Top 25 DVD Documentaries of 2005 Make Video Librarian Magazine list

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Video Librarian magazine, which reviews more than 1,500 DVDs each year, picks the top 25 documentaries on DVD released during 2005. The magazine recently celebrated its 20th anniversary, and will announce the winners in its January/February issue and online at

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What do a potty-mouthed nun, tropical parrots and quadriplegic rugby players have in common? They’re the subjects of winning documentaries appearing on Video Librarian magazine’s “2005 Best” list. The awards will be announced in the January/February issue of the magazine, and online at

These award-winners were selected from more than 1,500 titles reviewed during 2005 in Video Librarian magazine, now celebrating its 20th anniversary as the premier video review magazine. Each issue features 250-plus reviews covering a wide range of categories, including children’s, how-to’s, documentaries, Hollywood and independent movies, music, anime and TV on DVD.

Reflecting the growing interest in documentaries spurred by films such as "March of the Penguins" (one of the selected titles), these 25 winners offer viewers a much richer choice than the usual DVD releases. For more information, visit

Winners of Video Librarian’s Best Documentaries of 2005 Award (a website is listed for those titles not widely available):

•Big Enough (Fanlight Productions [ , 53 min., VHS: $229, DVD: $249). Filmmaker Jan Krawitz revisits several dwarves--profiled in her 1981 film Little People--who are now typical American middle-class adults raising families in this warm, funny, stereotype-busting documentary.

•Deadline (Home Vision Entertainment, 90 min., DVD: $29.95). After students in a journalism class prove that three prisoners sentenced to die were wrongfully convicted, outgoing Illinois governor George H. Ryan weighs the decision to commute the sentences of the state’s 167 death row inmates in this powerful look at capital punishment from filmmakers Katy Chevigny and Kirsten Johnson.

•February One (California Newsreel [ , 61 min., VHS or DVD: $49.95). Dr. Steven Channing and Rebecca Cerese's film chronicles the courageous story of four black college freshmen who reinvigorated and galvanized the Civil Rights movement by sitting at a whites-only Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, NC on February 1, 1960.

•Fred Rogers: America's Favorite Neighbor (Triumph Marketing, 2 videocassettes or 1 disc, 100 min., VHS or DVD: $19.95). Hosted by Michael Keaton, filmmaker Rick Sebak’s film offers a moving and inspirational profile of the late Fred Rogers—who for 30 years invited young viewers into his unique TV neighborhood, and ceaselessly advocated for meaningful children's programming.

•Ghosts of Rwanda (PBS Video, 120 min., VHS or DVD: $29.98). Greg Barker's excellent PBS-aired Frontline documentary asks how could 800,000 people be slaughtered in the 1994 Rwandan genocide without anyone raising a hand to halt the murderous rampage?

•Home of the Brave (Home Vision Entertainment, 74 min., DVD: $29.95). Paola di Florio's compassionate film pays tribute to Viola Liuzzo—a 39-year-old white mother and Civil Rights activist fatally shot in 1965 on a lonely Alabama highway following the historic voter registration march in Selma—and examines how her family has struggled to embrace her legacy.

•March of the Penguins (Warner Home Video, 80 min., DVD: $28.99). Narrated by Morgan Freeman, filmmaker Luc Jacquet’s visually enthralling box-office hit captures the extraordinary migration, mating ritual, and survival skills of Antarctica’s emperor penguins.

•Murderball (ThinkFilm, 86 min., DVD: $29.99). Co-directors Henry Alex Rubin and Dana Adam Shapiro’s brash and funny film follows Team USA’s quadriplegic indoor rugby players (a wild bunch of guys who battle in souped-up wheelchairs) as they fight their way to the finals of the 2004 Paralympic Games in Athens.

•My Flesh and Blood (Docurama, 83 min., DVD: $29.95). Jonathan Karsh's deeply moving film focuses on Susan Tom, a single mother of two in Fairfield, California, who adopted 11 children with severe physical disabilities and emotional problems, all abandoned by their birth parents, and created an extraordinary family.

•No Direction Home (Paramount Home Entertainment, 2 discs, 207 min., DVD: $29.99). Martin Scorsese’s biographical profile follows the life and career of folk rock king Bob Dylan up to his motorcycle accident in 1966, capturing the charisma and the chameleon-like genius of this true American icon.

•Prisoner of Paradise (PBS Video, 100 min., VHS or DVD: $24.99). Malcolm Clarke and Stuart Sender’s chilling 2003 Oscar-nominated film follows the tragically ironic life of German-Jewish screen star and director Kurt Gerron, whose decision to ignore the growing Nazi threat ultimately led to his imprisonment in the Theresienstadt concentration camp, where he we was forced to make a propaganda film depicting a fictitiously idyllic life for the Jews held there.

