social science documentary films

Summer 2014

Film Review Assignment: (20 points)

Review of one documentary film.

Each review is two parts:
1.  Write an academic review according to general instructions.
2.  Answer the questions for your film

For the general part of your review, follow the guidelines on page 2 of this assignment.

For the second part, the questions are listed below along with information on each film.
The film list begins on Page 3.

Your review should be at least1,500 words double spaced, one inch margins, 12-pt font.  This word count includes the word count for pasting in the questions you answer.  Please do that, it is easier for us to grade your paper.

You can write longer papers, but try to be concise and to the point so you stay close to the word count.  This is a low-stress assignment and is meant for you to apply concepts learned in this course in a different medium.

Papers will be graded on originality, critical assessment, and comprehension of the film content, grammar and organization.

Please do not do this assignment without watching the film.  Your professor has seen all of them several times and can tell if you watched it or not.  It is best to watch the film and then, during a second viewing, pause the film to write down answers to the questions.

Do not pick one with only a few questions, the film is most likely longer for those options or the questions are more difficult.

To filmlist
Guidelines for Writing the Academic Film Review

Please divide your paper into these general sections.  Be sure your name is on your assignment and ensure your grammar and spelling are correct.

Include the name of the film in your filename.
Upload your paper to Turnitin with the submission name as Your Name Name of Film.
The film name in the submission title can be brief – 1-2 words.


Give the name of film, producer and the year.

Why did you select this film for your review?

Had you seen it before?
If so, how did a second viewing help in your understanding or enjoyment?

What was the film’s purpose or thesis?  Was it clear or did you have to infer it?

Who is the primary audience for this film?

Was the format strictly documentary or were there some dramatic recreations?  Why do you think they used recreations?

Relevance to coursework

How does this film relate to what you are learning the SS1A course lectures or readings?

Which specific social science concepts, from this class or your readings, are helpful for understanding the film?

Which issues were the strongest in the film?


Were there any important omissions that you feel would improve the film?

How might this film impact others different from you (i.e. gender, ethnicity, culture)?

Film-Specific Questions:

Answer the questions listed on the assignment page for your film after this review.

To film list
Film List(hyperlinked to questions)

Option 1:Political Science
Films: Paradise Lost: The Robin Hills Child Murders
Paradise Lost II: Revelations

Option 2:Sociology
Film: Bowling for Columbine

Option 3:Psychology
Film:  Scared Straight 20 years later

Option 4:Economics
Film: I.O.U.S.A.

Option 5:Anthropology
Film: Journey of Man

Option 6:Linguistics
Film: Secret of the Wild Child

The following films are related to Social Science.

Option 7:
Film: Sacco and Vanzetti

Option 8:
Film: After Innocence

Option 9:
Film: Secrecy

Option 10:
Film: Hoop Dreams

Option 11:
Film: Koyaanisqatsi

Option 12:
Film: The Forgetting

Option 13:
Film: We Were Here

Option 14:
Film: Pruitt-Igoe Myth

Option 15:
Film: Waiting for Superman

Option 1:

Political Science

Films:  Paradise Lost: The Robin Hills Child Murders
Paradise Lost II: Revelations
(Both films on Netflix DVD, both films on reserve at Ayala Library)

Research “The Innocence Project”.
Research the case of the West Memphis Three.

This is a riveting story.  I recommend that you watch both the first and second films and your opinions will most likely change from the first to the second.  If you only watch one, then watch the second one.

The second film tells how the first one was made and suggests that the West Memphis Three may be innocent.  The films have been highly reviewed, and a third film was released in 2011 supporting their innocence.  Last summer, on August 19th, the West Memphis Three were freed although not declared innocent.

At the end of your documentary review, connecting the film to course content, please address these questions.

1.  There was no forensic evidence implicating them for this crime.  What do you think wasthe major reason for their convictions?

2.  The release of the West Memphis Three has been controversial – an Alford Plea Agreement.  What were the details of the plea agreement?

3.  What position did the prosecution have on the plea agreement?  What was the position of the defendants?  What position did the victim’s families take?  One of the families opposed the plea agreement, which one and why?

4.  There has been criticism of the media attention on this case over the years.  Which celebrities were visibly supporting their release?  How did celebrities hope to affect the case?

