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August 18, 2006 Edition

A Great Day in Harlem

Nearly 60 years ago, photographer Art Kane gathered 57 of the world’s jazz stars for a photo that has become an icon of its age. This 2-disk set contains film footage from the day of the shoot, interviews with most of the musicians (including Dizzie Gillespie, Buck Clayton, and Marian McPartland), performance clips, and follow-up interviews and a recreated photo from the 90s with the surviving musicians.

Da Vinci and the Code he Lived By

No secret societies here: instead, this History Channel film explores Leonardo Da Vinci’s life, including his quest for legitimacy, the support he enjoyed from the Borgia family, whiffs of romantic scandal, and, of course his inventions and art. Da Vinci had an insatiable mind and the discipline to make good use of it: besides creating his enduring art masterpieces, he pioneered the study of human anatomy and invented machines that couldn’t be built with the technology of the time.

Boys of Baraka

Created by a philanthropist in response to Baltimore schools’ pleas to find a way to remove the most disruptive 5% of students, the Baraka School in Kenya took 19 carefully-chosen boys in for 2 years of remedial schooling, one-on-one attention, and, perhaps most important, a respite from their dismal and dangerous Baltimore neighborhoods. Unfortunately, the school closed after only one year because of political unrest in Kenya, but this documentary follows four of the boys from their selection into the program through their return home.

The 49th Star: Creating Alaska

Created in only 75 days by a 55-delegate constitutional committee elected from communities all across Alaska, the Alaska state constitution is widely regarded as one of the nation’s best. Historians, current Alaskan leaders, and many of the original delegates were interviewed for this 50th anniversary look at the compromises and arguments that went into our constitution.

A State of Mind

North Korea holds what they call Mass Games every year, an incredible exhibition of showmanship, dedication, and talent. This documentary of the 2003 Mass Games follows two young gymnasts preparing for the Games, showcasing in the process, the glories and the heartbreak of life in a totalitarian regime. No editorializing is necessary – privations and privileges are presented matter-of-factly and viewers are free to draw their own conclusions about life where individuals are encouraged to be subordinate to the community and the electricity shuts off at night even in the capital city. An amazing, rare view of a nearly alien society.

The Zen Mind

What is zen and what does it mean to incorporate meditation into one’s life? This documentary visits a wide-variety of zen temples and meditation centers throughout Japan, looking at the ways that the ancient practice of zazen (seated meditation) and ritual have been incorporated into modern life. Contrast the meditation center in a Tokyo suburb strategically located for office workers and commuters with the zen temple in the countryside that is one of the last remaining places one can live as a monk and follow the old traditions. The musical score, performed by Japan’s leading shakuhachi flute player, provides a beautiful background for this captivating film.

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