Hell and Back Again and If a Tree Falls are up for Best Documentary Feature, to be awarded February 26, 2012. Jane’s Journey was on the shortlist. Did we get it right?
Hell and Back Again. color. 88 min. In English & Pashtu w/English subtitles. Danfung Dennis, Roast Beef Prods., dist. by Docurama c/o New Video, 800-314-8822; www.newvideo.com. 2011. DVD ISBN 9781422974520. $29.95; Blu-ray/DVD combo ISBN 9781422992524. $34.95. MILITARY STUDIES/SOC SCI
Photojournalist Dennis felt his still photos from Iraq and Afghanistan were not effectively reaching the public and that he needed a more compelling means of telling the story of U.S. military efforts there. With a highly modified Canon 5D Mark II digital SLR camera, he followed Sgt. Nathan Harris’s Echo Co., 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines, on a 2009 midsummer deployment in Southern Afghanistan. Dennis later employed that same camera to document Harris’s struggle to recuperate from a severe combat wound, revive his relationship with his wife, Ashley, and fully rejoin American society. The result is an extraordinarily moving film that juxtaposes the intensity of battle with the pain of rehab, the thrill of war with the excitement of a Halo arcade game, and combat-related nightmares and flashbacks with drug-induced numbness and blackouts. Featuring outstanding editing by Fiona Otway and terrific music and sound design by J. Ralph, this video deserves a wide viewing on a good system; the skilled use of sound especially enhances the Afghan segments. VERDICT Winner of two major awards at Sundance, this film is highly recommended for mature audiences. With worthy Oscar potential, it is packaged and priced to reach the public Dennis seeks.‚ Cliff Glaviano, formerly with Bowling Green State Univ. Libs., OH
If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front. color. 85+ min. Marshall Curry & Sam Cullman, Marshall Curry Prods., dist. by Oscilloscope Laboratories, www.oscilloscope.net. 2011. DVD UPC 899602002388. $23.99; public performance $295. ENVIRONMENT
This award-winning documentary examines the culture of youthful initiators of direct action against U.S. business and government as a means to stop the exploitation and destruction of the environment. Daniel McGowan (b. 1974) helped torch buildings in 2001 as a member of the Earth Liberation Front (ELF). Through interviews with McGowan, his family and friends, former ELF members, and law enforcement officials, the filmmakers highlight multiple perspectives on the movement. McGowan began protesting ecological destruction early but lost faith in peaceful opposition. He joined an ELF cell in Oregon but left because of collateral damage during its arson campaign. McGowan was eventually arrested and sentenced as a terrorist in 2006. He is being held in a special prison facility with minimal outside contact. Viewers get a sense of the rage and frustration that leads some committed youth to engage in targeted property destruction. Bonus features include extended interviews, updates on film subjects, and a Q&A with the directors. VERDICT Highly recommended for students or adults interested in ethics and the environment.‚ David R. Conn, formerly with Surrey Libs., BC
Jane’s Journey. color & b/w. 111 min. Lorenz Knauer, Neos Film/Sphinx Media, dist. by First Run Features, 800-229-0575; www.firstrunfeatures.com. 2011. DVD UPC 720229914895. $27.95. NAT HIST
This is a beautifully filmed and edited biography of Jane Goodall (b. 1934), the pioneering primatologist who observed chimpanzee social behavior in Tanzania from 1960 into the early 21st century. Since the late 1980s, her work has evolved to include animal welfare and environmental advocacy through the Jane Goodall Institute and the Roots and Shoots youth organization. At 77, Goodall spends about 300 days a year, no longer than three weeks in a single location, promoting ecological responsibility and planting the seeds of hope in youth worldwide who will find inspiration in her important message. VERDICT Through thoughtful interviews with Goodall, family members, colleagues, and friends from Gombe National Park to Pine Ridge, SD, filmmaker Knauer allows us to experience this extraordinary, motivating, and sensitive yet strong human being. Very highly recommended for viewers of all ages.‚ Cliff Glaviano, formerly with Bowling Green State Univ. Libs., OH