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Video Librarian 2009 Best Documentaries

By Tom Ipri on March 15, 2010 10:12 AM | Permalink

Every year, Video Librarian releases a list of the best documentary films from the previous year. The University Libraries proudly owns many of these titles:

  • Coal Country: Filmmaker Phylis Geller's thought-provoking documentary focuses on mountain top removal mining in Appalachia, while also examining various issues involving the economy of the region, national energy policy, and the environmental implications of coal on both the local and global levels.
  • Crips and Bloods: Made in America: Director Stacy Peralta (Dogtown and Z-Boys, Riding Giants) turns his attention to another Southern California subculture, chronicling the origins of and feud between the titular gangs in this powerful documentary narrated by Oscar-winner Forest Whitaker.
  • Dear Zachary: Kurt Kuenne's extraordinarily poignant child custody documentary tells a personal story full of surprising twists, beginning with the murder of a young Pennsylvania doctor by his mentally unstable pregnant ex-girlfriend, who then fled to her native Canada and bore their son.
  • Food, Inc.: Emmy Award-winning director Robert Kenner's disturbing documentary focuses on the industrialization of North American food production/delivery, offering a compelling and alarming portrait of how this growing agricultural monolith affects our health, environment, and economy
  • Frontrunners: Caroline Suh's wonderful documentary offers an endearing and at times howlingly funny study of the nature of democratic elections, covering a campaign for student union president at New York's prestigious Stuyvesant High School.
  • The Garden: Scott Hamilton Kennedy's 2008 Oscar nominee for Best Documentary follows the battle for control of the largest community garden in the United States--14 acres in the middle of South Central Los Angeles that were transformed by a largely Latino population from a blighted lot into a flowering urban oasis of family-farmed plots. After 12 years, the city decided to sell the property for business development, issuing an eviction notice that set off an escalating chain of events.
  • The Greening of Southie: Offering an exciting glimpse into the future of Earth-friendly major building construction, filmmakers Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis' (King Corn) globetrotting documentary follows the design and construction of the Macallen Building in South Boston, from the gathering of green materials to the winning over of a skeptical blue-collar work crew.
  • A Lion in the House: Premiering at the Sundance Film Festival and later broadcast on PBS' acclaimed Independent Lens series, Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert's emotionally devastating but also occasionally uplifting marathon documentary follows the lives of five patients--ranging in age from seven to 19--from the pediatric cancer ward at the Cincinnati Children's Hospital over several years.
  • Passion & Power: Based on the 1999 book by Dr. Rachel Maines (The Technology of Orgasm: "Hysteria," the Vibrator, and Women's Sexual Satisfaction), directors Wendy Slick and Emiko Omori's documentary offers an informative and playful profile of the vibrator that also includes insights into the sexual revolution of the 1960s and the post-feminist present.
  • Pete Seeger: The Power of Song: Director Jim Brown combines archival stills and film (some shot by Seeger and his family), interviews (with Seeger, Bob Dylan, and dozens more), and extensive concert footage to create this inspiring portrait of folk music pioneer Pete Seeger that originally aired on PBS' American Masters series.
  • The Rape of Europa: Exploring the interrelated stories of the Nazi plunder of priceless objets d'art from conquered territories during World War II and post-war attempts to restore stolen masterpieces to their rightful owners, filmmakers Bonni Cohen, Richard Berge, and Nicole Newnham's fascinating documentary is based on the bestselling book by Lynn H. Nicholas.
  • Resolved: Greg Whiteley's HBO-aired documentary focusing on two disparate high school debate teams combines archival footage with clever animation to examine the transformation of debate over the last few decades--from a carefully reasoned rhetorical contest into an intense verbal battle known as "the Flow."
  • Respect Yourself: The Stax Records Story: Aired on PBS' Great Performances series, this Samuel L. Jackson-narrated musical documentary recounts the story of the creation of Memphis' Stax Records and the evolution of its artists, including Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, Sam & Dave, and Booker T. & the MG's.
  • Second Skin: Filmmaker Juan Carlos Piñeiro Escoriaza's engaging documentary looks at the enormously popular world of online gaming, featuring a quartet of adult roommates whose lives revolve around World of Warcraft, as well as a couple who met in the game world and wound up marrying in real life.
  • Secrecy: Harvard professors and filmmakers Robb Moss and Peter Galison's intriguing documentary offers a balanced look at the increasing trend towards classifying government information in the name of national security in the post-9/11 era.  
  • The Union: The Business Behind Getting High: Canadian director Brett Harvey's documentary takes a compelling look at British Columbia's illegal marijuana trade industry, incorporating contemporary research, humorous clips from vintage educational films, and interviews of colorful characters such as Tommy Chong and cannabis culture personality Watermelon Girl
  • Waltz with Bashir: Israeli director Ari Folman embarks on a gripping psychological journey into his own repressed memories of the horrors of the First Lebanon War in 1982--part of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict--in this surreal animated documentary that was nominated for Best Foreign Film.


Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on
Thank you so much for this list! I can't wait to start picking these up to watch.
Submitted by tipri on
Yes, I believe Video Librarian usually announced their list around this time of year. You can check the Video Librarian website for the list.

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