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Best of Kanopy: Documentaries

Documentary film maker filming iceburgs

Documentaries are little glimpses into other people’s lives. They can give you new perspectives, shift your focus, open your eyes and make you see things in a whole new way, and remind you that your world is not the only world. Documentaries can not only help keep you grounded but can also inspire you to new ideas and ambitions. Documentaries always seem so personal to me, like you are watching someone’s grainy home movie from 1972, where an uncle gets too drunk or a mom cries in the kitchen while a little boy pins hits a piñata, videos that portray real life moments, both the good and the bad. There are many places you can stream documentaries these days, between Netflix, Hulu, and HBO, just to name a few. BUT did you know that Metro Library has a new streaming service called Kanopy that is available with only your library card? That means NO monthly fees and the ability to watch 6 movies per month! Not only does Kanopy have a huge selection of documentaries but they also have many genres I was excited to see such as French New Wave, horror, Japanese cinema, silent films and Independent Movies! Here are the documentaries I have enjoyed thus far, so please feel free to watch all of these and more on Kanopy!


I am not your Negro cover

I Am Not Your Negro – James Baldwin and Race in America

Before the death of James Baldwin he began writing a manuscript entitled, Remember This House. This manuscript, which at the time of his death spanned only 30 pages, was to be a personal account and commentary of the lives of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., and Medgar Evers. Remember this House was taken and turned into this Oscar nominated documentary which is narrated by Samuel L Jackson and directed by Raoul Peck. The lives of these three great men ended in assassination and in this documentary Baldwin explores their lives and roles within the civil rights movement. The film not only looks at these three men, but also the life of James Baldwin, as well as the civil rights issues and violence against African Americans both of the past and the present.

PS- Your local library has many a book by or about James Baldwin for you to check out!

Just Eat It – A Food Waste Story cover

Just Eat It – A Food Waste Story

One of my New Year’s resolutions this year was to not waste so much food and this documentary is a great supplement to reinforce that resolution. Just Eat It looks at how our food is farmed, manufactured, packaged and sold. It examines food expiration and sale by dates, determining how useful and accurate those are. Intertwined into all of this is the story of a couple who choose to spend 6 months eating only food that has been discarded. This means a lot of dumpster diving, and little variety. Their expectations of what would happen during these 6 months are far from what really happened and surprised me as well. This documentary was a true eye opener for me, not so much in the sense that I had no idea food was being so wasted (I did) but in the sense of seeing just how much the food industry as a whole is geared toward maximum money and maximum waste.

One Winter Story – Female Surfers cover

One Winter Story – Female Surfers

I am fascinated by surfing (on my bucket list) and watching surfing documentaries is one of my all time favorite things. So I was pleasantly surprised to find quite a few surfing documentaries on Kanopy. One Winter Story appealed to me because it was about female surfers, which is not always a reoccurring theme in surfing documentaries. This documentary follows the life of big wave surfer, Sarah Gerhardt, from her earliest waves in California and Hawaii, to being the first female to surf Mavericks, the big wave in Northern California. It chronicles not only her surfing life, but also her personal life of taking care of her mother, finding love, and becoming a mother. I especially loved this documentary for its artsy, home movie camera, slide show frames, its beautiful views of the ocean, its melancholy feel, and subtle tones and colors. A documentary for all surf lovers and anyone interested in the stories of smart powerful women, because not only is Sarah Gerhardt an accomplished surfer she is also a scientist with a PHD.

Forever, Chinatown cover

Forever, Chinatown

81 year old artist Frank Wong creates dollhouse settings and miniature dioramas of the Chinatown of his past. Tiny recreations of childhood bedrooms, shoe shine stands, living rooms set for Christmas, grandmother’s kitchens and close to the heart models that house not only the memories but also the essence of the people themselves. This documentary is not only a look into Frank Wong’s art but also a story about life that becomes memories, how trying to hold on to things both keeps it the same but also changes everything. He says his miniatures are “half wishing and half memory,” a little of what it really was, mixed in with what you want the memory to be. A beautiful documentary short that encompasses so much in a short amount of time…. art, beauty, racism, growing older, and the true to life mix of impressions that are both lasting and fleeting.

$100 & A T-shirt – A Documentary about Zines in the Northwest cover

$100 & A T-shirt – A Documentary about Zines in the Northwest

Less commercial film and much more of a DIY documentary, $100 & A T-shirt examines the world of zines in Portland Oregon. The film interviews many zine writers and contributors who talk about what they love about zines, what they don’t like about zines, and about the zine community as a whole. You can follow the documentary from the underground presses of the 1950s to punk band fanzines of the 70s, to riot grrll of the 90s, to current zines and perzines (zines of a personal nature and my favorite type). It will help to answer questions such as how are zines made, why people make them and what’s it like to be a part of the zine community. All things near and dear to me, personally. A great eye opening documentary for anyone who has never heard of a zine or wants to know more about them and for those of us that already know and love zines, it just might be a good reminder to start creating again.

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