High Ground Is One Of 2012’s Top Documentaries

Courtesy: Red Flag Releasing/Stone CirclePictures/Serac Adventure Films/No Barriers/Virgil Films

Every day on the news, we see images of war across the world.  We hear stories of the men and women who have served in said wars and what they’ve seen.  But few if any of those stories has gone into true details of the effects of serving overseas.  Now thanks to writer/director Michael Brown, audiences get a chance to hear firsthand from a group of nearly a dozen recent veterans, the impact of having served.  It’s a poignant story that will move audiences not only because of the soldiers’ own stories, but also because of the hope and determination instilled in them by each other and by their families.There is no way for anyone who has never served to have any idea what exactly a soldier goes through physically, emotionally, or psychologically both while serving and after having returned from war.  The stories presented in High Ground do a very good job of giving viewers an idea of what our nation’s finest go through every day of their lives.  Hearing these veterans’ stories will move any viewer, military or not.  It’s interesting to note that there is a recurring theme among the soldiers in that they feel alone and that they don’t want to talk about what they have and are going through.  This echoes what a lot of WWII veterans went through in coming home from the European and Pacific theaters of war.  Equally moving is the sense of hope and optimism brought to them in their journey to Nepal.

The group of eleven veterans heads to Nepal to climb Mount Lobuche.  As the group makes its climb, each member of the group shares his or her story with their fellow soldiers.  The reactions by both those telling the stories and those hearing them are so painful to experience.  It shows that while they may have been trained to kill, they are still humans.  They are people.  They feel pain just like anyone else.  Yet it’s through that shared pain that the group is able to find hope and push on to meet its goal.  The vets’ reactions upon reaching the top of Mount Lobuche are the ultimate statement.  Viewers can tell that each climber knows they have overcome not just a mountain but an emotional mountain, too.  It is without a doubt the single most emotional moment and the perfect culmination to this group’s journey.  After it’s all said and done, High Ground will leave any viewer, military or not with a whole new appreciation for what our nation’s men and women in uniform do every day.

High Ground is not an anti-war documentary.  This needs to be addressed right here.  High Ground is a story of—as director Michael Brown notes in the director’s commentary—human spirit.  It shows a group of people who have faced great odds, and used a great odd of another kind to help them face those far greater odds and beat them.  Sure there are comments about conditions at the now closed Walter Reed Army Medical Center, and the issues that one vet had with the VA.  But they aren’t comments against the military.  These statements help to illustrate what the veterans have endured on their journey of recovery.  Understanding this and hearing what each veteran has endured will leave every viewer agreeing that High Ground is one of this year’s best documentaries.  It is available in stores and online now.

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Titanic at 100 adds another chapter to the history of the Titanic

The sinking of the Titanic is arguably one of the most talked about tragedies in transportation and nautical history.  Even just over a century later, there are still conflicting views on what really happened, and who’s to blame.  Earlier this year, History Channel released what is one of the most interesting discussions to date on the tragedy in “Titanic:  The Complete Story.”  Now, the network has released another documentary centered on the great ship’s doomed voyage in “Titanic at 100:  Mystery Solved.”

“Titanic at 100:  Mystery Solved” is a wonderful companion piece to History Channel’s previous documentary.  That documentary was released March 13th of this year.  What makes this most recent documentary the great companion to the prior is that it provides a different viewpoint of what exactly did or didn’t happen to the doomed vessel.  “Titanic at 100:  Mystery Solved” argues that the belief that the ship’s lack of structural integrity was to blame for its sinking was wrong.  One way that it supports its argument is by testing rivets made from hundred year old metal.  The theory in question being tested was that when the Titanic scraped against the iceberg that ripped it open, rivets on the ship had actually come loose from the hull, thus allowing the iceberg to basically “unzip” the hull.  In turn, that “unzipping” allowed the cold North Atlantic waters to flood into boiler room six.  The test results show that perhaps the rivets had not come undone after all.

Testing the rivet theory was only one part of the investigation by the team from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.  After the Titanic was ripped open, the ship’s front half went into the water.  This is where this documentary takes a different turn.  The research team in this documentary argues that when the ship broke, the front half of the ship actually hung onto the back end for a moment before breaking off and sinking.  This would tie in to the argument made by the 2005 History Channel expedition to the Titanic.  That crew’s expedition led to the conclusion that a poorly constructed expansion joint led to the ship’s demise.  But according to this documentary, if the ship had actually stayed connected even for a moment, then the expansion joint could not have been the culprit in the ship breaking.  It doesn’t come right out and say that.  But it does seem to intimate that argument by making mention of the ship at least temporarily staying together before sinking.  The documentary does make a brief mention of the expansion joint in the team’s research.  It also makes mention of the pieces of the ship’s bottom discovered in the ’05 expedition.  It ties that discovery in to its argument, claiming that those pieces are what held the ship together before it sank in two pieces.  The prior documentary, though, used those same pieces to argue that the expansion joint was at fault. 

Having tested and debunked the rivet theory as a cause for the Titanic’s sinking, the research team had to find another way to support its argument about the ship’s integrity.  It did this by becoming the first research team to ever completely map out the debris field.  It wasn’t an easy journey for the team.  In the process of mapping everything, the team had to abort its voyage at least for a day because of a hurricane.  It nearly even lost a highly important piece of equipment trying to outrun the hurricane.  That piece of equipment was a camera that had gotten tangled in the ship’s remains.  The team does manage to get the entire wreck site mapped out, including the long lost middle section.  That middle section was right around where the expansion joint was, thus the reference to the previous expedition.  According to the researchers, when they realized the missing piece they had found was mostly still in tact, that was fodder in the argument against the ship cataclysmically breaking apart.  Having gathered all of this information, the team uses a virtual set to “reconstruct” the Titanic to try and find out what they believe to have been the cause of the Titanic’s final hours.  That, combined with the extensive mapping of the wreckage site will keep audiences enthralled throughout the documentary’s presentation.

Whether or not the team is correct in its assumptions as to what might have happened that fateful night, audiences will love the discussions created via this presentation.  It’s a wonderful companion piece to “Titanic:  the Complete Story” in that it presents a different view of what happened.  It even includes more stories of the passengers on board, including an alleged affair between two of the passengers.  One of the people involved in the creation of the famed Coney Island Witching Waves ride was on board, too.  These small tidbits of information are the extra spice that make “Titanic at 100” such an interesting watch.  Whether one has a special interest in all things transportation or nautical, or is simply a history buff in general, “Titanic at 100:  Mystery Solved” is one more example of what makes History Channel’s documentary programming some of the best on television.  It’s great both for the average viewer and for the classroom.  And while countless documentaries are released each year surrounding the doomed ship, this is one documentary that manages to stand on its own merits both by itself and with its companion documentary, “Titanic:  The Complete Story.”  Put together, the two documentaries give an even more complete story, making for an even more enthralling look back into history.

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