There is something about the season of Autumn that makes me want to climb into a cave and paint pictures, you know? Maybe I’m feeling some ancient human safety feature that is trying to get me settled in a warm place before winter arrives. Or maybe I just think hermits and bats are cool. Most likely it is because I have seen the magical documentary, Cave of Forgotten Dreams: Humanity’s Lost Masterpiece, a Film by Werner Herzog on the fascinating Chauvet Cave paintings.

Cave of Forgotten Dreams is the perfect mix of history, science and art that leaves the viewer feeling an intense awareness of humanity and our connections through time. The Chauvet Cave paintings were discovered in southern France in 1994 and many are believed to have been created over 30,000 years ago. Due to the conservation problems facing the nearby Lascaux cave paintings, the Chauvet caves have been locked down with authorities only giving very limited access to scientists and art historians. Herzog shot the film with only a 4-person crew who had to use all their equipment while standing single-file on the limited, narrow walkways and with very small allotments of time. Although this prevented any grandiose, unobstructed scenes or any carefully angled close-up shots, the moving shadows and uneven light give the paintings an unnerving movement similar to what we can imagine they would look like when lit by a torch thousands of years ago.

Surprisingly, the ancient paintings are not the only fascinating subjects of Herzog’s documentary. He also features many of the cave scientists and their varied research projects related to Chauvet. For example, by studying the animals portrayed in the cave paintings, a group of scientists now believe that the ancestors to modern lions did not have manes. The scientists themselves range from former circus performers to a perfume designer who actually SNIFFS OUT CAVES! Herzog manages to celebrate the modern technology used in the cave projects without losing the ancient hum surrounding Chauvet.

I highly recommend this film to anyone interested in documentaries about the humanities or those who like films that leave them feeling a little mysterious and a little bit magical afterwards.

Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's JourneyBeing Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey is the fantastic new film that celebrates the determination and talent of puppeteer Kevin Clash, aka, the man who turned a furry red monster into the loving & curious Elmo and then into an International Icon. While the rest of us were watching Sesame Street to learn our colors and letters, Kevin was studying the Muppets and how they were made. One day, he snuck into his parents’ room and ripped out his dad’s furry raincoat lining to make a monkey puppet. From that moment on, puppetry became his passion and working for the Muppet studios became his goal. How driven was Kevin? Well, he was invited to play Cookie Monster in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade while he was still in High School! Whaaaat? That’s crazy! And yet, Kevin Clash’s genius is very humbled. He still sounds slightly awestruck as he gives the cameras a tour of the Muppet Studios (despite currently being the Sesame Street’s Senior Puppet Coordinator and Muppet Captain as well as Sesame Workshop’s Senior Creative Consultant) and tells a great story about repeatedly forgetting his line while working on his first project with Frank Oz and Jim Henson. He is also not afraid to be honest about how his demanding job has affected his family life and time spent with his teenage daughter. I just really want to give him and everyone else a hug now.

Now, I know some people roll their eyes when they hear the voice of little sweet Elmo and so the thought of watching a whole documentary about Elmo is making them cringe. But I am feeling pretty confident that anyone who watches this movie will develop at least a little soft spot for the lovable red monster after watching Kevin hang out with Make-a-Wish kids and explain his reasoning behind why Elmo gives so many hugs. This is an amazing film for all ages of Muppet fans, but also for any fans of the creative, hardworking human spirit. And remember: Elmo loves you!

Sign me up for Irish Dancing lessons because after watching the documentary, Jig, I am pretty sure that kicking up one’s heels must be the funnest thing EVER.

Jig, a film by Sue Bourne, follows several dancers and dancing teams from all over the world as they prepare for and compete in the 2010 Irish Dancing World Championships in Glasgow, Scotland. Every one of the featured competitors’ stories is fascinating, but I was especially charmed by the young girl from Ireland who lovingly displayed the dress that her grandmother bought her to compete in right before she passed away. I knew she was my favorite when the camera zoomed in on the calendar in her bedroom and you could see where she had written in the birthday of Disney channel star, Emily Osment, write next to her goal to win the world championships. She may be a highly focused performer, but she apparently still finds time to watch Hannah Montana!

What I liked most about this film was how HAPPY I felt while watching it. Yes, there are emotional moments such as when a young dancer clutches his stuffed animal and discusses being bullied or when members of the underdog Russian women’s team are refused visas into Scotland. But overall, Jig absolutely sparkles with passion and joy and left me feeling that skipping may just be the best way to travel.

Do you get psyched about the prospect of panning over black and white photos while a narrator describes what is going on in those photos? If you said, “Yeah, buddy!” then Ken Burn’s brand new Prohibition is for you.

With a total running time of 6 hours, it is relatively digestible as the equivalent of watching three movies. And in all seriousness, these black and white photos featuring denizens of the Jazz Age are truly intriguing. Even more so is the occasional bit of footage of flappers dancing, heaven knows the source.

It is not the documentary for you if your heart bleeds at the sight of innocent glass jugs being blasted apart by Volstead enforcers or the occasional bullet-riddled pinstriped gangster.

