We may have only started distributing video in 2008, but that doesn’t diminish the influence that the films we’ve worked on have had on us.
In honor of our 15th anniversary, our video team’s Brendan Nunn and Danielle DiGiacomo have put together a selection of 15 films that have shocked us with their beauty, truth or extremes. And oh, have we seen some extremes!
From documentaries to dramas, action sports to music… we’ve covered a wide array of genres and styles that have helped us widen our horizons and contribute to our growth.
The Idiots 
Lars Von Trier – controversial? Can’t be! The man who was banned from the Cannes Film Festival for professing to sympathize with Nazis directed The Idiots, his first film made in line with his Dogme 95 manifesto, in 1998. In the film, a group of middle class adults “rebel” against a safe, bourgeois lifestyle by taking up in a house together and acting as if they are developmentally disabled, purportedly for the sake of liberation. A film that polarized critics — many of whom were offended by a salacious group sex scene — this is Von Trier at his best, or worst, depending on your taste for the Danish provocateur.
Jandek on Corwood 
Jandek, a Houston-based recluse, has made 51 records on a label called Corwood Industries. With music that is best described as “free-form experimental,” Jandek has become a cult figure by trying to be the opposite, invisible. Missouri filmmaker Chad Friedrich’s film about Jandek pieces together his subject’s life and art, using an aesthetic that reflects the man and his music, that of a stark and decaying, but eerily beautiful Middle America.
Randy and Jeremy Stulberg, a New York-based brother and sister team, proved themselves as filmmaking forces with their first nonfiction feature. Off The Grid, which aired on the Sundance Channel, examines a group of individual outcasts who chose to live outside of government control, haphazardly forming a community in the Mesa, 5 miles from the Rio Grande river. Alcoholic war veterans, teenage runaways and even a pig farmer form a motley crue form bonds and friendships but, at times, erupt in violent conflict. The documentary is currently being adapted into a fiction feature starring Patricia Arquette.
Special When Lit 
Hear the buzzes and bells; see the light o’flashing; play by sense and smell with this groovy look back at the silver ball amusement. Before Xbox, before Pac-Man… there was pinball.
Welcome To Nollywood 
In this film from IndiePix, Director Jamie Meltzer explores the world of self-styled auteurs and producers working in funky Lagos. Home to the third-largest film industry in the world, Nigeria — dubbed “Nollywood” by its inhabitants — has developed into a hot bed of DIY, amateur, shoot-from-the-hip filmmaking. Produced straight to video and sold in markets across the region, these films offer a unique perspective of the political, social and historic life of post-colonial Africa not usually depicted in Western media.
Few politicians stand in greater opposition to the oft used, and misunderstood, quote by F. Scott Fitzgerald “there are no second acts in American lives” than former Washington D.C. Mayor Marion Barry. From student activist to civil rights leader, mayor to criminal, Barry’s life and acts don’t seem to fit the traditional narrative arc of any other political figure. “He May Not Be Perfect, But He’s Perfect for D.C.”
Takedowns & Falls 
Filmmaker Todd Hickey chronicles a season with a central Pennsylvania high school wrestling team and its journey to the state championships. Coach Jeff Sweigard, facing his own battle with cancer, must guide his young acolytes to the end, where only one wrestler will stand as champion in one of the toughest state titles in high school wrestling.
The Philosopher Kings 
One of the most unexpectedly emotional documentaries we’ve seen in years, The Philosopher Kings has a quiet humility and grace that reflects that of its subjects: custodians at esteemed universities across the United States. Patrick Shen’s light and respectful touch allows these ignored workers — including Corby Baker (Cornish College of Art), who fuels the creative energy he sees in the students he cleans around into his own incredible puppets; Jim Evener (Cornell University), a Vietnam vet who almost lost the use of his legs in the war; and Josue Lajeunesse (Princeton University), a Haitian transplant who drives a taxi by night — to open up and astound us with their stories and perspectives on life.
In 4192: The Crowning of the Hit King, director Terry Lukemire interviews Pete Rose and fellow teammates about his earliest days in the sandlots of Ohio to that moment in 1985 when Rose would surpass Ty Cobb’s record of 4,191 career hits. With music from fellow Ohioan and Guided By Voices frontman Robert Pollard and hosted by JK Simmons, 4192: The Crowning of the Hit King gives us a fair treatment of a complicated baseball icon.
Moto 3: The Movie 
One of our first big releases out of the starting gate for our Orchard Sports imprint, this third in the series from Taylor Congdon stunned us with not only with the quality of cinematography and skill of the riders, but also how well it performed across all platforms.
Set in the culturally rich yet impoverished and volatile city of Kingston, Jamaica, RiseUp explores a world of reggae that is modern and vibrant — a far cry from the world of freshman dorm rooms overloaded with Bob Marley posters. Director and cinematography Luciano Blotta got incredible access to a world not particularly amenable to outsiders, allowing him to follow three very different, yet equally compelling, characters on their paths to gaining reggae stardom.
Filmmaker Nick Waggoner, named one of the Adventures of the Year for 2012 by National Geographic, created a striking visual poem to South America in this Andes’ ski epic. Its only narration is delivered as excerpts of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness in Spanish.
Hello Darkness, my old friend/I’ve come to talk with you again. Gordon Hempton is a sound engineer who has devoted himself to an almost monk-like ascetic life to capture the sounds, or rather the absence of sounds, in nature. Beautifully shot in the Pacific Northwest.
Winter’s Bone 
Writing about Debra Granick’s Sundance-winning feature — a dark, almost gothic tale set in The Ozarks — makes sense after explaining the world of Off The Grid (see above). Winter’s Bone, which provided the now very famous Jennifer Lawrence with a star-making role, follows her character, Ree, as she attempts to track down her meth-cooking father in order to keep her family together. The world of the Ozarks — dark, menacing, isolated, and impoverished — is so well-drawn it seems like an alternate otherworld, a gritty piece of America most would rather ignore.
Nina Rosenblum, an Oscar and Emmy nominated director, grew up entrenched in the world of N.Y. photographers (her father is the renowned documentary photographer Walter Rosenblum). It makes sense that this film, which documents the Photo League, a politically-motivated photography movement that existed from 1936 through 1951 and captured the grit of New York City living, the frontlines of World War II and the McCarthy Era, is so intimate and heartfelt while still being packed full of facts.
Which films have moved you the most in the past 15 years? Let us know in the comments!