Arts & Culture

Scene desk Netflix picks: Documentaries



You can actually learn while lazing around in front of your computer, avoiding that paper you need to write. Weird, we know. But Netflix is home to a lot of interesting documentaries, many of which you can stream instantly. Next time you’re on Netflix, check out the “documentaries” tag and find one that interests you. Or you can take the suggestions the Scene Desk has for you this week. Like last week, all our suggestions are available on instant watch.

“Food, Inc.,” recommended by Rebecca Sedlak

Do you know why fast food is so cheap? Or why corn is in so many different food products? Or the difference between “conventional” and “organic” produce? The 2008 documentary “Food, Inc.” @@http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1286537/@@explains all this and more, giving viewers an incredibly honest close-up of where our food comes from. Based on Eric Schlosser’s book “Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal” @@http://www.amazon.com/Fast-Food-Nation-Dark-All-American/dp/[email protected]@and Michael Pollan’s “The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals,” @@http://www.amazon.com/Omnivores-Dilemma-Natural-History-Meals/dp/[email protected]@the film sets out to prove that the American food industry is not only environmentally unsustainable but is also hurting animals, employees, our health and the way we think about food as a society. The film is sobering, and scenes of actual food production are not for the faint of heart. But learning where your food comes from can make you a more informed consumer.

“Waiting for Superman,” recommended by Kaitie Todd

“Waiting for Superman” explores the state of the education system (as of 2010, when it was released)@@http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1566648/@@. Most of the film focuses on how the American education system is failing some students from elementary school to high school — as evidenced by low test scores, low college acceptance and high drop-out rates that have been coming out of many schools across the country for years. It does this while also exploring the lottery system some families enter in order to get their kids into charter schools (which for many of the families shown in the movie is the last chance their kids have at making it to college). Directed by Davis Guggenheim@@imdb [email protected]@, this film is made up mostly of conversations with these families, as well as interviews with education leaders such as Geoffrey Canada@@imdb [email protected]@ and then-chancellor of Washington D.C. public schools Michelle Rhee@@http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2011/11/25/michel[email protected]@. Through its storytelling, “Waiting for Superman” is utterly absorbing, and although it strikingly doesn’t cover everything there is to know about the current education system (most notably, a solution to the problems), it carries a lot of emotion and information that isn’t discussed about the education system in America.

“Man On Wire,” recommended by Ben Kendall

This movie is a wonder. In 1974, a Frenchman named Philippe Petit tightrope-walked between the World Trade Center towers in New York City and survived@@http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1155592/@@. With all the elements of a good heist film, there is no expense spared for excitement. But where this doc really shines is the human element. Emotions ran high for all involved in this adventure. You come to really care about the people who took part and came to discover the true cost of Petit’s dream and gift. After watching it, you may feel that anything is possible if you put your mind to it, a realization that all of us should remember every now and again. A beautiful film for a beautiful act of daring, deep down, everyone wishes they could live this way. If it were so, what a magnificent world it would be.

“Which Way Home,” recommended by Alando Ballantyne

This is an incredible (and sad) documentary about Central American children who have been separated from their families and are attempting to travel across the continent to sneak into the United States on their own. Filmed as the result of a Fulbright grant@@http://www.iie.org/[email protected]@, director Rebecca Cammisa’s “Which Way Home” @@http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0489342/@@is an extremely moving and poignant film that sheds a new light on the immigration issue. Watch this movie, and bring a box of tissues. On my computer, the Netflix website says that it’s “coming soon” to instant play, but I watched the movie on my iPad a few weeks ago.

“Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop,” recommended by Kelly Ardis

After he and his “Tonight Show” crew got the shaft from NBC, Conan O’Brien embarked on the nationwide “Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television Tour”@@http://www.livemusicblog.com/2010/03/12/tour-dates-the-legally-prohibited-from-being-funny-on-television-tour/@@ to continue doing what he loves and try to cope with his anger and frustration that resulted from the ordeal. “Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop” @@http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1864288/@@shows this time in his life and allows viewers to see a different side of the hard-working funnyman. While the wound is still fresh, O’Brien is obviously and unsurprisingly upset, but as the documentary goes on, joy returns to his life. Included in the film is his first stop in Eugene, whose empty streets he visits while joking, “Should I be worried that we’re opening in a town where nobody lives? I don’t see anybody.” Even in his frustration, O’Brien stays humorous (likening the NBC debacle to passing a gall stone). At times the documentary is depressing, but seeing O’Brien triumph in the end is worth it.

“The Blue Planet,” recommended by Amanda Barker

Ever wanted to travel the deep blue but are too afraid of what’s down there? That’s the beauty of the documentary “The Blue Planet.”@@http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0296310/@@ You get to navigate the exotic spectacle of the coral reefs to the mysterious black depths of the ocean floor. And you can do it all from your couch. Another reason to watch the show is the mesmerizing voice of the series narrator David Attenborough@@http://www.davidattenborough.co.uk/@@. He catches the attention of your ears while your eyes are glued to the screen. I love the series, because it has changed my view of our planet’s oceans forever. I used to think it was just fish, sharks, dolphins and whales. But those aren’t even that cool compared to the Sea Gooseberry@@http://tinyurl.com/[email protected]@. Don’t you know what that is? Well, sit back, relax and watch this epic show on Netflix instant watch.

The September Issue,” recommended by McKenna Brown

Ever wonder about the behind-the-scenes drama that goes on at the world’s biggest fashion magazine? Me neither. That is, until I watched “The September Issue.”@@http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1331025/@@ The documentary follows Vogue Editor-in-chief Anna Wintour@@http://www.biography.com/people/[email protected]@ and Creative Director Grace Coddington @@http://moreintelligentlife.com/content/lifestyle/julie-kavanagh/[email protected]@as they and the rest of the staff scramble to put together the September issue of the magazine, the single biggest and most important issue every year. Wintour is harsh and ruthless but also somehow vulnerable. Coddington is a shock of bushy copper hair and a dry wit and is seemingly the only person at the magazine Wintour will listen to. And of course there are dozens of beautiful clothes to keep even the biggest fashionista happy.


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