For this edition of indieWIRE at Hulu Docs – iW‘s regular curation of Hulu’s Documentaries page – we’re very loosely tying into this month’s connection with patriotism and national celebration by looking at a selection of films addressing the American Dream… or its flipside.
EDITOR’S NOTE: “indieWIRE @ Hulu Docs” is a regular column spotlighting the iW-curated selections on Hulu’s Documentaries page, a unique collaboration between the two sites. iW selections typically appear in the carousel at the top of the page and under “Featured Content” in the center. Be sure to check out the great non-fiction projects available to watch free of charge.
Arlene Nelson’s fascinating “Naked States” follows noted photographer Spencer Tunick around the United States to recruit volunteers to pose for a state-by-state series of group nudes. Often working outside the law, without permits, Tunick photographs his subjects in public, letting them contribute to the ultimate look and feel of the final photograph. Also factoring in are the locations themselves, as Tunick creates tableaux that capitalize on identifiable landmarks within the different states.
One the of the most acclaimed docs of the past twenty years, Steve James’ “Hoop Dreams” follows two African-American high school students over their entire school career as they try to become professional basketball players. Exploring issues of race, class, education, and socioeconomic status, James’ film serves as a powerful portrait of both the potential of the American dream of making one’s own fortune, and the harsh reality that everyone won’t be able to realize that dream.
Michael Tucker and Petra Epperlein also examine a darker side of the American experience in “How to Fold a Flag.” Their follow up to “Gunner Palace” explores what happens to soldiers after war, and, perhaps more intriguing, how American society deals with the legacy of the unpopular Iraq War. The result is a complex, nuanced look at a nation torn between government policy and those who bear its direct burden.
“The Atomic Cafe,” directed by Jayne Loader, Kevin Rafferty, and Pierce Rafferty, also considers American warfare, but looks back to the prospect of Cold War-era nuclear war through archival footage from the 1940s-1960s. With a dark and absurdist sense of humor, the film demonstrates how government propaganda frightened its populace into fearing Communism while also spreading ludicrous misinformation about how to protect oneself from atomic attacks.
Finally, Andrew Monument’s “Nightmares in Red, White, and Blue” delves into US horror films, exploring their history and their cultural origins, as well as the influence they have had on American culture in return. Interviews with genre masters and considerations of key films explore distinctly American concerns, including consumerism and militarism, taken to their extremes.
ABOUT THE WRITER: Basil Tsiokos is a Programming Associate, Documentary Features for Sundance and a consultant to documentary filmmakers and festivals. Follow him on Twitter (@1basil1) and visit his blog (what (not) to doc).