photographic Memory’ 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 October 7, 2014:

1. Roger and Me

[New to Blu-ray via Warner Bros.] — The film that not only started the career of Michael Moore but the one that arguably helped to open the floodgates for the modern documentary wave. It’s an issue film that uses humor to show what’s become of Flint, Michigan, following the closing of a GM plant, and whether or not it plays with timelines and ambushes Dick Clark or has any other faults, it’s a triumph as far as delivering a nonfiction story entertainingly. Even if you dislike Moore today, it’s hard not to consider who he was then, an earnest young man with a personal interest in the problem he’s exploring. It’s not so much political as it’s an American folk story. (★★★★★)

This new 25th Anniversary Edition features a new commentary track by Moore and the film’s trailer.

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

2. Last Hijack

[New to iTunes] — Here’s some great turnaround for a doc that just screened at the New York Film Festival and then opened theatrically last Friday. I’ll leave this one, directed by Tommy Pallotta and Femke Wolting and about Somali pirates, to an excerpt from Daniel Walber’s recent review: “The documentary underlines the appeal of piracy by interrupting the testimony of Mohamed and his family with breathtaking animated sequences. These computer-generated images, reminiscent of video games, explore the psychological dimensions of piracy. They are fantasies as well as reconstructions, memories that have become dreams. A small boat of pirates transforms into an enormous eagle, soaring over the Indian Ocean in pursuit of passing commercial ships. Giant tankers are suddenly the size of toys, easily snatched up in the talons of this idealized symbol of dangerous freedom. The rush is overwhelming, particularly when compared with the reality of these hijackings. The European shipping vessels really are that big, dwarfing the tiny boats that are used to capture them. The exhilaration of such a David versus Goliath victory can only be expressed through fantasy. It’s like a drug. Mohamed’s parents speak of his career as a pirate in much the same terms as we are used to hearing in American films about narcotics. His abandoned children, his halfhearted insistence that he’ll quit in order to be married again, the petulance with which he responds to criticism of this dangerous and illegal lifestyle all evoke addiction.” (★★★★)

There is also an interactive component to this film online.

3. Photographic Memory

[New to Amazon Instant Video] — Michael Moore wouldn’t be the kind of filmmaker he is, perhaps, if not for Ross McElwee, who is best known for Sherman’s March. This is the autobiographical director’s most recent film, which focuses on a time of his own youth living in France in order to relate to his grown son as a young man. Here’s part of my review for Movies.com in 2012: “More than his many followers in the first-person doc genre, he has a poetically reflective and contemplative style, dominated by his voiceover, which seems capable of turning any bit of home movie or other subjective media into a captivating investigation through memory, history and/or a present life decision or change. Here he winds up searching for an early girlfriend, which makes the film feel somewhat like a prequel to Sherman’s March. I’d say this film, in spite of its very universal appeal, is mainly of interest to McElwee fans, but it’s very easy to become a McElwee fan.” (★★★★)

Also available on DVD, Netflix, iTunes and Vudu.

4. American Promise

[New to Netflix Watch Instantly] — This listing previously appeared in some form on another Nonfics Home Picks: Like McElwee, filmmakers Joe Brewster and Michele Stephenson turned their cameras towards their son in this movie, which is basically a real-life Boyhood, as it follows the kid and his friend from first grade through high school graduation. It’s a doc that grew on me, which I guess sounds kinda fitting. Here’s what I wrote in my very lengthy, meandering review: “American Promise doesn’t hold your hand as it reaches what it’s conveying. It’s a difficult doc that plays easy…If you’re looking for a real character study, though, this isn’t it. With so many jumps forward in time from age 5 to 18, there’s not a lot of time to really get to know Idris and Seun — if anything you get to know the parents more. As a sociological study with them as not part of an experiment but an observed sample, it does what it’s supposed to do very well. It just doesn’t appear to be doing much at all for a long while.” (★★★★)

Also available on DVD, iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube and more.

