Last year, before I went into the hospital, I signed up for Netflix. I thought it might come in handy if I tried to use my iPad and headphones to block out hospital sights and sounds. I was right. I ended up binge watching House of Cards, at least until I became totally disgusted with the evil behavior of the protagonists. Most nights when the nurses came in for their checks I was awake and would discuss plot points with them.
I have watched my fair share of series since then. Mad Men and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt have been my favourites. But mostly I watch documentaries. I have learned a lot about chefs and bike riders and silly adventurers. In general, I have found the subjects amusing but forgettable. There are exceptions to that pattern, though. I have seen three films that have stuck with me, two in the last week. For some reason they seem like a package - an interesting amalgam of images and themes. If you choose to watch all three I suggest that you view them in this, or the reverse, order.
Gerhard Richter Painting
This article in Border Crossings summarizes the film and why you might want to watch it. I loved the scenes of Richter painting. I knew nothing about his technique and my immediate reaction was to think how much fun it must be. But the film makes it clear that it is very hard work. The director did an excellent job of conveying the universal nature of the struggles inherent in creating art. I was most struck by the way in which Richter considers the question of "When is it done?".
If you can't access the film through iTunes or Netflix here's a short video of Richter at work.
Salt of the Earth
This film documents the career of Brazilian photographer Sebastiao Salgado. I had never heard of him and found his monochrome images breathtaking. For me they were a master class in the use of value. I intend to buy at least one of his books so that I can revisit his talent. The film itself tells the story of the impact of his work on Salgado and the ways in which he is forced to accommodate to those effects. It is ultimately a hopeful story.
This TED talk tells his story and lets you see some more of his images.
Tyke Elephant Outlaw
Warning: this is a disturbing film but that's why you should see it. The filmmakers set out to understand the life of Tyke, an African elephant who killed her trainer and then escaped into the streets of Honolulu in 1994. She was ultimately killed by the police. When that footage is shown near the beginning of the movie I couldn't watch and had to fast forward. By the end, I could see that her murder ended her pain and could watch all the way through.
Here is the trailer. It contains a few seconds of graphic footage.
I don't think this trailer gives you a good sense of the filmmakers' point of view so don't use it to determine whether you want to watch the documentary.
If you don't have Netflix, check iTunes or your library or, in Canada, the CBC to see whether they offer these films.