The Films and the Legacy of Chris Marker Top This Week’s Nonfics Home Picks

The Case of the Grinning Cat

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 April 29, 2014:

1. Chris Marker and His Legacy

[Streaming on SundanceNow in the Doc Club program] — Most months, I highlight one title from the new SundanceNow Doc Club program. But for this May I have to just highlight the whole thing. With five of Chris Marker’s own films and three that show his influence, it’s altogether a nice introduction to the filmmaker’s work (or a continuation, since typically you want to start with Sans Soleil, which isn’t in here). The Case of the Grinning Cat is here, and so is Sixth Side of the Pentagon, as is previous Home Pick selection Remembrance of Things to Come. As far as I’m aware, this is also the only place you can officially stream Bestiary, which is a collection of his shorts about animals (I’ve made Slon Tango the gateway film for my elephant-loving 2-year-old son), and One Day in the Life of Andrei Arsenevich, about the life and work Andrei Tarkovsky, including a look at the making of The Sacrifice. While that film presents Marker’s tribute to a friend and peer, the recent doc To Chris Marker, An Unsent Letter offers a tribute to the director of focus here by Emiko Omori. The other two representations of Marker’s legacy are Don Geva’s Description of a Memory, which is like a follow-up to Marker’s own Israel doc, Description of a Struggle, and Jem Cohen’s Museum Hours, a partially nonfiction drama that some qualified as one of the best of last year in our critics poll.

2. Winged Migration

[New to Netflix Watch Instantly] — I almost included this 2001 Oscar nominee in my recent list of best documentaries about Earth. Jacques Perrin and co-directors Jacques Cluzaud and Michel Debats take us all around the globe — literally to all seven continents — for a look at the migrations of birds. The doc has been criticized for how it was made, particularly for the way a lot of the birds were born into and raised for the purposes of filming them more closely, as well as for some minor CGI. But, hey, what natural wildlife film isn’t controversial in some way or another, right? And how any docs don’t involve at least some sort of manipulation? Apparently Perrin doesn’t even consider it a doc. Regardless, it’s a magnificent piece of cinema. It’s a great one to have on streaming, too, because you can just enter in anywhere randomly and watch a few minutes here and there anytime you want.

Also available to stream on Amazon Instant Video Prime

3. From Elway to Marino

[Airing on ESPN Networks this weekend] — Ahead of this year’s NFL draft, you ought to check out this 30 for 30 installment about “the greatest draft in NFL history,” which happened back in 1983, with focus on famous picks of that year Dan Marino and John Elway. Here’s what Dan Schindel had to say about the doc in a recent Doc Option column: “what this film does best is capture the sheer insanity of the event. As a gridiron illiterate, I could barely keep up, but teams court players they don’t really want in order to woo players they do want, transparently false statements are put out by players in order to head off the advances of teams they don’t want and talks of trades come and go, and go and come, and fly every which way. Even though they’re related mainly through narration, interviews with NFL insiders and historical footage, there’s a hundred times more energy to these proceedings than those in Draft Day. And that is why, whether you know football or not, this doc should be your first pick for Draft-related fun.”

Also available on iTunes and Amazon Instant Video

4. If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front

[Streaming on POV] — You’ve only got today and tomorrow left to enjoy this film free on the POV site, but I thought it a good recommendation given that director Marshall Curry just won the Best Documentary prize at the Tribeca Film Festival for his latest, Point and Shoot, which has some similarities to this 2011 Oscar nominee. The film is about environmental activist Daniel McGowan, who was labeled a terrorist for his acts of arson against lumber companies. One of the great portraits of a subject who is too complex to easily write off as good or bad, likable or dislikable.

Also available on DVD and iTunes

5. All About Ann: Governor Richards of the Lone Star State

[Now on HBO Go and HBO Demand] — The latest premiere in HBO’s spring 2014 season is a very basic yet very satisfying look at the life and political career of the late Ann Richards. There’s a lot of talk in this tribute, from everyone from her children to her employees to broadcast journalists to major figures like Bill Clinton and Michael Dukakis, yet its the old clips of Richards in interviews and speaking appearances that really show us the goods on who she was and why she was amazing. But it is also most interesting to watch for the contrast in her gubernatorial races at each end of her time leading the state of Texas, the results of both being more to do with her opponents than her.

