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Arts and Entertainment

A Short Blast of Documentary Reviews

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Hmm, I wonder what the mean blood alcohol level is at Churchill Downs. | Photo courtesy of Jacdupree via Flickr

Below, you'll find some short reviews of three documentary films that will only be in theaters for a couple more days. They each tell very different stories in unique ways and all of them are worth your time and money. I've said it before (and I'll keep saying it until my nemesis, Per Degaton, finally manages to capture and neutralize me): if you go to the theater and buy a ticket for a documentary it is virtually certain that you will enjoy the experience. So many people shy away from seeing docs on the big screen, but when they ultimately try it out they are always glad they did. Okay, enough speechifying--onto the reviews!

Untold thousands of Angelenos will gather this weekend to get thoroughly soused and watch the 134th running of the Kentucky Derby. If you're looking for a perfect primer for the race, then head down to the Sunset 5 today or tomorrow and catch The First Saturday in May. Directed by brothers Brad and John Hennegan, the film follows 6 trainers from across the country as they pursue the dream of having their horse win the grandest prize in racing. The film tracks the 2006 race (ultimately won by the tragic colt, Barbaro) and plays equally well to both the veteran pony-watcher and the naif who just enjoys drinking a mint julep and wearing a fancy hat.

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It wasn't just the bathrooms that were segregated in the 1960s. | Photo courtesy of The City Project via Flickr

When one thinks about the cities of the Civil Rights Era, one typically arrives at names like Selma and Montgomery. Often forgotten is the city of St. Augustine, Florida where there were major protests in 1963-64. In Dare Not Walk Alone, director Jeremy Dean looks back to those protests and ahead to present day to see what has changed and what hasn't over the last forty-odd years. While the film is somewhat crudely made, there are remarkable pieces of archival footage. In one, black protesters attempt to peacefully integrate a beach and are met with violent resistance from pro-segregationists. There is also a modern-day interview with an elderly white motel owner who is still blase about having poured acid into an integrated swimming pool filled with black and white children. To anyone who think we now live in a post-racial world, Dare Not Walk Alone is a potent reminder of the challenges we still face when it comes to an issue as simple and innocuous as skin color.

The documentary Constantine's Sword is a conflicted exploration of the dark side of Christianity, following the acclaimed author and former priest James Carroll as he examines his own faith and seeks out answers to some very troubling questions. Carroll gives us the unique perspective of seeing both sides, since he was once a Catholic priest and still considers faith a big part of his life. Yet, he cannot continue to support Christianity because of the obvious denials of any wrongdoing on the Church’s part in some really nasty events in history.

The film is an examination of the beginnings of faith-based hate, anti-Semitism, Church-approved discrimination of other faiths and cultures, and the suppression, forced-conversion or out-right annihilation of the Jews going all the way back to the Roman Emperor Constantine. Carroll takes a journey to uncover the secrets the Roman Catholic Church doesn’t like to discuss out in the open. He also digs a little deeper into the history of The Crusades--nearly 500 years of open war against other faiths--and hypothesizes that history may be repeating itself in our current wars in Afghanistan and Iraq (even quoting President Bush calling this war against Islamic extremists a “crusade"--haunting words). Carroll’s remark, “No war is holy,” really hits home.

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However, as all documentaries tend to be one-sided in their viewpoint, Constantine's Sword needs to be viewed with an open mind. That being said, this is a fascinating look into the history of how tightly intertwined faith and government have become, each one using the other as a tool to accomplish their fundamental goal of conformity and continued growth of power. At one moment near the end of the film, we find ourselves watching a mega-church service, filled with hundreds of teens and young adults worshipping together. It’s chilling to hear young Christian leaders of today echo words of the early crusaders in their quest to spread their viewpoint, their religion, to the world: “God is on our side.”

Constantine's Sword review by Jonathan Nail

Tickets & Showtimes

The First Saturday in May
Dare Not Walk Alone
Constantine's Sword

Reviews

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The First Saturday in May
Dare Not Walk Alone
Constantine's Sword