Addicted to documentaries

I’m not sure when or how this addiction started.  Maybe it was a couple months ago when we decided to watch Food, Inc and discovered the horrors of the food industry that are kept hidden from us, consumers.  Or it could’ve been a string of bad movies we rented from RedBox that we painfully sat through vowing never to rent a sucky movie again.  Whatever the reason, we are now hooked on documentaries and are learning so much about our world.  These are a few of the ones that we’ve watched on Netflix and have been impressed with.

Waste Land

Who would ever want to pick and sort through garbage in a landfill?  This documentary takes place in the heap of Rio de Janeiro’s (and the world’s) largest garbage dump, Jardim Gramacho, following a handful of less-than-fortunate people who make their living sorting through trash.

Artist Vik Muniz with garbage sorters at work in the background

These amazingly happy people make roughly $20-25 a day picking out recycled goods from mounds of decomposing waste.  The man behind the film, artist Vik Muniz, a native Brazilian, visits the workers at the landfill, listens to their stories and, with the help of these recyclers, creates one-of-a-kind, jaw-dropping pieces of art.  From garbage.

Made entirely of garbage

All proceeds from the sale of his art were given to the community living at the landfill.  This film reminded me of how much I have been given and how little we truly need to be happy.  A beautiful film.

The Wildest Dream

Curt and I took a mountaineering class when we first moved to Portland.  We summited Mt Hood and nearly made it to the top of Mt Shasta in northern California.  Though both of my mountaineering experiences were less than remarkable, due to altitude sickness and my apparently intense fear of heights, I have a deep respect and admiration for mountaineers.

A friend in our group climbing up Mt Shasta

This movie is the result of climber, Conrad Anker’s, discovery of the body of legendary mountaineer, George Mallory, on the steep, glacial slopes of Mt Everest 75 years after he had gone missing on the mountain.  Mallory was the first person to ever attempt to summit Everest clear back in 1924, simply “because it’s there.”  He and his climbing partner were the only two to attempt the summit that fateful morning.  By the end of the day, they had disappeared and no one knew whether they had made it to the top or not, or where their bodies lay.

Conrad Anker, using replica 1920s clothing and equipment, cutting steps on the ice slope below Everests North Col - just as George Mallory had to in 1924. I have sweaty palms.

1924.  I had a difficult time just grasping how long ago that was.  Unlike today, there were no topo maps, anchor ropes, bolted ladders, endless tanks of oxygen, high-tech outdoor gear, satellite weather imagery, radio communication, etc.  This was mountaineering at its infancy.  An amazingly driven man, Mallory left his wife and kids every few years in an effort to plot out a route, acclimate to the altitude and eventually be the first to summit the highest peak on Earth.  Did he succeed?  No one really knows.  The movie recreates the conditions that Mallory likely experienced during his summit bid and tries to determine if he could have climbed the “Second Step” without the aid of ropes and ladders.  Conrad Anker removes the ladder currently bolted to the Second Step, recreating what Mallory would’ve encountered and you’ll just have to watch to see if he makes it up or not.

The Second Step. To reach the summit, Mallory wouldve had to have climbed this alpine rock (without the ladder) in boots with metal spikes.

It blows my mind that Mallory would attempt such an amazing feat at a time when little was known about the mountain and few had experienced the unforgiving effects of extremely high elevations.  He was a true pioneer and incredibly brave.  Do I think he made it to the summit?  Yes.  Coming down is always harder.

Mallorys route

Last Train Home

This documentary takes place in China where an estimated 130 million people leave their homes and families in rural, impoverished areas of the country to work in cities and earn money to send home.  These migrant workers return only once a year (New Year’s) to be with their families and because of the incredible number of migrants, endure an exodus like no other.  Traveling home at this time becomes a never-ending nightmare of waiting in the cold for broken down trains, packing like sardines in over-filled cars and falling asleep while standing for hours.

Thousands trying to make it home in time for New Years

The movie follows one family, a middle-aged couple who left their two children in the care of their elderly parents, to work and live in the city.  Having left when the kids were merely infants, these parents have lived in the city for most of their children’s lives, only returning but once a year.  In typical asian fashion, the mother’s first words to her children upon returning is regarding grades and school and it’s easy to see that the love that should be present isn’t.  It’s also apparent and unsurprising that the now teenage daughter has no respect for her parents, as she never sees them, and like them, wants to work in the city and live on her own at the age of 17.

It’s actually a tragic story, one that likely occurs daily wherever there are migrant workers and especially because these parents have such good intentions.  It’s interesting, a couple months ago I decided I wanted to work a few extra days to earn more money, this would come at the expense of my not spending the day with Laird.  I was disappointed when my company didn’t allow me to, but after seeing this movie, realized just how priceless the time I have with my only son truly is.

Which Way Home

The community in which I work is saturated with immigrant families, most of whom are from Mexico and Central America.  Up until I watched this movie, I really hadn’t given much thought about what these courageous men, women and children endured in order to reach this utopia called the USA.

Two brothers crossing the border with their older cousin.

This movie follows four teenage boys, ages 13-16, as they leave the poverty of their homes in Mexico and Central America, jump onto moving cargo trains and attempt at crossing the formidable US-Mexican border.  Along the way, they talk of the abuse suffered at home, their desire to reunite with parents currently in the US, recount stories of rape they have witnessed and share the dreams that a life in America holds for them.  Unlike here in the US, riding on the roofs of cargo trains is an accepted means of transportation for the poor in Mexico, especially for those trying to cross the border.  Humanitarian groups have even been organized to aid these train hoppers both medically and nutritionally.

Sleep too deeply and you might just fall off

What shocked me was the cruel and tragic ways many of these hopeful immigrants met their death.  Some fell off moving trains, others made it to the desert border, only to succumb to the heat and aridity of the desert.  I was appalled to hear that a lot of these immigrants were children, sent by their parents via traffickers in hopes of living a better life across the border.

It is easy to become complacent with what we are blessed with.  This story made me realize that I have so much in comparison to others, much of this due to the mere fact that I was born in the US.  People die daily to experience (and protect) this freedom and the provisions that we often take for granted.


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