Documentary Double Feature

I’m finally getting a chance to catch up on some of the documentaries (and other movies) I’ve been planning to watch for a while, which is kind of nice.  I’ll try to blog some quick reviews when I can, but with a new semester just around the corner, we’ll see how things go.

Based on a tip from Agnes, I checked out Senator Obama Goes to Africa, which chronicles Senator Obama’s 2006 journey to Africa.  Like Agnes, I was already an Obama supporter before I saw Bob Hercules and Keith Walker’s movie, but many of the scenes helped to solidify my support for him.  Structurally, the film is pretty standard stuff, following Obama to his hometown of Kisumu, Kenya, to the Robben Island prison where Nelson Mandela was held, and finally to a refugee camp in Chad, just across from the Darfur region of the Sudan.  And, again like Agnes, I think that each segment could have played just about as effectively as a “webisode” on YouTube as it did in an hour-long documentary.  That being said, Africa does provide a window into Obama’s foreign policy credentials, showing him publicly taking an AIDS test to raise awareness of the issue, to name just one small example.  It’s also astounding to see the amount of hope invested in the Obama campaign, as witnessed by the thousands of people who gather to hear him speak at various stopping points during his journey.  I’m not really convinced that these kinds of documentaries can do a lot to change people’s minds about how they’ll vote, but I think that Africa’s more important function may be to reintroduce some of the lingering economic, health, and political problems to a wider audience.

Because I liked the premise, if not the execution, of Randy Olson’s global warming mockumentary, Sizzle, I wanted to go back and give his earlier film, Flock of Dodos, a documentary about the evolution-intelligent design controversy a closer look, and I’m glad that I had the opportunity.  Where Sizzle stumbled, I felt that Flock of Dodos actually seemed a little more sure-footed, especially in its attempt to communicate the problem that, well, evolutionary scientists aren’t that great at communicating ideas.  While Flock of Dodos came out a couple of years before Ben Stein’s Expelled, it was interesting to see many of the same spokespeople in both films, and while Olson (thankfully) avoids many of the gotcha theatrics deployed by someone like Stein, it’s clear that Olson is making a sincere attempt to think about how to translate scientific ideas while also addressing how pro-intelligent design activists have been able to make inroads onto school boards across the country.

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