‘This Is Not a Film’ and ‘¡Vivan Las Antipodas!’ Top This Week’s Nonfics Home Picks

not a film poster

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 November 5, 2013:

1. This Is Not a Film

[New to Netflix Instant] — I’m pretty sure this has been on Netflix Instant before, but not since Nonfics launched. Plus, it’s great to have an excuse to recommend my favorite film of 2012. Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi, who is technically barred from directing movies for 20 years, documented himself under house arrest during the festivities leading up to the new year. He spends some of his time going over an unfinished feature he’d planned before his sentence. He meets a young man collecting garbage in the apartment building, interviewing him as if compelled to find other characters to include and also needing to test his boundaries by interacting with someone outside. With co-directorial help from Mojtaba Mirthahmasb, this very production and release is a political act, having been smuggled out of the country inside a cake. For something that is “not a film” and where the action is confined to an apartment, it is an incredibly riveting work. And one where an iguana becomes a perfect sidekick. [Read my 2012 end of year roundup at Movies.com]
Also available on DVD and Amazon Streaming.

2. ¡Vivan Las Antipodas!

[New to Netflix Instant] — Moving onto one of my favorite releases of this year, Victor Kossakovsky’s spectacular gimmick film should have been released somewhere on an IMAX screen and kept there. It’s not just because of the beautifully shot landscape scenes but because those scenes are played with in mind-blowing transitions to other landscape shots. Basically, the theme here is antipodes, which are geographically opposite spots on the planet (like a rural sheep farm in Argentina and the busy metropolis of Shanghai), and the doc juxtaposes and contrasts the locations in ways that will have you literally seeing things in new ways. Some of the bits are great on their own, though, too. I particularly like the visuals and narrative in Hawaii involving a lost dog in an lava-flow area you won’t believe is inhabited. Highly recommended if you like films such as Koyaanisqatsi, Baraka and Life in a Day, as well as the Planet Earth series. [Read my review at the old Documentary Channel Blog/Tumblr]
Also available on DVD and Amazon Streaming.

3. Musicwood

[New to iTunes] — This was just in our Docs in Theaters guide last Friday, but it was also released day-and-date to iTunes. I haven’t seen it, but Daniel reviewed the film, giving it four stars and praising its balance of different perspectives on an issue affecting the Tongass National Forest in southeastern Alaska and, as a result, the leading guitar-making companies. “A riveting tale of environmental crisis and industrial conflict with a commitment to depth and a musical cadence,” he wrote. Featuring performances by Yo La Tengo and Kaki King and interviews with other musicians, amidst a story pitting Greenpeace and the guitar manufacturers against Native American loggers, it’s a different sort of political issue film than you’re used to. [Read Daniel’s review here at Nonfics]

4. Pandora’s Promise

[Airing Thursday on CNN] — Note: this entry appeared prematurely on last week’s Nonfics Home Picks. CNN Films’ next documentary acquisition to premiere on the cable news network is this anti-anti-nuke film from Oscar nominee Robert Stone (Radio Bikini). I’m always for these kinds of works that go contrary to the normal liberal documentary viewpoint, and this one is particularly challenging and timely in the wake of the Fukushima meltdown. Stone is a longtime environmentalist who has turned toward being pro-nuclear energy and has traveled the world to show us how safe and green it is compared to our other options. One of the biggest conversation starters of the year.

5. London: The Modern Babylon

[New to Netflix Instant] — Another recommendation from Daniel. He and I have both seen this film by Julian Temple, but he’s a much bigger fan of it, even including it among his top 5 docs of 2013 at mid-year point. It is definitely a distinct look at London through the years, focused on the rougher patches of its history, at least since there’ve been films shot of it, and heavily soundtracked as Temple is expected to do. I’ve called it both a “time travelogue,” for the way it takes on a tour of the British center with both fiction and nonfiction archive material, each of it a peek into the past by way of a time machine known as cinema, and also a “city mixtape,” as in a city symphony where the orchestra has been replaced by a more collage of modern, anachronistic tunes. [Read my review from TIFF 2012 at Movies.com][Read my interviews with Temple at the Documentary Channel Blog/Tumblr, Part 1 and Part 2][Listen to episode 5 of The Realness to hear Daniel’s thoughts on the doc]
Also available on DVD, iTunes and Amazon Streaming.