Fun Prohibition facts:
“Bad guy” Al Capone financed the soup kitchen that fed thousands on Chicago’s south side as the Great Depression took hold. The best charge the feds could level against Mr. Capone (other than keen business acumen in a market they created) is income tax evasion. Shockingly he didn’t declare all his profits on his 1040-EZ form.

Small cities of Bahamanian freighters would drop anchor three miles off the Atlantic coast to make deliveries to local boats. No one cared.

Many “Dry” congresspeople drank, some even accepting deliveries at the Capitol.

Alcohol consumption increased in some cities.

Some milkmen would deliver hooch to your doorstep in innocuous bottles to streamline the purchasing process.

Numbers exponentially surged for medical whiskey prescriptions and synagogue memberships.

I’ve never watched a documentary from the renowned master, Ken Burns. This was time well spent.

October 4

Buck -Documentary

A richly textured and visually stunning film, follows Buck Brannaman from his abusive childhood to his phenomenally successful approach to horses. A real-life ‘horse whisperer,’ he eschews the violence of his upbringing and teaches people to communicate with their horses through leadership and sensitivity, not punishment. Buck possesses near magical abilities as he dramatically transforms horses, and people, with his understanding, compassion, and respect.

Fast Five – starring Dwayne Johnson, Van Diesel, Jordanna Brewster, Paul Walker

After Brian and Mia break Dom out of jail, they find themselves trapped in Rio de Janeiro and on the run from the law. Now one last job stands between them and freedom, but will they make it before the corrupt businessmen, or the feds, catch up to them?

Scream 4 – starring Neve Campbell, David Arquette, Courteney Cox, Emma Roberts

The newest installment in the acclaimed franchise that ushered in a new wave of horror in the 1990s. In Scream 4, Sidney Prescott, now the author of a self-help book, returns home to Woodsboro on the last stop of her book tour. There she reconnects with Sheriff Dewey and Gale, who are now married, as well as her cousin Jill. Unfortunately, Sidney’s appearance also brings about the return of Ghost Face, putting her friends and the whole town of Woodsboro in danger.

October 11

Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer – starring Jordana Beatty, Heather Graham

Feisty, fearless Judy Moody is looking forward to the most super-duper, double-rare summer vacation ever. The trouble is, her parents are called out of town and her BFFs are going away with their own families. That leaves Judy trapped at home with her pesky brother Stink under the watchful eye of Aunt Opal. But with a little playful planning, and a lot of imagination, Judy turns a snoresville summer into the way-not-boring adventure of a lifetime!

October 14

The Green Lantern – starring Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Peter Sarsgaard, Tim Robbins

In a universe as vast as it is mysterious, a small but powerful force has existed for centuries. Protectors of peace and justice, they are called the Green Lantern Corps. A brotherhood of warriors sworn to keep intergalactic order, each Green Lantern wears a ring that grants him superpowers. When a new enemy called Parallax threatens to destroy the balance of power in the universe, their fate and the fate of Earth lie in the hands of their newest recruit, the first human ever selected.

October 18

A Better Life – starring Demian Bichir

Carlos Galindo always dreamed of a better life for his wife and newborn son when he crossed the border into the U.S. But when his wife left him, Carlos’s only goal became to make sure his son Luis was given the opportunities he never had. A story that follows father and son as they embark on a physical and spiritual journey where they discover that family is the most important part of the American dream.

The Hamilton Wood Type and Printing Museum in Two Rivers, Wisconsin contains over 1.5 million pieces, and is the only museum dedicated to the preservation, study, production and printing of wood type. That in itself is pretty cool, but there is something even more amazing about this particular museum: a visitor can actually feel, hold, and USE most of the historic collection!

Typeface, a documentary by filmmaker Justine Nagan, takes the viewer into the Hamilton Wood Type and Printing Museum and shows the difficulties surrounding the need of preserving tools that are both part of a dying craft and an increasingly popular artform, as well as the hardships facing museums and similar institutions in the current economic climate. This film really shines when it shows the relationships between the volunteers who are mostly divided into two categories: townsfolk retired from the former Hamilton factory and artists visiting from the big Midwestern cities. The artists are all eager students attempting to learn the endangered-of-being-lost skills of cutting wood type and maintaining letterpress machines, while also trying to use their time to produce pieces of art with the largest collection of wood type they may ever have access to. My absolute favorite part of the film is when one of the elderly, former Hamilton employees displays the artwork given to him over the years by the artists he has helped. Although he seems rather bewildered by the art at first, his brief descriptions of the pieces begin to reveal an increased understanding of the artist’s intentions. Typeface frequently aims to blur the lines between artists and craftsmen, while still highlighting the expertise they provide for the museum.

Unfortunately, the movie ends on a bit of a downer, but a quick visit to the website for the Hamilton Wood Type and Printing Museum shows that things must be looking sunnier (for example, maybe you’ve see the new clothing line at Target made using Hamilton wood type). I know that, thanks to Typeface, I sure am planning a visit!

