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

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.

Film Movement’s New Arts Doc Sadly Won’t Get Repeat Performances

Courtesy: Film Movement

The Paris Opera is one of the most respected and famed cultural arts venues in the world. Period. It has been in operation for hundreds of years and has hosted some of the greatest performances in history, and early this month, Film Movement took audiences behind the scenes of the famed facility and its operations with the aptly titled new documentary The Paris Opera. Considering the rich history of the center, one would think that watching the happenings of just one season would be something truly enthralling for cultural arts fans. That single-season “ride-along” of sorts is what audiences get here, but sadly it comes up short of its potential even as interesting as the concept is at its heart. This will be discussed shortly. The bonus interview with the doc’s director, Jean-Stephane Bron, does little to make up for the lack of interest generated through the main feature. He has some interesting insights in his brief interview, but even with those insights, there is not much to write home about. The “bonus” short film Les Indes Galantes, being separate entirely from the main feature is interesting, too, but is just interesting enough for maybe the occasional watch. Considering all that this documentary could have been yet all that it didn’t turn out to be, it proves sadly to be a miss for Film Movement.

Independent film studio Film Movement’s new documentary feature The Paris Opera is a work that could have offered so much for audiences to appreciate. This includes not only those who know the facility’s rich history and everything that goes into keeping the facility such a respected venue year after year, but arts lovers in general. One cannot deny in watching the 111-minute (roughly 1-hour 51-minute) that it does generate at least a little bit of interest in all of that work. However, there is no one central story point to keep viewers engaged throughout. Yes, it is a documentary, but there is no anchor, no real point to keep viewers engaged. Rather, it jumps from one point to another with no clear transitions from scene to scene. In other words, there’s no real reason for viewers to stay invested in the program. Rather, it will leave viewers occasionally checking in to see what’s going on. That being the case, this doc’s main feature, as entertaining and engaging as it could have been, falls short of those expectations, making it worth maybe one watch at best. That is not meant to be a slam at the program. Rather, it is just an observation and meant to be constructive criticism. Staying on that note, the program’s main feature is not its only feature. The brief interview with its director, Jean-Stephane Bon deserves some discussion.

Bon’s interview, which is included here as a bonus feature, is brief. Even with the questions and responses, it probably doesn’t run more than five minutes, if that. During the course of his interview, Bon discusses what he hoped viewers will get out of the doc and the process of recording everything. Audiences will be intrigued to learn that one portion of the program took roughly two weeks of recording just for an 11-minute segment. Just as interesting to learn is the number of hoops through which Bon had to jump before even starting the first recording. That discussion in itself generates at least some respect for the work that was put in during each phase (pre, production and post). Those discussions and a couple of others offer some insight and appreciation for the work put in to bringing this doc to life, but other than that, doesn’t do much more for the program’s overall presentation. Taking this into consideration while Bon’s bonus interview is interesting in its own right, it still is not enough to salvage The Paris Opera. Sadly, much the same can be said of the doc’s bonus short film Les Indes Galantes.

Les Indes Galantes (The Galant Indies in English) is its own intriguing bonus feature. It takes a classic work of music and sets it against a modern dance that will definitely appeal to younger audiences who perhaps might otherwise not have any interest in opera or dance. Watching the dancers’ rigid moves in time with the music is entertaining, and there’s no denying it’s something that will definitely appeal to dancers and dance enthusiasts. Again though, it’s still not enough to make buying this whole DVD worth the money. Rather, it might just lead the noted audiences to look up the dance and similar dances on YouTube for their entertainment. Staying on that note, as entertaining as this element is in itself and alongside Bon’s bonus interview, those bonuses are still not enough to make up for the passive viewing that audiences will find themselves doing with the program’s main feature. Again, the main feature is not a total loss, but it is also sadly not enough to be worth more than maybe one watch.

The Paris Opera is a sad miss for independent film company Film Movement. This nearly two-hour doc, which follows the events of one season at the legendary arts venue, is an interesting program worth maybe one watch. Sadly though, it doesn’t do a lot to keep viewers invested, instead leaving them watching more passively than actively as there’s no real common thread throughout its run. It’s interesting to see what goes on behind the scenes, but the program sadly doesn’t do much more than show what goes on. The bonus interview with director Jean-Stephane Bon and the bonus short film make valiant efforts to make up for that general lack of interest generated through the main feature and deserve their share of credit. The problem is that as much as they work to make up for that issue, they ultimately fall short of making up for it. Keeping this in mind this program, in the end, proves to be worth maybe one watch among arts enthusiasts, but not much more. Hopefully Film Movement will take all of this to heart and be more selective before taking on its next documentary. For those willing to take the chance on the program, it is available for purchase online now 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.