Cameraperson. Man I loved this one. A collage of footage from director Kirsten Johnson’s work on other films. It works as an experience of the lives she documents and as seeing through her own eyes, and as wrestling with the choices of what or what not to show and how or how not to tell these stories. Highly recommended.

Radical Grace. This was a fun documentary. It tracks a group of feisty nuns and their guerrilla battles with the patriarchy in the Catholic church. They come under a lot of fire for more progressive outspokenness on a variety of issues. The sisters keep alive a sort of old-school community-based hippie evangelist approach. There’s some good droll “those wild women need supervisin’!” humor throughout. The nerve! Favorite line was from Sister Jean Hughes, when she said something like “God is not a man with a beard. God is the impetus for good.”

Disturbing the Peace. A documentary about how former militants – Israeli and Palestinian – changed their minds, joined up with the enemy, and started to work for peace. It opens with personal stories of transformation. Confessions of wrongdoing. Stories of victimhood. The moment they decided to do something different than fight the other side. In form, it’s a mix of talking heads, reenactments, news reel footage, and live documenting protests and nonviolent demonstrations.

My favorite part was this really great scene between husband and wife. The wife holds a more angry and strident pro-Palestinian stance. She sees the nonviolent, loving approach as a surrender. There’s this awesome parental tension I’d never considered – how do they decide to expose their daughters to that greater world and their perspective, when to introduce them to certain ideas, etc.

There’s also the fact that the rest of the populations (Israeli and Palestinian) sometimes aren’t just ambivalent but sometimes strongly anti-nonviolence, strongly against peaceful protest. Gave me a new appreciation, of how hard it is to do protest work when the rest of your community hates what you’re doing…

I forget whether this was in the movie or in the post-movie conversation, but I also like the idea that forgiveness is not altruistic. It’s one of the best things you can do for yourself.

Filed under: Ebertfest.

Citizenfour. There’s this interesting tension where a guy has done something earth-shaking, and he knows it… but he’s watching the effects while hidden in a hotel room far from home. Very cool to see all the planning and diligence they took to keep things mum until they were ready to reveal. So glad they took the time to document this while it was happening.

I’m probably on a watchlist now.

Meru. I liked it most when they were showing the footage that makes you squirm and makes your palms get sweaty. Wish they’d geeked out on the nitty-gritty climbing details more, and/or cut back on the talking heads. Sometimes the people who were there aren’t the best ones to tell the story?

Dark Days. A remarkable documentary about people – a community, a neighborhood you’ll see – living underground in New York City. One thing that many great documentaries have in common: just letting people talk. Heartbreaking, funny, heartwarming. Recommended.

The Act of Killing. It follows a few semi-retired Indonesian gangsters/mass-murderers as they make an increasingly bizarre movie about their youth. Probably the most intense documentary I’ve seen. And not at all because it’s graphic (It’s not – the most wrenching scene for me, spoiler, was when you see these guys go on a neighborhood shakedown for cash. It is completely heartbreaking.). It’s just morally rich and a really interesting text, excuse the academic-ese. All about storytelling, memory, forgetting; the influence of movies; youth vs. age. Totally worth it.

Girl Rising. Got suckered into seeing this two-hour commercial. Some vignettes are better than others (depending on the spunk of the girls and the writers’ adaptation), but some seemed a dangerous mix of exploitative and/or pandering. And the didactic interludes just grate after a while. Like, say, a Michael Moore film, I’m not sure that anyone who agrees really needs to see it, no one who disagrees (and who might that be?) will be persuaded.