Continuing on with my viewing habits ("Documentary"), I would be remiss if I failed to note I have watched a few non-documentary films lately as well.

One movie, in particular, is worth mentioning..."Metropolis."  Why is this film noteworthy? 

  • It's in German
  • It's a silent movie, so it doesn't matter that it's in German
  • The title cards are in English, so it REALLY doesn't matter it's in German
  • It's a long film by today's standard...2.5 hours
  • It contains special effects you wouldn't think possible in 1927
  • It's regarded as one of the better movies of all time

It's this last point that caught my attention.  Produced in 1927, the film appears on a variety "Top Movie" lists, especially those that look beyond American film.  Furthermore, it's an early Science Fiction-type movie, a genre I enjoy.  So, I watched it.

At first I was a little leery.  I'm not sure I've ever sat through an entire silent movie, not even Chaplin.  And, in fact, it did take a little time to get accustomed to the experience.  However, I suppose it wasn't any different than viewing a foreign-language film with sub-titles.  In no time your brain adapts.

Soon I was engrossed in the story, the imagery, even the score.  The actors and actresses were absolutely compelling (especially the lead actress, Brigitte Helm, pictured above), and the special effects, imagery and scope of the film were pretty astounding, all things considered.

The film is hard to describe.  Perhaps part 1984 (the book), part Willie Wonka, and part Frankenstein.  Wikipedia describes it thusly:

Metropolis is a 1927 German expressionist film in the science-fiction genre directed by Fritz Lang. Produced in Germany during a stable period of the Weimar Republic, Metropolis is set in a futuristic urban dystopia and makes use of this context to explore the social crisis between workers and owners in capitalism. The film was produced in the Babelsberg Studios by Universum Film A.G. (UFA). The most expensive silent film ever made, it cost approximately 5 million Reichsmark.

All in all, Metropolis was a unique movie experience for me, and if you find yourself with 2.5 hours to spare and a Netflix account, I highly recommend this movie.

More Info: In 2008, a 16mm negative of the complete movie, containing 25 minutes of unseen footage, was found in Argentina.  The film was restored, and re-premiered in 2010.  Here is the trailer for this new, definitive edition:



Just prior to Thanksgiving, I took the plunge and suspended my DirectTV account.  I concluded I was wasting too much time in front of the television.  My goal was to spend less time watching the idiot-box, and more time being "productive," whatever that might mean.

Well, I'd like to say I now spend my evenings and weekends working out, memorizing scripture, learning string theory, and solving the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.  Sorry, no.  In fact, I still use the television.  However, I have been using my T.V. differently than before. 

To get started, I bought a wireless-enabled DVD player that allows me to stream internet content to my television.  With this marvel of technology in place, I now do three things, primarily, with my T.V.: Listen to Pandora, watch T.V. series I really enjoy (Law and Order, season 1), and watch documentaries.  It is the documentaries I've found to be most rewarding, and have actually spent most of my time in this niche (although I did sit through the entire 6th season of The Office one Saturday...a step backwards perhaps).

I've watched perhaps a score of documentaries so far, and have another 10-15 on my Netflix queue.  I've enjoyed almost all of them, though some have pushed the limits of watchability.  Here is a run-down of the documentaries I've watched, and a (very) brief review of each:

