Killer Fish! Controversial Art! All-American Horror! Best Documentaries Ever!


Mark: Do you think this is a little bit cathartic for you?
Mike: Uh, very cathartic, Mark.
Mark: Do you know what cathartic means?
Mike: No.

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I love documentaries – and there are ton of them out there – from the very well-known to the more obscure – from the humorous to the deadly serious. There are documentaries that shed light on an unseen world, and there are stories that raise questions that can’t be easily answered.

I plan to post about a number of docs that I love, so let’s get started with these!

Darwin’s Nightmare – 2004 Director: Hubert Sauper

A documentary on the effect of fishing the Nile perch in Tanzania’s Lake Victoria. The predatory fish, which has wiped out the native species, is sold in European supermarkets, while starving Tanzanian families have to make do with the leftovers.

As you can see from this second poster, these fish are more than food – they are bloody politics as well.

The Nile perch was introduced to Lake Victoria some 40 to 50 years ago, an apparent attempt to replenish the over fished waters that led to the extinction of hundreds of indigenous species. An oily-fleshed fish that reaches over six feet in length, the Lates niloticus rapidly emerged as the fittest specimen in its new habitat, depleting the food supply and preying on smaller fish (including its young). In a 2001 report, the World Conservation Union deemed the Nile perch one of the planet’s 100 “worst invasive alien species.”

This ongoing ecological disaster happens to be the basis for a multimillion-dollar business: Tanzania, which owns 49 percent of Lake Victoria, is the main exporter of perch to the European Union. So this gorgeous, serene lake has the opportunity to feed a nation – just NOT an African nation.

Bitter ironies come thick and fast in Hubert Sauper’s essential documentary Darwin’s Nightmare, and the most obvious one may be that this unnatural abundance of a profitable protein source—an economic godsend, if you ask the on-message factory managers and government officials—coexists with inhuman levels of famine and poverty.

This is one of those documentaries that isn’t perfectly done, but it is meant to make you angry – and expose an injustice – on both counts, it delivers.

My Kid Could Paint That! – 2007 Director: Amir Bar-Lev

Four year old Marla Olmstead from Binghamton, New York became the sensation of the art world for her abstract artwork, which have sold for thousands of dollars per piece.

The showing of her work started off as a lark, but when the paintings sold without the buyers knowing who the artist was, the media began to run with the story.

Through it all, Marla’s parents, Mark Olmstead and Laura Olmstead, want to be grounded in what is best for their daughter while exposing her to whatever positive may come from the experience.

But some negative and big name media also surfaces, some questioning whether Marla is the real artist behind the work, and some questioning exposing a four year old to such infamy. Regardless, the fact of this art selling brings up the legitimacy of abstract art being quantified as “quality”, especially if a four year old can produce it but can’t express the emotions or rationale behind its creation…

Doc Director Amir Bar-Lev: [when Laura starts crying on camera on being doubted] “I’m sorry that I brought this into your house.”
Laura Olmstead: [bitterly] “It’s documentary gold.”

These paintings are gorgeous – but the movie is gut-wrenching. Who painted them? Marla? Her father? Both of them? Watch the movie and try to make up your own mind. It’s a great documentary that raises alot of questions, and it will break your heart a little to see what the family goes through as a result of Marla’s fame.

Beautiful paintings, a really terrific family – and a look at how fame can turn in an instant, inflamed by the media, who loves to build up – and tear down – and then move on….


American Movie – 1999 Director: Chris Smith

Behold America’s next great Horror film Director, Mark Borchardt!

On the northwest side of Milwaukee, Mark Borchardt dreams the American dream: for him, it’s making movies. Using relatives, local theater talent, slacker friends, his Mastercard, and $3,000 from his Uncle Bill, Mark strives over three years to finish “Covan,” a short horror film.

His own personal demons (alcohol, gambling, a dysfunctional family) plague him, but he desperately wants to overcome self-doubt and avoid failure. In moments of reflection, Mark sees his story as quintessentially American, and its the nature and nuance of his dream that this film explores.

Here he is relaxing with his best friend, Mike Schenk…


Mark: Do you think this is a little bit cathartic for you?
Mike: Uh, very cathartic, Mark.
Mark: Do you know what cathartic means?
Mike: No.

This is the story of a guy with a dream: to make a horror film. The only problem is, he has no money…


Mark Borchardt: [Reacting to an IRS notice threatening a lien on personal property for delinquent funds due] Luckily it’s just $81.00. What are they gonna take, ya know, like my “Night of the Living Dead” book?


Mark Borchardt: “Coven,” man, we gotta get this sucker done, though. Seriously. Last night, man, I was so drunk, I was calling Morocco, man. Calling, trying to get to the Hotel Hilton at Tangiers in Casablanca, man. That’s, I mean, that’s, that’s pathetic, man! Is that what you wanna do with your life? Suck down peppermint schnapps and try to call Morocco at two in the morning? That’s senseless! But that’s what happens, man.

I was lucky enough to work with Mike and Mark on a project….G4 showed “Night Of The Living Dead” on Halloween night, and staged the whole thing live from Wisconsin…

The culmination of the live broadcast was Mark directing a 4-minute live horror sequence. It was amazing, he pulled it off, and we all had a great time…and they were terrific to work with!

I wish Mark and Mike the best, and you should check out this documentary to see how the love of film permeates every scene – a real slice of true Americana!



Categories: Books / Media, documentary films, Foreign Films, Movies, Movies About Movies, Obscure Movies, Politics, Talent/Celebrities, Technology, Travel, Travel Memoir, TV Show, Uncategorized

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  1. Legal Orgies! Censored Mick Jagger! Hapless Horror! The Best Documentaries! | johnrieber
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