PBS’ ‘Native America’ Is This Year’s — And One Of PBS’ — Best New Docs

Courtesy: PBS/PBS Distribution

This critic has said time and again, that movies “based on actual events” are not the way to learn about history.  That is because it is clear with said movies, there are any number of overly embellished stories.  That being the case, this critic prefers to learn about history through the bevy of more trustworthy documentaries turned out annually by PBS and other relatively reliable resources.

The noted outlets have released yet again this year, quite the impressive crop of new documentaries.  From stories of  the evolution of the American circus,  the role of jazz in the Cold War and the role of Native Americans and their ancestors to today’s world to profiles of American legends, such as Teddy Roosevelt, Bob Hope and Fred Rogers and more, this year’s crop of new documentaries has given audiences plenty of stories that are just as good as — if not better than — any of those stories “based on actual events” churned out by Hollywood.

Topping this year’s list of new notable documentaries is the simply-titled Native America.  This four-part doc is the presentation that Native Americans have deserved and needed for ages.  It clearly outlines how their advancements have played a critical part in  America’s own development while also outlining in depth, the atrocities committed against Native Americans.  The pairing of the positive from their contributions and the negative of the damning story of how they were so horribly mistreated makes for a powerful program that everyone should see at least once.

Coming in second in this year’s list of the year’s best new documentaries is NOVA: The Impossible Flight.  The story at the center of this doc follows the round-the-world flight of a famed solar plane, and is just as gripping as any Hollywood drama that could ever be churned out — again — if not more gripping.  Audiences will be on the edge of their seats to see if the plane completes its journey.

Third Place belongs to American Experience: Into The Amazon.  The story at the center of this doc is another Hollywood-ready story that thankfully Hollywood has not yet ruined.  It follows Teddy Roosevelt as he journeys into one of the world’s most dangerous realms, the Amazon jungle.  It is revealed that the journey comes after his defeat for the presidency in his final run for the White House.  It is a gripping dual “man vs. nature”/”man vs himself” story that history buffs and action movie fans alike will appreciate.

Along with the titles noted here, this year’s list also features other new docs, such as a look back at Hannibal’s legendary trek over the Alps, a profile of the Jews who joined America’s military and played a critical part in the Allies’ victory in WWII and a touching profile of a blind magician who refuses to let his disability stop him along with the previously noted docs.

As always, the top 10 titles are the best of the year, while the five that follow are honorable mention titles.  Without any further ado, here is  Phil’s Picks 2018 Top 10 New Documentaries.


  1. Native America
  2. NOVAThe Impossible Flight
  3. American ExperienceInto The Amazon
  4. American ExperienceThe Circus
  5. Dealt
  6. Line 41
  7. American MastersThis is Bob Hope
  8. G.I. Jews
  9. Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
  10. Mr. Rogers: It’s You I Like
  11. Secrets of the DeadHannibal in the Alps
  12. The Jazz Ambassadors
  13. NOVADecoding The Weather Machine
  14. American ExperienceThe Secret of Tuxedo Park
  15. The Paris Opera

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History Buffs In Whole Should See Film Movement’s New WWII Doc ‘Line 41’ At Least Once

Courtesy: Film Movement

Ever since World War II came to its end in 1945, so many stories have been told of the war. At the same time, just as many stories have not been shared. That is because so many innocent lives were lost in the war and because so many survivors have died since then without being able to pass on their stories. Luckily, two more stories have finally been told in a new documentary from independent film studio Film Movement titled Line 41. They are the stories of two men on opposite sides of the tragic events that happened in the Lodz ghetto in Poland. This dual-pronged story creates a solid foundation for the program, which in itself guarantees audiences’ engagement. It is only one part of what makes the program worth the watch. The program’s collective pacing and transitions play directly into the program’s presentation, even as minute as they might seem on the surface. This will be discussed later. The bonus deleted interviews included with the doc’s home release round out its most important elements. That’s the case even though there is one interview that is sadly missing and would have added so much to the program. Even with that in mind, when the bonus interview segments are set alongside the story at the center of this doc and its aesthetic elements, the whole of those elements makes Line 41 a program that history buffs and WWII history buffs alike will appreciate.

