Over the years there have been countless shows about the recent presidential elections, documentaries, and series about the Iraq war and even plenty of films and pieces on the History channel chronicling the life of past presidents. Now docuramafilms is bringing out four of the most critically acclaimed and award winning documentaries that have covered the above topics. While all of them have been showing in theaters around the US for years now, they haven’t seen a global release and have been limited to small audience engagements. Now available on DVD for the first time and to the public are Virtual JFK: Vietnam If Kennedy Had Lived, Election Day, Soldiers of Conscience, and Lioness.
Synopsis – Virtual JFK: Vietnam If Kennedy Had Lived
In the era of nuclear confrontation, John F. Kennedy attempted to prevent war six times during his short tenure as president. He didn’t live to face a seventh. VIRTUAL JFK: VIETNAM IF KENNEDY HAD LIVED takes up one of America’s controversial what-if scenarios, examining the question: Would the U.S. have escalated the war in Vietnam if Kennedy was not assassinated in 1963? With insight and erudition, the film traces JFK’s presidency a 1,000-day term plagued with tense political stand-offs through rare and previously-unseen archival footage, offering nuanced accounts of the former president’s political decisions and, by extension, his probable response to the escalating conflict in Vietnam. Featuring unprecedented access into the leadership style of one of the nation’s most important leaders, VIRTUAL JFK sheds new light on the man who helped avoid war in six crises and did not live to save America from the devastating war in Vietnam.
Documentaries about past presidents are often just historical capsules of information; transcripts, interviews and footage that was available in multiple sources that was all cobbled together for the purpose of easy digestion. In Virtual JFK’s case we actually get an entirely hypothetical (but intelligent) projection of how JFK would’ve handled the Vietnam War should he not have been assassinated. What makes this documentary so engaging, however, isn’t just the postulation of such a scenario but how it’s all constructed and played out.
What really impressed me about the Virtual JFK documentary was just how much never-before-seen footage of JFK’s presidency was released. Recently declassified audio recordings and footage was put into this film to give the viewers a better sense of what JFK might have done should he have lived. It’s as sobering to watch as it is interesting, with plenty of expert input as well as words from JFK himself that help paint a picture of what we could have expected.
Of course the whole documentary is a giant “What if?” scenario, but nonetheless the lengths to which the crew of this film went to go composite this piece is simply extraordinary. Highly Recommended.
Synopsis – Election Day
Forget the pie charts, color-coded maps and hyperventilating pundits. What s the street-level experience of voters in today s America? In a triumph of documentary storytelling, ELECTION DAY combines eleven stories all shot simultaneously on November 2, 2004, from dawn until long past midnight into one. Factory workers, ex-felons, harried moms, Native American activists and diligent poll watchers, from South Dakota to Florida, take the process of democracy into their own hands. The result: an entertaining, inspiring, and sometimes unsettling tapestry of citizens determined on one fateful day to make their votes count.
At first I thought this was going to be a documentarian approach to the 2004 presidential election (as opposed to the actor filled HBO Recount, which is also worth checking out), but once I got into it I realized it was more just about people all over America expressing their right to vote. Oddly enough this film is just now coming out after we had a 2008 presidential election, but I know it was screened in theaters around the U.S. prior to the 2008 election, in hopes of getting more voter participation.
You could call it the Crash of documentaries, as it takes eleven separate stories and interweaves them into one big documentary. If that seems like a daunting task to you, however, don’t worry—the runtime of this film is a brisk 84 minutes. It literally flies by and it’s aided in this fact by the interesting subject matter. While it is dated, the plights that these individuals faced or advocated for are still things that are happening in the U.S. today.
It’s a really well done documentary and while it isn’t quite as enlightening as one would hope it’d be, it just serves as a reminder at how diverse the population of the U.S. really is. Recommended.
docuramafilms is releasing all four of the documentaries mentioned in the first paragraph of this review on October 27th, but I’ve opted to split them into two separate reviews just to aid digestion easier. No point inundating you with synopsis and reviews of four different documentaries—none get the spotlight they deserve that way. For this review I’ve obviously tackled Virtual JFK and Election Day, two very different documentaries but both equally interesting in their own right. Video for both films is given in an anamorphic widescreen transfer that looks commendable, but the lack of big-movie budget does show through occasionally. Moreso in the Election Day piece as the footage is already nearly five years old at this point, so it does show a bit of age. The Kennedy doc is littered with old-time footage as well, but it’s so old you don’t really expect it to ever look any better than what it does.
Extras for these releases include:
Lyndon Johnson’s Statements on Vietnam
Interview with Director Katy Chevigny
Overall they’re two solid discs that contain equally solid documentaries. The extras are light, but the real content here are the documentaries, both of which come Recommended.
Virtual JFK: Vietnam If Kennedy Had Lived and Election Day arrive on DVD on October 27th.