Try Harder!

By Risa Nye

For those whose memories of high school days are a bit clouded and sentimental, TRY HARDER!, Debbie Lum and Nico Opper’s documentary about students at San Francisco’s academic powerhouse, Lowell High, will be an eye-opener. Parents of toddlers who are already buying Ivy League sweatshirts in size 3T might do well to observe what happens when kids who try hard sometimes learn that they need to re-define what success means in the college admission process.

try harder!

While this film is about the students, it is also about the way support from caring teachers, parents, counselors, and peers has an enormous impact on the levels of stress these kids experience while trying to do all the things necessary to be competitive in a process with nearly impossible odds. As an example, the kids hear that Stanford’s acceptance rate is around 4%. They already know how hard it is, but some will try and beat the odds anyway.

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Alice Street: A Mural Becomes a Movement

BY C.J. Hirschfield

About my home town of Oakland, a recent Washington Post article wrote: “Protesters want to defund the police. Homicides and violence are spiking. In Oakland, ideology and practicality collide.”

It was a wonderful juxtaposition shortly thereafter to watch the excellent new documentary Alice Street, which shows Oakland at its multicultural, peaceful, protesting best.

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OSCAR’S YEAR OF THE WOMEN—For Documentary Features

By C.J. Hirschfield

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Clockwise from bottom left: ‘For Sama,’ ‘The Cave,’ ‘American Factory,’ ‘The Edge of Democracy,’ ‘Honeyland’

Many of you are no doubt rushing to catch up with your movie viewing in advance of Feb. 8’s annual Academy Awards. While “Best Picture” always draws the most attention and conjecture, this was a particularly great year for films in the documentary feature category, and they are well worth exploring. With Netflix, Amazon, HBO, PBS, and even the Obamas now in the documentary film production business, the number of quality offerings has grown dramatically, as have the ways to view them.  Some show us worlds we’ve never imagined, while others offer us a deep dive into subjects that we may know only as headlines. There are also a number of excellent films that that didn’t make the final Academy cut. Here’s the list, along with my take on each. And unlike the directors considered for “Best Picture,” three out of five of the nominated documentaries were directed or co-directed by women.

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