Also available on HBO networks, as highlighted in our TV guide below

6. Unmade In China

[New to Amazon Instant Video] — An absurd look at an American filmmaker hired by producers in China to make a thriller there, it’s a doc that’s more appealing for the crazy story than how it’s presented, but it’s also a really crazy story. Here’s part of my review for Film School Rejects: “the reality aspect renders silly fictions like Living in Oblivion and For Your Consideration near obsolete — or at least takes the satire part out of the Hollywood satire genre (never mind that with this film we’re beyond Hollywood) […] It’s an important addition to the subgenre of nonfiction films about film productions, a category that is also notably increasing, sadly with the focus being on cursed or calamitous projects. Eventually (or now, if this is something that already exists), Unmade in China will have to be included on the list of docs that are mandatory viewing for all film students. Perhaps it’s better that it’s not more entertaining, too, so that it functions sufficiently as a warning.”

Also available on DVD

7. These Birds Walk

[Now on DVD via Oscilloscope] — I gave this film a negative review. It’s not a favorite, and I couldn’t myself recommend it, but others really love it, including Nonfics contributor Robert Greene. And of course therefore it wound up #7 on our year-end list of the best docs of 2013. I at least had to recognize that it features one of the most memorable nonfiction moments of the year (actually, it features two, but I only highlighted the one for that list). Here’s Greene’s endorsement: “Omar Mullick and Bassam Tariq’s debut feature is a near-perfect burst of cinematic poetry, from the vigorous opening shot to the quietly devastating final scenes. What begins as a portrait of Pakistani humanitarian Abdul Satar Edhi and his orphanage transforms into a deeply poignant study of youth under pressure and a potent reminder of the affecting possibilities of observation. The searching camera is constantly reframing these charismatic boys’ experiences, favoring exhilaration and sadness over issue-driven analysis. These Birds Walk is delicate, lovely and pulsating with life.”

DVD features include a director’s commentary with Mullick and Tariq, deleted scenes and the theatrical trailer.

Also available on iTunes, Google Play and Vudu

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

Approved for Adoption [Also on Blu-ray]

Civil War: The Untold Story

Father Michael McGivney

Generation Like (Frontline)

Glitter Dust: Finding Art in Dubai

Kings of Leon: Live at the O2 — London, England

Malcolm Morley: The Outsider

Meet the Robertsons: A Duckumentary

Paris Romance: The History of Paris

The Power of Mothers

The Power of the Powerless

Richard Strauss and His Heroines

Ruben Salazar: Man in the Middle

The Rise and Fall of The Clash

Seduced and Abandoned

Super Skyscrapers [Also on Blu-ray]

Tai Chi-Qigong for Walking, Balance & Strength: For Seniors, Parkinson’s, Stroke, MS, Diabetes, Heart

These Birds Walk [Nonfics rating: ★★; Nonfics review]

The Third Secret of Fatima

New to Netflix Watch Instantly:

Encounters at the End of the World (begins 5/1)

Richard Pryor Live on the Sunset Strip (begins 5/1)

Winged Migration (begins 5/1)

New to iTunes/Amazon Instant/VOD:

After My Garden Grows— Fandor

All About Ann: Governor Richards of the Lone Star State [Nonfics rating: ★★★] — HBO Go, HBO On Demand

Am I Going Too Fast? — Fandor

Approved for Adoption — Amazon

Beatrice Mtetwa and the Rule of Law — Amazon

Beautiful Faces — Amazon

Beluga Days — Fandor

Biblioburro: The Donkey Library — POV

Black Diamond — Fandor

Caesar Must Die — Fandor

Champlain— Fandor

If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front [Nonfics rating: ★★★★] — POV

Kombit — Fandor

The Largest Model Railway of Switzerland — Amazon

Last Voyage for the Leatherback? — Amazon

The Learning — POV

Liberation Unit — Amazon

Lumsden — Fandor

Max Kennedy and the American Dream — Amazon

Midwife — Amazon

More Than Honey — Fandor

Not Pretty, Really — Fandor

The Oldest Model Railroad of Europa in 0 Scale — Amazon

One Who Set Forth — Fandor

Pity the Pilot Whale — Amazon

A Place Called Los Pereyra — Fandor

Realm of the Ancient Redwoods — Amazon

REW-FFWD — Fandor

Second Home — Fandor

Sex n Food— Amazon

Ten Lives: A Feral Cat Odyssey — Amazon

Toyland — Amazon

Traditions for Sale — Amazon

Unmade in China [Nonfics rating: ★★★; Film School Rejects review] — Amazon

Vezo — Fandor

Where Have All the Dolphins Gone?— Amazon

The Wing — Fandor

Must-See Nonfiction TV:


West of Memphis [4/30 on Starz Cinema, 1:35am ET]

My Kid Could Paint That [4/30 on Starz Cinema, 9:30am ET]

All About Ann: Governor Richards of the Lone Star State [4/30 on HBO2 East, 8pm, and on HBO2 West, 11pm ET]

Surviving Progress [4/30 on Free Speech TV, 9pm ET]


Catfish [5/1 on MTV, 12am and 10am ET]

Open Heart [5/1 on HBO East, 5:20am ET, and on HBO West, 8:20am ET]

Pearl Jam Twenty [5/1 on Palladia, 9am ET]

Last Call at the Oasis [5/1 on Pivot, 1:30pm ET]

The Gatekeepers [5/1 on Starz Cinema, 1:35pm ET]

El Bulli: Cooking in Progress [5/1 on Link TV, 2pm ET]

All About Ann: Governor Richards of the Lone Star State [5/1 on HBO East, 4:45pm ET, and on HBO West, 7:45pm]

Senna [5/1 on Velocity, 8pm and 11pm ET]


Dave Chappelle’s Block Party [5/2 on Showtime 2, 1am ET]

Richard Pryor: Omit the Logic [5/2 on Showtime East, 3:10am ET, and on Showtime West, 6:10am ET]

Chimpanzee [5/2 on Encore Family, 11:05am ET]

Elway to Marino (30 for 30) [5/2 on ESPN Classic, 9pm ET]


Elway to Marino (30 for 30) [5/3 on ESPN Classic, 12am, 3am, 9pm and 10:30pm ET]

All About Ann: Governor Richards of the Lone Star State [5/3 on HBO Signature, 9:10am ET]

How to Eat Your Watermelon in White Company (And Enjoy It) [5/3 on Starz In Black, 9:40am and 6:35pm ET]

Valentine Road [5/1 on HBO2 East, 4pm ET, and on HBO2 West, 7p ET]

Senna [5/1 on Velocity, 8pm and 11pm ET]


Elway to Marino (30 for 30) [5/4 on ESPN Classic, 12am, 3am and 9pm ET, and on ESPN 2, 4:30pm ET]

Dave Chappelle’s Block Party [5/4 on Showcase, 2am ET]

El Bulli: Cooking in Progress [5/4 on Link TV, 5am ET]

The Flaw [5/4 on Link TV, 11:30am ET]

All About Ann: Governor Richards of the Lone Star State [5/4 on HBO East, 2pm ET, and on HBO West, 5pm ET]

The Garden [5/4 on Free Speech TV, 4pm ET]

Ultrasuede: In Search of Halston [5/4 on Showtime Women, 9:30pm ET]


Paris is Burning [5/5 on The Movie Channel East, 12am ET, and on The Movie Channel West, 3am ET]

Elway to Marino (30 for 30) [5/5 on ESPN Classic, 12am and 3am ET, and on ESPN U, 3:30pm and 9pm ET]

Richard Pryor: Omit the Logic [5/5 on Showtime 2, 1am ET, and on Showcase, 11pm ET]

El Bulli: Cooking in Progress [5/5 on Link TV, 2:30am ET]

Food, Inc. [5/5 on Pivot, 8:30am ET]

Chimpanzee [5/5 on Encore Family, 11:07am ET]

Beware of Mr. Baker [5/5 on Showtime 2, 1:45pm ET]

American Commune [5/5 on Al Jazeera America, 3pm ET]


The Flaw [5/6 on Link TV, 5:20am ET]

Casting By [5/6 on HBO East, 8:30am ET, and on HBO West, 11:30am ET]

Grizzly Man [5/6 on Starz Cinema, 12pm ET]

American Teacher [5/6 on Pivot, 5pm and 11pm ET]

(Editor in Chief)

Christopher Campbell is the founding editor of Nonfics.