Taxi to the Dark Side (2007)

Taxi to the Dark Side, directed by Alex Gibney (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room), won the 2007 Academy Award for Documentary Feature. 

The film focuses on the murder of Dilawar, an Afghani taxi driver, who was beaten to death by American soldiers in December 2002 at Bagram Air Base. His death is seen as a precursor to the events at Abu Ghraib in 2003. It is a powerful examination of the United States’ policy on torture and the American justice system.

Taxi to the Dark Side is a gripping and insightful documentary. At times it can be hard to get through but it’s completely worth seeing.

Here is A.O. Scott’s review of Taxi to the Dark Side and the trailer is below.

Preview: Standard Operating Procedure

Documentary filmmaker Errol Morris recently gave an interview with Entertainment Weekly about his latest work, Standard Operating Procedure, which examines the Abu Gharib prison scandal. It is his first documentary since 2003’s Oscar winning The Fog of War. 

This is my favorite response from the interview, which you can read here.

Do you see Standard Operating Procedure as a political movie?

ERROL MORRIS: It’s not intended to be a political movie, but having said that, it would be hard for it not to be, at least in the sense that it’s about who we are, how we see ourselves. I have this old-fashioned American belief that it’s wrong to punish the little guys and to let the big guys get off scot-free. But it’s not a film that lectures to anybody about anything. It’s an attempt to take you into a strange world and an opportunity to think about it. In a way, I feel hopeless to address the war as a whole. I don’t know how to do that, even. I do know how to look at individual stories in the hopes that they tell us something about the nature of this war. People may not, ultimately, be outraged by torture, but I think people are outraged by a certain level of unfairness. I even have this theory Bush won the 2004 election because of the ”Bad Apples.”

When Morris releases a new documentary is a reason to get excited and believe me, I’m excited for this.

Muslim Widows Set Business World Ajar in Pickles, Inc

Pickles, Inc

This is the life a Muslim widow is expected to have.

Following the death of her husband, a widow is not allowed to leave her home or to work. If she remarries, her children are not permitted to live with her. For this reason, many Arab widows choose to not remarry and instead must depend on social security to provide for them and their families.

This is the culture director Dalit Kamor opens a window to in the documentary Pickles, Inc. But rather than focus on the typical Arab widow, Kamor focuses her film on the uncommon experience of eight inspiring women.

In 2003, Kamor stumbled upon a newspaper article about eight Muslim widows who had started a pickling company in Tamra, Israel. During the next two years, Kamor and an all-female production crew followed the women of the Azka Pickle Company as they learned business management skills and dealt with the emotional and financial stress of running their own company.

The women, who did not know one another before their business endeavor, all lack a formal education but have a common skill that their mothers taught them: how to pickle vegetables. They depend primarily on local vendors but in order to become financially successful, they must expand their product throughout Israel

But the road to success is not an easy one. Pickles, Inc follows the eight widows as they learn the ins and outs of running of business. In order for the company to succeed, the women deal with internal company disputes and work for 23 months without pay as they look for a business partner.

Fatma, Samira, and Almaza, are the film’s protagonists. Their individual stories allow Kamor to paint a deeply intimate portrait of each widow, each of whom has an incredible story to tell. They are all in their 40s and 50s and widowed at a young age. Some were married at the age of sixteen; others were not religious until after their husband’s death. Personal moments, such as Samira’s reconciliation with her daughter and the period of mourning for Almaza’s 30-year-old son, make Pickles, Inc. a wonderfully touching documentary.

But Pickles, Inc. is about so much just a pickling company in Israel and the eight charismatic women who defy societal expectations. And it is about even more than a simple act of feminism by women who never even heard of the word “feminism”.

Pickles, Inc. is about the bond these women have formed with each other. The best scene occurs at the beginning of the film, when Fatma picks up three of her co-workers before they begin their day. This early morning car ride, in a way, represents the journey the eight widows have had together.
Director Dilit Kamor received the award for Creative Excellence at the 2006 U.S. International Film and Video Festival. Pickles, Inc. will be screened at the Pioneer Valley Jewish Film Festival in spring 2008.

Published: The Mount Holyoke News
November 8, 2007

Reprinted with permission

Review: Can Mr. Smith Get to Washington Anymore? (2006)

2004, like any other year, witnessed a multitude of elections throughout the country. But none were nearly as intriguing or important as Jeff Smith’s, a Missouri academic, campaign for the House of Representatives seat being vacated by a 28-year veteran Dick Gephardt. Or at least, that is what Can Mr. Smith Get to Washington Anymore? leads you to believe.

Can Mr. Smith Get to Washington Anymore? follows Jeff Smith’s Congressional campaign, that begins as a grassroots movement in St. Louis and grows into a full scale push towards Capital Hill.

Smith presents an impressive resume; he co-founded a group of charter schools in St. Louis and taught political science at Washington University in St. Louis. But he has one fault; he is an unknown academic with a only vision for change and his biggest competition is Russ Carnahan, a member of a Missouri political dynasty.

Can Mr. Smith Get to Washington Anymore? is truly a great, funny and charming documentary that is at times frustrating. Smith’s surprising run towards Congress makes for great entertainment, By the movie’s end, you’ll find yourself rooting for Jeff Smith, an average American just trying to make some changes for the future.

And like its fictional counterpart released almost 70 years ago, Can Mr. Smith Get to Washington Anymore?,might even help restore your faith in American democracy.

Updated October 20, 2010