Practically the only good "reality T.V." left these days comes in the form of documentaries, and five of the best are up for Best Documentary Feature on Sunday night at the Oscars. Many are available on demand streaming if you want to check them out yourself in time for the show. Here's our mini reviews and our pick for the winner.
The Gatekeepers. (coming soon on Netflix) Former members of Israel's counter-terrorism forces discuss various defensive efforts through the decades. The documentary is heavy on talking heads but the history is engrossing.
|The Oscars, Sun. on ABC|
Plague is not only a comprehensive history of AIDs activism in the 80's and 90's, but also a study of the psychology behind large social change--where ACT UP went right, where they went wrong, and why people who all basically had the same righteous goal just couldn't get along with each other. Some of the old footage the film digs up is engrossing, especially the ashes spread on the White House lawn, and a highly charged moment where a young Bill Clinton takes an activist to task for his personal attacks, scolding him for distracting from the real goal. Never debate a Rhodes scholar, the activist jokes afterward. Thirty years later the film tracks down the most famous of the activists, many who are still alive. The "goodness" and "humanity" the activists showed the world is "mind boggling," reflects one today. If Sugarman doesn't win, Plague should.
5 Broken Cameras (Netflix streaming, Amazon) offers an unique perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, shot by an average Palestinian citizen who bought a camera to film his new son, but ended up turning the lens on the streets of his home turf. As the conflict escalates, his cameras become damaged one by one. Hence the title. Without a good understanding of this part of the world, Cameras can get confusing at times, and be forewarned, there's subtitles to follow as well.
Our pick for the winner: Searching for Sugarman. (Netflix, Amazon) What if you were famous and didn't even know it? We want Sugarman to get the trophy tonight, and finally get the recognition stolen from him for so long, and apparently so do many other Oscar predictors.
The compelling aspect of this film is the South African fans who catapulted a gifted but obscure American artist into stardom. The reason why it should win stems from the fans themselves. Fans can go very, very wrong sometimes. But other times, they can be your savior. Sugarman's fans are not creepy, nosey, dim-witted or overbearing. Rather they are grounded, intelligent, successful men and women who in their youth were going through unspeakable upheaval in their country, and found their voice in Sugarman's music (One of his songs asks, "I wonder, will this hatred ever end?"). It was the fans who decades ago recognized the brilliance of Sugarman, made him a sensation, and then didn't rest until they got answers about what really happened to the man who saw them through such great change during Apartheid. The outpouring of love and respect for one very talented (yet unappreciated in the U.S.) artist, will move you. And wait until you hear what the humble Rodriguez himself has to say all these years later. (On a side note, the injustice of what happened to Rodriguez's well-deserved royalties when he was a superstar, and the meager way he had to live and raise his daughters for decades for never receiving any checks, will make your blood boil. Although South African fans had no choice because his albums weren't available in any other form but a bootleg copy, Sugarman is a living breathing example of why pirating music is so wrong.)