Documentary film series

Posted on August 31, 2011 

It's been a slow summer as far as local film events go, which is why I haven't posted for a while. But with fall approaching and the Penn State students back in town, there is going to be a fairly steady stream of film series, festivals and special screenings in Happy Valley.

I was excited to learn about the Carnegie Cinema Documentary Film Series through a story on Penn State Live. The series, which will feature 10 different documentaries, will be held at 7:45 p.m. on Wednesday nights at Carnegie Cinema, located at 113 Carnegie Building on the Penn State campus. The series, which is free and open to the public, will open tonight with "Touching the Void,"a 2003 film directed by Michael Winterbottom, based on a book by Joe Simpson about Simpson's and Simon Yates'  near-fatal attempt to climb the 20,813 foot Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes in 1985.

The series is being coordinated by Naomi McCormack, an assistant professor in the Department of Film-Video and Media Studies at Penn State. In the Penn State Live story, McCormack is quoted as saying that she wanted to showcase a variety of documentary styles, with some featuring an activist approach, "while others were made from a first-person perspective and others rely on re-enactments."

The schedule for the documentary series is as follows:

-- "Touching the Void" (2003), directed by Kevin Macdonald, Aug. 31;
-- "The Road to Guantanamo" (2006), directed by Michael Winterbottom, Sept. 7;
-- "Exit Through the Gift Shop" (2010), directed by Banksy, Sept. 14;
-- "Let's Get Lost" (1988), directed by Bruce Weber, Sept. 21;
-- "Tarnation" (2003), directed by Jonathan Caouette, Sept. 28;
-- "Persepolis" (2007), directed by Marjane Satrapi, Oct. 5;
-- "Gasland" (2010), directed by John Fox, Oct. 12;
-- "Bowling for Columbine" (2002), directed by Michael Moore, Oct. 19;
-- "Fog of War" (2004), directed by Errol Morris, Oct. 26; and
-- "Gimmee Shelter" (1970), directed by Albert and David Maysles, Nov. 2.

While I will miss "Touching the Void" tonight since I will be partaking in the Grange Fair tradition, I plan to attend as many of the remaining screenings as possible. I think that Penn State offering a free documentary series to the public is a brilliant idea. While documentaries, particularly those that spotlight social issues, generally don't provide an entirely even-handed view of a subject, they usually do a good job of stimulating interest and provoking debate. Out of all the films that are scheduled, I have only seen "Gasland," which screened at the State Theatre a while ago and deals with issues involving Marcellus Shale drilling; and "Bowling for Columbine," which has been seen widely by Michael Moore fans and supporters of gun control. I do recognize most of the titles on the list, however, and it seems like McCormack picked a diverse set of critically acclaimed documentaries. I hope that there will be opportunity for public discussion after the screenings, as I feel that generating debate should be the goal of any serious documentary filmmaker.

For more information about the Carnegie Cinema Documentary Film Series, contact McCormack at or  863-2282; or Steve Sampsell or 865-8801.

If you like documentaries with an activist approach, you may also be interested in checking out the Fall 2011 Human Rights Film Series, which is organized by the State College Peace Center. The films are being shown at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays in Room 201 State College Municipal Building, 243 S. Allen St. Unfortunately, I'm a little late in reporting this, since the series started last week with "The Good War and Those Who Refused to Fight It and "The Sound of the Violin in My Lai," you still have the opportunity to see three thought provoking films, includi ng "Urban Roots" (Sept. 22), a 2010
film that tells the story of a group of Detroit citizens working to fulfill their vision for locally-grown, sustainably farmed food in a city filled with fast-food chains and convenience stores; "ANPO: Art X War" (Oct. 20), a 2010 film that focuses on

the U.S.-Japan Mutual Security Treaty, which permits the continued presence of numerous U.S. military bases in Japan; and "The Corporation" (which will start at 7 p.m. Nov. 17 due to its 145-minute length), a 2003 film   about the "creation of the American corporation, its legal organizational model, its global economic dominance and its psychopathic tendencies, and
its incredible ambition to influence every aspect of culture in its unrelenting pursuit of profit."

For more information about the Human Rights Film Series, contact Peter Shaw at

Both of these film series provide opportunities to see some expertly crafted documentaries and get different perspectives on social/political issues. I plan to blog about the individual films as they come up, and also report on the films and any interesting discussions that they inspire after the screenings. Best of all, the film series are free--and especially in this economy, who can complain about that?



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