Do you ever look around Caswell or Café M and think: all of these people have a whole life before and after this moment in time that I will never get the privilege of fully witnessing? Do you ever crave to know the limitless desires, failures, successes, and motivations of the people that populate this planet alongside you? If you answered yes, congratulations, we have something in common. For the past three years, documentaries have stirred my craving to peek into others’ lives and the social structures that entangle them. Additionally, I am constantly on the look out for the best documentaries which I believe make audiences question or expand their own opinions. Through this monthly column, I hope to spark an interest in documentaries in the Marlborough community and highlight three unique films every column that have changed or challenged my perspective.
The first documentary I am going to introduce to you is Gideon’s Army, which highlights the heroic lives of public defenders in their struggle to provide support for millions of people experiencing the desperate challenges in the criminal justice system. This documentary follows three public defenders in the Deep South of the United States, who work in impoverished communities, where almost none of the defendants can afford to employ a private lawyer, and most use court appointed public defenders. While I admire the efforts of these public defenders and the services they provide to protect justice, I can’t help but feel justice is thwarted when a guilty defendant gets off with less prison time because of a plea deal or walks scott-free. Additionally, maximum security prisons are known for being hotspots of sexual assault, and the prisoners are stripped of their voting rights while in jail, as well. Moreover, felons face severed relationships, joblessness and marginalization in society. Overall, this documentary shows how public defenders struggle to balance the importance of these undeniable hardships and their duty to fulfill their role as public defenders.
Another documentary that recently grabbed my attention was A Ballerina’s Tale. After recovering from a tibia fracture, getting invasive surgery, going through physical therapy and re-teaching her leg how to do even the most basic ballet steps, Misty Copeland reaches her ultimate goal: becoming the first African American woman ballerina to be a principal dancer at the American Ballet Theater. The documentary highlights the particular hardships African American women in ballet face like being turned away because they are too “muscular” or because they do not have the right “complexion”. Two of the last scenes perfectly sum up the message of this documentary: one shows Misty gazing at her first Under Armour billboard in NYC with the slogan “I Will What I Want” while celebrating with friends. The second one depicts Misty being the first African American woman to play Odette and Odile in “Swan Lake” while being the only person of color on the stage. Misty Copeland has brought hundreds more African American audience members, a group that is underrepresented in all aspects of ballet, to the Met, and has become a bona fide role model for African American women all over the world.
Remember how we how both love learning about the people around us? Well, in Andrew Jenks, Room 335, the director’s inquisitiveness and need to form bonds with others reveal the many secretly, and not so secretly, wonderful people who contribute to our immediate community. Directed by 19-year-old Andrew Jenks, this documentary follows him as he moves into a Florida retirement home and highlights the insights and comedy of his interactions with the elderly. At first, the staff and his fellow residents do not understand why he would choose to live in a retirement home and constantly try to avoid his seemingly omnipresent camera. However, once he immerses himself in their weekly bingo and modified aerobics, Andrew starts to make friends including a grumpy, Hawaiian-shirt-loving man, named Bill, by embracing Bill’s strange sense of humor. This filmmaker’s intuition to look around his community leads him to realize that there are so many amazing people surrounding him and that he gave them the time to share their stories.
So, if any of these documentaries pique your interest, you can easily access them through Netflix! And, if you are a documentary enthusiast like me, feel free to email me or stop me in the halls!