5.  What is the criticism of the celebrity involvement in this case?

6.  Do you think it helped the defendants?  Did it affect justice in this case?  Why or Why not?

7.  Where are they today?

To film list
Option 2:


Research the second amendment.
Here is a link to a story on the most recent case:

Film:  Bowling for Columbine

Netflix DVD, on YouTube
On reserve at Ayala Library

At the end of your review, please respond to these questions.

The Michigan Militia:
What does the woman mean by “cut out the middle man?”
What was the purpose of the calendar?  Do you think it is appropriate? Why are there no men in the calendar?

What is the militia member referring to when he states, “You are in dereliction of duty as an American citizen”?

James Nichols interview.
What techniques are employed by Moore in his interview of Nichols?
What concerns do you think Moore had about this interview?
What does Moore mean when he asks about “Gandhi’s way”?
What was Gandhi’s way?
Why do you think Nichols did not have a response?

How did Moore bring out Nichol’s real character?  Contrast the first part of the interview where Moore is bragging about how people perceive him to the end of the interview where he shows Moore the gun in his room.

The Oscoda Boys:
How did Moore bring out the Oscoda Boys real characters?  Why was the one disappointed at being number two on the bomb-threat list?  How did Moore bring this out?  How did he get past his defenses?

Compare the interview with Marilyn Manson.  How did he bring out Manson’s real character?

To film list
Option 3:


Film:  Scared Straight 20 years later
(Netflix DVD, Ayala Library, YouTube in 10 parts)

Please note: there is an abundance of explicit language and sexual terms in this film.
This is a classic film about a group of juvenile offenders visiting a maximum security prison. They are confronted with a group of “Lifers” who try to scare the teens away from prison.
There is also a 20-year follow-up with some extraordinary, and some sad, stories of the teens and convicts outcomes.

At the end of your documentary review, connecting the film to course content, please address these questions.

1.    Describe the attitudes of the teen offenders before they went to Rahway. How did they seem to feel about themselves, their ways of life, and their victims?

2.    What did the teens expect to encounter at Rahway? How was their experience different from what they expected?

3.    What effect did the convict’s approach seem to have on the teens during the confrontation?

4.    Looking back after twenty years, what did most of the now-adult participants feel that the Rahway experience did for them?

5.    After 20, years, how did the experience affect the convicts who spoke to the teens?

6.    What is your favorite story from this film (for either a teen or a convict)?  How they were at the beginning of the film and 20 years later?

To film list
Option 4:


Do not substitute the 30-minute version on YouTube!
(Netflix DVD, on reserve at Ayala Library)

Last year on Halloween, I tried to find a scary movie to show the SS1A students that day.  This was the scariest movie I could find.

“…most unexpectedly frightening movie in the [Sundance Film] festival.”  — Kenneth Turan | Los Angeles Times

“The critically-acclaimed “I.O.U.S.A.” documentary…tells the story of America’s four key deficits – budget, savings, balance of payments and leadership – and their implications for the nation and U.S. citizens.” (film website)

At the end of your documentary review, connecting the film to course content, please address these questions.

1. Is there any single thing in the film that surprised you or alarmed you?  What was that?

2. Why is the American public so uninformed about our Nation’s financial condition and fiscal path and the implications for the economy?

3. Why don’t we see more stories in the media about the country’s deteriorating fiscal condition?

4. In 1994, the Republican “contract with America” called for a balanced federal budget, and a few years later, the Bush (41) and Clinton administrations established a policy of fiscal restraint aimed at restoring fiscal discipline.
Why do you think the government was unable to continue on this bipartisan track of fiscal responsibility?

5. Why do you personally think Americans have such a low savings rate? What prompts so many individuals to spend more money than they make?

6. What would you be willing to forgo, either personally or in your community, in order to help balance the federal budget?

7. What will it take to make us change our free-spending ways, both as a nation and as individuals?

8. The refrain in the song heard over the closing credits of the film says, “You’ve got to be cruel to be kind.” How does this expression apply to the goal of reducing the federal debt?

9.  Locate Public Debt Clock on the internet to find the amount of the public debt today.
Also, look at the public debt since the film – Bush (42) and Obama.

