‘The System With Joe Berlinger’ and ‘After Tiller’ Top This Week’s Nonfics Home Picks

After Tiller 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. 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 May 13, 2014:

1. The System with Joe Berlinger

[Series Premiere on Al Jazeera America this Sunday] — I recommended Joe Berlinger’s new series a few months ago when it was originally set to air, but it has been rescheduled and will now premiere on May 18th. The good thing is that I’ve had a chance to see more episodes since that premature write-up and am even more on board than I was before. The premise is that each week the Oscar-nominated filmmaker behind the Paradise Lost trilogy examines the cases of two wrongfully imprisoned individuals as part of a greater exploration of serious problems with the American justice system. Each episode focuses on a specific issue. For instance, this Sunday you’ll meet two people who were convicted of murder based on false confessions that were tricked out of them. Other episodes deal with flawed forensics, mandatory sentencing, eyewitness identification, juvenile justice, geography of punishment, prosecutorial integrity or parole policy. It’s a different style for Berlinger, who appears on screen throughout and narrates his findings, and it’s a program where most of the cases are ongoing, so it’s going to rile viewers up rather than satisfy them narratively.

New episodes air on Sundays at 9pm ET and then re-air on Wednesdays at the same time.

2. After Tiller

[New to DVD via Oscilloscope] — 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.

DVD bonus features include an interview with Shane and Wilson, an additional interview with subject Dr. Susan Robinson, an interview with the late Dr. George Tiller via Physicians for Reproductive Health and a Sundance Film Festival Q&A featuring the filmmakers and subjects, plus a downloadable educational guide.

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

3. Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy? An Animated Conversation With Noam Chomsky

[New to DVD via MPI Home Video] — From Daniel Walber’s four-star review for Nonfics: “A profoundly simple film, at least on paper. Michel Gondry sits down to talk with Noam Chomsky and makes it into a movie. The topics include Chomsky’s theories of linguistics, his early childhood, his ideas around the linguistics of early childhood, and a number of other wide-reaching but related subjects. Unadorned, such a documentary would be eminently watchable, if perhaps a bit tedious. Yet what Gondry has actually created is one of the most beautifully complex films of the year, and he does it entirely by way of hand-drawn animation. It’s a meeting of disciplines, one that takes a discussion of language and perception and uses its artistic sensibility to point out that maybe art and science are almost the same thing. With Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy?, Gondry has attempted to animate the mind.” Also check out my interview with Gondry about the film.

DVD bonus features include a making-of video about the animation process, a DOC NYC Q&A with Gondry and Chomsky, a Democracy Now! interview, a Huffington Post Live interview and the trailer.

Also available on Amazon Instant Video.

4. Overlord

[New to Blu-ray via The Criterion Collection] — From our Landon Palmer’s review for Nonfics: “Stuart Cooper’s Overlord doesn’t approach the wartime archive as a homogeneous set of familiar images. In the early 1970s, the director mined the 16mm and 8mm archives of London’s Imperial War Museum and emerged with rare treasures of specific historical occurrences, cinematic pleasures of incredible warplanes at flight, and uncanny records of unfathomable tragedy. What he did with them remains wholly unique in the history of war cinema. Cooper shot his own original 35mm film about a young recruit who suffers loneliness and dread from basic training to his arrival at the shores of Normandy on D-Day. He then combined this footage with the archival materials, creating a hybrid that is never quite a narrative yet never quite a documentary either. Overlord speaks profoundly to our ongoing relationship to wartime images and symbolically summarizes the trajectory of WWII cinema. Like Schindler’s List’s black-and-white photography or Night and Fog’s movement between images captured in the past and present, Overlord is both a record of history and a comment on our contemporary relationship to it.”

Also available on DVD, Hulu Plus, iTunes and Vudu.

