Document This- Skid Row, Cycling, and Shakespeare

Despite my supposed love for documentaries, I haven't watched nearly as many as I thought I would this summer. The three that I have seen have been all really interesting (all available to stream on Netflix):

Lost Angels: Skid Row is My Home
75 minutes
While at lunch with some friends last week this was brought up and I was instantly intrigued, since a few of my past driving mistakes have led me accidentally through this area of Los Angeles. I went to add it to my queue and realized it was already there- oops! Anyway, Skid Row is an area of 50 blocks
near downtown Los Angeles comprised of thousands of people in both homeless encampments and low-income housing. Many of the inhabitants are those with mental health issues, addictions, or are hiding from demons that haunt them back home. The documentary highlights several long-time residents, including a previous Olympic athlete (has since left), a woman who is obsessed with cats and collects trash, and a transgendered father who has been diagnosed with a multitude of mental illnesses. The documentary also interviews local missions and shelters, which often operate without help from the city. Without getting into the politics, downtown LA is the ultimate example of gentrification- people with higher incomes are coming into poorer areas and buying up the real estate and kicking out those that previously lived there. Interestingly, it costs taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars less to help people of low socioeconomic status find housing than it does to support them as prisoners (which so many homeless and poor people become, given the fact that it's basically impossible to survive on the street without breaking laws).

Should You Watch It? So many of us are content to live in a bubble- myself included. We feel badly for those who are struggling but we don't do much to educate ourselves or do anything about it. Out of sight, out of mind, I suppose. If anything, I think watching this will help increase compassion- as the documentary points out, no one sits in their third-grade classroom and declares they want to be a homeless addict when they grow up. This isn't to say people shouldn't take responsibility for themselves, they should; some people need a little (or big) push in the right direction. Digression over.

Ride the Divide
80 minutes
I've recently started riding my bike more and was interested to see how endurance riders handle races. Ride the Divide is an underground race that starts in Canada and ends at the US/Mexico border in New Mexico. Riders must endure snowy passes, grueling climbs, camping wherever they can, and fueling properly. This isn't The Tour- these cyclists don't have crews in vans next to them handing them Cliff Bars or directing them to good places to sleep. These riders are on their own, occasionally riding with their fellow competitors for company. The documentary focuses on a few riders in particular, recording their moments of triumph, pain (the swollen legs are no joke), and defeat when some are forced to back out. The scenery is beautiful and I found myself becoming more and more invested in each of the riders.

Should You Watch It? If you are interested in endurance sports, absolutely. Cycling enthusiasts and those that appreciate stories of struggle (in nature) will also probably enjoy it.

Shakespeare High 
81 minutes
I watched this movie several months ago and actually ended up buying a copy to have on hand at school, since my yearbook students were watching documentaries and my incoming seniors will be reading a play. This film goes behind the scenes of several Southern California schools preparing for a Shakespeare Festival that many celebrities, including Kevin Spacey, performed at while teenagers. Students must take scenes from plays and reinterpret them, without costumes. It's fascinating to see the spin put on classic scenes from
Macbeth and Midsummer's Night Dream- some groups are purists, focusing just on traditional acting, while some go over-the-top with raps and comedy sketches. The rivalry between school is intense, and the groups focused on are from a variety of different areas. There's one that is semi-local to where I live, from the high-desert town of Hesperia. These kids are lower middle class, many of them choosing to do drama because they're either bored or hope to use it as a vehicle to escape their town. There's an inner-city LA charter school that prides itself in helping kids from gangs and the street turn their lives around. There's also a few private schools that have kids who maybe feel a bit entitled but are still very talented. The documentary follows them from their planning and practicing until the end of the competition.

Should You Watch It? I thought it was very well-done and love that these kids are so invested in Shakespeare. The plays aren't the main focus, so even if you're not a fan of The Bard, you'll still appreciate the effort these teens put in.

Seen these? Any other good ones for me to add to my queue? 

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