What is the amount of the public debt today?  What is the trend since Clinton?

To film list

Option 5:


Film: Journey of Man
(YouTube: entire film in 13 parts.  Part 1:,
Netflix DVD, on reserve at Ayala Library)

“A scientist attempts to answer the question of how humanity spread itself across the globe in this documentary produced for PBS. The Journey of Man focuses on the research of geneticist Dr. Spencer Wells, who wants to prove his theory that the global migration of man began with a tribe of Africans who, battered by famine and drought, left their home literally searching for greener pastures some 60,000 years ago. Wells leaves his laboratory behind and sets out on a research mission in which he attempts to trace the common genetic thread which connect such varied travelers as the Aborigines of Australia, the Bushmen of Namibia, and the Native Peoples of North America”.  (NY Times review)

At the end of your documentary review, connecting the film to course content, please address these questions.

1.  Comment on the dialog with the Australian Tribal Leaders.
How does this conversation relate to the cultural relativism/ethnocentrismarticlein Chapter 21 of theZulke and Kirleytextbook for this class?

2.  What can the Y-chromosome tell us about human descent?

If you are not a biology major, were you able to follow the scientific reasoning discussed in this film for DNA evidence?

3.  How does environment affect the physical differences found inhumans?

4.  What impact has the world glacial ice age had on the movement of humans?
Why are “we all Africans under the skin”?

Look at Chapter 10 in your textbook and the discussion of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) software.  How might GIS help us understand the human migrations discussed in the film.
(P.S. We teach GIS at UCI in Social Science and also in Criminology).

To film list
Option 6:


Film: Secret of the Wild Child
(YouTube [entire film in 5 parts.  Part 1:] ,
Netflix DVD, on reserve at Ayala Library)

Do some internet research on Feral Children so you know about the topic.
You will need this information later when you write the review.

“The child at issue in this offering from “Nova” is Genie, a teen-ager who was taken from her parents in 1970 after spending most of her life in a sort of solitary confinement, strapped to a potty chair. Her father seems to have been at best a lunatic, at worst a sadist; her mother was apparently weak and frightened. When Genie (a pseudonym) was found at the age of 13, she could not speak and behaved in some ways like an animal.
“In addition to stirring the compassion of Los Angeles child psychologists, Genie presented them with an opportunity for what was known as the “forbidden experiment.” The hope was that her sad condition would enable researchers to test the thesis that the ability to speak a language must be learned by puberty if it is to be learned at all
“But the question raised in “The Secret of the Wild Child” has less to do with linguistics than with scientific ethics: Is it permissible or even possible for a researcher to act also as therapist or as surrogate parent? Was there an inherent conflict between trying to help Genie adapt to her new world and using her as material for investigation?” (NY Times review)

At the end of your documentary review, connecting the film to course content, please address these questions.

1.  How does this video expand on what you read in Chapter 40 of the Zulke and Kirley textbook for this course?

2.  What did you learn about the scientists that you did not learn from the chapter?Do you think the scientists were unethical?  What about Mrs. Butler?  What about the Riglers?

4.  What happened when the National Institutes of Health grant was no longer funded?

3.  Write 1/3 page about how the scientists acted in the treatment of Genie.Compare it to the treatment of the Wild Boy of Avyron.

4.  Where is Genie today?

4.How does it happen that we have feral children?

5.  Write a paragraph on two of them you found in your research and describe their outcomes.

To film list

Option 7:

Film: Sacco and Vanzetti
(This may be on YouTube in 14 parts, but you will have to work to find them all, Netflix DVD, and on reserve at Ayala Library)

This is the compelling story of two Italian immigrants – admitted anarchists – on trial for robbery. The Sacco-Vanzetti case personified the fear Americans had in immigrants, anarchists, communism, and other political radicals. As these two men were both immigrants and admitted to being anarchists and dodging the drafts, however, their guilt of the crimes is still debated today.

At the end of your documentary review, connecting the film to course content, please address these questions.

1.    How did the case become so important?

2.    What was the Red Scare?

3.    What is the difference between communism and anarchy?

4.    What light does the trial, the appeals, and the protests, shed upon the “Great Red Scare” of 1919-1920?

5.    Do you believe that the social tensions of the period prevented Sacco and Vanzetti from getting a fair trial?Why or why not?

