Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns has a new idea to help Americans cope with these divisive times as we celebrate the nation’s 242nd anniversary: a visual history lesson to remind everyone that “we’ve been there before.”
His new website, UNUM, is named after the nation’s motto, E Pluribus Unum – Out of many, one. The emphasis is on the “one” thing that unites us: our shared history.
“It is critically important to connect our history to today and identify those archetypal American themes that speak to what we are experiencing today – hard times, immigration, the U.S. Constitution, the idea of leadership, race, the environment,” Burns said in an interview.
The website allows users to navigate based on time period or theme to watch clips of Burns’ more than two dozen documentaries on themes ranging from the Civil War and Vietnam to baseball, jazz, and the Brooklyn Bridge.
The films strive for historical accuracy and avoid a political slant, letting viewers draw their own conclusions from the facts.
After his illuminating examination of life in North Korea in “Under The Sun,” Ukrainian director Vitaly Mansky returns closer to home with “Putin’s Witnesses,” an extraordinarily revealing portrait of Vladimir Putin’s ascension to power at the turn of the century.
Utilizing footage shot by Mansky when he was head of documentary for state television, the film delivers what seems almost impossibly close access to Putin, his colleagues, and outgoing president Boris Yeltsin.
With a world premiere in Karlovy Vary’s documentary competition in the Czech Republic, “Putin’s Witnesses” seems assured of interest from distributors across Europe and beyond, not only due to the relative success of Mansky’s previous film but also to its timely examination of one the world’s most controversial figures.
“John McCain: For Whom the Bell Tolls” is a pre-obituary for one of the most fascinating, maddening, and respected lawmakers in American history.
Directed and produced by Peter Kunhardt and his sons, George and Teddy – a team responsible for other politically themed HBO documentaries, including one about Ted Kennedy that debuted as the senator was battling a brain tumor — “John McCain: For Whom the Bell Tolls” arrives as McCain is publicly contending with the same affliction.
It’s a movie that comes across as a final statement about who McCain was and how he would like to be remembered. As such, not surprisingly, it treats the maverick senator from Arizona with reverence and respect.
But to its credit, the documentary does not gloss over McCain shortcomings, nor the errors he has made during his decades of public service as a politician and a soldier who famously became a prisoner of war in Vietnam for five-and-a-half years.
“John McCain: For Whom the Bell Tolls” premieres on HBO on Memorial Day.
“It’s probably just the FBI, go back to sleep,” a bleary-eyed mom reassures her antsy daughter near the beginning of “The Feeling of Being Watched,” responding to some indeterminate hubbub in the quiet suburbia outside.
She says it with a weary shrug, as if she were describing hard rain on the roof or a raccoon going through the garbage — for Arab-American filmmaker Assia Boundaoui and her family, the FBI’s presence on their unremarkable, mostly Muslim-populated Chicago street has become an equivalently banal distraction over more than 20 years.
But what are the feds looking for, and after years of seemingly fruitless surveillance, how is their continued scrutiny and racial targeting justified?
Equal parts angry and anxious, Boundaoui’s smart, unsettling documentary functions both as a real-world conspiracy thriller and a personal reflection on the psychological strain of being made to feel an outsider in one’s own home.
President Trump’s call to build a wall along the southern border has sparked an intense debate over immigration and American identity.
To better understand what the wall would mean, a team of USA TODAY Network journalists traveled along the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border and produced an 80-minute film “The Wall,” which will be shown tonight at 7:30 pm and tomorrow at noon as part of the Freep Film Festival in Detroit, Michigan.
The film is a collaboration between the Detroit Free Press team behind “12th and Clairmount,” the Arizona Republic, and the USA Today Network.
Brian Kaufman, executive video producer at the Detroit Free Press, was the director of the movie, which involved 82 journalists.
Kaufman recently spoke about the film with the Free Press.