Elevate Difference

Reviews tagged documentary

The Skin Quilt Project

Without the preservation of historical text, artifact, and art, history can slowly fade from memory. Stories of survival can easily become short-lived memories as they are passed from one generation to the next before they are forgotten. For Black African American women, their history has been and continues to be woven together in quilting. The Skin Quilt Project is a documentary featuring various quilters, artists, academics, and historians discussing the necessity, purpose, benefits, and impact of Black African American women quilters and what their artistry does for their families and communities.


What do you get when you cross a documentary film about the supply and demand frenzy of the Chicago Stock Exchange with a borderline Marxist, feminist film critic? A whole lot of screaming. But that’s really just happening on screen during Floored, the new movie from director James Allen Smith (My Name is Smith), which presents Chicago traders and their associates telling stories of how it felt to be in “the pits” during the “glory days” before the boom of Internet trading and the recession of late, risking their clients’ (and often their own) money. As for the room where I was sitting, there was silence and a yawn. This liberal wasn’t shocked or amused by a showcase of the distinctly capitalist obsession with money.

Love Translated

Love Translated follows a group of men from North America and Europe as they tour the Ukraine on a trip organized by an international dating service that links male clients with “letter order brides.” Over the course of their ten-day trip, the men travel to several cities, judge a beauty pageant of women who have joined the agency, attend social events, and go on “one-on-one” dates (accompanied, normally, by a translator).

Orgasm Inc.

The orgasm. Feminists laud it, good lovers work hard to give it, pharmaceutical companies make it a business model. The inability to experience an orgasm is thought to be as devastating as the inability to delight in the joy of wine, sunrise, spring flowers, and other wonderment. But this is hardly an overstatement. Last week in London, I had the sheer privilege of attending a hugely popular talk by a doyenne of second wave feminism, Shere Hite.

First Person Plural

Imagine having three different names and three different birth dates. Deann Borshay Liem asks the viewers of her documentary film First Person Plural to do just that as she tells the story of her adoption in 1966 from Korea by American parents living in California. The film traces her childhood in America and desperate drive to assimilate perfectly into American culture, which—to all who looked at her—would say she accomplished quite successfully.

Holy Kitchens: True Business

Punjabi chef Vikas Khanna is known for bringing great Indian food to discerning New York City diners. Although he surely has his hands full with his new restaurant Junoon, Khanna is working on an arduous extra-curricular project—a series of short documentary films about the worldwide connection between spirituality and feeding the hungry.

My Normal

When artists use the word 'normal' to title their work, they usually mean to imply that they’re going to show us something arguably abnormal. In the case of My Normal, the fringe behavior in question is BDSM: bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, sadism and masochism.

If It Ain’t Cheap, It Ain’t Punk: Fifteen Years Of Plan-It X Records

If It Ain’t Cheap, It Ain’t Punk is a sweet, well put together documentary film that captures the spirit and feel of the do-it-yourself, underground punk scene that has grown up around Plan-it X Records in Bloomington, Indiana. The film began as part of a filmmaking workshop at Plan-it X’s weeklong festival in Bloomington in 2006.

Sin by Silence

There are not many US citizens who do not recognize a pink ribbon as the rallying fight against breast cancer. Even more so for the red ribbon, as it raises the voices of the AIDS epidemic. However, most faces would not correctly identify the cause of the purple ribbon: domestic violence.

Monica & David

One of the many things people take for granted—Americans especially—is free will. Basic human rights. When you are able-bodied, physically able to take care of yourself, the ways to access free will seem limitless—there are plenty of things you are able to participate in, such as having a job, living on your own, and preparing your own meals. In Monica & David, novice filmmaker Alexandra Codina documents the wedding and first year of marriage between Monica and David, two adults living with Down’s syndrome.

