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New and worth noting…
Eagle Huntress. This stunning documentary is a must-see not only for adults but for any kids old enough to read subtitles. It shows a 13-year-old girl in a remote, barren Mongolian community where for centuries teenage boys have been taught by their fathers to train eagles to do their hunting for foxes or other game. With her parents’ full support, this girl decides to break tradition and become an eagle hunter herself.
The Salesman. In an intense film from Asghar Farhadi (who also made A Separation and About Elly), a husband and wife are partners in a theater troupe that is currently performing Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, with the two of them in the lead roles. A traumatic event in their personal lives triggers a crisis in their relationship and calls into question Iran’s cultural traditions regarding gender roles and vengeance.
Loving. Little more than 50 years ago, it was illegal in many southern states for a white person and an African American person to marry. Two people in rural Virginia fell in love, only to be rousted out of bed and arrested by the local sheriff. Their case eventually went to the U.S. Supreme Court. This exceptionally well-acted feature film tells their story with a minimum of Hollywood cliches.
Moonlight. A poignant and intimate feature film follows an African American boy through his teenage years and manhood as he comes to grips with being gay in a drug-infested part of Miami.
Union Time. In telling the story of a 16-year struggle to form a union by workers at the Smithfield pork processing plant in North Carolina, this powerful 86-minute documentary provides an excellent overview of what it takes for workers to organize in America today.
Certain Women. Filmmaker Kelly Reichardt has made another subtle and absorbing feature film, this one about three women in a small town in Montana.
Last Cab to Darwin. A 70-year-old cab driver in Australia learns that he has only three months to live, just as it is becoming legal to get medication from a doctor that would allow him to choose the timing of his death. But what does dying on his own terms mean?
Stray Dog. A documentary by the director of Winter’s Bone profiles the everyday life of a Vietnam veteran and his new Mexican wife as he tries to cope with the psychological wounds of war and the growing poverty of neighbors and family members at the bottom of the economy.
Dukhtar. A mother in the mountains of Pakistan is faced with the imminent gift of her ten-year-old daughter to an aging tribal leader. She decides that they should flee to the city, despite the potentially violent consequences if they are caught.
After the Spill. An hour-long documentary interviews commercial fishing operators and others permanently hurt by the BP oil spill in the Gulf and looks at how the oil and gas industry’s practices are rapidly eroding Louisiana’s coastline.
The Year of Needy Girls by Patricia A. Smith (Akashic). This well crafted novel stands out for a number of reasons – the nuanced descriptions of the characters’ complex feelings, the realistic portrayal of how quickly a person’s life and a community can fall into crisis, and the focus on two lesbians and the challenges they face.
Refinery Town by Steve Early (Beacon). At a time when many progressives are recognizing a need to emphasize local organizing on issues of economic, racial, and environmental justice, a veteran organizer describes a growing movement in the working class community of Richmond, California, site of a major Chevron refinery. A broad coalition of labor, community organizations, environmentalists, and gay rights advocates has grappled with many of the challenges being faced in most local organizing, including how to work through differences in order to find common ground; how to ensure a leadership role for younger activists, people of color, workers, and women; and how to connect electoral work with year-round organizing on local issues like living wages, affordable housing, community policing, immigrant rights, and access to health care.
Journey by Beckie Elgin (Inkwater Press). With engaging text and photos, this tells the true story of a wolf that traveled from the northeast corner of Oregon to make a new home near the California border and how it eventually found a mate and started a new family. Well-told stories about the wolf’s experiences make the book ideal for everyone from kids to adults.
The Cabbage That Came Back by Stephen Pearl and Rafael Pearl (Hard Ball Press). A cute bilingual children’s book tells a story that celebrates sharing and generosity.
Writing to Save a Life by John Edgar Wideman (Simon & Schuster). Ten years before 14-year-old Emmett Till was killed by white terrorists in Mississippi in 1955, his father was hanged by the U.S. Army. Wideman revisits that case, and in the process brings up memories of his own as an African American boy growing up in Pittsburgh.
Lab Girl by Hope Jahren (Knopf). This honest and entertaining book has many elements that work together to make a unique whole: a memoir of what a girl had to overcome to become a successful scientist, the story of her unusual bond with her eccentric scientific partner, and accessible short insights into the lives of plants.
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (Doubleday). A novel vividly recreates the violence of slavery and the repression faced by the few who tried to escape.
Strangers in Their Own Land by Arlie Russell Hochschild (The New Press). Over a five-year period, a liberal sociologist spent time in Louisiana’s bayou region, listening to white working class people whose communities have been devastated by corporate environmental atrocities, who suffer the effects of poverty as inequality of wealth grows, and who support Republican politicians. She reports that the main message they hear from liberals is mockery and contempt, and that they do not see government improving their lives. Interesting companion reading is an article by public opinion researcher Guy Molyneux who presents evidence that white working class voters for Trump are not a monolithic group.
Educational Justice by Howard Ryan (Monthly Review Press). As the Trump administration prepares to speed up school “reforms” that big corporations and Wall Street are pushing, this book explains their agenda and showcases examples of teachers organizing for alternative ways to improve education.
Jimmy’s Carwash Adventure by Victor Narro and Yana Murashko (Hard Ball Press). In this bilingual children’s book, a young white boy gets to know a Latino man who works at a carwash, as well as the man’s son. When the boy learns that the carwash workers are striking for fair pay, he decides to take action.
The Tricking of Freya by Christina Sunley (Picador). A mystery novel takes us to a small Canadian village that is home to immigrants from Iceland, and then to the home country where they came from, as a young woman tries to sort out her past.
Frederick Douglass in Brooklyn edited by Theodore Hamm (Akashic). A collection of eight speeches by the abolitionist leader of the 1800s still provides interesting reading more than a century later.
And Then We Became by Devorah Major (City Lights). Poignant poems by a leading California writer explore her experience as a woman, an African American, and a granddaughter of immigrants.
The Fire Truck Who Got Lost by Colin Eldred-Cohen (Art of Autism). In this brightly illustrated children’s book, a young fire truck goes with the grown-up trucks to the scene of a fire, but then gets separated and can’t find his way back.
Bluebonnets, Firewheels, and Brown-Eyed Susans by David Lee (Wings Press). A poet humorously remembers the women he knew in the rural Texas community where he grew up in the 1950s.
Frozen Assets by Quentin Bates (Soho). A plot-driven mystery stars a female police officer in small-town Iceland whose investigation of a murder leads her to uncover high-level corporate and government corruption.
Lonesome Prison Blues by Jerry Garcia. A raw, intimate acoustic set with only his guitar and bass accompaniment in a 1982 concert at Oregon State Penitentiary.
Big Day in a Small Town by Brandy Clark (Warner Bros). Good storytelling in the mainstream country music genre.