‘The Story of Film’ With ‘Nanook of the North’ Tops This Week’s Home Viewing 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. 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 my ordered picks for September 10, 2013:

1. The Story of Film/Nanook of the North— The second episode in Mark Cousins’ film history mini-series aired on TCM last night and will play again very late tonight (tomorrow morning, really). It’s the section covering 1918–1928, which means there’s an obligatory discussion of Robert Flaherty’s 1922 classic Nanook of the North, which is credited as the first feature documentary (not exactly true) and which I’m pretty sure Cousins mistakenly says takes place in Alaska. The cable channel has been programming films discussed in the series around it, and sure enough they’re showing Nanook tonight. If you’ve never seen it, TCM is a great place for an intro. Check the schedule for details here.

2. The Thin Blue Line— Another one of the greatest and most important docs of all time, Errol Morris’s investigatory true crime film is also personally one of my very favorites. It’ll be on the Showtime network FLIX super early Sunday morning. I recommend DVRing it, not just so you can sleep in but so you are able to watch it over and over, rewind and playback certain scenes, freeze on shots, etc. It’s something to be studied. If you miss it Sunday, it’ll be on again twice more this month. Check the FLIX listing here.

3. Nostalgia for the Light— Just added today to POV’s streaming library and available through October 9, Patricio Guzman’s latest explores some deep questions while looking out into space for signs of life and looking into the Earth for remnants of the dead. Set in Chile’s Atacama Desert, where we meet astronomers working in a prime location for stargazing and women digging the dirt for bodies “disappeared” and ditched during Pinochet’s regime, it’s really a masterpiece. One of my favorite films of 2011. Stream it on POV’s site for free here.

4. The Law in These Parts— This one isn’t a new addition to POV’s streaming library, but it should be noted over some of the other great titles available because it does expire from the site next week. One of the lesser seen recent docs on the Israel/Palestine relationship, it shouldn’t be overlooked, as it features one of the most original setups for an interview and archival footage-based doc in years. Stream it on POV’s site for free here.

5. Chasing Ice — Jeff Orlowski’s film itself is neither as spectacular nor as effective as James Balog’s featured photography, but it is nevertheless a worthy addition to the climate change doc genre. It’s like An Inconvenient Truth told us about it, but here we get to see it and virtually experience the melting of glaciers as a result of global warming. The Oscar nominee (for Best Original Song) finally hits DVD and Blu-ray today, the latter of which is probably your best best for some of the images you’ll find here. It’s also available to stream on Amazon, too.

6. Woodstock (Director’s Cut) — Is everyone familiar with the Palladia channel? It’s basically MTV’s concert film channel, which is pretty amazing. They show other stuff, too, I guess, but usually they’re showing classic and oftentimes lesser known and fairly obscure music docs. Woodstock is, of course, one of the more famous ones. And tomorrow afternoon Palladia is showing the 1994 Director’s Cut. That means more performances and a few excised crowd bits (which are my favorite part), and as far as I know the channel does show films edited for television and include commercial interruption. Maybe not the best first place to see it, but otherwise it’s one of those movies that’s nice to just have on in the background if it’s not the optimal version. Check Palladia’s schedule here.

7. Unraveled— A frustrating yet fascinating film, this documentary gives an outlet to Marc Drier, the lawyer convicted on charges of fraud and money laundering whose infamous case was overshadowed by Madoff’s. The access is remarkable and the story is appreciably thorough in its first-hand exposition via Drier’s interviews. Still, it’s a doc that could incite a lot of anger (I’ve labeled it equal parts enraging and engaging), which may extend to the film for giving this guy the platform with which to play the victim of society card. New to Netflix Watch Instantly.

8. Which Way is the Frontline From Here?— For the evening of 9/11, Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington’s Restrepo might have been more fitting, but if that wasn’t available this doc by Junger about the life and work of the late Hetherington is still recommended viewing. Airs on HBO2 tomorrow night. See the schedule for more info here.

9. Catching Hell— I’m not a huge fan of this one, but Alex Gibney’s profile on the infamous Steve Bartman blunder during the 2003 World Series is a favorite of filmmaker Rian Johnson, as seen in our posting of his picks this week. Not all recommendations have to come from me, after all. It airs on ESPN Classic Saturday afternoon. Check the schedule here.

10. Soul Power— I’ve never seen this doc, but I’m interested in it now after watching and writing about When We Were Kings last week. This is a companion piece, the concert film about the Zaire 74 fest linked to the Ali/Foreman boxing event. Stars James Brown, B.B. King and Bill Withers among the performers. Airs on Palladia early next Tuesady morning. Check Palladia’s schedule here.

Also on New to DVD and/or Blu-ray (I need to point out that I haven’t yet seen any of these films):
We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks
Andre Gregory: Before and After Dinner
Ping Pong
Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday the 13th
Radio Unnameable
Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay

Also New to Netflix Watch Instantly:
The Big Fix

Also on New to VOD:
Good Ol’ Freda
Red Obsession
(our review)
Drivers Wanted
The Rep
Rewind This!
The Revisionaries

(Editor in Chief)

Christopher Campbell is the founding editor of Nonfics.