6.    How did the Sacco and Vanzetti case show that civil rights and liberties may suffer during periods of social unrest?

7.    What do you think of Judge Thayer’s statement, “This man, although he may not actually have committed the crime attributed to him, is nevertheless morally culpable because he is the enemy of our existing institutions”?

8.    What role did the First Amendment play in the Sacco and Vanzetti case?

9.    What was Vanzetti’s message in his final words?

10.    Are there any lessons for us today from this case?

To film list
Option 8:

Film: After Innocence
(Netflix both streaming and DVD, on reserve at Ayala Library)

“A compelling film showing the callous disregard some states have for people whose freedom was lost because of flaws in evidence. This is the story of seven men released from prison after DNA proved them innocent. But the story doesn’t end there.”

At the end of your documentary review, connecting the film to course content, please address these questions.

1.    What is the Innocence Project?

2.    Compare the difference in the post-release treatment of the exonerated versus those on parole?

3.    Why do you think prosecutors are so adamant to deny prisoners who have been exonerated with new evidence?

4.    Do you think the government is to blame for wrongful convictions?  Why or why not?

5.    What do you think the government should do for these people when they are released?

6.    Here is a website with more stories:
Look up one story and write a brief paragraph about the case and what happened after exoneration.

To film list
Option 9:

Film: Secrecy
(Netflix both instant and DVD, on reserve at Ayala Library)

From the filmmaker: “This film is about the vast, invisible world of government secrecy. By focusing on classified secrets, the government’s ability to put information out of sight if it would harm national security, Secrecy explores the tensions between our safety as a nation, and our ability to function as a democracy.”

At the end of your documentary review, connecting the film to course content, please address these questions.

1.    How can secrecy help to make a nation more secure? Use example from the film to support your answer.

2.    How can secrecy make a nation less secure? Use example from the film to support your answer.

3.    Why is a free press important to a democracy? Use example from the film to support your answer.

4.    How can a free press make a nation more secure? Use example from the film to support your answer.

5.    How can free press endanger national security? Use example from the film to support your answer.

6.    What is the constitutional principle of separation of power?

7.    What do the Reynolds and Hamdan cases (seen in the film) have to do with separation of powers?

8.    What is the film’s point of view about secrecy? Give evidence to support your answer.

9.    Do you agree with this point of view? Explain why or why not.

10.    This film moves back and forth from one story to the next, sometimes stopping almost mid-thought in one story to discuss another, only to come back to the first story later on. Why do you think the filmmakers chose to do this? What effect does this have on you, as the audience?

To film list
Option 10:

Film: Hoop Dreams
(Netflix streaming and DVD, on reserve at Ayala Library)

“Today, fifteen years after I first saw it, I believe “Hoop Dreams” is the great American documentary. No other documentary has ever touched me more deeply. It was relevant then, and today, as inner city neighborhoods sink deeper into the despair of children murdering children, it is more relevant. It tells the stories of two 14-year-olds, Arthur Agee and William Gates, how they dreamed of stardom in the NBA, and how basketball changed their lives.”  Roger Ebert 2009

At the end of your documentary review, connecting the film to course content, please address these questions.

1.  What do you think the odds are for a high school basket ball player to make to the NBA?
(1/10; 1/50; 1/100, 1/10,000)?  It is 1/10,000

2.  Who are the main characters and what are the relationships?

3.  How did the families help or hinder William and Arthur in their pursuit of basketball dreams?
What was special about Mrs. Gates and Mrs. Agee?

4.  Why was Arthur able to stay away from drugs and Shannon was not?

5.  Both William and Arthur entered private school on a 4th grade reading level. Do you think a non-athlete would have been admitted with these reading scores?  What did they gain by going to private school?

6.  Both needed good grades to play college basketball.  Why do you think Arthur was not prepared for college?

In your opinion, were William and Arthur prepared for any other career if pro basketball did not happen for them?

7.  William believed that basketball was his only ticket out of poverty, but Catherine disagreed.  Do you think there was another way to get out?  What else could William have done to get out of poverty?

