From Robin Williams to Stacy Abrams: A Fall Documentary Roundup
Due to the proliferation of streaming services, and also the pandemic pushing a whole new class of movies to video on demand channels, there’s been a sudden glut of documentaries in the late summer and early fall. Here’s a look at some of the better ones from the last month or so, telling the stories of a beloved comedian, a semi-retired pro wrestler, a cheated political candidate, and the lands where “The Wall” was to be built.
The River and the Wall
You’ve all heard a lot about the wall, President Trump’s biggest campaign promise in 2016, which he has fitfully built throughout his presidency. Only a small fraction of the promised wall has been built, while a scheme to privately build another segment led to the federal indictment of the president’s former campaign manager, Steve Bannon.
The River and the Wall, a documentary that recently opened the Philadelphia Environmental Film Festival, gives us an actual, on-the-ground look at the ecological implications of the wall, and where and how it’s being built. Directed by Ben Masters, it takes the form of a journey by five friends, on bikes, horses and other means of transportation, along Texas/Mexico border, from El Paso to the Gulf of Mexico.
Did you know that most of the “wall” isn’t actually on the border, and in many places is miles away from it? In short, building a wall is a ridiculous, pie-in-the-sky plan that’s not only logistically questionable, but obviously was the result of someone knowing nothing about the facts on the ground. Also, the cinematography is beautiful.
The River and the Wall is available on iTunes.
All In: The Fight For Democracy
There have been several documentaries this year about politics, there have been several about women running for office in the Trump era, and there have been several more about America’s sorry history of racial discrimination. All In: The Fight For Democracy is all three at once, and is better than most of them.
The film, directed by Liz Garbus and Lisa Cortes, is mostly focused on Stacy Abrams, who ran for governor of Georgia in 2018 and nearly won. The Georgia secretary of state Brian Kemp had purged the voting roles shortly before the election, in which he himself was the Republican candidate.
All In, reminiscent of Ava DuVernay’s 13th, spends a lot of time looking at how voter suppression has worked in America for centuries, while occasionally focusing specifically on that Georgia race. It’s infuriating, of course, but also compelling, and seems likely to bring outrage that can be converted into votes this November.
All in is streaming on Amazon Prime.
Nail in the Coffin: The Fall and Rise of Vampiro
The latest in a new wave of fine documentaries about pro wrestling that were produced outside of the WWE umbrella, this fine doc catches up with Vampiro, an indie wrestler of the ’90s who had brief runs with WCW and the WWF.
Vampiro — real name Ian Hodgkinson — still occasionally wrestles, although his main job is as “Director of Talent” for the Mexican promotion Lucha Libre AAA Worldwide, even though he’s not Mexican- he’s Canadian. There are also signs of struggle, such as the wrestler trying to reconnect with his daughter, and the news at the end that Vampiro had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, despite only being in his early 50s.
If the first two seasons of Vice’s Dark Side of the Ring haven’t clued you in to the turmoil behind the scenes in the world of wrestling, Nail in the Coffin will further get that point across. And by the end, you’ll be rooting for this longtime scary heel who’s covered in colorful tattoos.
Nail in the Coffin is available on video on demand channels.
The death of Robin Williams in 2014 was one of the saddest of any celebrity in recent memory, especially the shocking reports that he had committed suicide. But in the ensuing months and years, more details came out: Williams was diagnosed, posthumously, with Lewy body dementia.
The documentary Robin’s Wish, directed by Tylor Norwood, looks at the final years of the comedian’s life, and includes the revelations that the cast and crew on his final projects, including the sitcom The Crazy Ones and the final A Night at the Museum movie, had an inkling something was wrong with the beloved comedian. You’ve heard a great deal in the last few years about the hidden pain behind the lives of most comedians, but this story is a unique one, that was clearly produced with the cooperation of Williams’ family to set the record straight about his last days.
HBO produced a documentary, Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind, back in 2018, which was more of a general overview of his career, but this film provides a sad but very moving account of his last chapter.