“The night scares me,” says a refugee girl in Gianfrano Rosi’s elegiac documentary, NOTTURNO. Traumatized by the violence she witnessed at the hands of ISIS, she uses a child’s sing-song voice to describe the torture and murders she saw. Rosi may have had that in mind when he named his film, which places the humanity affected by political turmoil in the Middle East at the forefront. He certainly knows where to place the blame for that turmoil. The only context he provides is at the start with a brief history of the fall of the Ottoman Empire after centuries of rule in the region, the destabilizing effects of the resulting power vacuum remain to this day.
As the war in Vietnam raged, one of the largest and most successful youth-led resistance movements in American history was growing at home.
Hundreds of thousands of young men opposed to an unjust war said NO to being drafted into the military, risking up to five years in federal prison. Their individual courage and collective nonviolent actions helped end a tragic war and the draft.
If there is a turning point in The Boys Who Said No!, it’s when a judge, decidedly not a part of the counter-culture of the 1960s and 70s, rules that a Vietnam War draft resistor should not go to prison for breaking the law. It is also a turning point in the history of the United States, albeit one far less high profile than the unrest and assassinations that dominated that era. And that is fitting in Judith Ehrlich’s enlightening and absorbing documentary that profiles the eponymous young men who used non-violence in their refusal to fight what they considered an unjust war. Successfully as it turned out. It makes for a film that speaks to the present as eloquently and as urgently to its audience as the resistors did to their audiences 50 years ago.
Longtime word nerds like myself have been delighted by recent documentaries that celebrate letters and the wondrous ways they can be arranged. Films include Obit, about New York Times obituary writers, Wordplay, which covered a major crossword puzzle tournament, as well as Spellbound and Spelling the Dream, which welcomes us into the stressful world of spelling bees.
Clearly, it was only a matter of time before the “magic little puzzle” of palindromes—words, phrases, and sentences that read the same backward and forward—were thrust into the spotlight. The new documentary The Palindromists turns out to be much more of a “wow” than a “huh?”, palindromic words used to judge contestants in the World Palindrome Championship, around which the film is centered.
What if health providers and practitioners prescribed ceremonies, rituals, festivals and other community activities as medicine to treat trauma? The excellent new documentary A Place To Breathewould argue that distressed refugees, in particular, would benefit greatly, and the film effectively argues this route as a way to foster resilience.