8.  How did William’s life change after Catherine had their baby?Whose life was affected most, William or Catherine?

9.  How would you life be different if you became a parent while in high school?
Do you know anyone who is a teenage parent?  How did their life change?

10.  Where are William and Arthur now?

11.  Research and write about the education backgrounds of Kobe Bryant, Shaq O’Neal and one of your favorite basketball players.

12.  How does education give you more control over your future plans?

To film list
Option 11:

Film: Koyaanisqatsi
Netflix DVD, on YouTube in 9 parts, on reserve at Ayala Library

This is a pro-postmodernism film.  “The film is an apocalyptic vision of the collision of two different worlds — urban life and technology versus the environment. The musical score was composed by Philip Glass.
“KOYAANISQATSI attempts to reveal the beauty of the beast! We usually perceive our world, our way of living, as beautiful because there is nothing else to perceive. If one lives in this world, the globalized world of high technology, all one can see is one layer of commodity piled upon another. In our world the “original” is the proliferation of the standardized. Copies are copies of copies. There seems to be no ability to see beyond, to see that we have encased ourselves in an artificial environment that has remarkably replaced the original, nature itself. We do not live with nature any longer; we live above it, off of it as it were. Nature has become the resource to keep this artificial or new nature alive.” … in the sense of art, the meaning of the film is “whatever you with to make of it.”
At the end of your documentary review, connecting the film to course content, please address these questions.

1.  The creator of this film says it is meant to offer an experience rather than information or a story.  What is the message of this film?

2. The twin towers the are in the film are not the World Trade Center towers that fell on 9/11/2001 20 years after the film).  Does reflecting on 9/11 add anything to the interpretation of the film?

3.  Most of the human images in the segment are of people dressed for work (for example, white collar workers on escalators) or at work (for example, blue collar workers on assembly lines). How do these images make you feel about work? How do these images make you feel about the evident economic disparities between affluent and assembly line workers?

4.  How do these images make you feel about the amount of material resources we consume by going about our “normal” activities?

5.  There has been disagreement about this film.  Some viewers (and reviewers)  of this film interpret it as denouncing the pervasiveness of industrialization,while others regard it as an “ode to technology. “Which do you agree with? Why?

6.  This film could not have been produced without the very industrialization that produced
modern technology. Can this fact be reconciled with the view that the film may be
understood to denounce technology as excessive or immoral? Are we using scientific
advances and technology in the best ways?

7.  The title of this film is Koyaanisqatsi, which according to the end credits is the
Hopi word meaning: “1. Crazy life. 2. Life in turmoil. 3. Life out of balance. 4.
Life disintegrating. 5. A state of life that calls for another way of living.” In your
opinion, which of these definitions most appropriately fits what you saw?

To film list
Option 12

Film: The Forgetting
(Netflix DVD, online at PBS

Alzheimer’s disease will have a huge public-health impact as baby-boomers age.  There is much research the causes and prevention of this disease.  It difficult to diagnose and difficult to predict.

“Based on the bestselling book by David Shenk, The Forgetting is the first television program to tackle the entire spectrum of the Alzheimer’s epidemic, from the personal tragedy to the worldwide race to stop the disease in its tracks.

The Forgetting, produced and directed by award-winning documentarian Elizabeth Arledge, also offers a
window into the world of Alzheimer’s research. World-renown scientists share groundbreaking discoveries on the disease, and explain how and why Alzheimer’s dismantles the day-to-day lives of people like Gladys, Fran, Isabelle, and their families.

As the number of Alzheimer’s cases skyrockets and the research forges ahead, The Forgetting portrays thepersonal and social impact of the disease, and gives viewers reason for hope.” (NY Times review)

At the end of your documentary review, connecting the film to course content, please address these

1.  What is Alzheimer’s disease (AD)?What behaviors indicate this disease?

2.  How do people get AD?  How is it diagnosed?

3.  What are the roles of genetics and environment?  How can people lower the risk of getting AD?

4.  The film talks about three stages (early, middle and end stages).  What happens at each stage?

6.  The film has three stories. Which one is the most tragic?

7.  What can family members do to cope with a loved one having AD?

7.  Do you know anyone with AD?  What would happen if your grandparent got this? What about one or both of your parents?  What would you need to do?