5. Caucus

[New to Netflix Watch Instantly] — This listing previously appeared in some form on another Nonfics Home Picks: AJ Schnack‘s necessary film about the 2012 Iowa Caucus came in at #8 on my top 20 of 2013 list. Here is part of my review here at Nonfics: “Schnack and what seems to be a hundred cameramen (incredibly, it was only four: Schnack, producer Nathan Truesdell and Tchoupitoulas directors Bill and Turner Ross) covered the ground throughout the state, conveying a sense of their being everywhere, on top of every major figure in the running and from multiple angles, too. The director’s own work as editor of the film is a triumph of not only cobbling and condensing six months’ worth of footage but also finding and presenting the central narrative amidst the simultaneous sideshows. This while serving up a necessary glimpse into what it all means above and beyond the isolated events they’ve recorded and the outcome of this one step of the campaign journey.” (★★★★)

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

6. Justin Bieber: Never Say Never

[New to Netflix Watch Instantly] — Jon M. Chu’s first feature on the very modern career beginnings of teen pop star Justin Bieber is really quite good. I know some people just can’t tolerate the subject and his music, but the story here is worth checking out. Here’s what I wrote recently in a list of the best docs about the Internet: “This hugely successful pop music film about one of the most hugely successful pop artists of our time is only slightly about the kid from Canada with an iconic haircut and a voice beloved by millions of girls around the world. Justin Bieber is a star because of the Internet, and while the doc’s main aim is to present an entertaining profile on him and is music to his fans, it also manages to work on a higher level as a story of YouTube celebrity brought to the extreme.” (★★★★)

The film’s “Director’s Fan Cut,” which I haven’t seen, is also available separately on Netflix Watch Instantly.

The original doc is also available on DVD, Blu-ray, iTunes, Amazon Watch Instantly Prime, SnagFilms, Epix, Vudu, Google Play, Xfinity VOD and YouTube.

7. Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present

[New to Netflix Watch Instantly] — Another doc that you shouldn’t ignore just because you’re not into the subject matter, here it being performance art, specifically that of the titular artist. Here’s what I wrote in a 2012 post at the Documentary Channel blog: “Don’t fear this directorial debut from cinematographer Matthew Akers (PBS’s Circus). He was skeptical, too, but thankfully he doesn’t take the first-person approach that many doc-makers might when entering a project out of skepticism, and so the film has a more subtle way of bringing us into an appreciation of Abramovic while Akers is simultaneously warming up to her work from behind the camera. Eventually the doc focuses on her latest performance, an act of vulnerability, honesty and stamina that is the center of her 2010 MoMA retrospective, and this is where you’ll really be drawn in, even if it’s more to be fascinated with visitors to the exhibit, who sit down opposite the artist for a staring match and whatever subjective response is felt from the experience. I never thought I’d be so enchanted by watching people being affected by art, but when the art is also a person and is also being affected, there’s a divine process going on that is really incredible. (★★★★)

Also available on DVD and Amazon Instant Video.

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

The American War Collection: Patriots at War

The American War Collection: WWII Battle Chest

Before, During and After: Robert Plant With & Without Zep!

British Aerial Journeys

British Aircraft of WWII

The Class of ’92 Extended Edition

Freak Jazz, Movie Madness and Another Mothers

I Am Ali

Kehinde Wiley: An Economy of Grace

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

Losing Iraq (Frontline)

Mermaids: The Body Found

Money for Nothing: A History of the Music Video

Mr. Civil Rights: Thurgood Marshall & The NAACP

On Strike! Chris Marker and the Medvedkin Group

A People Uncounted: The Untold Story of the Roma

Pete Seeger: A Song and A Stone

The Prosecution of an American President

Queen: The Ultimate Story -The Freddy Mercury Portrait

Roger & Me [Nonfics rating: ★★★★★] [Also on Blu-ray]

Rude Dude

Sing Over Me

Sister Hazel: 20 Stages

The Story of UFO: Too Hot to Handle 1969–1993

Supermench: The Legend of Shep Gordon [Nonfics rating: ★★]

