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July 10, 2008 Edition

Pole to Pole


In 1991, Michael Palin took on a challenge: to travel along the 30-degree east line of longitude (the route that kept them on land the most) from the North to the South Pole using air travel only when surface transport was impossible. It took Palin and his crew 5 months, but they did it, passing through Scandinavia, the former USSR, Turkey and on through the African continent, traveling by bus, raft, and even camel. Along the way, Palin made himself at home with a remarkable variety of people as he traveled on top of overloaded buses, avoided civil unrest and wielded his famous wit while sampling local delicacies. This is a re-release of the original VHS edition, featuring an interview with Palin, and the 17 years that have passed lend a poignant perspective to this excellent film: some things have changed in some of the areas Palin passed through, but unfortunately, in others, much has stayed the same or even gotten worse.

Inside the Teenage Brain


Why do teens and adults have such a hard time seeing eye-to-eye? It’s not always youthful rebelliousness, but actual differences in the brain’s structure during adolescence that can make teenagers seem so different from adults. While about 95% of the brain’s development takes place before the age of six, there is a secondary growth spurt that hits around adolescence and takes several years to complete, affecting the way emotions and logic work. Take a look at the developing brain’s anatomy, listen to leading scientists discuss the implications of recent study results, and perhaps learn some new things about what’s going on inside the teenage brain.

Steep


Guaranteed to make the hardcore skiers among us wistful for winter, this breathtaking documentary follows some of the most daring skiers on some of the most alarming runs in the world. From Chamonix to Valdez, skiers race avalanches and themselves from the top, often dropped off by helicopter on peaks barely big enough to stand. Watch Bill Briggs make history on the Tetons, and hear Doug Coombs’ thoughts about the risks he takes for his favorite sport.

Almost Myself


Intrigued by a website he stumbled across seeking funding to reverse a sex change operation, filmmaker Tom Murray began meeting and interviewing women who had been identified as male at birth. Without sensationalism or stereotypes, he explores questions such as: is sex-change surgery necessary to live comfortably as a woman? What if you change your mind? What’s it like growing up being told you’re a boy when you’re convinced you’re a girl? Described by Murray as “Transgender 101 by and for a non-transgender person,” this is an accessible and low-key glimpse into the lives of others.

Alive Day Memories: Home from Iraq


More soldiers are surviving their battle wounds than ever before in history, but are permanently marked by severe disabilities. Scrupulously non-partisan, this documentary introduces men and women who have served in Iraq and survived, but at a cost, having lost limbs, sight, or mental function. Now home and working to fit back into their families and civilian society, they offer up their observations about their lives before and after Iraq. With war footage from soldiers and insurgents, this is hard but important viewing, no matter your views on the war.

The Great American Quilt Revival


Once upon a time, quilts were made at home for families to use. Planning them was a chance for quilters to show their creativity, since their patterns and colors depended entirely on the few fabrics (often from old clothing) on hand. In 1971, though, the Whitney Museum of American Art elevated the quilt to art status by hanging an exhibition of traditional quilts. Today, quilts are more often found on walls than beds and display an enormous range of color, pattern, and fabric. This film traces the history of quilts as art through interviews with many well-known collectors, historians, and quilters, and features stunning examples of the craft both then and now.

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