8.  According to the film, what is the current state of research into AD?

9. UCI is doing a great deal of research on AD.  What is going on at UCI about this?  Who is Frank LaFerla?  Can you find other professors at UCI who are researching AD?

10. When is World Alzheimer’s Day?

To film list

Option 13

Film: We Were Here
(Netflix both DVD and streaming, for rent online ($3.99) at, on reserve at Ayala Library)
This film chronicles the early years of the AIDS epidemic in San Francisco.  It also talks about us caring for people in our communities, which is a theme in the Social Science Public Policy major.
“There was nothing extraordinary about the fact that you lose the people you love because it’s going to happen to all of us,” observes Ed Wolf, a gentle, gay San Franciscan in his mid-50s who devoted years to counseling dying AIDS patients during the peak of the epidemic. “It’s just that it happened in this targeted community of people who were disenfranchised and separated from their families. And a whole group of other people stepped up and became their family.”
The family or community, whatever you want to call it, that coalesced around a public health emergency is the story of We Were Here, an extraordinarily moving, beautifully edited documentary. (NY Times Review)
At the end of your documentary review, connecting the film to course content, please address these questions.

1.  What are your reactions to this film?

2.  How did homophobia (the fear of gay and lesbian people) impact the initial responses to the HIV epidemic? How does it affect prevention efforts today?

3.  HIV has been referred to as a ‘gay disease.’ Do you think this is true? How do you believe HIV has affected the heterosexual community?

4. WWH describes the way HIV impacted San Francisco, an urban American city,during the 1980s and 90s. How do you think the epidemic has impacted thoseliving in rural communities, or in low income urban areas? What about in othercountries like Africa, India and South America?

5.  In the film, Daniel expresses some regret for not always having the strength to
care for sick friends. What are the issues in your life that determine the choicesin caring for other people?

6.  Eileen says that becoming a nurse and working in HIV provided her with a morepurposeful life. Are there things you do or are involved with that providepurpose to your life?

7.  All the interviewees in WWH were, at a young age, confronted with a huge andcompletely unpredictable catastrophe. Have you ever been faced with anunexpected crisis? How did you respond? How might you have responded tosituations like those depicted in the film?

8. Research the Shanti Project in Orange County. What do you find?  What internships do they offer?  What volunteer opportunities do they offer?

To film list
Option 14:

Film: Pruitt-Igoe Myth
(Netflix DVD and streaming, on reserve at Ayala Library)

This film chronicles the failure of public housing in America against the backdrop images of falling buildings.  Some say it signifies the failure of social welfare policies.

Opponents of public housing hailed the image as an emblem of welfare state dysfunction, or the supposed incivility of the poor black inhabitants. But beyond the reified image and floating slogans, what really caused the failure?

This innocent but complex question is the point of departure for the documentary film.  Challenging the axiom that Pruitt-Igoe was a place doomed from within, the film’s narrator says, “Little was said about the laws that built and maintained it, the economy that deserted it, the segregation that stripped away opportunity, the radically changing city in which it stood.” Using archival material and original interviews with former residents and scholars, the film constructs an accessible yet substantial history of the project. (Shapiro 2012).

At the end of your documentary review, connecting the film to course content, please address these questions.

1.  What was the purpose of Pruitt-Igoe?  How many buildings and how many units?

2. Who was it designed for? Why did only poor people end up living there?  According to the film, how did the Federal House Act contribute to the concentration of poor people in Pruitt-Igoe?

What does Valerie Sills mean when she says it was a “poor man’s penthouse”?

3.  Many residents have horrible memories of living at Pruitt-Igoe, but some reflect on it as a time of promise and hope.  What is the reason for these two viewpoints?

4.  How did the decline in St. Louis contribute to the conditions at Pruitt-Igoe?

5.  What is the Pruitt-Igoe “myth”?

6.  What played the largest role in the project’s demise?

7.  Why was Pruitt-Igoe an image-making project for St. Louis from the start? (rather than an architectural project)?

8.  Which of the resident’s stories impacted you most?  Why?

To film list

Option 15:


Film: Waiting for Superman
(Netflix DVD, on reserve at Ayala Library)

This is a disturbing film about the education system an

Get a 10 % discount on an order above $ 100
Use the following coupon code :