Wagner’s Jews

Winds of Change: Elvis Presley 1954–1955

World War I — The Great War: The Heritage Collection

World War II 75th Anniversary Commemorative Edition

World War II Heroes: A WWII Foundation Collection

New to Netflix Watch Instantly:

The Address

American Promise [Nonfics rating: ★★★★; Nonfics review]

Billie Jean King (American Masters)

Caucus [Nonfics rating: ★★★★; Nonfics review]

Everything or Nothing: The Untold Story

Haiti Untold

The Heart of Bruno Wizard

Justin Bieber: Never Say Never [Nonfics rating: ★★★★]

Justin Bieber: Never Say Never: Director’s Fan Cut

Love in the Animal Kingdom (Nature)

Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present [Nonfics rating: ★★★★]

Parrot Confidential (Nature)

Please Subscribe

Under the Electric Sky EDC 2013


New to iTunes/Amazon Instant/VOD:

The Act of Killing Director’s Cut [Nonfics rating: ★★★★] — Vimeo on Demand

Aleppo: Notes From the Dark — Amazon

Assault on El Capitan — iTunes

Barack Obama: The Man and His Journey — Amazon

A Brief History of Astra Film — Doc Alliance

Bronx Obama — Vimeo on Demand

The Curse of the Hedgehog — Doc Alliance

Down Clark Street — Fandor

Enjoy Yourself — Fandor

The Fluffy Movie Extended Edition — Amazon

Frederick Law Olmstead: Designing America — Amazon

I Married a Munchin — Fandor

Inventing Our Life: The Kibbutz Experiment — Amazon

A Jihad for Love — Amazon

Kenya — Amazon

Labor Day, East Chicago — Fandor

Life After Death From Above 1979 — Vimeo on Demand

Money for Nothing: A History of the Music Video — Amazon

Nightclub — Fandor

Noosfera — Doc Alliance

Off the Beaten Path — Doc Alliance

Outlaw Prophet: Warren Jeffs — Amazon

Photographic Memory [Nonfics rating: ★★★★] — Amazon

Plastic Galaxy — Vimeo on Demand

The Sixth Side of the Pentagon — Fandor

The Sons of Tennessee Williams [Nonfics rating: ★★] — Amazon

Supermench: The Legend of Shep Gordon [Nonfics rating: ★★] — Amazon

Theodora Sinner — Doc Alliance

To Chris Marker, An Unsent Letter — Fandor

To Dance Like a Man — Amazon

Must-See Nonfiction TV:

(All Times Eastern)

Wednesday — 10/8

1:00am: Mistaken for Strangers [Showtime 2 West]

10:00am: Sicko [Pivot]

12:45pm: Hunted: The War Against Gays in Russia [HBO Signature East]

3:45pm: Hunted: The War Against Gays in Russia [HBO Signature West]

4:00pm: The 50 Year Argument [HBO and HBO Latino]

6:00pm: Sicko [Pivot]

7:00pm: The 50 Year Argument [HBO West and HBO Latino West]

8:00pm: Richard Pryor: Omit the Logic [Showtime 2]

11:00pm: Richard Pryor: Omit the Logic [Showtime 2 West]

Thursday — 10/9

12:35am: The 50 Year Argument [HBO]

12:40am: The 50 Year Argument [HBO Latino]

2:20am: Stories We Tell [Epix East]

3:35am: The 50 Year Argument [HBO West]

3:40am: The 50 Year Argument [HBO Latino West]

4:00am: Bully [Pivot]

5:20am: Stories We Tell [Epix West]

2:00pm: The 50 Year Argument [HBO 2]

4:30pm: Standing in the Shadows of Motown [AXS TV]

5:00pm: The 50 Year Argument [HBO 2 West]

6:30pm: I Am Divine [Showtime Showcase]

9:30pm: I Am Divine [Showtime Showcase West]

