Happy People: A Year in the Taiga

 Happy People: A Year in the Taiga, a film by Dmitry Vasyukov and Werner Herzog


Equipped only with what they bring on the hunt along with their individual values, the indigenous people living in the heart of the Siberian Taiga, are truly happy people. Herzog, who is known as one of the greatest fimmakers of the New German Cincema, does another magnificent job at producing this beautiful and sublime documentary about those living and surviving in the Siberian wilderness village of Bakhtia.

Taiga is the world’s largest land biome, making up 29% of the world’s forest cover. Inhabited by 300 people, the town of Bakhtia is far from civilization. There is no telephone available, no running water, and no medical aid in this village. Those who inhibit this area are on their own. They must rely solely on what they have learned from their forefathers, who taught them how to survive.

The camera follows one main villager through all four seasons. It is late spring, early summer at the beginning of the film as the hunter lays his traps, trains his puppies, builds new canoes, collects firewood, and makes adjustments to his damaged huts.

As a vegetarian and animal lover, I was a bit skeptical about watching this film. I was unsure if as the viewer I would be along for the bloody hunts, but I am very intrigued by what I saw and what I learned throughout the course of the film. The journey throughout this remote and stunningly beautiful landscape, teaches us that surviving in the Taiga is all about who outsmarts whom. I came to realize how important cultural traditions are as well as how necessary they are to pass down to younger generations. I would recommend watching and learning from these very happy people.

“When I came here, I had a feeling that my dream had come true. You enjoy the beauty of nature, and you do your job at the same time. That’s why they all end up by being hunters. Because hunting brings you closer to the Taiga than anything else”. 

–  Bakhtia Villager | Hunter


Chasing Ice

Chasing Ice, a film by Jeff Orlowski


Imagine holding in your hand the evidence of ancient mountains of ice disappearing in front of a cameras eyes. What would you do with that evidence? At what lengths would you go to get it?

Since deciding to become a nature photojournalist, James Balog has practiced and viewed photography as an outlet for creating awareness for many decades. In 2007, he initiated what’s know as the Extreme Ice Survey (EIS). With over 43 time-lapse cameras world wide, taking photographs year round, this project has been a true guide to providing a visual baseline for demonstrating the effects of climate change. The idea is “an innovative, long-term photography project that merges art and science to give a ‘visual voice’ to the planet’s changing ecosystems”.

Balog and his team take us on their journey as they set up cameras in places like Iceland, Greenland and Alaska. We are along for an extreme EIS ride. The still photographs as well as the time-lapses created from this work are not only breathtakingly beautiful, but are pieces of evidence of nature changing.

Between the music, the images, and the determination of one man to change the world, this film challenges us to ask ourselves what we will do with the evidence Balog has captured.

“We have an opportunity to face the greatest challenge of our generation. In fact, of our century.”

– James Balog 


Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer

Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer, a film by Mike Lerner and Maxim Pozdorovkin


Every action has a reaction. Russian President Vladimir Putin was re-elected, the Pussy Riot punk band was formed. Action, reaction. Soon after his re-election, Pussy Riot protested his power by performing at Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior. They were stopped by church security officials. A national buzz was stirred up immediately following their arrest. It wasn’t long before musicians around the world were criticizing the Russian government for the treatment of the three women arrested.

From a filmmaking standpoint, Lerner and Pozdorovkin do a wonderful job creating a story around not only the women who are on trial, but the movement itself. Through interviews with the women’s family members we come to better understand the motivation behind Pussy Riot. Each of the women’s stories are fleshed out through archival footage and flashbacks to their past.

This film could be viewed as a powerful piece of propaganda. Or, simply a powerful peace, as the women on trial just wanted to be heard both through their artistic performances as well as throughout their internationally publicized case.

Nadia, Katia, Masha, and began Pussy Riot and the movement it stood for to give voices to the voiceless, and I feel this film honors that sincere belief they represent. With every action, there is a reaction. 

“Open all the doors. Take off your uniforms. Come and taste freedom with us”.



The Invisible War

The Invisible War, a film by Kirby Dick

“Shocking”. “Haunting”. “Heartbreaking”. “Exceptional”. “Unforgettable”. I would add to that list and say, courageous, brave, and strong. This film interviews veterans from different branches of the United States Armed Forces as they recount their sexual assaults while serving in the Armed Forces.

Every person’s story starts the same, the want and desire to be a part of something so great, with the belief that the Armed Forces stands for honor and trust. When that bond of trust is violated all of those idealisms of family and security are not only deflated, they are crushed.

We grow up thinking that the men and women protecting and fighting for our country could never do wrong, but during this film we learn that so many in our Armed Forces have escaped justice. The voice of this film is that of those who were assaulted and who have bravely told their stories.

Through interviews with those that were assaulted as well as members of Congress and various military personnel you will not only be shocked but horrified by the invisible war that has been underway for so many years. This isn’t an easy film to watch, but it is a very important film to watch. I recommend everyone seeing this in support of the invisible turing into the visible.

“Maybe there should be a [purple] ribbon for women who have survived it [the military]”.

– Kori Cioca, US Coast Guard 




Lost Angels: Skid Row Is My Home

Lost Angels: Skid Row Is My Home, a film by Thomas Napper

Narrated by Catherine Keener, this film takes takes us first hand to the less than 5 square mile radius of a neighborhood in Downtown Los Angeles called Skid Row. While there are no official defined boundaries, Skid Row is generally used to refer to the area east of San Pedro Street, south of Third Street, west of Central Avenue, and north of Seventh Street. Skid Row contains one of the largest homeless populations in the United States. For those of you Angelenos, this is here in our city.

This film is told from the perspective of those who have made Skid Row a place they call home, or in some cases, a place they found solace until continuing their journey through life.

Danny leads us through his path to sobriety while living on the streets of Skid Row. OG engages us with his vibrant mission to “Keep Skid Row Clean” along with maintaing his 3 on 3 basketball league. We follow Linda while she cooks meal after meal for her neighbors and friends while making it her mission to put her health first. General Dogon fearlessly continues to advocate for the homeless after his return to Skid Row, determined to right all of his wrongs.

Sadly, this film isn’t all happy tears. There has been a war on the poor for quite sometime and director Thomas Napper through images of Downtown Los Angeles, as well as in depth interviews, depicts what life is really like for those living on Skid Row.

I recommend seeing Lost Angels, as we all need to be reminded that everyone calls somewhere home.

“It’s going to take us all coming together to do something about it.”

-General Dogon