Stephen Fry in America

Summary:

Stephen Fry, a British actor and entertainer, explores all 50 of the United States in his stylish English taxi cab in this documentary. Produced by the BBC in 2009, this six-part series examines not only the well-known historical markers of particulars states, but also some lesser known ones as well. From bluegrass pickin’ parlors in Tennessee to Ted Turner’s buffalo ranch in Montana, Stephen Fry takes his viewers through a truly unique panorama of American experiences.

Bias:

There is a clear British bias as Stephen clashes with American culture. While in many cases he is open-minded and interested in new things, other times he is extremely critical of the American government, the high societies he finds in places like Manhattan, Vegas and Houston, and some of the kitschy tourist stops such as Mount Rushmore. Overall however, through Stephen’s wit and humor and as his conversations with down-to-earth, average Americans, he makes it clear that while there are some things he dislikes about America, he shows great respect to the American people.

Overall Impression:

We really enjoyed this tour of America and were excited so learn about people and places off the beaten path of mainstream American tourism. It was refreshing to see the 50 states from a non-American perspective, and we found ourselves agreeing with many of his critiques and laughing at his sense of humor. Although each episode is about an hour, we were never bored with the show; Between Fry’s magnetism and the interesting stops he chose, we always wanted to see more.

Two elements of the show were disappointing to us. First, while he’ll spend 15 or more minutes on one state, which we’ll love, he’ll completely skip another state with no more than 30 seconds of driving and a few spoken sentences about the state. Colorado, for example, was almost completely left out. Our other complaint was that one of the stops included a lengthy tour of a historical brothel, which is still in business today.

Overall, we really enjoyed Stephen Fry in America and would recommend it for both the “history buff” or those who know nothing about America. This is one documentary we would watch again at some point, as there is so much to learn about each state and Stephen Fry keeps you entertained along the way.

“I shouldn’t be saying this – high treason, really – but I sometimes wonder if Americans aren’t fooled by our accent into detecting brilliance that may not really be there.” -Stephen Fry at the Golden Globes

Doug and Nicole

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Please Vote for Me

Summary:

Please Vote for Me is a documentary produced by Steps International capturing the triumphs and sorrows of three third-graders in a Chinese elementary school as they battle for the role of class monitor using the principles of democracy. The film was created in 2007, is in Chinese with English sub-titles, and is 57 minutes long.

Bias:

Steps International is company focused on creating an international awareness for democracy. On their website, they have a mission statement, 10 important questions, 10 documentaries (including this one), and a series of short films that seek to promote conversation on the topic of democracy. While the organization is pro-democracy, the film itself does a great job of remaining unbiased by focusing purely on the three children, their classmates, and their families. The film leaves out any hint as to why this class is voting on a class monitor, contains no Q&A on the topic of democracy, and ends without any discussion as to how the class experiment went. By omitting these things, the film remains neutral.

Overall Impression:

One of the things that we found most fascinating was the way each child’s unique family experience, parental involvement, and temperament played into they way they campaigned for the position at stake. Being in the performance-driven culture of communist China, it was incredible to see the determination, stress levels, and critical thinking each child demonstrated throughout the film. Psychologists would have a field day analyzing the relationships that take place as the story unfolds.

Nicole was shocked at what the role of class monitor entails. While a line-leader in the schools we have been in is more ceremonial than authoritative, the class monitor yells, doles out punishments, and even hits classmates to ensure cooperation on behalf of the teacher. It was amazing, then, to see each child try to obtain votes from other children who would be under the complete control of the one they elected.

Overall, the film kept our interest and invited intriguing insights into the Chinese education system and family life. Doug wishes they had explained why the documentary had been made in the first place and how this school and class were selected to have an experiment in democracy. In spite of these questions, we both really enjoyed watching Please Vote for Me. We would recommend it without hesitation, although we probably will not watch it again for a while, because even though it was interesting and entertaining, we feel like we learned all we could on the first viewing.

Doug and Nicole

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Our Criteria

Because there are so many sites that review books, music, movies and television, we want to make sure you understand how we review the documentaries we watch. Rather than assigning an arbitrary number based upon various criteria, such as cinematography, music, or acting, we prefer to focus our discussion on three primary elements: Summary, Bias, and Overall Impression.

Summary: This section will contain a brief, spoiler-free description of the documentary so that you can decide if it is something that piques your interest.

Bias: Documentaries tell stories. Some tell the story from a very specific point of view or in a way that pushes you to take a side on an issue. Others try to be very neutral, avoiding sides altogether or trying to balance perspectives so the viewer can make their own decision. This section will tell you what bias the documentary takes.

Overall Impression: In this section, we will give our overall impression, discuss our pros and cons, and let you know whether we would recommend the documentary or watch it again ourselves.

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