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The Ken Burns Effect — Part One

by Moe - 0 Comment(s)

Ken Burns has an impressive filmography to his credit. In the world of current film styles the camera seldom seems to rest on any one image for more than a nano second before it is off to the next blow-up, melt-down, gargantuan special effect or drooling miscreation. All while being punctuated by a strident soundtrack. Burns' style is so laid back that if you aren't used to it it can at first glimpse seem a trifle boring. But stick with it and you will be rewarded with superior documentaries and it won't take you long to get hooked on "The Ken Burns Effect "—slowly zooming or panning over vintage still photographs while in-depth research is narrated by a pleasing voice.

The Dust Bowl just aired last year on PBS as a 240-minute series. In it Burns documents the worst human-made ecological disaster in American history that was the result of the 'Great Plow-up'. Vivid interviews, dramatic photographs, and seldom-seen movie footage bring to life incredible stories of human suffering and perseverance. You'll be stunned by what you didn't know about this decade long event.

And after you watch the mini series, here are three excellent 'companion' feature films.Sinise and Malkovich

First up is the powerful Of Mice and Men, a John Steinbeck classic. It tells the tragic story of George Milton and Lennie Small, two displaced migrant ranch workers, who move from place to place in search of new job opportunities during the Great Depression. This is before the arrival of the Okies who Steinbeck vividly describes in The Grapes of Wrath. Required reading in many schools, Of Mice and Men regularly appears on the America Library Association's list of the Most Challenged Books of 21st Century. We have two versions and they are equally compelling. The 1939 with Burgess Meredeth and the 1992 made for television, with Gary Sinise and John Malcovich.

Secondly is Steinbeck's Pulitzer Prize winning Grapes of Wrath (1940), directed by John Ford and starring Henry Fonda. In 1989, this film was one of the first 25 films to be selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."

And the third offering is Places in the Heart, which won Sally Field her second Oscar for Best Actress in 1984. Also starring John Malkovich, Ed Harris and Danny Glover.

From the grapevine … Steven Spielberg is set to acquire the rights to The Grapes of Wrath, with a view to producing a new film adaptation for DreamWorks. There are many movies that I think were perfect the first time and don't need to be redone, and Grapes of Wrath is one of them. But having said that, if anybody can do it justice it would be Spielberg. However he is unlikely to direct the movie, and likely will oversee the project as producer.

The Food Issue

by Melanie - 0 Comment(s)

Why wait until New Year's? More and more we're focusing on nutrition, specifically the connection between what we eat and how we feel. The North American diet of the last fifty or so years is under scrutiny for the impact of processed foods. You may have already seen Fast Food Nation and Super size Me, both in our collection. Even if you haven't, check out Forks over Knives in blu-ray or dvd. This documentary was recommended to me by a Louise Riley staffer.

Forks over Knives is refreshingly non-preachy. It focuses on the extensive cancer research of Dr. Neal Barnard and Dr. Junshi Chen and others beginning in the 1970s and emcompassing data gathered from samples of millions of people over time. The way to go is a plant-based diet (hence no knives needed) of non-processed whole foods. A lot of these kinds of documentaries are kind of scary, but Forks is empowering the viewer to prevent, even reverse cancer and heart disease. It shows real life average middle aged folks who change their destiny. But don't just take it from the blogger or the scientists in the documentary, just ask the Texan firefirefighters (that's right) featured in Forks over Knives.

Eco Movies III:

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We now have the 1975 British comedy hit The Good life, known as Good Neighbors in Canada. It is catalogued under Good Neighbors (no "u") in CPL's system.

Good Neighbors stars Richard Briers (Monarch of the Glen) as Tom Goode, Felicity Kendall (Rosemary and Thyme) as Barbara Goode, Penelope Keith as their neighbour Margo "Well, thank you very much!" Ledbetter and Paul Eddington as Margo's husband Jerry (Yes Prime Minister).

