Magical movies: Documentaries that make a difference

Movies are magic. A well-done feature film can change your attitude, your day, your outlook.

And a well-done documentary can change the world. Or, at the very least, an individual's world.

The Life and Mind of Mark DeFriest

Case in point: As part of the Starz Denver Film Festival, I had the opportunity to screen THE LIFE AND MIND OF MARK DEFRIEST. The documentary directed by Gabriel London shares the unbelievable (yet unfortunately true) story of Mark DeFriest, a mentally ill prisoner of the Florida Prison System. He was sentenced to four years in 1980 for a ridiculous petty crime — yet still remains. He's been imprisoned more than 30 years, 27 of those years in solitary confinement.


How has the documentary changed Mark DeFriest's life? After decades of failed parole hearings, the media attention at DeFriest's hearing yesterday ("media was present 6 or 7 camera and mics deep," the film's Facebook page noted) seemed to have made an important difference. "December 3rd they will hear the case again with the chance to actually set an 'effective' release date for Mark," was the result, also noted on the Facebook page.

It's a start that will change DeFriest's life. And as the film on DeFriest's case exposed the corruption in the Florida Prison System, I have no doubt it will change the lives of many other FSP prisoners, as well.

That's just one example of the importance and influence — and magic — of documentaries. And just one of the many I've had the opportunity to see during the Starz Denver Film Festival (which ends this Sunday). Following are trailers for a few more of my favorites so far, each and every one magical in its own way.

3 STILL STANDING — A funny yet poignant look at three comedians from the '80s still struggling to make it big. The story of the contemporaries of Robin Williams — who is featured in the film and to whom the film is dedicated — prove there's no job security in comedy. This made me want to support my local comedy club on a regular basis.


AN HONEST LIAR — In in-depth look at magician James "The Amazing" Randi and his quest to reveal the difference between deceiving to conceal truth and deceiving to reveal truth. To me, the film revealed an interesting man and his unique life's work, which I previously knew little about.


CAPTURING GRACE — A beautifully moving film about the Mark Morris Dance Group's amazing group of people diagnosed with Parkinson's who dance despite the limitations of the disease, despite not being former dancers. I was amazed to see people who had difficulty walking and talking transform when they moved to music. I love the tagline: "There are no patients. There are only dancers."


IMBER'S LEFT HAND — In a vein similar to the film above, this documentary follows artist John Imber soon after he is diagnosed with ALS and he must change his painting style in order to continue his passion and his career. As I'm not an artist and know very, very little about art, much of the art talk went well over my head. Yet Imber's positivity, persistence and dedication to live in the moment regardless of the devastating effects of the horrid disease impressed and inspired me.



THE MAN WHO SAVED THE WORLD — The title is literal as the subject of this documentary truly and positively did save the world — an incredible story I (and most people, perhaps) knew nothing about. In 1983, Stanislav Petrov, a Soviet military officer, went against protocol and prevented a nuclear holocaust. This film absolutely floored me, left me wondering "what if...."


I still have several documentaries (and features) left to screen as part of the Starz Denver Film Festival, yet I highly recommend the films above. Keep an eye out for them, whether at film festivals, in theaters or on DVD or streaming.

They are, as movies should be, magical.

I screened these films for free as part of my coverage of the 2014 Starz Denver Film Festival.

Starz Denver Film Festival

Today's question:

Which of the above films would you most like to see?