One of the most powerful new documentaries at this year’s Tribeca, Dan Krauss’s well-crafted and compelling investigative
expose The Kill Team, hits all the right buttons: political injustice, moral outrage, and emotional catharsis, as I report in my Docutopia column this week. Of all the films I’ve previewed from this year’s festival, Krauss’s is one of the most important–though I admit, “Bending Steel” is probably my favorite. But for the purposes of political heft, “The Kill Team”–along with the upcoming release “Dirty Wars”–provides some of the most damning evidence of the atrocities and injustices of the U.S. military that we’ve seen on screen since America’s War on Terror began.
With infantrymen confessing on the record to a practice known as “drop-weapon,” in which soldiers leave machineguns and grenades
on those they have murdered to justify the killing of innocents, it becomes clear that the culture of the U.S. infantry in Afghanistan and Iraq is seriously fucked up.
Along with “The Kill Team,” another film I can’t get out of my mind is “Oxyana,” a relentlessly grim picture of Oceana, West Virginia, a post-industrial coal-mining town in the grips of an epidemic of drug addiction from
painkillers such as Oxycontin. I think the film goes on too long–there are
only so many shots one can take of people shooting up pharmaceuticals–but Sean Dunne’s affecting portrait
of this “lost generation” of Appalachian residents is one of the scariest depictions I’ve ever seen of America’s failures. Talk about class warfare: These people have already lost the battle and are living amid the post-apocalyptic ruins of social neglect.
Two films powerfully address racial discrimination. Both Bill Siegel’s The Trials of Muhammad Ali and Marina Zenovich’s Richard Pryor: Omit the Logic reveal the
painful struggles both men endured, even while attaining huge successes. The irony of both films lies in just that fact: Here were two hugely talented individuals, celebrated by society and the industries in which they thrived, but societal norms and pressures and racial and religious biases took a huge toll on them as individuals. Both their stories suggest: You want to succeed as a colored person in America, then play by our rules. Because they didn’t, they suffered immeasurably. Welcome to America!