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Five Documentaries Worth Watching

Updated on December 18, 2016


Movies are supposed to be entertaining and inspiring and illuminating. Documentary films are especially good at bringing our attention to a subject that is complex and hard to explain in a short newscast. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences recently awarded "Citizenfour" an Oscar for being the best in the documentary category. I saw it and was very impressed by the content and quality. I decided to feature this film along with four other excellent documentaries in the past year or so. I feel a personal connection to each of these films. I hope you will have a chance to check them out.

-Feb. 2015

Citizenfour (2014)

The Edward Snowden whistle-blower story. I remember when this story first broke in the news, I didn't know enough about it to make an informed judgment. I don't know if he was a traitor or a patriot. The revelation of the National Security Agency(NSA) spying on all of us is very disturbing. We all want to be kept safe from terrorists, but the question is: To what extent are we to give up our liberties for that protection? I am reminded of the quote by Benjamin Franklin "Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."

After seeing the film, I am more sympathetic to Mr. Snowden. I believe Mr. Snowden performed a service by exposing the NSA activities, which are clearly illegal. I only wished he could have done it in a different way. I can't fault him for something for which I don't have any experience. Perhaps it was the only way he knew.

Beyond Beauty: Taiwan from Above (2013)

This film is also known by the name "Seeing Taiwan," a unique film done from a specially equipped helicopter 4000m above. I am personally affected by this movie because I was born on the island of Taiwan. I immigrated to the US at the age of ten. I have been back there a few times over the years, and I saw the improvements and modernization that took place there.

The film highlights the natural beauty of the unique island of Formosa and the transformation due to industrialization and commerce, which had a negative impact on the environment. Some of the results can be seen clearly from the air, as the documentary depicts, reminding us of our need to work together to preserve our water, air, and natural wildlife habitats.

I attended a screening of this movie with the producers in attendance, including Chi Po-lin, whose candid answers to questions at the end of the showing were quite illuminating, revealing the labor of love that went into the film's production. It became a great success both financially and with the public. It won the best Documentary film at the 50th Golden Horse Awards.

Image from Taiwan Aerial Imaging Inc.

Hermitage Revealed (2014)

This is a documentary on the history of the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia. The film celebrates the 250th year anniversary of the creation of the Hermitage. My personal interest in the Hermitage museum traces back to the late 1990s. I was a member of a small team at IBM Research that helped develop a high resolution digitization system to capture some of the art works at the Hermitage and make them accessible to the public. As part of that work, I was fortunate enough to travel there on two occasions to help implement and train the local employees on the scanning system. We also help implement an award winning website for the State Hermitage Museum. The personal stories that were related to us from some of the employees had an impact on me. The Russian people are a proud nation and they value hard work and the preservation of the arts and their rich history. We saw this in the buildings and churches and museums that are in St. Petersburg. The extent they went to preserve and restore the Hermitage especially during World War II is documented in the film. The priceless artwork, sculptures and artifacts collected by Cathrine the Great is there for all to see.

I was fortunate enough to attend a viewing of this film at the Guggenheim Museum in NYC, where both the film director and the Directory of the Museum Dr. Pietrovsky were in attendance. They stayed after the showing and participated in a well received Q&A session.

Hermitage Revealed

Vitality (2012)

A film about natural healing of our body when dealing with diseases. It offers an alternative to the current culture of using expensive drugs to deal with many of our symptoms. This film identifies the four parts that working together will lead to a happier and healthier life. The four parts are nutrition, exercise, rest and spiritual balance. The ideas presented are common sense. Everyone should adopt this approach. I am reminded of an insightful comment my uncle gave me many years ago. He was a skilled surgeon and he told me that the human body can heal itself most of the time. Even if you don't treat it, it will recover. It is only the small percent of time when his skill is required. That is his contribution. How profound is that.

TWA Flight 800 (2013)

The unresolved mystery of one of our most tragic disasters. In 1996, I was driving home in the evening, when I heard on the radio that a plane off Long Island had exploded. It was TWA800 and there were no survivors. I said a silent prayer and thought that it was just a tragic accident. Later on, as information started to come in and eye witnesses reported what they saw, I began to wonder. I started reading the newspaper, listening to broadcasts and came to the conclusion that something was amiss. The official story just didn't make sense, and it did not jive with all the evidence. There were numerous conspiracy theories and I read them all.

My conclusion is that it was shot down by a missile and the government knows more than what is fed to the public. This documentary, featuring testimonies of retired NTSB employees confirms for me that my suspicion was right. Unfortunately, they came forward 17 years too late. Nevertheless, I commend them for speaking out. The two major pieces of information are: (1) The activities of the US Navy right after the accident was very incriminating. (2) The CIA simulation of the plane after the explosion climbing for hundreds of feet in an effort to explain away the eye witnesses seeing a "missile" going up to meet the plane. No engineer with any credibility would believe that simulation. The truth is out there, and someday the families of the deceased will have their prayers answered. When I was researching this topic, this one website TWA800.COM created by CDR. William Donaldson provided the most unbiased information.


I hope you have a chance to see these films. They are all very well done and they provide us with a message. Each and every one of us can be a witness to our environment. No matter what work we do, where we live and where we play, we can be a force for good. We are all potential whistle-blowers. If we see something that is not right, I hope we will have the courage and fortitude to report it.

A message and request to future documentarians. There are many current events that could use more scrutiny. I have a list of suggestions. They will be a welcome addition to this list.

  • The scandal at the Veteran Administration.
  • Fast and Furious Gun Trafficking Program.
  • The IRS Targeting of Conservative Groups.
  • The Hidden Actions of the Federal Reserve.
  • The ACA (Obamacare) Connection with Jonathan Gruber.
  • The Climategate Scandal in relation to Global Warming Data.
  • The Bergdahl Exchange with 5 Gitmo Detainees.
  • The Occupy Wall Street Protests.
  • The Ferguson Riots and the Rev. Al Sharpton's roll.
  • The Rise of Communicable Diseases - Measles and other infectious diseases.

These are just a few suggestions that may lead to accountability of our elected government officials.


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    • jackclee lm profile imageAUTHOR

      Jack Lee 

      3 years ago from Yorktown NY

      David - I haven't had a chance to see it as yet. Checkout "Inside Job" 2010.

    • David Paul Wagner profile image

      David Paul Wagner 

      3 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      Thanks for these excellent documentary suggestions, Jack. I would be interested in any recommendations you may have regarding good documentaries on the Global Financial Crisis.

    • jackclee lm profile imageAUTHOR

      Jack Lee 

      3 years ago from Yorktown NY

      I just finished another documentary that is worth watching. It is America - Imagine a world without her by Dinesh D'Sousa. Every American should watch this and learn.

    • CatherineGiordano profile image

      Catherine Giordano 

      3 years ago from Orlando Florida

      Thanks for your report on the Snowden doc. I have recorded it o my VCR. You have reminded me to watch it. maybe this weekend.

    • jackclee lm profile imageAUTHOR

      Jack Lee 

      3 years ago from Yorktown NY

      Thanks for the feedback. I also like youtube for a variety of topics.

    • Marie Flint profile image

      Marie Flint 

      3 years ago from Jacksonville, Florida USA

      Mr. Lee, I happen to enjoy documentaries. When I don't know what to watch on You Tube, I often turn to a documentary. My interests are quite different from yours, however.

      This hub article is well organized, and your personal encounter with each theme of the documentary you discuss draws the reader's attention. Nicely done.

      Voted Useful.


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