Ten progressive movie picks for the holidays

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Photo: flickr William Hook

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Over the holidays, there’s nothing quite like cozying up with a special someone, or a couple of friends, to watch a flick on the big or medium screen; or if you’re like my family, crowded around the laptop. (No, we didn’t join the Black Friday mobs battling for a TV this year -- we’re making do!)

Regardless of how we consume film, rabble rousers want more than the typical Hollywood fare, right?  

This inaugural piece launches rabble’s monthly review of progressive films found online, either on paid sites like Netflix and iTunes, or found elsewhere for free on sites like YouTube and SnagFilms.

To start things off, here’s a list of top ten picks for the holiday season. You can search these films at SnagFilms, Netflix, and on Youtube:

1. Miss Representation: An award-winning documentary by actress and filmmaker Jennifer Siebel. The film carefully examines the implicit and explicit sexism permeating our media landscapes and its correlation to the underrepresentation of women in politics. Plenty of diverse voices make a compelling (and disturbing) argument. 

2. Craigslist Joe:  An inspiring jaunt through America with a young guy who wants to see how far he can go relying solely on the generosity of Craigslist users. Joe Garner sets off on a month-long (brave, if you ask me) adventure to see how he could survive solely using social media as his lifeline. Without any money, with a laptop, a new contacts-free cell phone and the clothes on his back, he experiences a side of the country most people rarely experience.

3. Venus and Serena: With fantastic footage of these champions as young girls being coached by a determined father, this film provides fascinating insight into the lives of these two remarkable women. Viewers watch them each struggle with medical challenges during one particularly difficult year and witness their determination to remain number one and number two in the world of women’s tennis, which had never seen -- nor will likely ever again see -- a duo like this one.

4. Motherland: A fitting nod to the late Nelson Mandela -- this film is set primarily in South Africa and highlights how the power of community serves as a balm for those suffering loss. Six American women, all who’ve lost a child in various tragic circumstances, travel together to volunteer with grassroots organizations supporting women and children dealing with the HIV in their lives. "I think that sharing of coexistence between people makes us a very strong nation, a very compassionate nation," sums up one of the South African residents in the film.

5. Male Domination: Worth reading the subtitles for, this film explores feminism’s failures in successfully creating a world where men and women are treated equally. Produced and directed by Belgian film maker, Patric Jean, the film shockingly starts off showing an operation to enlarge a man’s...endowment. Weaving a variety of narratives that highlight the confused relationship both men and women still have with concepts of equality, the film brings viewers to Montreal, Quebec -- perhaps the Western world’s Ground Zero in the blowback against women’s rights as a result of the 1989 École Polytechnique massacre. Chilling in parts but an important reminder about the attitudes that still exist out there despite hard-won gains.

6. No Impact Man: A real treat, though perhaps out-of-step with the mass commercialization of the season. Colin Beavan and his family were widely hailed -- and mocked -- when starting off on a project to live with as little environmental impact as possible. Interspersed with media interviews, the film is a succinct diary of the experience. Going without toilet paper turned his journalist wife into a social pariah at work, but they somehow managed to get through the year, sanity and marriage intact!

7. Beyond Belief: Another film where the main characters are moved by their own personal grief to reach out to others in a foreign land to find solace. In this case, two 9/11 widows decide to raise money to support Afghan women who had also lost husbands due to violence and war. A touching tribute to the memory of their loved ones and in the spirit of giving and empathy, the two women founded an organization that continues to support Afghan widows called Beyond the 11th.

8. The Reluctant Fundamentalist: Based on the fictional book of the same name by Mohsin Hamid, this isn’t a documentary but a political thriller. Progressive in so far as it offers a post-911 narrative from a Muslim perspective. Simplistic at times, the film nevertheless captures the angst felt by Muslims living in the West who found their patriotism questioned in the aftermath of the attacks.

9. Guns and Mothers: Hard to believe that little has changed when it comes to American gun policy since this film was made in 2000. But even as Americans mark tragic anniversaries like the one that just passed for Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, political will to affect change remains paralyzed by the powerful gun lobby. The film’s twist is that it gives voice to women on both sides of the debate.

10. Consuming Kids: A timely film to watch with the little dictators, especially if they’re disappointed with what’s under the tree (or not!). Smart in its careful dissection of the multi-billion dollar business of advertising that plies junk food, toys and other must-have items to a demographic with increasing spending power and influence. A variety of experts from a host of relevant fields explain just how marketers are targeting, and capturing, young minds for profit.

We welcome your film review suggestions at [email protected] or on Twitter at @AmiraElghawaby

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Photo: flickr William Hook

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