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Culture Documentary

National Geographic

Alex Honnold in Free Solo
National Geographic

Documentary

A perfect climb

Free Solo is a sweat-inducing but beautiful documentary

Someone with a fear of heights probably shouldn’t go review a documentary about Alex Honnold climbing the agonizingly smooth, 3,000-foot face of El Capitan without a rope. For whatever psychological reason, I have loved watching Honnold’s free soloing videos.

Free soloing means you climb by yourself without ropes or harnesses or any other assistance. As someone in the film Free Solo (in limited release Sept. 28, and then going wide) put it, free soloing is like an Olympic event where you either win a gold medal or you die. The documentary contains a small handful of curse words.

El Cap was Honnold’s lifelong dream, and a National Geographic film crew followed him over two years as he undertook his feat. It’s a boggling, warm, funny film that leaves you in awe while also thoroughly addressing the ethics of risking your life in such a way.

“Look, I don’t want to fall off and die either,” Honnold says in the film.

Honnold was in the audience at the New York premiere, so we all knew he made it. But I still sweated through my shirt watching the climb, and the audience gasped and held hands over mouths. It’s a movie to see on the big screen.

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The Big Lie/D’Souza Media

Victoria Chilap as Sophie Scholl
The Big Lie/D’Souza Media

Documentary

Death of a Nation

A look into the Democratic Party, past and present.

Al Gore did not invent the propaganda film. Fake-news flicks date back at least to The Birth of a Nation, the 1915 racist drama that conservative pundit Dinesh D’Souza credits with revitalizing a nearly kaput Ku Klux Klan. President Woodrow Wilson, a Democrat, screened the silent picture at the White House, D’Souza points out in his new documentary, Death of a Nation (rated PG-13 for thematic material and language).

As one-sided as Michael Moore, but more solemn, D’Souza aims to prove the political left’s favorite labels for President Donald Trump—“fascist” and “racist”—come closer to describing the political left. And always have. Drawing on historical records, interviews with academics, and material from two of his recent books, D’Souza explains that racism has existed at the Democratic Party’s core since its founding, and remains entrenched in progressive politics today.

The 20th century’s worst villains, D’Souza also alleges, took their cues from Democrats. For example, the Nazis modeled their exclusionary Nuremberg Laws on southern Democrats’ segregation policies. In fascism, the state tightly controls industry and commerce, and is the ultimate arbiter of the rights of individuals. D’Souza maintains the Democratic Party and its influential allies (Margaret Sanger, George Soros) have voiced similar principles.

“How do we fight the tyranny of the left?” D’Souza asks. Trump is not D’Souza’s savior. Rather, D’Souza expresses his answer through a short dramatization of the life of Sophie Scholl, whom the Nazis guillotined in 1943: It was her strong Christian faith that guided her anti-Hitler activities.

A gospel choir closes the film with the final verse of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic”: “Christ … died to make men holy / Let us live to make men free.”

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Daniel McCabe/Abramorama/AP


Daniel McCabe/Abramorama/AP

Documentary

This Is Congo

War film offers a bracing look at the civil war in Congo

This is Congo: Mortar rounds fired from a military truck scream in flight, sending villagers on a dirt road diving into the brush for cover. A water tanker pulls into a tent-strewn displacement camp, where a throng carrying buckets and pans rushes to meet it. A woman takes a bag of semiprecious gemstones by motorcycle across the border for an illegal transaction.

The new documentary This Is Congo dares the front lines of the civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Director Daniel McCabe plies vivid cinematography and gutsy camerawork, doing all the filming himself, at times as shells explode nearby and bullets hiss overhead. Two officers in the Congolese national army speak on camera: the lanky, youthful Mamadou Ndala, and the pseudonymous “Col. Kasongo,” his voice and face disguised. Gen. Makenga, the leader of the M23, the main rebel group, comments as well. Destitute and uprooted Congolese civilians testify to the hardship of the 20-year conflict. “It seems that God has forgotten us,” laments Hakiza Nyantaba, 58, a tailor who ekes out a living with his portable sewing machine.

Congo possesses a wealth of diamonds, gold, and other mineral resources. Makenga alleges President Joseph Kabila manipulates his country’s commodities trade for personal benefit. Makenga also contends the rebellion would end if Kabila would reinstate and compensate the rebels, many of whom deserted the national army because of poor pay. Ndala lauds Kabila and preaches unity, while Kasongo claims forces from neighboring Rwanda and Uganda are stoking tensions. Who is to be trusted? Everyone has an answer, but no one does.

The unrated film’s continual cycling through conflicting opinions, scenes of dire poverty, and disturbing war images left me exhausted and confused. Imagine how the Congolese people feel.

The documentary’s shocking ending suggests peace isn’t coming soon: Jealous colleagues assassinate one of the three interviewed military leaders. For this is Congo. 

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