Documentary Program Beginning March 4th

January 28, 2008

The Essex Library will present a documentary program on Tuesdays in March (4th, 11th, 18th and 25th) at 2p.m. in the Library’s Program Room. Please call (767-1560) or stop in to the Library to reserve your space.

Documentaries can educate, inflame, propagandize, or sanctify. Also, uniquely, they can take us into other worlds, the closed lives and secret societies that coexist with ours. The four films chosen for this series all provide a glimpse into hidden places. A toxic family tug-of-war is played out against crumbling grandeur. Two young men from the ghetto vie to escape it, without losing themselves along the way. Amish teenagers face a dangerous, fascinating passage to adulthood via worldly temptation. And an odd, tragic loner finds himself – but loses his life – through his obsession with grizzly bears.

Astonishingly intimate, human-scale and revelatory, these films are quirky gems, like the people who inhabit them. You will never forget them.


Directors: Albert and David Maysle, 1975

Weirdly compelling, funny, tragic; GREY GARDENS became a cult phenomenon, and even spawned a Broadway musical. Welcome to the world of Big and Little Edie Beale; Jackie O’s eccentric, reclusive cousins. Living together in the moldering splendor of their East Hampton mansion, this toxic mother and her middle-aged daughter spar, reminisce, and eerily entertain us, with all the can’t-look-away fascination of a slow-motion car crash. Not to be missed.


Director: Steve James, 1994

HOOP DREAMS caused an Academy firestorm when, despite uniformly glowing reviews, it was eliminated for Oscar consideration on a technicality. The film tells the parallel stories of two talented inner-city kids with dreams of professional basketball glory, each trying to cope with the pressure cooker environment of scholastic athletics, and the realities of family life on Chicago’s mean streets. Filmed over a five-year period, it’s considered a classic of the genre.


Director: Lucy Walker, 2002

Most of us know no more about the Amish than we can glean from books or a casual encounter – which goes a long way to explaining the fascination of Devil’s Playground. The film explores a little-known Amish coming-of-age rite, called Rumspringa. Believing as they do in adult baptism, the Amish require that their young people make an informed decision whether to stay in the community, or to choose the “English” (our) path, and withdraw. For this one time in their lives, Amish youth are allowed to sample freely from the dangerous attractions offered by the modern world; sex, drugs and rock and roll. And they do. The film follows a group of Amish teens struggling with their choices. Moving, surprising, illuminating.


Director: Werner Herzog, 2005

Another major Academy kerfuffle occurred when this much-praised documentary was refused Oscar consideration for containing too much archival footage. Hertzog weaves together an extraordinary portrait of a difficult, complex man, amateur naturalist and wildlife advocate Timothy Treadwell. Treadwell, who spent 13 summers filming himself and his beloved grizzly bears in Katmai National Park, slowly unravels mentally until he comes to believe that he has become one of them. His fate, which seems inevitable from the outset, is only part of the story. Hertzog’s combination of Treadwell’s footage with interviews and his own musings make a fascinating film, and bring a strange, alienated, yet ultimately sympathetic man, back to life.