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5 Broken Cameras & Searching for Sugar Man

Both are Nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the 85th Annual Academy Awards

 Seeing a Best Documentary Feature nominee at a Bergen County, New Jersey movie theater is becoming increasingly impossible. I believe the last time I actually accomplished it was when I attended “Super Size Me” in 2004. Or was it “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room” in 2005? Anyway, you get the picture—it’s been a while. Those two have been about it for the last decade or so. Oh, I’ve watched a bunch of the winners at movie houses in that time frame. 2010’s “Inside Job”, 2006’s “An Inconvenient Truth”, 2003’s “The Fog of War”—all of them across the river in Manhattan. And so this is the time of the season when I truly appreciate options like Netflix, On Demand and Netflix streaming. Last year I was able to catch “If a Tree Falls” and “Hell and Back Again” via streaming, and also “Paradise Lost 3” courtesy of HBO’s On Demand service. In 2010, I caught “Gasland” thanks to Home Box Office, while Netflix was my saviour concerning “Exit Through the Gift Shop” and “Restrepo”. This season my red envelope account is making 4 of the 5 Best Documentary Feature nominees possible in advance of the big awards night next month. I am eternally grateful, and you can expect to see all four reviewed here on the blog within the next 30 days–beginning with this delectable duo.

“Searching for Sugar Man” takes us on a journey to try to confirm the death of American folk singer Rodriguez. After two critically acclaimed albums in the early 1970’s garnered almost non-existent sales, the Dylan-esque talent appears to have fallen off the face of the earth. Some cultish fans repeat the legend of Rodriguez, allegedly distraught over his lack of mainstream success, self-immolating on stage in front of a live audience after dousing himself in gasoline. Others seem to believe he simply shot himself after years of misfortune. But two fans in particular set out to put the rumours to rest once and for all. They are Craig Bartholomew Strydom and the aptly-monikered Stephen “Sugar” Segerman. This middle-aged Cape Town pair inform us that, despite Rodriguez’s lack of appeal in the United States, that he is enormously popular in South Africa! Apparently his songs have received a great deal of radio airplay over the years there and an enormous base of South African fans own his otherwise obscure work. The men eventually research their way to the city of Detroit, where they are able to locate much more than they ever imagined. “5 Broken Cameras”, on the other hand, transports the viewer to a village on the West Bank that is increasingly intruded upon by Israelis. The conflict, as most of us know, has been ongoing for decades. This particular documentary includes an abundance of incredible footage shot by a Palestinian farmer named Emad Burnat. Onscreen, Emad tells of purchasing a camera in 2005 to chronicle the birth of his latest child. Before long he begins to document a series of outrages in and around his village. Then, over the course of roughly five years, we are witness to the Palestinians employing non-violent resistance in their fight against the new & unwanted soldiers and residents. There is gunfire and brutality against the town folk via the military, however. And through a series of protests we watch as Emad attains injuries and loses the use of five separate cameras due to bullet damage and aggressive protesting. It is consistently apparent throughout the film that a number of the Palestinian villagers are not likely to survive.

Both of these works are amazing stories of persistence and patience. There are many utterly jaw-dropping moments contained within these inspirational adventures, and each takes us to locations throughout the world that many of us will never experience with our own eyes. The moving images in “5 Broken Cameras” are sometimes shocking and heart-wrenching, while “Searching for Sugar Man” provides a saga of unexpected musical uplift. Both are roughly 90 minutes, and neither falls to the temptation of lingering too long. If anything, the only “crime” of either is occasionally letting themselves nestle back into the comforting arms of sentimentality. However, upon completion of both studies you’ll wonder if it was possible to totally avoid the trap in either circumstance. Expect at least a mention of these works a week from now upon the unveiling of my Top Films of 2012 list—just where they will place remains to be seen. But you cannot go wrong with either one. Stay tuned for an analysis of a minimum of two more from the nominated Documentary Feature group come February.    Both Films:  A-

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