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THE DOCUMENTARIES

Among other things, filmmakers get to the bottom of 'good hair,' poverty and the mortgage meltdown.

September 13, 2009|Susan King

Once the poor country cousin to narrative films, feature documentaries have grown in influence and popularity over the last couple decades thanks in large part to Michael Moore's controversial exposes "Roger & Me" and "Bowling for Columbine" and other critical and commercial hits such as Morgan Spurlock's "Super Size Me."

There's a bumper crop of documentaries coming out this fall, including Moore's latest and a comedic look at how "good" hair brings self-esteem.

"Good Hair" (Oct. 9): Chris Rock is the star and narrator, as well as a writer and producer, of this entertaining documentary that explores the obsession many black women have with their hair. The documentary was prompted when Rock's 5-year-old daughter asked him, "Daddy, how come I don't have good hair?" Rock travels to beauty salons, science labs and temples in India to discover the answer.

Despite being the film's inspiration, Rock's two daughters have yet to see the completed R-rated movie. "They have seen parts of the film, just because they were in my office while I was watching dailies. I think the movie is a little too grown up for them," Rock said by e-mail. He also thinks they're too young to use a relaxant on their hair. "But once they are in high school, it's not gonna matter what I think," he says.

"The Providence Effect" (Oct. 2): A look at how one man's educational process has changed the lives of thousands of students in Chicago. Over the last 30 years, Providence St. Mel has achieved a 100% college placement record. The film is directed and produced by Rollin Binzer ("Ladies and Gentlemen: The Rolling Stones"), who learned about the school from producer Tom Hurvis.

"He asked me to come see what was going on at the school and see if I thought there was a way to capture it on film," said Binzer, also via e-mail. "What I saw there amazed me. In the heart of Chicago's worst neighborhood for crime and poverty, this place crackled with an excitement for learning I had never seen. We want everyone to know that inner-city children can be educated, graduate from high school and college and live productive, creative lives. It's not rocket science to do this."

Other documentary highlights:

"American Casino" (Friday): Investigative journalists Leslie and Andrew Cockburn explore the beginnings of the current home mortgage crisis in the U.S.

"Crude" (Friday): The fallout from an oil company's contamination of the Ecuadorean Amazon.

"The Age of Stupid" (Sept. 21): A documentary-drama-animation hybrid starring Pete Postlethwaite as an elderly man living in the bleak future, who wonders why past generations didn't stop climate change.

"Capitalism: A Love Story" (Sept. 23): After taking on GM, the White House, gun control and health insurance, Oscar-winning firebrand Moore explores the ways corporate dominance and out-of-control profit motives have had a catastrophic effect on the lives of Americans. "It's got it all -- lust, passion, romance and 14,000 jobs being eliminated every day," Moore said in July.

"We Live in Public" (Sept. 25): Explores the effects the Web is having on contemporary society, as seen by artist, futurist and visionary Josh Harris.

"More Than a Game" (Oct. 2): Before he became a Cleveland Cavaliers superstar, LeBron James was one of five talented young basketball players from Akron, Ohio. Kristopher Belman directs this chronicle of the "Fab Five."

"The Yes Men Fix the World" (Oct. 23): Two filmmakers are the Yes Men who refuse to take "no" for an answer in this humorous political documentary.

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susan.king@latimes.com

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