True Stories: 5 documentaries available to stream.

True stories of self image and identity. Image via USA Today.
True stories of self image and identity. Image via USA Today.

This Friday, September 11th, Fresno Filmworks will proudly present “The Wandering Muse”. This powerful documentary looks at nomadic Jewish musicians and the messages they spread with their art. “The Wandering Muse” explores questions of identity through both religion and music and how these different facets influence the lives of the musicians featured.  In honor of “The Wandering Muse”, let’s look at five documentaries that all explore different subcultures and identities.  From the largest house in America to a Los Angeles spiritual commune, these documentaries all examine the different ways that people are identified and the ways those labels can influence a life. All of the films featured are available through Netflix.

“Jesus Camp”

“Jesus Camp” takes us into a unique subset of the world of evangelical Christians. The camp in question is the Kids on Fire School of Ministry in North Dakota.  The campers are children who spend their summer in a particular type of fellowship that emphasizes charismatic preaching and prayer. The children featured in Jesus Camp are dedicated believers who are confident in their ability to change the world with their faith. Jesus Camp takes great care to present this group in an unbiased  style without passing judgement on anyone involved in the camp. The end result is a fascinating look at one aspect of religious extremism.

“The Queen of Versailles”

Remember the days of the housing bubble? Remember the days when a single individual living alone buying a 5 bedroom house with no money down and an interest only loan made sense to us all? Let “The Queen of Versailles” take us back to those heady days and the painful and inevitable crash that followed. Jackie and David Siegel set out to build a new home for themselves and ended up building the largest private home in America, and one of the biggest money pits ever seen. Sticking to the “bigger is better” ethos causes the Siegels to keep expanding their dream home even as their fortunes contract. This fascinating look at the extreme version of the madness that gripped the entire country will remind you why the most toys doesn’t always mean winning.

“The Source Family”

You could say that Father Yod was in the right place at the right time. The right place was Los Angeles. The right time was the late 1960s. In that place and that time James Edward Baker became the spiritual and physical health guru, Father Yod. His teaching and philosophy caught the attention of many of the young people who had come to Southern California in search of a better life and eventually led to the formation of The Source Family. This fascinating documentary looks at the personality of Father Yod and the cultural forces that created the hippie movement of the late 1960s.

“Kids for Cash”

“Kids for Cash” looks at the story of a group of teenagers labeled juvenile delinquents and sent to prison by two notoriously tough judges. Appearing before President Judge Mark Ciavarella and Senior Judge Michael Conahan meant incarceration for a wide variety of offenses for the teenagers in their jurisdiction, often at a private, for-profit prison. Both judges were eventually accused of taking bribes in exchange for sending offenders to particular facilities. “Kids for Cash” explores the murky motivations and rules of the juvenile justice system and how being labeled as an offender impacted the children caught up in the controversy.

“How to Survive a Plague”

This documentary chronicling the early days of HIV and AIDS policy in America never fails to infuriate me. “How to Survive a Plague” shows how health care workers, community and political activist, and victims of the disease banded together to try and force an indifferent society into action. The sheer terror and frustration of a group of people watching their entire community die while they had to actually convince the rest of the country to treat a medical crisis seriously and compassionately is gut wrenching and will take anyone old enough to remember back to those early tragic days of the AIDS crisis. This is one of the best examples I can think of to demonstrate the catastrophic effects of allowing prejudice to influence public policy.


Fae Giffen studies at San Jose State in the School of Library and Information Science graduate program. She serves on the Filmworks board, working on marketing and development.