5. Plimpton! Starring George Plimpton as Himself

[Airs on PBS on Friday via American Masters] — George Plimpton is one of the most interesting men of the 20th century, and he’s deserving of this proper tribute that will help people get to know him better today and in the future. Tom Bean and Luke Poling’s film is your basic American Masters sort of biography — all talking heads and old clips — and as usual that’s all that’s needed. At times I did want to go and just watch the many classic Plimpton documentaries we see parts from in this, yet that’s not a bad thing so much as it’s proof that this serves as a great introduction, adequately profiling a man who was so much more than what we can see in a single feature by making us want to take the next step and read and see his own actual output.

6. God Loves Uganda

[Airs on PBS on Monday via Independent Lens] — Along with Call Me Kuchu, this is another necessary look at the influence of American evangelical Christian missionaries in East Africa, particularly in Uganda where laws criminalizing homosexuality is currently a major human rights issue. There’s even some overlap between the two docs. I wrote about this one, which is directed by Oscar winner Roger Ross Williams (Music by Prudence), as part of a feature on films that give “evil” people a platform. Here’s part of that discussion: “Williams allows a predominant amount of screen time to members of the International House of Prayer, including Evangelical missionaries in the African country set on saving and converting its citizens, preaching to them that gays and lesbians are Biblically and therefore morally wrong […] Williams comes off as fairly objective throughout much of his documentary in spite of conclusively being on the side of Uganda’s LGBT community rather than the IHOP characters he gives so much of a platform to. Should he be considered complicit in whatever effects this spotlight on hateful ideas might add up to? Or is it up to us to realize he’s featuring them to incite a presumably intelligent and tolerant audience against what they’re doing? Protest if we want to? But is any IHOP or other evangelical devotee able to watch God Loves Uganda and feel themselves challenged let alone damned by it? The fair depiction is too easy on them.”

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

7. Sign Painters

[Now Available on iTunes and VOD] — A rather simple meet-the-examples kind of film, Faythe Levine and Sam Macon’s doc is about sign painters, some of whom were a big deal in the career’s prime era and some of whom are currently still trying to make a living at it in the age of vinyl and other mechanical printing means. I was admittedly only curious about this because sign painting is in my family, but it’s a decent doc that should hold anyone’s interest and which doesn’t have to do too much to give us a new appreciation for hand-crafted notices, whether wall-covering billboards or small instructional pieces. I can’t say I necessarily remember any of the subjects interviewed, though I was plenty engrossed with the history and the artistry as it’s presented on screen.

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

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

American Adventure: Quartzsite Arizona

American Jesus

Coming Back With Wes Moore

D-Day: 70th Anniversary Collection

Dave Clark Five and Beyond: Glad All Over [Also on Blu-ray]

The Devil’s Lair

Empire’s Shield: Royal Navy in the First World War

The First World War The Complete Series

Generation Iron

Genius On Hold

God’s Greatest Hits: Be Thou My Vision

God’s Greatest Hits: British Invasion

God’s Greatest Hits: Nearer My God to Thee

God’s Greatest Hits: Wade in the Water

Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy? [Nonfics rating: ★★★★; Nonfics review]

Journey Through the Fifty Shades

Led Zeppelin: Way Down Inside


Mama C: Urban Warrior in the African Bush

Miracle of Survival

Overlord [Nonfics review] [Also on Blu-ray]

Ozzy and Black Sabbath: How They Came to Be

Secrets of War: The Cold War

Secrets of War: Weapons of War

Shelter Island

True War Stories The Complete 39-Part Series

The Unbelievers

Unsolved Mysteries of the Second World War

WWII Chronicles: A Day-By-Day Diary

New to Netflix Watch Instantly:

The Anonymous People

Eyes of the Mothman

Cocaine Cowboys Reloaded

Mademoiselle C

Spinning Plates

New to iTunes/Amazon Instant/VOD:

Action Stations — Fandor

Away — Fandor

Bottled Up: The Battle Over Dublin Dr. Pepper — iTunes

Come Worry With Us!: Thee Silver Mt. Zion

Cure For Pain — Fandor

Double Play: James Benning and Richard Linklater

El Somni — iTunes

Ferlinghetti: A Rebirth of Wonder

From the Ground Up — Fandor

Gahan Wilson: Born Dead, Still Weird

Halfway Home — Fandor

I Ride — Fandor

I’m Sorry — Fandor

Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy? [Nonfics rating: ★★★★; Nonfics review] — Amazon, iTunes