6. Blackfish

[New to iTunes] — Note: a version of this entry originally appeared in a previous edition of Nonfics Home Picks. Without a doubt the most compelling issue film of the year, Gabriela Cowperthwaite‘s doc on orca captivity and one particular animal’s murderous nature is going to find tons of angry new fans through Apple’s service. It has already had an effect on a future Pixar movie and may be unofficially influencing SeaWorld’s practices. There is some really striking, scary footage in the film around the midway point that gives it its most power. [Read my interview with Cowperthwaite and others at RogerEbert.com]

7. The Great Hip Hop Hoax

[New to DVD] — Note: this entry originally appeared in a previous edition of Nonfics Home Picks. I’m sort of surprised and sort of not surprised this fascinating documentary wasn’t distributed with more fanfare over here. It is a documentary dealing with the British music industry, but it’s relatable from an American perspective, especially since it’s about two Scottish rappers who pretend to be from California. I’d think it’d be more interesting to people over here who might be shocked to have never heard the story of Silibil n’ Brains. I’ve called it both the Imposter of music docs and the Exit Through the Gift Shop of music docs, and that certainly does sound appealing, right? Directed by Jeanie Finlay (Sound It Out), the doc must not have made big enough waves at SXSW back in March, but now you can all catch up with it. As I wrote in my now unavailable capsule review from Hot Docs for Documentary Channel, “The ironies involving the record industry are overflowing.”

New to DVD and/or Blu-ray:

Baby Peggy: The Elephant in the Room

Bomb It 2

Cosmic Psychos: Blokes You Can Trust

East End Babylon: Story of the Cockney Rejects

Great Minds: 20 Years of Thinkers on Film (Box Set)

The Greatest Ears In Town: The Arif Mardin Story

The Green Wave

Hava Nagila (The Movie)

Mexican Fighter

Nazi Megaweapons

Oil City Confidential


Also New to Netflix Watch Instantly:

Alias Ruby Blade


Defiant Requiem

Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel

Lynching Charlie Lynch

The Rape of Europa

Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan

Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s




Wild Eyes: The Abby Sunderland Story

Also New to iTunes/VOD:

The Institute

Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet

A Year in Burgandy

More Must-See Nonfiction TV:

The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia [11/6 on The Movie Channel, 12am ET]

I’m Still Here [11/6 on Showtime Next, 12:30am ET]

Hearts and Minds [11/6 on The Movie Channel, 2:10am ET]

The Yes Men [11/6 on Showtime West, 2:40am ET]

El Bulli: Cooking in Progress [11/6 on Link TV, 3am ET]

Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment [11/6 on Pivot, 7am ET]

Man on a Mission: Richard Garriott’s Road to the Stars [11/6 on Pivot, 11am ET]

The Other F Word [11/6 on Showtime, 11:15am ET]

Valentine Road [11/6 on HBO2, 1:30pm ET]

The Redemption of General Butt Naked [11/7 on Pivot, 3am ET]

Catfish [11/7 on MTV, 9am ET]

Pandora’s Promise [11/7 on CNN, 9pm ET]

Chimpanzee [11/8 on Starz Kids & Family, 5:05am ET]

Foreign Parts [11/8 on Pivot, 7am ET]

Kings Point [11/8 on HBO, 10:30am ET]

American Teacher [11/8 on Pivot, 12pm ET]

Kumare [11/8 on Pivot, 4pm ET]

Saving Face [11/9 on HBO, 6:30am ET]

Winged Migration [11/9 on BYU TV, 5pm ET]

War Photographer [11/10 on Pivot, 6am ET]

Make Believe [11/10 on Showtime Beyond, 10:10am ET]

Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest [11/11 on VH1, 2:30am ET]

The Gatekeepers [11/11 on Starz, 10:45am ET]

(Editor in Chief)

Christopher Campbell is the founding editor of Nonfics.