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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Give documentaries a go

Published: March 30, 2012
Section: Opinions

I waste multiple hours in my dorm room every night watching television online. It began with Hulu and now includes Netflix. I started with Hulu in order to continue my newly acquired interest in “Grey’s Anatomy,” but I only managed to watch the first two seasons before I broke down and stopped. Most shows get to a point where you either have to stop watching or tear your hair out after unbelievably repetitive storylines. I reached a point where I could tell you exactly how many times Meredith Grey was going to cry in each episode. I decided that was enough.

Before I started my new love of “Mad Men,” I made a resolution to watch more documentaries. When I think of documentaries, I think of PBS, the movies teachers show you in class when they feel lazy and the parts of award shows that no one really cares about. Watching documentaries makes me feel as if I’m learning without actually doing any work. So I worked my way over to the Netflix list of documentaries and was immediately surprised by the sheer number of movies available for online streaming. There were more movies on the documentaries genre list than on the comedy and drama lists combined. It was actually a task to choose which movie to watch.

I started with a fantastic documentary called “180 Degrees South” about a man named Jeff Johnson who retraces the steps of two men, Yvon Chuinard and Doug Tompkins, who climbed mountains in Patagonia and whom he idolized as a young adult. Jeff begins his adventure traveling through remote islands by ship, meeting beautiful women and surfing enormous waves. He eventually makes it down to Patagonia and meets a few friends, and then they set out to climb the peak that his heroes climbed in 1968. The documentary provided an insight into the mind of this climber and views of the Patagonia wilderness I will never forget.

I then moved on to a new environment. My next documentary was called “Buck.” It explored the life of Buck Brannaman, who was the basis for the film “The Horse Whisperer” with Robert Redford. I was pleasantly surprised to find that one of my own idols and fantasy husbands, Robert Redford, was featured as commentary in the documentary. Buck and Redford became close friends while Brannaman was teaching Redford how to deal with horses on the set of the movie.

Brannaman recovered from years of child abuse to become a well-known expert in training horses without using any form of cruelty. The documentary followed Buck as he traveled with his horses from one state to the next up the west coast, hosting training sessions along the way. The scenery was beautiful on the open ranches and in the mountains, yet the best part of the film was watching Buck describe his relationship with the horses. He treated them like human beings. In doing so he created a trust and friendship that allowed him to ride any newborn cold within a matter of an hour or two.

My last documentary was not viewed in the privacy of my dorm room. The Environmental Studies department had a showing with a few professors and students of the controversial documentary “Cool It!” It is based on the book by the same name written by Danish author Bjørn Lomborg. The film takes an edgy side to the climate change argument. Lomborg has long been a famous opponent of the current tactics to fight global climate change, including Agenda 21 and the Kyoto Protocol. Lomborg makes an interesting argument and proposes solutions for alternative choices of energy for the next century. Though the film answers a lot of questions about the current arguments and standstills in the climate-change discussion, it also raises a lot of questions as to the credibility of Lomborg and the radical ideas on which he focuses. Anyone who is a fan or critic of Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth,” and anyone interested in the current climate-change argument and proposed solutions should take the time to view it.

My week of documentaries has opened my eyes. Not only to the wilderness of Patagonia, the soft, human nature of horses or the current arguments on climate change, but also to a new world of informational and educational learning. It is a type of learning that does not require the same kind of intensity as a classroom discussion or late-night studying.