  • Toucing the Void - Two friends set out to climb a mountain, only to find themselves in a heap of trouble. This true story of a man's fight for survival was almost too incredible to believe, and at times the story almost ground to a halt, but in the end I was left both amazed and disturbed.  Excellent re-enactments and narration by the story subjects.  Score = 85
  • Food, Inc. - The first of several "food" documentaries I've watched.  Perhaps a bit over-sensationalized, but definitely eye-opening.  I've read a couple of food books lately ("In Defense of Food" and "The Omnivore's Dilemma"), and this documentary lent further weight to the disturbing story of how and what we eat.  Score = 85
  • Man on Wire - This story of a French tightrope walker was an unexpected delight.  In 1974, Philippe Petit set out to walk a high wire strung between the twin towers in New York.  Featuring a wealth of interviews, footage of his training and preparation, and other ancillary material, this was a compelling and well-made feature.  Score = 92
  • The King of Kong - This story of obsession, deviousness, ruthlessness, hope, despair and, ultimately, vindication centers on the most unlikely of story vehicles: the video game "Donkey Kong." Featuring a  real-life cast of villains and heroes who defy description, this story exposes many of the overarching elements of the human "drama" as they play out on a totally bizarre stage, that of competitive arcade gaming.  This is a REALLY good documentary that tells a story much bigger than its subject material might suggest.  Score = 99
  • The National Parks: America's Best Idea - In typical Ken Burns fashion, this series of films (6 in all) leaves no stone unturned in examining the history and drama surrounding America's National Park system.  Stunning photography, compelling back stories and narration, jaw-dropping scenery...this series is produced at the highest level.  It sometimes takes a bit of patience to let Burns unwind his stories, but the payoff is almost always worth the wait.  If you love wilderness, you'll find this series well worth your time.  Score = 90
  • The Cove - I'm usually leery of "activist" stories.  I typically find myself somewhat sympathetic to their cause, but disgusted by their tactics.  However, I found this story of a group's effort to halt a Japanese dolphin kill to be more watchable than most, primarily because the story struck a good balance between the story and the activists.  The footage these activists obtained was hard to watch (who wants to watch a dolphin slaughter?), but the film did a good job of providing context - political, environmental, cultural - for the story.  Score = 83
  • National Geographic: Africa - This series of films from National Geographic (7 in all) presents stories of life in Africa, all set in different countries.  Each featured stunning photography, but what I liked most about this series was the fact that each story focused on one or two individuals, revealing what it means to live as an African.  A young boy takes his first trip across the Sahara to help sell camels; A pregnant mother travels with her son from Nairobi to her home village to give birth, while another women treks from far in the bush to visit her family for the first time in 11 years; Jungle-dwellers try to maintain their traditional way of life despite the encroachment of loggers and other outsiders; an Ethiopian man trains to be a priest.  Each story was very different, but taken as a whole they stitched a mesmerizing picture of what it means to be an African.  And, incidentally, I now consider the narrator, Joe Morgan (from Terminator 2), to be the best narrator on the planet.  Score = 95 
  • Mugabe and the White African - This fascinating, though disturbing, film follows the efforts of a family of white farmers in Zimbabwe as they try to keep possession of their farm.  It probably helped that I had some existing background knowledge of Zimbabwe and Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe's tyrannical president, but I don't think such knowledge is necessary.  The film does a good job of laying out the current political and social situation, and effectively shows how the insanity of Mugabe affects all Zimbabweans, white and black.  Once thing the film does not address, however, is a more historical perspective on how the white farmers originally came to Zimbabwe.  This information is, I think, relevant to the story and helps explain some things.  In the end, though, it is clear where the evil lies, and this story of fighting against such evil is important to watch.  Score = 90
  • Greeks: Crucible of Civilization - The story of Greece and how it came to represent the height of civilization, as well as the seed of western civilization.  Perhaps it was the subject material, but I had a hard time finishing this series.  There were some very interesting parts, such as the emergence of Athens as a center of power, but overall I was quite bored.  I may try again when I'm in more of a scholarly mood.  Score = 77
  • Blue Gold: World Water Wars - This film looks at the scarcity of water, and the privatization and corruption that springs from this scarcity.  A bit amateurish in some ways, the film nonetheless does a good job of detailing the many fine points of "war" over water.  Corporate malfeasance, national-level dirty dealings, price gouging, illegal water diversion...the film paints a pretty bleak picture for a resource most of us take for granted.  I did think the film was a bit too "high altitude" for my taste; I would have preferred some personalization of the do water shortages and price hikes affect individuals?  In the end, though, a worthy film.  Score = 83
  • King Corn - Another "food" film, this one centered on the industrialization of (what else?) corn.  This film, though, has more of a "home movie" feel to it, and I like it.  Two young film makers set out to purchase and manage 1 acre of Iowa corn, and to follow it through the food chain to its ultimate destination...their hair.  Funny, gentle, simple...this film makes most of its noise through whispers.  In the end, the story is compelling and disturbing, but never heavy-handed.  Score = 94
  • Food Matters - ANOTHER "food" film, but it started off so poorly I couldn't finish.  I have nothing more to say.  Score = DNQ
  • Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room - The biggest problem with this film (produced in 2005) is that we all know how the story ends.  Regardless, I did find this film to be pretty gripping and disturbing.  Featuring lots of background "intel" about the collapse of Enron, and the despicable behavior of all involved, this film left me disgusted (again) with Big Business.  Most interesting to me, though, were the personalities involved: Ken Lay, Jeffery Skilling, Andy Fastow.  How does one become that type of person?  Score = 83

Well, that's it so far.  I would certainly like to hear of any other documentaries you might recommend.  My DirectTV is suspended until March 1st and I need to get busy!


Seed of Hope - Kitale, Kenya

Kitale, a smallish town located in far western Kenya, is home to the Seed of Hope Orphanage. 

