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Zack Mosley [Celluloid 10.15.13] documentary

The Kill Team
d: Dan Krauss

When Specialist Adam Winfield discovered that his platoon-mates were framing Afghan civilians with "drop weapons" and killing them for sport, he was horrified. But blowing the whistle presented a dilemma: how could he effectively report these war crimes, while maintaining his personal safety? Especially when the chain of command led him to the leader of the self-styled "Kill Team," Staff Sergeant Calvin Gibbs, a body part collecting sociopath. He pleaded with his parents to do something through Facebook, and his veteran father tried with no success to reach someone, anyone, in the US military who would listen. Meanwhile, Gibbs caught on to Winfield's moral objections, and hatched a plot to involve him in one of the drop weapon operations, implicating him in the process. Returning to the US after his tour, Adam was arrested and charged with murder. Like last year's The Invisible War, The Kill Team lays bare the systemic problems of the US military's chain of command structure. This is an outrageous documentary, not only for its specific content but for its tip-of-the-iceberg implications. Winfield's story anchors the film, but director Dan Krauss also sat down with many others who were directly involved with the Kill Team (excepting Gibbs) for surprisingly candid interviews. The confessions of Specialist Jeremy Morlock are especially chilling, as he speaks with brutal honesty but an absolute lack of remorse for his actions. The Kill Team is one of those documentaries that sends you back out into the world a little less optimistic about humanity. It's important viewing, as enlightening as it is infuriating.

Money for Nothing: Inside the Federal Reserve
d: Jim Bruce

The federal reserve system is... uh just fucking with you I'm not gonna explain what the federal reserve is. I'd do a piss poor job of it, I'm sure. Money for Nothing: Inside the Federal Reserve is a better at explaining the federal reserve than I am. Taking cues from INSIDE JOB, this slickly made documentary runs us through a crash course in 20th century American banking, from the Wall Street panic of 1907 to the housing bubble/economic crisis of 2008. We've seen plenty on this topic at this point, but by focusing on the specific role of the Fed, this documentary manages to provide some new insights (to me at least.) In theory, the Fed is meant to stabilize interest rates and control the amount of money in circulation, also acting as a central bank to safeguard against individual bank defaults. But interest rates are kept low to appease borrowers, too much money is printed and circulated, and the dollar has been devalued to the point that hyperinflation could escalate out of control at any moment. The market must go through natural booms and recessions, so former Chairman Alan Greenspan's strategy of all boom all the time really backfired on current Chairman Ben Bernanke. Nevertheless, Bernanke seems to be ignoring the lessons of 2008, essentially going about business as usual. I told you I'd do a piss poor job of explaining all this. Money for Nothing: Inside the Federal Reserve may sound like a dry lesson in economics, but maybe we could all use one before the next financial meltdown occurs.

The Project
d: Shawn Efran, Adam Ciralsky

Somalia has been crippled by internecine war, lack of effective government, and international meddling since the Somali Civil War broke out in 1991. One consequence of this is piracy, which has been a huge problem for shipping companies with trade routes anywhere within range of Somali speedboats. So Erik Prince, founder of shady private security contractor group Blackwater, had an idea. Why not hire a bunch of South African mercenaries to train a local Somali maritime police force in the harsh northern desert province of Puntland? With the support of the Puntland “government” and the disapproval of the UN, the Puntland Maritime Police Force was born. Co-director Shawn Efran embedded himself with the PMPF as they were trained and deployed, experiencing mutinies, murder and military operations on the ground as they happened. The result is visceral and immersive documentary journalism, an unflinching look at a difficult subject. And it is a difficult subject. The filmmakers essentially ask us to forget for a moment that private security contractors are a morally grey lot at best, and agree that no one else was effectively addressing this issue. Something needed to be done. And the results speak for themselves: the PMPF have played a direct role in liberating hostages, reducing the numbers from thousands to dozens. Scant few of these hostages resemble Tom Hanks. They come from countries a bit closer to Somalia, with governments that don't consider their middle class merchants worth the effort of rescue. It's a complex problem, and The Project pushes a persuasive argument for an outside-the-box solution.

The Summit
d: Nick Ryan

K2 is the second-highest mountain on Earth, but is considered by mountaineers to be much more difficult to summit than Everest. In August 2008, eleven people (from several different international expeditions) died over the course of 48 hours, the worst accident in the history of the mountain. This happened during ideal weather conditions, with experienced climbers. So what went wrong? The Summit attempts to get to the bottom of the tragedy, sorting through the harrowing stories of the surviving mountaineers. The problem is that the “Death Zone” (above 8,000 metres, where the altitude and lack of oxygen really begin to take a psychological toll) is not exactly conducive to reliable testimony, so the first-hand accounts of the mountaineers are conflicted. My main critique of The Summit is the way this information is presented. The non-linear editing hops all over the time-line, perhaps in an effort to match the disjointed accounts of the survivors. I would normally appreciate the pairing of form and content, but this technique has a derailing effect: just when the suspense is really cooking, the film hits the rewind button and doles out more background information. Also included, for some reason, are periodic interviews with Walter Bonatti, who was a member of the Italian expedition that summited the mountain for the first time in 1954. I can't help but think that this story would have come across more effectively had director Nick Ryan opted for a simple chronological structure, but this is my only real beef with The Summit. As far as documentaries go, this one is a technical marvel, blending actual footage and still photographs from the expedition with first-rate re-enactments and archival footage in a seamless way. It's not quite Touching the Void, but it's still a haunting tale of death and disaster in one of our planet's most inhospitable environments.

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