‘The Battle of the Somme’ and ‘American Promise’ Top This Week’s Nonfics Home Picks

Battle of the Somme DVD

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 September 2, 2014:

1. The Battle of the Somme

[New Special Edition Available on DVD via Imperial War Museum] — I don’t know much in the way of details about the new 2014 Edition of the Imperial War Museum’s release of this film, but regardless its issue gives enough reason for you to seek out The Battle of the Somme in any form. Believed to be the first feature-length documentary ever made, the 1916 film is a record of both real and staged footage of the title WWI battle, and it was one of the most successful pieces of propaganda ever produced, boosting support for the war in England and the United States. For that, of course, it was also allegedly the most widely seen movie in England until Star Wars. Presumably there will be another anniversary edition in two years, but this is a necessary work this year as we commemorate the WWI centennial.

Also available in older form on YouTube:

2. American Promise

[New to DVD via Docurama] — I had many issues with this documentary, which follows two boys through their entire grade school lives (12 years!) and is a must-see as a Doc Option/supplement to this year’s hit fiction film Boyhood. Ultimately, I think it’s a film worth seeing anyway, and I wound up giving it ★★★★. Here’s a bit from my review: “American Promise is a documentary that only really comes together in the end as we see where it all leads to, and even then it may take some time afterward to really think about it to come to your own conclusion. While watching it, I wrote a note that it was the dullest doc I’d ever seen. When it was over, I was still annoyed that it didn’t seem to say anything.[…] 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.”

DVD bonus features: deleted scenes; four featurettes including a making-of doc; the New York Times Op-Doc “An Education in Equality.”

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

3. Out of the Clear Blue Sky

[New to DVD via Virgil Films and Entertainment] — Our official review at Nonfics, by Daniel Walber, isn’t favorable to this documentary about an investment firm that had been headquartered in the World Trade Center and was obviously hit very hard by 9/11, both in the number of employees lost but also financially as a company. I recommend it and would like to share my praises posted on the old Doc Channel Blog when it played DocuWeeks in 2012: “Devastatingly original and fascinating […] a complex work that explores the peripheral sides of death and tragedy that aren’t often addressed even in smaller scale incidents. It’s also quite notable for being the latest in a slew of docs I’ve seen recently that ask us to really sympathize with very wealthy men, most of whom are often rather arrogant and unlikable (see Unraveled, Khodorkovsky and The Queen of Versailles).

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

4. My Street Films

[Streaming Free this Week via Doc Alliance] — This week’s curated event at Doc Alliance showcases eight shorts from the My Street Films project initiated in the UK and later incorporating Czech filmmakers. It’s an interactive series through which anyone is invited to make a film about their street. Part citizen journalism, part fragment of a travelogue or city symphony or crowdsource efforts like Life in a Day, there’s definitely some good and some not so good. My favorites among the DA bunch are Strata Artist and Niche Market, not because they’re in English but because they’re more focused on specific character study. I also really like Feeding the Void, the longest and the one French entry, as it’s about something you don’t expect from how it starts out, something quite emotional. You can watch Strata Artist, about a homeless man who gives off-the-beaten-path tours in London, below.


5. After Tiller

[Streaming Free via POV] — This listing previously appeared on another Nonfics Home Picks: One of the best documentaries of 2013, Martha Shane and Lana Wilson‘s film is about the only four doctors who perform late-term abortions. In addition to it landing at #5 on our critics poll, and at #12 on my personal top 20, After Tiller was this site’s #9 pick. Here’s what Dan Schindel wrote on our year-end list: “This film approaches abortion, possibly the most incendiary topic of public debate in America today, with a grace that verges on the supernatural. It’s also a study in the kind of person who will stand for what they think is right in the face of overwhelming opposition. The four doctors in the country wbo perform late term abortions all have their own reasons for doing so, but they all agree that SOMEONE needs to be there to do it. And the movie demonstrates this need through interviews with women seeking to undergo the procedure. The camera focuses on their hands as they speak, an identity-protecting technique that also speaks to the film’s commendable sensitivity.” Also see our list of the most memorable scenes of 2013 for a specific highlight from the film and our four-star review by Daniel Walber.

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

6. I Am Divine

[U.S. Television Premiere on Showtime, September 4th] — This listing previously appeared on another Nonfics Home Picks: From Daniel Walber’s review of the biographical doc about John Waters‘s drag queen muse: “As is often the case with cult icons, the breadth of Divine’s career has fallen by the wayside in the popular imagination. Documentary filmmaker Jeffrey Schwarz has set out to change this […] Divine shines through. The film itself may not have his style or his bombast, but it hardly needs it to bring the great performer to an audience. Fans of Divine and of Waters’s work will be delighted, and anyone else who catches it will want to dive right in to the diva’s gigantic body of work.”