•Punk: Attitude (Capital Entertainment, 2 discs, 88 min., DVD: $39.98). Don Letts’ excellent film not only covers nearly all of the leading lights of punk (Iggy Pop and the Stooges, the New York Dolls, the Ramones, the Sex Pistols, the Clash, the Buzzcocks, and the Dead Kennedys)—and features credits-to-credits examples of the music—but also beautifully captures the zeitgeist of nonconformity in all its pierced and tattooed glory.

•Ryan (Rhino Home Video, 14 min., DVD: $19.95). Chris Landreth's Oscar-winning “animated documentary" biographical portrait takes a poignant look at early 1970s National Film Board of Canada filmmaker Ryan Larkin’s rise and fall--from creative artist to alcoholic panhandler.

•Sister Helen (Docurama, 88 min., DVD: $29.95). Filmmakers Rob Fruchtman and Rebecca Cammisa's profile of the earthy, occasionally foul-mouthed Irish-American Sister Helen Travis focuses on the South Bronx group home she runs for men recovering from drug and alcohol addiction, who subject themselves to the caring but strict nun’s particular brand of tough love.

•The Staircase (Docurama, 2 discs, 344 min., DVD: $39.95). Filmmaker Jean-Xavier de Lestrade’s compelling nonfiction miniseries chronicles the investigation and trial of Michael Peterson — a Durham, NC writer who was arrested for the 2001 murder of his wife Kathleen — serving up an extraordinary truth-is-stranger-than-fiction story full of remarkable twists.

•Sunset Story (Capital Entertainment, 73 min., DVD: $24.98). Filmmaker Laura Gabbert delivers an honest and unflinching portrait of life's endgame at Sunset Hall--a Los Angeles-based rest home that caters to retired political progressives and elderly artistic types--focusing on the moving, odd couple relationship between two fascinating women residents, 81-year-old Irja and 95-year-old Lucille.

•The Take (First Run Features, 87 min., DVD: $29.95, avail. Feb. 2). Avi Lewis and Naomi Klein's compelling personal look at a group of unemployed Argentinean auto-parts workers determined to keep their livelihoods, who reopen their recently-closed factory, raises serious questions about the one-size-fits-all exported capitalism at the heart of globalization.

•Tarnation (Wellspring Media, 89 min., DVD: $29.98). Filmmaker Jonathan Caouette’s autobiographical collage of creatively edited home movie footage is a powerful cinematic cry of anguish that focuses on his relationship with his mentally-ill mother and his struggle to acknowledge and embrace his homosexuality.

•This Divided State (The Disinformation Company, 88 min., DVD: $19.95). Presenting a vivid microcosm of polarized American politics, Steven Greenstreet’s film details the virulent, community-dividing anger and passion that arose in Utah when controversial muckraker Michael Moore was invited to speak at a local college.

•A Touch of Greatness (First Run Features, 54 min., DVD: $29.95). "Students are turned on by greatness and bored by mediocrity," says Albert Cullum, an unorthodox teacher who is the subject of director Leslie Sullivan's loving, engaging, and inspiring portrait, which ultimately serves as a powerful plea for educational reform.

•Unforgivable Blackness (PBS Video, 2 videocassettes or discs, 214 min., VHS or DVD: $24.99). Ken Burns’ film chronicles the life and times of controversial early 20th-century African-American heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson, whose flamboyant lifestyle (and attraction to fast cars and white women) galvanized the witch-hunt fervor that ultimately put him behind bars, while also presenting a no-holds-barred exposé of American hypocrisy.

•Venus of Mars (Emily Goldberg [ , 105 min., DVD: $25). Emily Goldberg’s film is an introspective, entertaining, all-access documentary about the everyday life of a transgendered punk rocker named Venus — a lead vocalist for a Minneapolis glam-fetish band, dressed in vinyl corsets, leather thigh-highs, and nothing but pasties over his/her hormone-enhanced breasts — who is celebrating 20 years of marriage to his English-professor wife Lynette.

•West 47th Street (Lichtenstein Creative Media [ , 83 min., VHS or DVD: $89). Bill Lichtenstein and June Peoples' day-to-day look at New York's Fountain House (a 50-year-old center for helping the homeless and mentally ill) follows four inhabitants over three years —a schizophrenic Rastafarian, an immigrant woman (and brilliant cook) battling voices in her head, a gender-conflicted political activist, and a 60-ish fellow struggling to be on his own — vividly capturing their trials and triumphs.

•The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill (Docurama, 83 min., DVD: $29.95). Judy Irving’s sweet-natured film follows the work of San Francisco Bay area resident Mark Bittner, an affable free spirit who discovered a life purpose in the care and feeding of a flock of 45 non-indigenous tropical parrots.

•Word Wars (Anchor Bay Entertainment, 81 min., DVD: $19.98). Eric Chaikin and Julian Petrillo's quirky film follows four adult players in competition for the North American Scrabble Championship: three-time champion Joe Edley, aspiring standup comic Matt Graham, the pot-smoking dreadlocked Marlon Hill, and G.I. Joel Sherman (the "G.I." is a reference to Joel’s gastrointestinal problems)--a decidedly eccentric group of wordsmiths going head-to-head for the triple letter scores.


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