The modern issue-based documentary aims to both inform and enrage. These docs did both jobs quite nicely.
The Feeling of Being Watched
The inelegantly named “Operation Vulgar Betrayal” was a Chicago-area FBI investigation in the mid-to-late 1990s that attempted to shake out money laundering operations to fund Middle Eastern terrorism – with a particular focus on the suburban city of Bridgeview, and its large Muslim population. Director Assia Boundaoui, who was a resident at the time (and whose family still lives there) attempts to uncover exactly why the feds were targeting them, and if they’re doing so still. She’s so close to the story that the balance between personal and investigative elements is sometimes a little off. But her tireless digging and keen analysis of the psychological effects of this surveillance make this an engrossing (and well-timed) work.
The Bleeding Edge
The latest from the Hunting Groundand The Invisible War team of Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering, premiering later this year on Netflix, leans a bit too hard on the tropes of the activist documentary, and some of the filmmaking is a little dodgy. But the story they’re telling and the information they’re imparting is vital enough to render those concerns secondary. Their focus is the medical device industry, and the alarming lack of regulation over it; there was no FDA control of devices until 1976, we’re told, and the loophole of “pre-market approval” – in which new devices can be grandfathered in if they’re similar enough to previous ones, no matter how safe those devices proved to be – is an exception that’s become the rule 98% of the time. The Bleeding Edge alternates that history with the stories of those who are suffering under the side effects of a handful of poorly tested devices, and their descriptions of their conditions are visceral, scary, and horrifying, accumulating in a film that’s hard to watch and harder to ignore.
Say Her Name: The Life and Death of Sandra Bland
The July 2015 death of Sandra Bland, a black woman activist who died in police custody following a routine traffic stop in Hempstead, Texas, became a rallying point for the Black Lives Matter movement, and the unanswered questions from that tragedy are enough to propel a first-rate documentary. But directors Kate Davis and David Heilbroner take the promise of the title seriously, rotating between biography and post-mortem, and crafting a portrait thorough and knotty enough to acknowledge and weigh the complicating details. More importantly, their approach boosts Bland’s vital message, which is (in many of her videos) eerily prescient.