Sunday, October 23, 2011

Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy!


  1. Feeling or showing pleasure or contentment.
  2. Having a sense of confidence in or satisfaction with (a person, arrangement, or situation. 

Synonyms: glad - fortunate - joyful - lucky - merry - cheerful

I was asked for a list of happy documentaries recently and the request stumped me. So I threw out the question to readers of this blog and colleagues who post on an International Documentary Association forum and got back some interesting responses.

Jennifer Fischer, the co-founder of the Santa Clarita Valley Film Festival, thinks King of Kong: A Fist Full of Quarters fits the bill. 

And Chip Heller, an actor and entertainment industry professional for over 22 years agrees, "Yeah, ditto on KING OF KONG. Great suspense and intrigue, too. Almost like fiction! One of my all-time faves, and on Morgan Spurlock's 50 best list."

“It's pretty happy, as documentaries go,” Jennifer writes. 

“As documentaries go!” I got a kick out of that!  And I’d have to agree with that sentiment 100%. Documentary filmmakers and enthusiasts can be pretty happy – as people go – but we oft times tend to be fixated with films about deep trouble, danger, disparity and occasional mayhem.

I recently viewed King of Kong for the second time and found it even more enjoyable. It’s about Steve Wiebe, a middle-school science teacher, who challenges Billy Mitchell, the reigning champ of the arcade game, Donkey Kong. 

You don’t have to like video games to like this film because it’s really about two people – very competitive people – who set goals for themselves and what they will and will not do to achieve them.  It’s about winning and integrity. 


Sarah Bonavia an independent graphic designer and an apprentice filmmaker from Barcelona, Spain likes the German film Autumn Gold about happy competitors over 80 years-old.  They all are in training for a world championship track and field meet. 

Director Jan Tenhaven admits he wasn’t a natural athlete when he was young though he has taken up marathons as an adult. Still, he is overwhelmingly impressed by the agility of the elderly Autumn Gold athletes. Tenhaven sees sports as a metaphor for the love of life. His message is: Life is short - run faster. email readers click link

This film is not yet available yet through Netflix, but you can request it or rather "save it" in Netflix speak, like I did.

Sarah from Barcelona also likes Babies - the movie. It's a year in the life of four babies from Namibia, Japan, Mongolia and California. email readers click link
It may make you smile. It made me laugh out loud, but I just love babies. It has no narration and no interviews and is a wee bit slow. Okay, some might think boring because babies are all there is. You'll hear off camera adult chatter, but that's about it. 

I consider myself to be fairly well-educated, and have traveled some, but I kept dropping my jaw at what I was seeing on screen. Did that new mother just get on the back of a motorcycle with her swaddled newborn in her arms? Are those babies playing around an open fire? Is that baby playing alone in a herd of cattle?  

That particular scene was incredibly stressful for me. As a filmmaker, I would have wanted the shot too, but I probably would have rushed to the baby and removed him from possible danger. 
I understand the prime directive governing cinema verite: Thou shall not impose your values and/or direction on your subjects, but I still would have grabbed the kid. Catch and Release. That's all. 

In an interview with the French director Thomas Balmes, he explained the lack of narration is a positive thing that serves a diverse audience. 

"I met some people in the States who brought their Chinese grandmother to see Babies. She didn’t speak English, had not only never seen a documentary, but hadn’t seen any films at all. At the other end of the spectrum, I was told by a journalist  in Los Angeles that he had showed the film to his three-month-old baby, who was mesmerized, never moving around during the film’s 90 minutes.  Here is a film that you can show to 90-year-old Chinese woman living in America and not speaking a word of English and to a three-month-old baby––and they are both going to enjoy it." 

The film is available on WatchDocumentary.TV for free, but the streaming can be slow.  I saw it streamed on Netflix. 

