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 October 15, 2013:
1. Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle [PBS Premiere and New to DVD and Blu-ray] — If you’re a comic book fan, your Tuesday night is likely reserved for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., as you still wait for it to get really good. Well, you should DVR this week’s episode and tune in tonight for the full three-hour presentation of Superheroes on PBS. Not to be confused with the recent doc about real-life superheroes, this one is focused on comic book characters and the TV series and films they’ve spawned. And it’s pretty exhaustive, divided into three chronological parts (1938–1958; 1959–1977; 1978-Present), narrated by Liev Schreiber, and filled with a ton of legendary artists and writers, including Stan Lee and the even more delightful Jim Steranko. It’s worth watching just for the chance to hear Adam West reading Batman’s lines from Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. Plus the documentary is commendable for featuring a lot of supplementary archive footage providing historical context and none of it being familiar stock footage stuff. It’s not just for comic geeks, either. If you’re interested in pop culture history, it’s a must. In fact, real comic geeks might find it a bit elementary, though true fans will not be able to resist it. Also now out in stores if you can’t watch on TV tonight.
2. ESPN Nine for IX Box Set [New to DVD] — ESPN remains a leader in the documentary world right now, especially in terms of popularity (whenever I ask regular folks about docs they like, ESPN titles come up a whole lot). And they keep churning out necessary box set compilations of their doc series, too (it’d be neat to see POV and HBO and others able to do the same with their respective seasons). This one includes the titles from this past summer’s Nine for IX program featuring hour-long films by women filmmakers about women in sports — mostly athletes but also there’s Let Them Wear Towels’ focus on women sports journalists. There’s also Ava Duvernay’s Venus VS., about Venus Williams’ crusade to get equal pay for women tennis pros; No Limit is about free diver Audrey Mestre and directed by former Alex Gibney editor Alison Ellwood (co-director of Magic Trip); the tragic Runner is about track Olympian Mary Decker and is directed by Shola Lynch (Free Angela Davis and All Political Prisoners); and there’s also Branded, about the sexual branding of women athletes, which is directed by Oscar nominees Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady (Jesus Camp). This isn’t a costly box set, either, so do yourself a favor and pick this up as a gift or for yourself.
3. Leviathan [New to iTunes] — You’re probably better off waiting for the Blu-ray release next week, but I’m no expert on the video quality comparisons between that format and iTunes HD. Regardless, this is one of the best and most important documentaries of the year and so it has to be highlighted. Just know that if you might not have as great an appreciation if you missed the film on the big screen and now watch it on your iPhone instead. Directed by Lucien Castaign-Taylor (Sweetgrass) and Verena Paravel (Foreign Parts), of the Harvard Sensory Ethnography Lab, it’s a perplexing yet mesmerizing cinematic masterpiece.
4. 56 Up [New to POV Streaming] — Following its premiere airing on PBS last night, the latest in the Up series is available to stream on the POV site. If you’ve never seen any of the previous films, you may want to do so first (though I’m not certain of the best way to do so now that it’s not on Netflix Instant and not all episodes appear to be on Amazon Instant). But it’s not necessary, as there’s the usual flashback clips and explanation from director Michael Apted, but whether you see the series as a whole or go into a single episode these are very different perspectives through which to watch the doc. More than just the typical catch-up, where are they now kind of Up installment, 56 Up is particularly interesting for also being about how England is a different place from when the series began half a century ago.
5. Enemies of the People [New to SnagFilms] — One of the preferred titles mentioned in last week’s piece on docs that give platforms to evil subjects, this Emmy and Sundance-winning film focuses on Khmer Rouge second in command Nuon Chea as interviewed by Thet Sambath, whose parents and brother were killed during the 1970s Cambodian Genocide. It’s a chilling work, co-directed by Rob Lemkin, and one that continues to be relevant to how we look at and confront the great human catastrophes of the past.
More Must-See Nonfiction TV:
Pearl Jam Twenty [10/15 on Palladium, 2:30pm ET]
Valentine Road [10/15 on HBO, 5pm ET]
Mondays at Racine [10/16 on HBO, 5:15am ET]
Bowling For Columbine [10/16 on More Max, 3:30pm ET]
Last Call at the Oasis [10/17 on Pivot, 3am ET]
The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia [10/17 on Showtime Next, 4:30am ET]
American Teacher [10/17 on Pivot, 1pm ET]
El Bulli: Cooking in Progress [10/17 on Link TV, 3pm ET]
Jane’s Journey [10/18 on Animal Planet, 6am ET]
Dragonslayer [10/18 on Showtime Next, 1:30pm ET]
Crime After Crime [10/18 on OWN, 3pm ET]
Dave Chappelle’s Block Party [10/20 on Showcase, 12:35am ET]
Primary [10/20 on Pivot, 6am ET]
Kumaré [10/21 on Pivot, 7am ET]
Pink Saris [10/22 on HBO Signature, 4:15am ET]
Primary [10/14 on Pivot, 7am ET]
Chimpanzee [10/15 on Starz, 8:35am ET]
Space Tourists [10/15 on Pivot, 9am ET]
Man on a Mission: Richard Garriott’s Road to the Stars [10/15 on Pivot, 10:30am ET]
Also New to DVD and/or Blu-ray:
America$ Daughter$: The Realities Of American Prostitution
Assaulted: Civil Rights Under Fire
Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain [DVD and Blu-ray]
Oliver Stone’s Untold History of the United States [DVD and Blu-ray]
Wild Style 30th Anniversary Collector’s Edition
Also New to Netflix Watch Instantly:
A Band Called Death
Sons of Perdition
The World Before Her
Also New to VOD:
Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain [iTunes]
My Other Me: A Story About Cosplayers