Unsatisfied with his graphic design position at a plastics firm, Tom Goode decides that the cure for his malaise is a life of self-sufficiency. Tom and Barbara agree to embark on a back to the land project, but on their existing property in Surbiton in the suburbs of London. Providing all their own food and living without an income provide a host of challenges, not the least of which is the disapproval of Margo, home counties hostess extraordinaire and tory member of the local music society. Chickens, a goat, pigs, a car built from a rotary cultivator, marital strife, and laughs ensue. A few of the jokes are past their prime but most of the charm and relevance remains.

The bonus features disc with Season 1-3 includes celebrity fan interviews and one with a man inspired by the show to live self-sufficiently. Should you feel the call, CPL has plenty of back to the land books to checkout, such as The Backyard Homestead, and Barnyard in your Backyard. Try searching under "homestead" or "self- sufficient" or "raising goats." Don't come to me if you haven't checked the city bylaws first (under city living at

Eco Movies II

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Find these dvds about the "human factor" in the environment in our non-fiction collection:

Edward Burtynsky Manufactured Landscapes

Alberta photographer made famous by his striking colour photographs of open pit mines and industrial sites is featured in this fascinating dvd. The opening scenes of an enormous factory in China alone are worth a look. When the film crew runs into a hesitant coal mine executive, a translator insists that through Burtynsky's eye, "it will look beautiful"...and it does. Burtynsky's large scale photos appear to be abstract paintings, then draw the viewer in to discover the waste and desbris that the images document. He avoids commentary and leaves the viewer to intrepret, but you won't be able to avoid debate when you view the town responsible for e-cycling--the breaking down of our old phones, tvs, and computers. That the first "r" is reduce is never more clear.

Aftermath: Population zeroand Life After People

These similar films examine what life on earth would be like if all humans were gone. Both assume that people disappear all over the world simultaneously. The digital imaging of cityscapes taken over by plants and wildlife is convincing because actual footage of abandoned areas appears. Life After People shows building and fields reclaimed by vegetation after Chernobyl. Aftermath gives more information about effects of chemical plant explosions and long terms effects. Strangely hopeful, both films inspire us to consider what we're doing now and what effects it has on living things around us. However, some frightening concepts may make these inappropriate for very young viewers.

Carts of Darkness

Bottle pickers in North Vancouver, British Columbia have taken to riding shopping carts down the steep roads of the North shore. Some make the descent part of their route, ahead of the city recycling trucks. Others have perfected carting as a sport that blows out running shoes on a single run. Director Murray Siple is a former snowboarder who identifies with the mostly homeless men's search for speed and excitement. Even so, the film is more moving than "gonzo," and it gives insight into a group of individuals who are living by means of bottle depot refunds

Eco Movies for Everyone

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Assuage your environmental guilt by watching (and re-using) some "green" dvds from CPL... Most are suitable for all ages. Check out the Eco-Action blog on our website.

The Dollar a Day Dress(non-fiction) follows London fashion students' gathering local fabrics worldwide to create a sustainable couture outfit. We learn how difficult it is to source fabrics and see how donated second-hand clothes may actually hurt local garment producers. Will the dress be cat-walk ready in time?

Local Hero is a charming comedy that follows an oil company employee's negotiations with Scottish locals around a controversial project that will change their shoreline. He changes their lives and his own in the process.

Paddle to the Seais a children's classic from the National Film Board of Canada (1966). Some of us will remember the little carved canoe's journey through the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence seaway, but I'd forgotten the film's scathing commentary on polluters in the Detroit/Windsor area. A little heavy-handed in retrospect, considering the young carver of the canoe melts lead in his home fireplace at the beginning of the film: kitschy good times!

Who Killed the Electric Car? Doesn't it seem as if every few years, some tv program is telling us how energy-efficient cars of the future will be? This documentary examines how the future was a few years ago in California, when prototype electric cars were taken away from their owners and electric charging stations were closed, in spite of protests from the drivers.