At the beginning of his award-winning documentary, America the Beautiful, Darryl Roberts explains that he had once broken up with a wonderful woman because he had believed he would find someone more attractive than her. Later, when she was happily married to another, he realized his mistake and set-off to make this documentary about what it really means to be one of the beautiful people and how much the beauty industry influences our desires and opinions. Much of the film includes what has been seen before: the truth in image retouching, sex in advertising, too-thin models, etc, yet the film keeps the material engaging by presenting it from the viewpoint of a man who once felt responsible for making women feel unattractive, but is baffled to how and why.

The film’s most emotional scenes are those which follow a 12 year old girl as she is pulled into the world of modeling, treated like a queen, and then called fat and put of a job before she turns 16. We see her sexily strutting down the runway and attending lavish after-parties, crying when her mom won’t allow her to wear a push-up bra to school, treated harshly by her school’s principal who disapproves of the fashion industry, and sadly watch her fall into a depression as she loses her career and her confidence. The film is harsh on the fashion industry, and although I still plan to continue enjoying the newest issues of Vogue, Elle, & Glamour each month, I was surprised and horribly disappointed in the lack of sensitivity displayed from the magazine representatives during their interviews.

Overall, I would recommend this documentary to women and girls of all ages (and men and boys as well) as everyone can benefit from America the Beautiful‘s message that each person’s beauty should be celebrated.

Herb & Dorothy, an Arthouse Film by Megumi Sasaki, tells the amazing story of the Vogels–a couple who built one of the most extensive collections of minimalist and conceptual art despite their modest incomes.

As former artists themselves, Herb and Dorothy began collecting other artists’ work in the early 1960’s with two rules in hand: 1. the piece had to be affordable and 2. it had to fit in their small, one-bedroom apartment. They decided to live on Dorothy’s salary from working at the Brooklyn Public Library and use all of Herb’s Postal Clerk earnings to buy art. But Herb and Dorothy didn’t just buy art, they also cultivated intimate relationships with some of today’s most famous artists who were virtually unknown at the time they were sought out by the Vogels.

In 1992, the over 4,000 piece collection was moved from the Vogel’s tiny apartment to the National Gallery of Art after much wooing from museums and institutions around the world. In the film, Herb explains how important it was for him and Dorothy to donate their priceless collection to the very people who paid their salaries (taxpayers) and thus made their means of collecting possible. The Vogels have since created the Vogel 50×50 program where 50 of their works were donated to a museum in each of the 50 states, and Iowa’s recipient was the fantastic Cedar Rapids Museum of Art (their first exhibit of the donation, Less is More: The Vogel Gift of Minimal and Conceptual Art, just ended in May).

HERB & DOROTHY Trailer from Herb & Dorothy on Vimeo.

Herb & Dorothy, an Arthouse Film by Megumi Sasaki, tells the amazing story of the Vogels–a couple who built one of the most extensive collections of minimalist and conceptual art despite their modest incomes.

As former artists themselves, Herb and Dorothy began collecting other artists’ work in the early 1960’s with two rules in hand: 1. the piece had to be affordable and 2. it had to fit in their small, one-bedroom apartment. They decided to live on Dorothy’s salary from working at the Brooklyn Public Library and use all of Herb’s Postal Clerk earnings to buy art. But Herb and Dorothy didn’t just buy art, they also cultivated intimate relationships with some of today’s most famous artists who were virtually unknown at the time they were sought out by the Vogels.

In 1992, the over 4,000 piece collection was moved from the Vogel’s tiny apartment to the National Gallery of Art after much wooing from museums and institutions around the world. In the film, Herb explains how important it was for him and Dorothy to donate their priceless collection to the very people who paid their salaries (taxpayers) and thus made their means of collecting possible. The Vogels have since created the Vogel 50×50 program where 50 of their works were donated to a museum in each of the 50 states, and Iowa’s recipient was the fantastic Cedar Rapids Museum of Art (their first exhibit of the donation, Less is More: The Vogel Gift of Minimal and Conceptual Art, just ended in May).

HERB & DOROTHY Trailer from Herb & Dorothy on Vimeo.

Prom Night in Mississippi Proms are known for having high levels of high school drama, but for the 2008 Prom for Charleston High School of Charleston, Mississippi, the drama engulfed the entire town. Earlier in the school year, actor Morgan Freeman made an offer to the Senior Class: he would pay for their entire prom if they would end the school’s tradition of separate events for white students and black students and have the first racially integrated prom in Charleston history.

The documentary Prom Night in Mississippi follows a group of Charleston High School students in 2008 as they deal with the town’s racial tension, choose their prom dresses, fight with fellow students, find dates, and explain their decisions for why they will or will not attend the parents-sponsored “white-only” prom. Although witnessing the town’s undercurrent of racial prejudice that supported the continued segregation of the school’s prom (the school itself was integrated in 1970) is disheartening, the students’ honesty and their determination enjoy their prom is challenging and uplifting.