Line 41, Film Movement’s new World War II retrospective documentary from documentarian Tanja Cummings, is a program that will easily appeal to history buffs and more specifically World War II history buffs alike. That is due in part to the 96-minute program’s dual-pronged story. The story follows two men — Natan Grossman, a Jewish survivor of those events who would eventually be sent to Auschwitz, and Jens-Jurgen Ventzki, the son of the Nazi head of Lodz — who were both directly tied to the horrific events that happened in the Lodz ghetto in Poland. Grossman returned, in this documentary, to his former home after being gone for more than 70 years as he searches for his brother. Ventzki meanwhile is trying to come to terms with the man who was his father and the heinous acts that his father allowed to happen to Jews who lived in Lodz. Eventually the two men come face to face as their stories progress, which leads to quite the powerful moment — a moment that is certain to move any viewer as the men talk about what happened and even bond over those events. Even after the men finally meet, their stories are not over. The doc’s finale is bittersweet to say the least. It won’t be revealed here, for the sake of those who have yet to see the program, but it will leave a lasting impression on audiences. Keeping all of this in mind, audiences will agree in watching the overall story that it is in fact one of the doc’s most important elements, if not its single most important element. It definitely is not the program’s only important element, though. Just as important to discuss in analyzing this presentation is its collective pacing and transitions.

Considering that two separate stories are told over the course of Line 41’s one hour, 36-minute run time, it would have been easy for it to get bogged down in itself. Luckily though, that did not happen. Cummings and her crew expertly balanced each man’s story while also including the stories of others who were connected to the events at Lodz as secondary stories. Their stories are presented as each man makes his way through his own journey. Cummings and company spend just enough time with each story, finding exactly the right points to move from one story to the other. It ensures even more, audiences’ maintained engagement throughout. On another level, audiences will appreciate the precise transition points and how they were handled. The transitions are made fully evident through the use of sketches that gradually grow into the scenes that start each segment. This clearly lets viewers know that the documentary is moving from one story to another. That clarity even more certainly assures audiences’ engagement from beginning to end of this program, in turn making the program that much more impacting. There are also lines from Jewish victims’ diaries incorporated into the program as their own segment dividers that are even harder hitting than the general scene transitions. These segments add even more depth to the program even though they are little more than transition points. Cummings and company are to be complimented for the thought put into their use here, too. To that end, the program’s solid pacing and clear transition points do just as much to keep audiences engaged in this program as the dual-pronged story at its center. They are not its only collectively important elements, either. The bonus interviews included in the program’s presentation round out its most important elements.

The deleted interviews that are included with Line 41 as bonus material are so important to note here because of how much they add to the doc’s viewing experience and depth. One of the most intriguing interviews is with Grossman as he discusses the role of the Catholic Church in connection to the events at Lodz. Grossman basically indicts the Catholic Church, alleging Pope John Paul II (born Karl Josef Wojtyla in Poland in 1920) was the only pope who did anything to try to help Jews in Lodz. This is part of a bigger discussion that he presents about Jewish/Christian relations as they pertained to what perhaps led to World War II. It’s an undeniably intriguing discussion as are his more in-depth conversations with Cummings about how he had tried to put the events at Lodz behind him for so many years and how hard it was to bring everything back. There are also interviews with the secondary figures introduced through the story that add their own depth to the presentation. Their recollections are interesting, as they add even more to the story, but it is clear in listening to them why they ended up on the cutting room floor. When all of the interviews are considered in whole, they add their own share of interest to Line 41. When they are set alongside the in-depth story at the center of the doc and its solid pacing and transitions, the end result is a presentation that will, again, appeal to students and lovers of history and more specifically World War II history.

Film Movement’s new World War II retrospective documentary Line 41 is a powerful new story about the atrocities that were committed against the Jewish community during World War II. It is one of those stories that deserves at least one watch among its key audiences. That is proven in part through that noted story, which follows two men as they retrace the events in the Lodz ghetto in Poland. The two-pronged story’s collective pacing and transitions do just as much as the story itself to keep audiences engaged as do the bonus interviews that were cut from the final product. Some of the interviews clearly should have been left in while others were rightfully cut despite presenting their own interest. Each element is important in its own right to the whole of Line 41. All things considered, they make Line 41 a story that any student and lover of history, and more specifically World War II history, will appreciate. Those who watch will agree it is worth at least one watch. It is available now and can be ordered direct via Film Movement’s online store. More information on this and other titles from Film Movement is available online now at:

Website: http://www.filmmovement.com

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/filmmovement

Twitter: http://twitter.com/Film_Movement

To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it. Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at https://philspicks.wordpress.com.