Chip Heller also recommended YOUNG@HEART.  
"It's about a Massachusetts chorus of old folks that sing rock songs! Adorable."
Stephen Holden of The New York Times writes, " Guided by the chorus's demanding longtime director, Bob Cilman, the members are learning new material, including "Yes We Can Can," the Allen Toussaint hit for the Pointer Sisters, whose lyrics repeat "can" 71 times in intricate, staccato patterns; Sonic Youth's enigmatic, equally demanding "Schizophrenia"; and the Coldplay ballad "Fix You."The fact that the chorus's members are willing to tackle such daunting material attests to the spirit of adventure that is a crucial spur to their shared bonhomie."

I've only seen the trailer, but it made me feel happy to hear this elderly lady belt out the Clash tune, Should I Stay or Should I Go. WOW!  Sing it my sister! email readers click link

Young @ Heart is a PBS Independent Lens film so check for it on your PBS stations. 

Joe and Mark Graziano, brothers from Pittsburgh, made a fun film called DEUCE about a "savant-like scorekeeper" who follows high school sports fanatically. The title character is Lawrence "Deuce" Skurcenski who has scored many thousands of basketball and football games in a career spanning five decades. 
photo of Duece Skurcenski courtesy of Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
DEUCE will  be shown on The Documentary Channel.  Maybe Joe will sent us a comment when he has an air date. 

Chicagoan, Alan Strutz, who markets and distributes music and video, thinks that we should all watch a Tom Palazzolo short. He writes that most are a joy to watch. 

This filmmaker is new to me, so I Googled him and found Tom himself talking about his short film Ricky and Rocky.

At first it reminded me of a Maysles brothers film, but in seeing Ricky and Rocky a second time, I realized I hadn't given Tom Palazzolo his proper due. He is an original filmmaker with a voice that is unconventional although his subject is pure suburban Americana. The kind of stuff that the Smithsonian is on the lookout for. 

I want to thank Jennifer, Sarah, Alan, Chip, Joe and Mark for their happy recommendations. 

Thanks also to Margaret Gomez Haley, Stephanie Stockton, Regina C and Valerie Camila Rhodes for following the DocuDiary blog. I'm so glad that you are here. 

Thanks to all for reading. Please send your comments. Please follow.
Be happy. 

One more thing before I sign off. I want to help get the word out for Mark Schulze of Crystal Pyramid Productions who just finished a documentary called The Invisible Ones: Homeless Combat Veterans.  Mark writes, "100 % of the revenues go directly to the non-profits that help as you see on the web site.  We give the full-length program on the website for FREE, and if needed the DVD away for free, and only ask that people help with either a donation of $ or some of their time to the VVSD, etc. Together we can make a difference! Thanks."
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  1. Hi Virginia,
    I would like to suggest "New York Says Thank You". Premiered at Tribeca April 2011 and aired on Fox MyNetwork in various markets around the US on Sept 10th. It's about New York City firefighters and 9/11 survivors who, every year on the anniversary of 9/11, go somewhere in the US and help rebuild in a community that's been devastated by a disaster, as their way of healing and saying "thanks" for all the help they received from around the country on 9/11. The following year, members of that community join them on their next trip to "pay it forward". Very inspirational, patriotic and heartwarming. Go to Tribeca's site to read about the doc and see the trailer and follow facebook links to see more info. Thanks.
    Bryan Norfolk, Dallas, TX

  2. Thanks, Bryan. I took a look at the New York Says Thank You trailer and was so completely inspired. Based on the trailer alone, I'm want to recommend it to every film festival looking for good docs. People NEED to see this film.

  3. Hi Virginia,

    I know I'm late, but when I think of happy docu, I always remember the best feelgood documentary I've ever seen!

    It's called 'The Other Final' - about a football/soccer match between the 2 lowest ranked teams in the world - Bhutan and Montserat.

    It won loads of awards so you might have seen it.


    imdb page:

    Anyways, hope you check it out if you have time.

    My blog:

  4. Dear Dusan,
    Thanks for your comment. I admire your blog. I've loved the trailer, but haven't been able to get a hold of the film yet. It's on my list.

  5. DEUCE has few air dates upcoming on Documentary Channel (Ch. 267 DIRECTV/Ch. 197 dish Network). Tune in if you haven't seen the movie.

    1/10/2012 2:00 PM
    1/25/2012 4:00 AM
    2/08/2012 11:30 AM
    All times Eastern