William S. Burroughs: A Man Within

Growing up, I latched on to the writers of the Beat Generation for dear life. I loved them all, from the poets and women writers who lived in their shadows, to the heavy hitters like Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and of course, William S. Burroughs. Truth be told, Burroughs was always the least accessible to me growing up. Whereas I identified with Ginsberg’s spirituality and Kerouac’s bruised sensitivity, Burroughs just seemed downright bizarre.


Coexist is a documentary that seeks to provide insight into the reconciliation process in Rwanda after the 1994 genocide. The sheer scale and complex nature of the conflict provides a unique glimpse into how individuals and their communities recover from horrific experiences and the documentary questions whether reconciliation is even possible under such traumatic conditions. Recently, Rwanda was recognized for its stable political environment and for achieving one of the highest economic growth rates in the world.

Raging Grannies: The Action League

If you’ve been to a demonstration during the last two decades you’ve likely seen them: Bold, sassy, elders calling themselves The Raging Grannies. Mixing street theatre with costuming, their zany hats, political buttons, and boisterous, if often off-key, singing sets them apart from other protesters. They’re fun—and they defy stereotypes about what old women can and should be doing.

Dear Pyongyang

Yonghi Yang and her parents are Zainichi, meaning a Korean who lives in Japan. During the division of Korea in 1948 and the war that followed, the Zainichi took sides just as those who dwelled on the peninsula did. Yang’s parents had never been to North Korea, but were so enamoured of communism and the country that in 1971 Yang's father sent his three teenage sons to live in Pyongyang, the capital, as part of the Zainichi “Return Project.” This emigration occurred between the 1950s and 1970s when “Returnees” hoped for a better life in the “fatherland.” This better life never materialized, yet Returnees were forbidden to go back to Japan.

Take It From Me

Take It From Me makes an emotional statement even more than a political one. This documentary film chronicles the time period after the passing of the 1996 Personal Responsibility Act, which placed a five-year limit on public assistance. Emily Abt, the producer and director, is a former social caseworker in New York City. She offers us the daily lives of four women who are struggling against great odds to raise themselves and their children up out of poverty.

Made in India

Made in India is a documentary about the growing trend of infertile American couples who outsource a surrogate pregnancy to a woman in India. The film follows one such couple, Lisa and Brian, from San Antonio, Texas, who have experienced seven years of infertility. They don’t have a lot of money (“by American standards, anyway,” they say) and are taking their last chance to start a family of their own on by using a “medical tourism” agency based in Los Angeles called Planet Hospital.

The Two Horses of Genghis Khan

When actor Urna Chahar-Tugchi was growing up, her grandmother showed her the hand-carved neck of an ancient violin—all that was left of a precious family heirloom. On it were a few words from a once-popular song called "The Two Horses of Genghis Khan." "No other song touches the soul of the Mongolian people like this one," Chahar-Tugchi says in Davaa Byambasuren’s powerful documentary, a tribute to cultural legacies called The Two Horses of Genghis Khan.

The Other City

Most cities are comprised of at least two distinct sub-cities, so to speak. It’s particularly appalling that Washington, D.C., the nation’s capital and symbolic of the triumph of democracy, has a higher HIV/AIDS rate than Port au Prince, Haiti or Dakar, Senegal. A one percent infection rate of a city’s population is considered an epidemic; D.C.'s can be estimated between three and five percent.

El Espiritu De La Salsa (The Spirit of Salsa)

I love to dance, but I am not gifted with quick feet. As a teen, this made me a hesitant and awkward dance student. Thankfully, when I discovered African dance, it changed my outlook in many positive ways. In the first year, my intimate class included a grandmother in her seventies and her teenage granddaughter. By creating art through movement together, we also created community and bonds similar to an extended family.

High Water

In his second full-length documentary, High Water, surf journalist Dana Brown composes a love letter to Hawaii’s North Shore by chronicling the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing big wave competition. Home to the largest rideable waves on the planet and nicknamed “The Seven Mile Miracle," this stretch of sand is the place where legends are made; a natural Mecca for those who worship the sea and a place where one wave can change your life.