Israel: The Royal Tour — Amazon

Metal and Melancholy — Fandor

Oblivion — Fandor

One Direction: Reaching For the Stars Part 2 — The Next Chapter — iTunes

Quality Balls: The David Steinberg Story — Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, YouTube, Playstation, Vudu and Xbox

Rice Field of Dreams — Fandor

Russell Peter: Red, White and Brown — Amazon, iTunes, Playstation, Vudu and Xbox

Sign Painters [Nonfics rating: ★★★] — Amazon, Vudu, Xbox, Playstation and Google Play

Strategy of Metals — Fandor

The Tree That Remembers — Fandor

A Trip Down Memory Lane — Fandor

What If? — Fandor

Must-See Nonfiction TV:

(All Times Eastern)

Tuesday — 5/13

5:45pm: All About Ann: Governor Richards of the Lone Star State [HBO East]

8:45pm: All About Ann: Governor Richards of the Lone Star State [HBO West]

9pm: Pearl Jam Twenty [VH1 Classic]

Wednesday — 5/14

2:00am: Grey Gardens [TCM]

3:45am: Salesman [TCM]

4pm: Pearl Jam Twenty [VH1 Classic]

4:30pm: Beware of Mr. Baker [Showtime 2]

9:00pm: Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest [VH1 Classic]

9:00pm: Richard Pryor: Omit the Logic [Showtime 2]

Thursday — 5/15

9:30am: 99% — The Occupy Wall Street Collaborative Film [Pivot]

1:00pm: Surviving Progress [Free Speech TV]

4:30pm: Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest [VH1 Classic]

Friday — 5/16

1:55am: West of Memphis [Starz Cinema]

2:30am: Woodstock [Encore Classic]

9:15am: Gasland Part II [HBO East and HBO Latino]

11:50am: Gloria: In Her Own Words [HBO2 East]

12:15am: Gasland Part II [HBO West]

2:50am: Gloria: In Her Own Words [HBO2 West]

5:00pm: A Place at the Table [Pivot]

7:00pm: Food, Inc. [Pivot]

9:00pm: Plimpton! Starring George Plimpton as Himself [PBS]

Saturday — 5/17

6:00am: The Garden [Free Speech TV]

7:30pm: Food, Inc. [Pivot]

8:00pm: The Punk Syndrome [Link TV]

Sunday — 5/18

2:45am: Richard Pryor: Omit the Logic [Showtime East]

5:45am: Richard Pryor: Omit the Logic [Showtime West]

7:05am: Chimpanzee [Encore Family]

1:10pm: Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God [HBO Signature]

4:00pm: Surviving Progress [Free Speech TV]

8:00pm: Hubble 3D [3Net]

8:50pm: Chimpanzee [Encore Family]

9:00pm: The System with Joe Berlinger [Al Jazeera America]

11:00pm: Hubble 3D [3Net]

Monday — 5/19

3:00am: Hubble 3D [3Net]

6:00am: Hubble 3D [3Net]

6:40am: The Fog of War [Sony Movie Channel]

8:15am: Grizzly Man [Starz Cinema]

12:15pm: Casting By [HBO East and HBO Latino]

2:00pm: Hubble 3D [3Net]

3:15pm: Casting By [HBO West]

4:45pm: All About Ann: Governor Richards of the Lone Star State [HBO Signature]

10:00pm: God Loves Uganda [PBS]

Tuesday — 5/20

3:00am: Queen of the Sun: What Are the Bees Telling Us? [Free Speech TV]

5:40am: My Kid Could Paint That [Starz Cinema]

12:40pm: All About Ann: Governor Richards of the Lone Star State [HBO2 East]

2:00pm: Frank and Ollie [BYU TV]

2:50pm: Searching for Sugar Man [Starz Cinema]

3:40pm: All About Ann: Governor Richards of the Lone Star State [HBO2 West]

8:00pm: El Bulli: Cooking in Progress [Link TV]

(Editor in Chief)

Christopher Campbell is the founding editor of Nonfics.