During her time at the White House as First and Second Lady, Claudia “Lady Bird” Johnson recorded an audio diary chronicling all of the major events that happened. Everything from John F. Kennedy’s assassination, to her husband President Lyndon B. Johnson’s inauguration, the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Act and her own personal endeavours including her Beautification Campaign and environmental efforts. Lady Bird Johnson was a staunch supporter of her husband and LBJ often leaned on her for her wisdom and the recordings reflect their strong bond.
Directed by Dawn Porter, The Lady Bird Diaries is based on the ABC podcast In Plain Sight: Lady Bird Johnson and Julia Sweig’s book Lady Bird Johnson: Hiding In Plain Sight. The approach to this documentary is very simple. There are no interviews or commentary, just Lady Bird’s audio recordings matched with archival footage and illustrations. There are a couple interjections, including some insight from a longtime personal assistant. But otherwise this is Lady Bird telling us her stories.
Porter do a great job crafting a collection of highlights which range from major historical events to Lady Bird’s personal triumphs and struggles. I quite enjoyed hearing stories and watching footage of the LBJ family personal life including Lucy and Lynda’s weddings and the births of their children. LBJ himself looked so happy being a grandfather. While the documentary is inherently biased because it is coming from just one perspective, I appreciate that it didn’t shy away from some heavy subject matter like the Vietnam War and a confrontation with Eartha Kitt at a White House luncheon.
The intention with this documentary is clear. Lady Bird Johnson’s legacy should be recognized and the person to bring her back into the spotlight is Lady Bird herself.
The Lady Bird Diaries had its world premiere at the 2023 SXSW Film and TV Festival and will premiere on Hulu at a future date.
Since the Iran-Contra Affair, US presidents have taken a firm stance that the government does not negotiate with terrorists. This stance leaves the families of those kidnapped and held captive by terrorists in an impossible situation. Directed by Sofian Kahn, Sealed in Blood examines this issue through the lens of one story, that of the family of journalist Steven Sotloff, who in 2014 was kidnapped and killed by ISIS terrorists.
The documentary effectively evokes a sense of helplessness and brings back to light a dark time in recent history.
Sealed in Blood was part of the 2022 Double Exposure Investigative Film Festival.
If you visit the island of Peleliu in Palau, you’ll find a quiet, tropical oasis. But had you been there over 75 years ago during the Battle of Peleliu, you would have encountered utter chaos. The site of one of the most brutal battles of WWII, many Americans perished in Peleliu, some never to be recovered. That’s until Dr. Pat Scannon came along. Determined to repatriate American MIAs who lost their lives there, he started Project Recover, a grassroots effort to search for the more than 80,000 Americans who went MIA during WWII, with a particular focus on searching the waters and the island of Peleliu for the remains. Every step of the process is handled with the utmost respect for the deceased and their families.
Several years ago Project Recover was the subject of a fascinating 60 Minutes segment. And today we have a full-length documentary for us to better understand and appreciate this patriotic mission.
Directed by Chris Woods, To What Remains chronicles the 2018 recovery mission and takes viewers on an emotional rollercoaster. It features veterans, in particular one who fought in the Battle of Peleliu, and details the ripple effects this trauma had on the servicemen. Some survivors visited the island, some preferred to leave it in the distant past, and all were haunted by the deaths of their fellow servicemen who remained MIA. The documentary features stunning imagery of underwater missions. At times the film felt disjointed and I would have liked to have learned more about the planning and execution of the recovery missions. However, it’s an important piece, especially for anyone with an interest in WWII and American military history.
To What Remains recently premiered at the 2021 AFI Fest as part of their Documentaries programming slate. It hits theaters early December. Visit the film’s official website for more information.
“The vote is still the most powerful non-violent instrument or tool we have in a democratic society and we must use it.”
We live in turbulent times and it’s difficult to stay optimistic when the future looks grim. One man in particular has been able to sustain a sense of hope and determination that things will change for the better. Over the course of nearly 60 years of public service, this man has paved the way forward with his philosophy for non-violent protest and his own indestructible resolve for doing good. That man is Civil Rights leader and U.S. Representative for Georgia John Lewis. And he has one piece of advice for you: “get into good trouble, necessary trouble.”
Directed by Dawn Porter, John Lewis: Good Trouble chronicles the life and political career of an extraordinary man. Something that is key to making a good documentary is access. In this film there is seemingly unfettered access to John Lewis himself. We also hear from his brothers and sisters, his staff and many big names in politics. Talking heads include Elijah Cummings (to whom the film is dedicated), Hillary and Bill Clinton, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Nancy Pelosi, Eric Holder and others. The film conveys a sense of gratitude and appreciation for John Lewis’ work and we hear this through the words of politicians and every day people who approached Lewis to offer words of gratitude and appreciation. At the center of it all is Lewis who guides the viewer through his life’s journey.
Porter’s documentary covers the broad spectrum of Lewis’ career in civil service and politics. Lewis got an early start in the Civil Rights Movement when he wrote a letter to Martin Luther King Jr. at the age of 17. Soon he was a member of the Freedom Riders and was one of the key figures protesting on Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama. He was arrested 45 times, often severely beaten by aggressors. Lewis’s transition to politics was a natural one. He studied non-violence as a philosophy and has been a staunch believer in that form of protest ever since. He’s been a member of Congress since 1987 and as the film so aptly demonstrates, Lewis is still as active in politics as when he first started.
“John Lewis has consistently delivered a message of doing your best, being honorable, and respecting others for the past 65+ years. I think it’s really needed at this particular moment in history.”
John Lewis: Good Trouble serves as a much needed call-to-action during troubling times.
John Lewis: Good Trouble is available in virtual cinemas and on demand today. Visit Magnolia Pictures’ website for more information.
“The most traveled, the most colorful, the most efficient, the most highly decorated bomb group of WWII.”
Michael Cudlitz, Band of Brothers
The 93rd Bomb Group, part of the Eighth Air Force, executed some of the most daring missions of WWII. Their base camp was in Hardwick, England, a hamlet just north of London and south of Norwich. They completed 396 missions, were instrumental in Operation Torch and have been celebrated for their bravery and ingenuity. Every year the 93rd Bomb Group reunites in the U.S. to reconnect, share memories and keep their history alive. Some years they trek to where it all started and Hardwick embraces the 93rd with open arms. Locals share stories, meet with the surviving members and there is even a small museum that exists in their honor. The reunions also serve as an opportunity for family members to learn more about their loved ones who have since passed on. The annual 93rd reunion is an important example of how we must keep history going and how it is imperative that we preserve these memories so they are never forgotten.
Directed by Michael Sellers and narrated by Band of Brothers star Michael Cudlitz, Return to Hardwick: Home of the 93rd Bomb Group is a loving tribute to one of the most extraordinary strategic bomb units of WWII. The documentary includes interviews with historians and family members but most importantly the surviving 93rd members themselves. We hear from a dozen different pilots, waist gunners, tail gunners and navigators. Their stories make this film an important time capsule.
As a documentary, Return to Hardwick is nothing groundbreaking. In fact it’s fairly rudimentary. One interesting thing it does it superimposes computer imagery over footage of Hardwick to demonstrate how the 93rd would have used the airbase. Military history buffs will love the extensive information about the 93rd’s missions. Casual history buffs like myself might find themselves a bit overwhelmed by this. However, this documentary really checks off all the boxes of what a good film that preserves the history of WWII can really do. I hope it will be shown in museums and that future historians will refer to it as the valuable source of information it is.
Return to Hardwick: Home of the 93rd Bomb Group is available on VOD.