I’m here to talk about a film genre often forgotten about amongst adolescent bubble gum flicks like ‘High School Musical” and superhero thrillers like ‘The Dark Knight.” It’s called the documentary, and it’s one of the most underrated genres, aside from maybe Italian Horror.

Documentaries never fail to bore me. I’ve watched documentaries on everything from crossword puzzle addictions to General Motor’s layoffs in Flint, Mich. in the ’80s (Michael Moore did actually make a movie before ‘Bowling For Columbine”). The true brilliance of the documentary film is its randomness and method of being born out of a passionate desire on the part of the filmmaker to share with the audience some aspect of life that is routinely overlooked. They never fail to teach you something, even if it is only that eating McDonalds for 30 days straight may kill you. Anyways, here are some of my favorites:

‘Spellbound”: directed by Jeffrey Blitz, takes a look at eight of the contestants in the 1999 National Spelling Bee competition and what it takes for each to get there. There’s April DeGideo, who has read through her family’s dictionary so many times it’s a tattered and creased mess. There’s Harry Altman, who enjoys contorting his face in ways only a mother could love while spelling on stage. Finally, there’s the spelling palimpsest, zwieback, cephalalga and so much more!

‘Jesus Camp”: directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, became an immediate favorite in my category of ‘funny-yet-terrifying” documentaries upon seeing it. It takes the viewer inside a Pentecostal summer camp that teaches kids about creationism, crusading for God and how ‘Harry Potter” is full of evil witchcraft. One scene you don’t want to miss? When little Rachael tells a woman at a bowling alley that she’s on God’s mind and that He has special plans for her. It’s almost cute. Almost.

‘Sicko”: written and directed by Michael Moore, targets the American health care system in all its glory. Where else can you learn about a woman who married a Canadian just so she could take advantage of Canada’s free health care? Where else can you see a group of hopeful Americans take a boat ride to Guantanamo Bay in hopes of getting free health care? This film is about hard working Americans who have had their lives ripped apart because of health care, and though I’ve shed quite a few tears while watching it (you will too), I’ve managed to rewatch it at least four times.

‘Festival Express”: directed by Bob Smeaton and Frank Cvitanovich, gives you a chance to take a train ride across Canada with some of the most famous hippie musicians of all time, including Janis Joplin, The Grateful Dead and The Band. They jam, drink, make amazing music and make asses out of themselves in this mini-Woodstock documentary. You don’t have the pleasure of hearing Arlo Guthrie say ‘the New York State freeway is closed, man!” But, it’s more than good enough.

‘March of the Penguins”: directed by Luc Jacquet, examines the arduous, yearly journey of penguins to their breeding ground in hopes of finding a mate to, well, mate with. Cutest scene? Anything with baby penguins. You will want one as a pet. Just remember one thing: eventually they grow up.

‘Hype!”: directed by Doug Pray and made about 12 years ago, explores grunge rock of the early ’90s and takes you on a flannel clad trip through the scene that, if anything, makes it clear that there was so much more to grunge than Nirvana. Photographer Charles Post describes the music best in the film by saying, ‘We were all so f*cking bored out of our heads that it was get drunk, fall down and uhh, you know, throw your body around.” You can watch bands such as Soundgarden and Mudhoney talk about all things Seattle and grunge and how they are most certainly ‘not losers.”

‘Mad Hot Ballroom”: directed by Marilyn Agrelo, takes you to some of New York City’s public schools, where students learn dances such as the Rhumba, Fox-trot and Merengue in an effort to win first place in the city-wide ballroom dancing competition. The message of this film goes far beyond dancing it teaches kids that if they work hard at something, they can achieve it. Or at least shake it.

Winter break is a great time to snuggle up with a blanket in front of the TV and douse your mind with knowledge in the form of fun documentaries. I mean, what else are you going to do? Watch real movies?

Kraus is a member of the class of 2009.



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