Kitale is an agricultural town, surrounded by hundreds (thousands?) of small farm plots ("shambas" in Swahili) and fewer, larger operations. Our visit, in December, coincides with the tail end of the yearly maize harvest, and many people are busy sifting, spreading and drying the corn.  Piles of cobs sit here and there, waiting to be sold as fire "wood."  As best I can determine, the economy here depends on maize, although the strategy of a once-yearly harvest makes the area susceptible to 1) famine and 2) price gouging.  This year, however, the harvest appears robust.

The pace in Kitale is much, much slower than in Nairobi.  However, to my American eyes it still comes across as somewhat chaotic.  As elsewhere (everywhere?) in Kenya, there is a steady stream of people, bicycles, motorcycles, carts, donkeys, goats, cars, trucks and vans along each road.  Vendors crowd the strips of land adjacent to the road, selling all manner of goods and food.  Near the center of town, a large market is permanently in place, where hundreds of merchants offer clothes, shoes, bags, fabric, carvings...just about anything that can be sold.  People are busy going to and fro, trying to make a living.  For such a "slow" village, Kitale is certainly a lively place from my point of view.

To reach the Seed of Hope Orphanage, our car travels along the main road through Kitale, and then heads out of town to the west.  A short distance further, we turn right onto a dirt road.  And what a road it is.  Gigantic ruts, dips and gouges serve as constant obstacles, forcing our driver to creep forward, wincing each time the car's undercarriage jams against the road.  People, cows and motorcycles pass us, equally slow and deliberate in their progress.  The rain is great for the maize, not so much for roads as this.

Shortly, we pass the church and school used by the Seed of Hope, the Seed of Hope Academy.  We turn left onto a long, straight Kenyan road, lined by small huts and tin-roofed homes.  Groups of huts designate family compounds called "bomas," and several bomas line the road to the orphanage.

Soon enough, we reach the Seed of Hope Orphanage.  The compound is marked by a new gate, new paint and a new sign. The gate swings open and we pull into the compound, a grassy lot containing several buildings, a small playground, two water wells, a grain storage building, a tractor and trailer, and a seating area protected by a thatch shade.  Overall, it is a very pleasant place.

The reason we're there, of course, is the kids.  Oh, the kids!  As it is the break between school years, there are not as many kids present as is typical (although orphans, many of the kids do have relatives to visit over the break).  However, many of the kids I've come to know and love are present, and they come to us the second we step out of the car.  Sharon, Heron, Farida, Christine, Caren, Linah...all these kids and more surround us and welcome us back.  This moment, this specific time of reunion and joy, is indescribably sweet.

We've only a short time to visit, less than 24 hours, so we waste no time in greeting the kids and visiting the staff.  Also present is a small group of Germans, including the founder of the orphanage, Carsten Werner.  His is a fascinating story, which you can read here.

Carsten and the others make us feel welcome, share their lunch with us, and soon we're all sitting in the shade, laughing and sharing stories.  Carsten, who is phenomonally good with children, begins to plan a stroll to visit the cows.  (The Seed of Hope recently moved to a zero-grazing system for their three cows, but still puts them in a field on occasion.) 

The short stroll is a hoot.  We move down the road, about 25 of us, greeting the local families and children.  We make quite a spectacle, I'm sure.  We make our way to the cows, who seem to be doing great, and listen as Carsten explains some of the details of the grazing and Seed of Hope maize crops.  Apparently, the Seed of Hope is trying to get a second maize crop and is, thus far, quite successful.  After spending some time with the cows, we make our way back to the compound for tea.  ("Taking tea" in Kenya is one of the greatest joys in life, I'm convinced.)

Afterwards, Carsten motions for everyone to make their way to the Dining Hall building...apparently the kids and staff were going to gather for some sort of performance.  Having been here before, I figured it would include lots of singing, and I was right.  What followed was about 45 minutes of praise and worship, mostly singing.

How can I describe such a time?  Worship stripped of all bells and drum kits, no guitars, no light shows, no song leader in strategically torn jeans and hair gel.  Nothing but the passionate, resounding voices of a few people praising God.  And what people?  People who have so little compared to us Americans, people who sometimes struggle to eat and survive and stay healthy.  People who go without the very basics of life at times.  Yet, these people truly love God.  They find the blessings in their life, they find ways to be thankful.  How much I learn from these kind, genuine people!

Knowing who these people are, and understanding somewhat how they live, I can't help but be moved, humbled and inspired by them as they sing "let your will be done."  Enjoy.



Kitale, Kenya: Reynold's Center - VBS Crafts and Giggling


Kitale, Kenya - Singing at Seed of Hope Academy

Just down the road from the Seed of Hope Orphanage is the Seed of Hope Academy. This is where the orphans attend school, along with many other kids from the area. At the end of the school day the kids gather around the flag pole for a closing session of singing and announcements.