‘Town Hall’ and ‘Medora’ Top This Week’s Nonfics Home Picks

Town Hall 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 April 8, 2014:

1. Town Hall

[Now Streaming Online via World Channel] — Directed by Cutie and the Boxer producer Sierra Pettengill and Jamila Wignot, this 2013 political documentary looks at a couple of Tea Party activists in Pennsylvania, doing so without any judgment or position. Daniel Walber reviewed the film for us at DOC NYC last fall, calling it “emotionally resonant” and “dignified” and writing that it’s “at its best when emphasizing the way that the Tea Party and the right wing have isolated themselves from the rest of the country […] It’s a film that looks at the arc of the Tea Party as a human tragedy of communication and information, perhaps the only way to keep everyone’s dignity intact.”

2. Medora

[Now Streaming Online via Independent Lens] — This listing previously appeared in another form on another Nonfics Home Picks: This film is about a small Indiana town and the high school basketball team that has the dishonor of being the worst in the state. It’s produced by actors Steve Buscemi and Stanley Tucci yet surprisingly hasn’t been talked about much, which is a shame because it’s a documentary that has to be seen and really needs the extra mention. In my review for Film School Rejects, I wrote: “Directors Andrew Cohn and Davy Rothbart seem to only use the basketball story as a means to show smalltown America as an underdog against the rest of the world, though not exactly positively. We’ve seen countless movies stressing the poverty and the hopelessness of areas like this, and a lot of them wind up peddling inspiration. Medora is at times quite moving, perhaps even crowd-pleasing, but it can’t really be called uplifting, even when its subjects are at their most triumphant. The endurance of the town and the team is more respectable than rousing.”

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

3. The Trials of Muhammad Ali

[Airing on Independent Lens Monday, April 14th] — This listing previously appeared in another form on another Nonfics Home Picks: Another from my list of the top 20 docs of last year, this historical film by Bill Siegel (co-director of Oscar nominee The Weather Underground) looks at Muhammad Ali’s life following his conversion to Islam and his protest of the Vietnam War, which landed him a prison sentence for draft evasion and ruined his favor with many Americans for decades. From my review: “[Siegel] doesn’t waste space with the usual, cliche stock footage of Vietnam and undefined shots of random protests in the streets. Every bit of material appears to be directly relevant. It helps that there is much archival footage of Ali to use, but even with access to and allotment of tons of footage many filmmakers still include familiar filler. I don’t know for sure how much here is previously unseen content, but it all definitely feels fresh while also being entirely essential … It’s a look at a history by way of Ali, and it’s a look at Ali by way of history, and it’s one of the best docs I’d claim to have learned something from all year.”

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

4. Prelude to War

[New to Fandor] — The Oscar-winning first installment in Frank Capra’s Why We Fight series of propaganda films, this was originally intended to educate recruits and later civilians on what led to World War II and to us joining the Allied powers in the global conflict. Today it’s an interesting history lesson, not so much of the prelude to the war but as a record of how we saw it and sold it to the people. Joining this on Fandor now are other parts of the series, namely The Nazis Strike, Divide and Conquer and The Battle of China. Also available on the site are Why We Fight installments The Battle of Britain, The Battle of Russia and War Comes to America.

Also available on Amazon Instant Video and YouTube.

5. Too Sane for This World

[New to DVD via Cinema Libre] — Appropriately released during National Autism Awareness Month, this informative documentary looks at the disorder by focusing on 12 adults on the autism spectrum rather than expert talk. From Dan Schindel’s review: “Built as a bridge between autistic and neurotypical people. The questions asked in the interviews were all devised by autistic individuals, ensuring their maximum effectiveness in getting good answers. There are no outside experts to explain anything to the audience. Everyone who speaks in this documentary, beginning with the introduction by Temple Grandin, is autistic. That alone makes a solid case that autistic integration into society is perfectly doable. […] The best parts of the film come when it challenges the common perception of what autistic people can do. Late in the doc Robyn, a young woman who in many ways seems to exemplify all the stereotypical traits, launches into a vivacious and funny motivational speech at an awareness function. If Too Sane for This World had more moments like that, it’d make its point even better and would be more memorable for it.”

6. I Am Divine

[New to DVD via Wolfe Video] — 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.”

Also available on iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, Vudu and WolfeOnDemand.