Picture Me

There is a moment in Picture Me, a documentary about the fashion industry, where model Sara Ziff’s father recalls hearing his daughter’s look described as the girl next door. The camera closes up on Ziff in a two page Tommy Hilfiger ad. “I guess that depends where you live,” her father quips, flippantly alluding to the exclusive world of high fashion.

8: The Mormon Proposition

Following the passage of California’s Proposition 8, a bill that constitutionally outlaws gay couples from legally marrying, rage and frustration was concentrated towards the Mormon Church for their supposed role in passing the legislation.

A l’Est avec Sonia Wieder-Atherton

Chantal Ackerman’s projects over the past forty years have secured her place in the international vanguard of film directors both male and female. Her films are widely known for experimenting with time and images while questioning their relationship to a film’s narrative. It’s no surprise that her film A l’Est avec Sonia Wieder-Atherton showed at the Barcelona International Woman’s Film Festival in June. In fifty-one minutes Ackerman attempts to show the power of music and the passion of the musician through images.

Speaking in Tongues

The award-winning documentary Speaking in Tongues spells out an intriguing paradox of America’s identity: Although we’re a nation that prides itself on diversity, we also militantly cling to monolingual education at the expense of culture, communication, and even academic achievement. Speaking in Tongues follows four San Francisco children, all of whom attend either a Spanish or Chinese immersion public school: a young African-American boy who lives in public housing but is gaining fluency at his Chinese school;

Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work

In the previous millennium when I was an idealistic young thing attending Barnard College, the women’s college affiliated with Columbia University, there was a lot of talk about who before us had walked the hallowed halls: anthropologist Margaret Mead; writers Edna St. Vincent Millay, Zora Neale Thurston, Francine du Plessix Gray, Patricia Highsmith and Ntozake Shange; recent United States ambassador to the U.N. Jeanne Kirkpatrick; musicians Laurie Anderson and Suzanne Vega (whose song “Luka” was then on all the airwaves); NPR’s Susan Stamberg; nationally syndicated columnist Anna Quindlen; choreographer Twyla Tharp; and a pre-Omnimedia Martha Stewart, whose daughter had also recently attended.

Maria's Story: Twenty Years Later

Earlier this month, I saw a twentieth anniversary screening of Maria's Story: A Documentary Portrait Of Love And Survival In El Salvador's Civil War at The Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts in San Francisco. Before attending, I had an abbreviated understanding El Salvadorian politics, and the subject of the documentary, Maria Serrano.

The Tiger Next Door

"Experts estimate that there are now more tigers in private captivity in the USA than there are roaming wild in the world." This is the opening line from The Tiger Next Door, a compelling documentary about the surprisingly widespread practice of breeding, selling, and owning exotic animals in the United States. The film focuses on Dennis Hill, a big cat owner who resides in Indiana.

No One Dies in Lily Dale

Spiritualism as a religion began in the 1840s in the "Burned-Over District" of Upstate New York. Taking elements of Christianity and shamanism, the religion is focused around mediums speaking to spirits that spiritualists believe continue to exist after one's physical death. The religion became a trend in the United States and Europe after thousands of young soldiers died in World War I. Looking for closure, families turned to mediums.

Tea on the Axis of Evil

After two years of providing security intelligence about the activities of Al Qaeda to the United States government in the wake of 9/11, the Bush Administration publicly dubbed Syria a threat to democracy by including it in the so-called Axis of Evil. Knowing very little about the secular republic, filmmaker Jean Marie Offenbacher decided to spend a year in Damascus in order to offer a look at everyday citizens of Syria and combat stereotypical depictions put forth in the mainstream media. Though the U.S.

Le Tigre: On Tour

“What’s the status of Le Tigre?” an eager—albeit slightly angst-ridden—fan asks Kathleen Hanna during the Q&A session after the screening of Le Tigre: On Tour. I, too, had been wondering the same question—because this band, who has proven so formative to women young and old everywhere, seems to exist only in our collective lesbo-feminist consciousness at the moment.