Weekend Streaming Recommendations: The Square, Tall as the Baobab Tree, Blackfish
For this week’s batch of Weekend Streaming Recommendations, I’ve chosen to pick a quartet of excellent documentaries, but with an added bonus: To enhance your viewing pleasure, I’ve included interviews I conducted with the films’ directors and subjects! It’s like special features for streaming movies!…well, kinda. There have been a truckload of great, great documentaries coming out over the past year or so, and these four are some of my favorites.
Recently nominated for an Oscar for Best Documentary, Jehane Noujaim’s The Square is about the Egyptian mass protests staged in Cairo’s Tahrir Square that have rattled the country over the past few years, and it’s also one of the most thrilling, culturally significant, awe-inspiring films in recent memory. Streaming exclusively on Netflix, the film follows a handful of revolutionaries, all from different walks of life, as they devote their lives to wresting the power away from oppressive dictators Hosni Mubarak and his over-powered successor, Mohammad Morsi. You couldn’t ask for a more inspirational, captivating on-screen personality than the film’s primary subject, a young, brash, loudmouth revolutionary by the name of Ahmed Hassan who you’ll never forget. – Watch the trailer
Tall as the Baobab Tree
One of the best documentaries I saw at last year’s San Francisco International Film Festival, Tall as the Baobab Tree follows a family in a small Senegalese village that struggles to transition into a new age of modernity that threatens to disrupt their established, traditional roots. When a freak accident puts a young girl named Coumba’s family in a desperate financial situation, her father chooses to sell her younger sister Debo into an arranged marriage. With Coumba being the first in the family to attend school, she’s able to dream of a bigger, better future for herself, and she wants to rescue her sister from the forced fate imposed upon her by their father. Though the script is fictional, the story speaks to the real-life status of a part of the world teetering on the precipice of modernity. It’s a beautiful, important film, and a story more people should be familiar with. It isn’t streaming for free at the moment, but it’s a special film that’s worth shelling out a few bucks. – Watch the trailer
I’m never, ever going to Sea World again, thanks to Blackfish, a bracing, revealing documentary by Gabriela Cowperthwaite. The film examines the fatal consequences of marine parks keeping animals like killer whales in captivity through the story of one whale in particular, named Tilikum, who’s taken the lives of three trainers since his capture. Cowperthwaite interviews current and previous employees of these parks, and their accounts of the tragedies surrounding Tilikum and whales like him are shocking. With so many people having misconceptions about how these sea parks operate (me included), Blackfish is a must watch, and will hopefully help to bring about change in the way we treat animals in captivity. – Watch the trailer
A Band Called Death
“Before there was punk, there was a band called Death”, reads the poster for the rock-doc A Band Called Death, directed by Mark Christopher Covino and Jeff Howlett. The tagline speaks the truth: Before the Ramones or The Clash rose to prominence, three brothers from Detroit started a band in their parents’ house and eventually recorded the world’s first pure punk record. The band was forgotten and never received credit for pioneering a genre of music, but in 2008, their music resurfaced and word about the lost “forefathers of punk” began to spread like wildfire. Dannis and Bobby Hackney, two thirds of the band, recount the troubled history of their musical journey, including the demise of their self-destructive, spiritually inspired late brother, David. – Watch the trailer