Friday — 10/10

12:35am: Project Nim [HBO Family]

2:45am: Hunted: The War Against Gays in Russia [HBO East and HBO Latino East]

2:50am: Justin Bieber: Never Say Never [Epix East]

3:20am: 12 O’Clock Boys [Showtime 2]

3:35am: Project Nim [HBO Family West]

5:45am: Hunted: The War Against Gays in Russia [HBO West and HBO Latino West]

5:50am: Justin Bieber: Never Say Never [Epix West]

6:20am: 12 O’Clock Boys [Showtime 2 West]

8:00am: Worst in Show [LOGO]

8:05am: Mistaken for Strangers [Showtime 2]

11:05am: Mistaken for Strangers [Showtime 2 West]

12:10pm: Justin Bieber: Never Say Never [Epix East]

3:10pm: Justin Bieber: Never Say Never [Epix West]

8:00pm: The Amazing Race [CBS]

Saturday — 10/11

9:45am: The 50 Year Argument [HBO]

9:50am: The 50 Year Argument [HBO Latino]

12:00pm: Mistaken for Strangers [Showtime Showcase]

12:20pm: All About Ann: Governor Richards of the Lone Star State [HBO2 East]

12:45pm: The 50 Year Argument [HBO West]

12:50pm: The 50 Year Argument [HBO Latino West]

2:00pm: Senna [ESPN Classic]

3:00pm: Mistaken for Strangers [Showtime Showcase West]

3:20pm: All About Ann: Governor Richards of the Lone Star State [HBO2 West]

8:30pm: Mistaken for Strangers [Showtime Showcase]

11:00pm: Food, Inc. [Pivot]

11:30pm: Mistaken for Strangers [Showtime Showcase West]

Sunday — 10/12

3:05am: Richard Pryor: Omit the Logic [Showtime 2]

6:05am: Richard Pryor: Omit the Logic [Showtime 2 West]

8:00am: Mad Hot Ballroom [Flix]

12:25pm: Soul Power [Starz in Black]

1:15pm: Hunted: The War Against Gays in Russia [HBO2 East]

2:00pm: Senna [ESPN Classic]

3:00pm: Woodtock: Three Days of Peace & Music — The Director’s Cut [Palladia]

4:15pm: Hunted: The War Against Gays in Russia [HBO2 West]

8:00pm: Ballplayer: Pelotero [Fusion]

8:35pm: Tim’s Vermeer [Starz Cinema]

9:00pm: 12 O’Clock Boys [Showtime 2]

11:00pm: Ballplayer: Pelotero [Fusion]

Monday — 10/13

12:00am: 12 O’Clock Boys [Showtime 2]

1:30am: Justin Bieber: Never Say Never [Epix 2]

2:45am: Hunted: The War Against Gays in Russia [HBO2 East]

5:05am: Mad Hot Ballroom [Flix]

5:35am: Mistaken for Strangers [Showtime]

5:45am: Hunted: The War Against Gays in Russia [HBO2 West]

8:35am: Mistaken for Strangers [Showtime West]

9:55am: Soul Power [Starz in Black]

10:00am: Grizzly Man [Starz Cinema]

12:20pm: Justin Bieber: Never Say Never [Epix 2]

8:00pm: Mistaken for Strangers [Showtime 2]

11:00pm: Mistaken for Strangers [Showtime 2 West]

Tuesday — 10/14

3:10am: West of Memphis [Starz Cinema]

3:15am: Pussy Riot — A Punk Prayer [HBO 2]

3:45am: Paris is Burning [Flix]

6:15am: Pussy Riot — A Punk Prayer [HBO 2 West]

9:00am: Bully [Pivot]

12:45pm: I Am Divine [Showtime]

2:00pm: Best of Walt Disney’s True-Life Adventures [BYU]

3:45pm: I Am Divine [Showtime West]

11:00pm: The 50 Year Argument [HBO 2]

(Editor in Chief)

Christopher Campbell is the founding editor of Nonfics.