‘Tower’ film marks 50th anniversary of Texas school shooting

Fifty years ago, on August 1, 1966, a 24-year-old sniper positioned himself on the observation deck of the Clock Tower overlooking the University of Texas, Austin. His name was Charles Joseph Whitman. He shot 49 people. 18 people died, including an unborn baby. Another victim died of complications of the shooting in 2001. Meredith Vieira and Luke Wilson are among the executive producers of "Tower," an award-winning documentary that tells the story of that day from the perspective of several … [Read more...]

‘Klansville USA’ on PBS outlines the 1954 rise of the KKK

 “Klansville U.S.A.” is a relatively short film that documents a portion of U.S. history that few may be aware of: the rise of the Ku Klux Klan in North Carolina after the Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court decision in 1954 that effectively began the dismantling of institutionalized segregation. There is an especially poignant and tragic connection between this documentary and the new major film release “Selma,” now in theaters: voting rights activist Viola Liuzzo, who was kille … [Read more...]

‘The Decent One’: Documentary on Himmler a compelling contribution to Holocaust filmography

 Heinrich Himmler -- the Nazi Gestapo chief, head of the German police in the Third Reich, head of the Reich Main Security Office, and Reich Minister of the Interior -- was born to a Catholic family Oct. 7, 1900, in Munich. His father, Gebhard Himmler, was a tutor to Prince Heinrich of Bavaria, who in turn was young Heinrich's godfather.Heinrich was a good student but poor athlete, and his father used his influence with the royal family so that Heinrich could enter officer training … [Read more...]

‘The Roosevelts: An Intimate History’ best TV you may not be watching

  Last Sunday night, September 14, PBS began airing a 7-part, 14-hour documentary series about two U.S. presidents, Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin D. Roosevelt and his wife, Eleanor Roosevelt.This is another masterpiece by Ken Burns, that is, if you like interesting and lengthy stories based on extensive research and seamlessly stitched together for our viewing pleasure.All I really want to say here is that if you want to understand much about politics and … [Read more...]

“Korengal” Same valley, same soldiers, different story

 One of the loglines for Sebastian Junger’s latest documentary film “Korengal” is: “Same valley, same soldiers. Different journey” while another reads: “This is what war feels like.”In one way “Korengal” completes the 2010 Oscar-nominated documentary “Restrepo” that Junger made with cameraman, photojournalist Tim Hetherington who died in 2011 while covering the conflict in Libya. But as Junger expresses it, “’Restrepo’ was intended to be a way for civilians to experience what combat … [Read more...]

The Truth-telling Power of Documentaries

From my article that appears in the June, 2014 issue of U.S. Catholic:In 2012 Sister Simone Campbell and the Catholic social justice lobby NETWORK launched the   "Nuns on the Bus" tour to “live the biblical demand for social justice” and “to speak truth to power” in the name of the poor and marginalized. Campbell and her fellow sisters traveled thousands of miles by bus to call attention to programs for the poor that were under attack from budget cuts. The bus has since made a second tour, wh … [Read more...]

“Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago” has a story for everyone

 When director Emilio Estevez’ feature narrative film “The Way” was released in 2011, audiences across the United States and many countries were introduced for the first time to the ancient pilgrimage route “El Camino de Santiago de Compostela.”I had the opportunity to interview Martin Sheen at that time for NCR and followed it up with anarticle about a screening in which Sheen, his son Emilio Estevez, and producer David Alexanian, spoke to the audience after. “The Way” is a fict … [Read more...]

Cesar Chavez’ last fast frames new documentary

If you ask director and filmmaker Richard Ray Perez if the story of Cesar Chavez chose him or if he chose to tell Chavez's story, he would say both.Following the screening of his new film, "Cesar's Last Fast," at the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress Film Showcase March 14, he told the audience that when he was 5 years old in the late 1960s, he first became aware of the table grape boycott while eating lunch at Head Start.Perez came from a family of migrant workers, but it was a … [Read more...]

“How Sherlock Holmes Changed the World” PBS doc about the world’s first CSI

9 p.m. EST Tuesday, PBS (Check local listings)For fans of Sherlockology, this two-hour BBC documentary will confirm the belief that Sherlock Holmes is the greatest and most influential detective in history, even if he is a fictional character created by a Scottish eye-doctor-turned-writer, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930).The BBC-produced "How Sherlock Changed the World" and its producers are in love with the BBC drama "Sherlock," starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes and … [Read more...]

“JFK: Like No Other” PBS documentary on 50th anniversary of JFK’s death

"JFK: Like No Other," PBS American Experience9 p.m. Eastern time Nov. 11 (part one) and Nov. 12 (part two) (Check local listings)Millions of us remember where we were at the exact moment we heard the news that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated on Nov. 22, 1963. It was about 11:30 a.m. in San Diego that Friday, and I was going to my locker to get my lunch. One of my seventh-grade classmates -- I think his name was Johnny -- came running by the bank of lockers, screaming over and … [Read more...]