7. Borderland

[Series Premiere on Al Jazeera America on Sunday, April 13th] — I haven’t actually seen any of this new four-part documentary series yet, but it’s one I’ll be checking out for sure, so I figured I’d include it. Following six individuals, the program explores the issue of illegal immigration through the investigation of three attempted border crossers who perished and by joining hopeful migrants back up to America from Central America.

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

The Amazing Race Season 13

Bayou Blue

Cocaine Cowboys Reloaded [Also on Blu-ray]

Don’t Ask Me Questions: The Unsung Life of Graham Parker and The Rumour

Earthflight Complete Series

Four Horsemen

Ghost Towns

I Am Divine [Nonfics rating: ★★★; Nonfics review]

Justin Bieber: Believe [Also Blu-ray]

The Last Time I Saw Macao

Moonshiners Season 2

Murph: The Protector

Northwest Passage

Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan

Ronald Reagan: The Life and Legacy

Too Sane for This World

Wild Combination: A Portrait of Arthur Russell

New to Netflix Watch Instantly:

None this week

New to iTunes/Amazon Instant/VOD:

Ages and Stages: The Story of the Meligrove Band— iTunes

Asylum— Fandor

The Battle of China— Fandor

Being Ginger— iTunes

Chi— Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, XBox

Divide and Conquer— Fandor

Flicker— Fandor

History of Jazz: Oxygen for the Ears— Amazon

The Last Bolshevik— Fandor

Let Timmy Smoke— iTunes

The Man Who Loved Trees— Amazon

Medora [Nonfics rating: ★★★★; Film School Rejects review]

The Nazis Strike— Fandor

One Direction: Clevver’s Ultimate Fan Guide— iTunes

The Organic Life— iTunes

Prelude to War [Nonfics rating: ★★★★] — Fandor

Three Cheers for the Whale— Fandor

Town Hall [Nonfics rating: ★★★★; Nonfics review] — World Channel

The United State of Autism— iTunes

Must-See Nonfiction TV:


Dragonslayer [4/8 on Showtime Next, 4:45pm ET]


Mondays at Racine [4/9 on HBO Signature, 4am ET]

99 Percent: The Occupy Wall Street Collaborative Film [4/9 on Pivot, 10am ET]

Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall [4/9 on HBO Signature, 12:25pm ET]

Pussy Riot — A Punk Prayer [4/9 on HBO2 East, 8pm ET, and HBO2 West, 11pm ET]


Queen of the Sun: What Are the Bees Telling Us? [4/10 on Free Speech TV, 3am ET]

Food, Inc. [4/10 on Pivot, 8pm ET]


The Flaw [4/11 on Link TV, 2:30am ET]

Chimpanzee [4/11 on Starz Cinema, 5am ET]

Gloria: In Her Own Words [4/11 on HBO East, 12:45pm ET, and HBO West, 3:45pm ET]


El Bulli: Cooking in Progress [4/12 on Link TV, 6am ET]

Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall [4/12 on HBO East, 10:45am ET, and HBO West, 1:45pm ET]

Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage [4/12 on VH1 Classic, 3pm ET]


The Crash Reel [4/13 on HBO2 East, 10:10am ET, and HBO2 West, 1:10pm ET]

Space Station 3D [4/13 on 3net, 8pm and 11pm ET]

Cosmos [4/13 on Fox, 9pm ET]

Borderland [4/13 on Al Jazeera America, 9pm ET]

Bag It [4/13 on Pivot, 9pm ET]


Genocide [4/14 on TCM, 2am ET]

Bag It [4/14 on Pivot, 2am ET]

Space Station 3D [4/14 on 3net, 3am, 6am, 10am and 2pm ET]

Gloria: In Her Own Words [4/14 on HBO Signature, 4:55am ET]

Cosmos [4/14 on National Geographic, 9pm ET]

The Trials of Muhammad Ali [4/14 on PBS, 10pm ET]


Carol Channing: Larger Than Life [4/15 on Showtime Women, 5am ET]

Kings Point [4/15 on HBO2 East, 11:45am ET, HBO2 West, 2:45pm ET]

El Bulli: Cooking in Progress [4/15 on Link TV, 1pm and 9pm ET]

The Gatekeepers [4/15 on Starz East, 5pm ET, and Starz West, 8pm ET]

Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall [4/15 on HBO East, 5pm ET, and HBO West, 8pm ET]

(Editor in Chief)

Christopher Campbell is the founding editor of Nonfics.