Director Laura Poitras begins her documentary "Citizenfour" with Edward Snowden cautiously and surreptitiously contacting her. Signing his encrypted email Citizenfour, Snowden invites Poitras' involvement in revelations of covert NSA surveillance on millions of Americans, among others, scrutiny that the NSA categorically denies before Congress.
Many gripping documentaries take the viewer to unexpected places with a first-hand, behind-the-scenes vantage point. That is exactly the case with Dr. and director Ryan McGarry's debut film, "Code Black." It immerses us in Los Angeles County Hospital's emergency room, specifically the lauded C-Booth trauma center, and the E.R.'s move in 2009 to the new L.A. County hospital.
When I saw the title of the film "Video Games: The Movie," I thought, "Well, finally a documentary about what most Hollywood movies have become, perhaps even an insightful, analytical dissection of recent blockbusters." Nope, truth lies with the title. "Video Games: The Movie" chronicles and surveys the history of games and gaming from its earliest years to today.
"Evergreen: The Road to Legalization" fulfills the promise of its title. In an information-packed 86 minutes, this documentary charts Washington State's thorny path to what we now know was a successful campaign to legalize marijuana use. Of course, the legalization issue has figured in the news often, but producer/director Riley Morton analytically lays out its multifaceted complexity.
New Zealand producer/director Anthony Powell invested more than ten years making his documentary "Antarctica: A Year on Ice." His decade of labor captures the grandeur and the harshness of this amazing continent, larger than the United States. As fascinating, Powell profiles the psychological challenges facing the fewer than 700 people who winter at Scott Base, near McMurdo Station.
Whatever your political persuasion, the documentary "Citizen Koch" delivers an alarming description of democracy imperiled. Focused on the Wisconsin drama involving then Governor Scott Walker and movement for his recall, critical contributing elements include the Citizens United case and the U.S. Supreme Court, the Americans for Prosperity organization, Federal Elections Commissioners (past and present), and various Senators and Representatives.
Director/editor Joan Grossman chronicles the 1962 origins, development, and eventual demise of Drop City in her documentary of that title, treating the subject with a lively cinematic approach befitting the inventiveness of the people who developed the community called the first rural commune. Through informative, candid interviews in a quick 82 minutes, Drop City becomes an exhilarating location.
The documentary "Particle Fever" goes inside the world of theoretical and experimental physicists in their search for the Higgs boson. This particle, if found, would potentially change perspectives on scientific understanding of the universe. Enter the Large Hadron Collider and experiments to which over 10,000 scientists from over 100 countries contribute. "Particle Fever" follows six of them from 2007 to 2012.
Near the end of the documentary "Design Is One: Lella & Massimo Vignelli," an expert observes that a good designer is the "intermediary between information and understanding," making the complex clear. As directors Roberto Guerra and Kathy Brew work through illustrative examples from the Vignellis' work, what that means becomes crystal clear.
Producers and directors Seth Kramer, Daniel A. Miller and Jeremy Newberger bring a welcome restraint to their documentary "Évocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Show." Anyone familiar with Downey's nationally syndicated show from early 1988 to July 1989 remembers the loud, confrontational, trash-talking host who blew smoke in guests' faces while screaming at them.