Available on Showtime On Demand beginning September 5th. Also available on DVD, Amazon Instant Video, iTunes and Vudu.

7. Cesar’s Last Fast

[Now on Netflix Watch Instantly] — While we never officially reviewed this documentary, but Dan Schindel recommended it as one of the nonfiction films to see instead of the movie Cesar Chavez. Here’s what he had to say then: “This doc uses a single event in Chavez’s life as a way to look at everything else he accomplished. In 1988, he underwent the last of his ‘spiritual fasts,’ this one as an act of penance for what he perceived as his failure to properly protect farmers from the harmful effects of pesticides. For 36 days he imbibed nothing but water. The film’s big hook is that it has reams of never-before-seen footage of Chavez, much of it taken of him during that fast. While Michael Peña performs well as Chavez, it’s no substitute for watching the real man at work. Seeing him waste away is agonizing, a jolt of emotion that the biopic can’t match.”

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

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

At the Heart of the Mediterranean Garden

The Battle of the Somme [Nonfics rating: ★★★★]

Citizen Koch [Film School Rejects Pick of the Week]

For No Good Reason [Nonfics rating: ★★] [Also on Blu-ray]

Glimpses Beyond Death’s Door

The Heart of Bruno Wizard

History Detectives: Special Investigations

Leave the World Behind [Also on Blu-ray]

The Mystery of the Carpathian Sphinx

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

The Truth is Out There: Comedy, Consciousness, Conspiracy

Two: The Story of Roman & Nyro

Under the Electric Sky [Also on Blu-ray]

Untold History of the United States Part 1: World War II [Nonfics rating: ★]

Untold History of the United States Part 2: The Cold War [Nonfics rating: ★]

Untold History of the United States Part 3: Reagan [Nonfics rating: ★]

Wiener Walzer

New to Netflix Watch Instantly:

Cesar’s Last Fast

Girl Rising

Mirage Men

Naked Ambition: An R-Rated Look at an X-Rated Industry

Step Into Liquid

The Unbelievers

We Always Lie to Strangers [Nonfics rating: ★★; Nonfics review]

Where the Trail Ends

A Year in Burgundy

New to iTunes/Amazon Instant/VOD:

After Tiller [Nonfics rating: ★★★★; Nonfics review] — POV

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

Citizen Koch— Amazon

Fed Up [Nonfics rating: ★★★ ; Film School Rejects review] — Amazon, iTunes

For No Good Reason [Nonfics rating: ★★] — Amazon, iTunes

The Heart of Bruno Wizard

InRealLife— Amazon

Learning Football the NFL Way: Defense— Amazon

Mary Queen of Scots: The Red Queen— Amazon

No No: A Dockumentary [Nonfics rating: ★★★ ; Nonfics review] — Amazon

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

Salma— Amazon

The Story of Coffee: The History of Coffee & How to Make the Perfect Cup— Amazon

The Story of Tea: The History of Tea & How to Make the Perfect Cup— Amazon

Under the Electric Sky— Amazon

We Came as Romans: Present, Future and Past— Amazon

Yangsi— Amazon

Must-See Nonfiction TV:

(All Times Eastern)

Wednesday — 5/14

7:00pm: A Place at the Table [Pivot]

Thursday — 9/4

12:35am: Captivated: The Trials of Pamels Smart [HBO East]

3:35am: Captivated: The Trials of Pamels Smart [HBO West]

7:15am: Captivated: The Trials of Pamels Smart [HBO2 East]

7:40am: Rize [Showtime Next]

9:05am: Unraveled [The Movie Channel]

10:15am: Captivated: The Trials of Pamels Smart [HBO2 West]

6:35pm: Paris is Burning [Showtime Showcase]

8:30pm: I Am Devine [Showtime]

Friday — 9/5

1:00am: 12 O’Clock Boys [Showtime Next]

6:00pm: Mad Hot Ballroom [Showtime Family Zone]

Saturday — 9/6

6:00am: Casting By [HBO East]

9:00am: Casting By [HBO West]

10:30am: Captivated: The Trials of Pamels Smart [HBO East]

1:30pm: Captivated: The Trials of Pamels Smart [HBO Wast]

Sunday — 9/7

9:10am: Mad Hot Ballroom [Showtime Next]

4:00pm: Queen of the Sun: What Are the Bees Telling Us? [Free Speech TV]

6:00pm: Mad Hot Ballroom [Showtime Next]

Monday — 9/8

12:00am: Sicko [Pivot]

3:00am: The Celluloid Closet [Pivot]

3:45am: Gideon’s Army [HBO East]

6:45am: Gideon’s Army [HBO West]

3:00pm: Tiny: A Story About Living Small [Al Jazeera America]

9:00pm: I Am Divine [Showtime 2]

(Editor in Chief)

Christopher Campbell is the founding editor of Nonfics.