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Documentary Week at The Grand Cinema

Seven documentaries that don't feel like taking medicine

"Ghosts In Our Machine" / photo courtesy of We Animals © 2012

For a lot of people about my age, I'd be willing to bet that the first documentary film that appealed to them outside of a sort of eat-your-medicine vibe was American Movie. Here was a documentary that not only was a warm, compassionate, and comprehensive look at two unlikely filmmakers, but it was intentionally hilarious. God help me, but that documentary will eventually be fictionalized, at one point or another, even though it conveys a perfect story arc in its own right.

These days, thanks to streaming services like Netflix, there are more people than ever lazily consuming documentary films. What was once viewed as a wasteland of heart-rending Shoah's has been transformed into an easygoing world of pop-docs. Still, the art of the documentary is growing, as technology expands and allows more filmmakers the ability to carry out their vision. As a result, the cream is increasingly rising to the top. Documentaries of merit are coming out of the woodwork, and they're spreading.

The Grand Cinema has long been a ground zero of cinematic art in Tacoma, and that title has only grown with the addition of its fourth screen. With that new screen, The Grand Cinema is able to showcase films every Tuesday that would otherwise not be able to sustain a full week run. Here is where the Documentary Week comes in.

"Basically, it's another way to bring in a lot of really good films to The Grand - that we haven't always had the room to play," says executive director Philip Cowan. "We're trying to be fairly diverse, to not have a bunch of films on one topic."

There are seven films playing over the course of Documentary Week at The Grand Cinema, and the selection is intriguing. Here are some brief summaries of the films that are being shown.

Is the Man Who is Tall Happy?

Michel Gondry brings his idiosyncratic style to an interview with the linguistic philosopher Noam Chomsky. For more on the subject, consult Issue #47 of The Amazing Spider-Man - or, actually, the Nerd Alert column in this here rag.

The Ghosts in Our Machine

A visually arresting look at the mistreatment of animals, and the closest you'll come to a horror film in The Grand's documentary week. What can one woman's work do to eliminate suffering in the animal world, whether they be raised for livestock or bred as pets? It's a Sisyphean task, but it's a topic more than worthy of exploring.

Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me

Broadway star and notoriously prickly actress Elaine Stritch is getting a feature film profile. Most people of a certain age (read: young) know her as Alec Baldwin's mother on 30 Rock. This is a biography of a woman, now in her late 80s, who is teeming with life, whether you like it or not.


Here's one to make you feel bad about what you've accomplished in life. Maidentrip follows a 14-year-old girl as she travels around the world in a boat, all by herself. Much of the footage is taken from what she shot, solo, on her boat. When you see her encounter storms, you are confronted with the thought of exactly what nonsense you were up to as a teenager. Living through this girl is the best you can do.

I Am Divine

John Waters' muse, Divine, gets her own bio treatment with this one. A drag queen that paved the bizarre, sublimely grotesque way, Divine was one of a kind. Even to just relive the outrageous antics that Divine indulged in during the Waters years, this is a documentary not to be missed by cult movie enthusiasts.

Charlie Victor Romeo

What timing! With that Malaysian airplane missing, how about seeing a documentary comprised entirely out of black box recordings, mostly from crashed planes. Actors are brought along to reenact the scenes, in an Errol Morris-esque way.

Fire in the Blood

Can't end the Documentary Week without finding something to infuriate you. Here's the story of pharmaceutical companies keeping AIDS medications out of third world countries, and the fight to break that process. If you don't watch some documentaries that make your blood boil, you're doing it wrong.

DOCUMENTARY WEEK, Friday, March 21-Thursday, March 27, The Grand Cinema, 606 S. Fawcett, Tacoma, $4.50-$9, 253.593.4474

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