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Top Memorial Day Documentary Movies to Watch (for Free!) This Weekend

Top Memorial Day Documentary Movies to Watch (for Free!) This Weekend

Much of the country is in for a wet, thunderstorm-filled Memorial Day weekend. If you have to stay indoors, you might as well take in some of the patriotic-themed documentaries that our parent company, SnagFilms, has to offer. Check out our list below and watch for free at the streaming SnagFilms widget at the bottom of the page.

“Arlington: In Eternal Vigil” dir. John N. Damoose (2006)
“Arlington: In Eternal Vigil” explores the history of Arlington National Cemetery – from a family farm to the center of the Civil War and then finally a national treasure where the country’s greatest heroes are now buried. Interviews include retired General Richard B. Myers (former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President George W. Bush), retired Senator Bob Dole and family members of those buried in the cemetery.

“Art of War” (2008)
Don’t get this documentary confused with the Wesley Snipes series, as this one is actually far more about art than it is about war. The period of 1914-1918 provided an entire catalogue of art movements, from impressionism, expressionism, realism, cubism, futurism and more. Images of battlefields and trenches permeated the painting of the day, and art was a method of healing for many of those who fought.

“The Carrier” dir. Steven C. Barber (2013)
President Obama and basketball superstar Magic Johnson celebrated 11/11/11 with the world’s first NCAA game on an active aircraft carrier. The filmmakers were granted permission and exclusivity to shoot the documentary on the Veterans Day event, The Carrier Classic, held in San Diego, California. North Carolina battles Michigan State in a basketball showdown where tickets sold for $25,000 each. 

“Churchill’s Island” dir. Stuart Legg (1941)
The very first winner of the Academy Award for Documentary Short Subject, the classic World War II propaganda film “Churchill’s Island” follows the people of Britain as they resist the German air force and navy with help from the U.S. and its northern neighbor Canada. The film was designed to strengthen ties between Canada and Great Britain to garner support from the Commonwealth country. This doc uses newsreel footage, official British government film and captured German footage to tell its story.

“How to Fold a Flag” dir. Petra Epperlein & Michael Tucker (2009)
With this weekend being an opportunity to reflect on the people who risk their lives for our safety, “How to Fold a Flag,” a documentary film directed by Petra Epperlein and Michael Tucker, is a must see. The film takes a look at some of the immediate, more personal consequences of the Iraq War. It follows U.S. soldiers and their post service lives upon returning to the Unites States. From a Congressional candidate living in Buffalo to a cage fighter in Louisiana, “How to Fold a Flag” is a sensitive picture that is essential to understanding our American identity.

“Left in Baghdad” dir. Peter Jordan and John Kane (2008)
If you’re looking for a comprehensive look at the history and politics behind the Iraq war, “Left in Baghdad” will leave you unsatisfied. But if you want a non-sentimental look at life as a amputee veteran, down to the nitty-gritty details of what color your prothesis might be, there’s the short film “Left in Baghdad.” Despite the quasi-pun of the title, it’s a touching, real and even funny look at soldier Ross Graydon’s return home to his family and rehabilitation. You might learn a lot — but more importantly, you’ll enjoy getting to know Graydon himself.

“The Medal” (2006)
“The Medal” refers to the storied Congressional Medal of Honor – an honor awarded by the President of the United States to military personnel who have demonstrated immense courage by going above and beyond their call of duty. Through interviews with former medal recipients, “The Medal” weaves a powerful narrative that not only recounts stories of heroism, but also examines the emotional toll taken on the honorees who, despite having been honored, live with a certain amount of regret as they were oftentimes the only ones to survive.

“Pearl Harbor: Day of Infamy” dir. Jose Bugarin (2001)
Way more interesting than that Michael Bay abomination from the same year, “Pearl Harbor: Day of Infamy,” clocks in at 3 hours and contains over 25 survivor interviews with both American and Japanese veterans. Soldiers, sailors, pilots and civilians share their memories of that fateful day when the serene Hawaiian paradise was suddenly shattered by the surprise attack. The films includes historic archival footage as well as recently discovered color footage and dramatic recreations that examine some of the more controversial aspects of the event.

“Return to Tarawa: The Leon Cooper Story” dir. Steven C. Barber (2009)
Narrated by actor Ed Harris, “Return to Tarawa: The Leon Cooper Story” focuses on former naval ensign Leon Cooper, who participated in the United States military assault on the island of Tarawa during World War II. In the process of working on a book about his experiences, Cooper learns that the waters off of Tarawa, where many of his comrades perished during the assault, has become a garbage dump. “Return to Tarawa: The Leon Cooper Story” chronicles Cooper’s trip back to Tarawa and his efforts to get the area cleaned up in order to properly honor the memory of his fallen comrades.

“Until They Are Home” dir. Steven C. Barber (2012)
Narrated by Kelsey Grammer, “Until They Are Home” is a documentary film that explores the efforts of Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC), an organization that is dedicated to recovering individuals who have gone missing during wartime. Focusing on the island of Tarawa, the documentary follows those who go the World War II site to bring the remains of American soldiers back to American soil. It’s a look at a group of people whose duties go unrecognized, but are nonetheless extremely important. 

“Vietnam, Long Time Coming” dir. Jerry Blumenthal, Peter Gilbert, Gordon Quinn (1998)
This story of a 16-day, 1,100 mile bicycle journey through the war-torn areas of Vietnam actually won the DGA’s Best Director prize for documentary filmmaking in 1999. Narrated by Joe Mantegna, the film is as much about the physical difficulties each rider faced — including Senator John Kerry — as the mental struggles veterans had to overcome when returning to the haunting sites. 

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