For Christmas last year, I asked for a subscription to the New York Times. One of my favorite things-maybe the favorite thing-about being a subscriber is the Op-docs. Op-docs stands for opinion documentaries, and they’re these fifteen-minute-ish videos about various subjects that I usually know nothing about. They’re amazing.
Documentaries are something I want to watch more of, and these Op-docs are the biggest reason I have. From what I’ve seen, documentaries in general work on a different level than other videos and films. A lot of things try to fill the screen with action and then keep it that way for most of the time.
Cartoons are the best example of this I can think of. I would say it’s much easier to keep a kid’s attention through bright colors and a million frames per second than through an awesome world with great characters and stories. The same goes for older humans too. Youtube vlogs of people doing crazy and possibly dumb stuff that involves a lot of yelling and general mayhem. Action movies, chock full of stunts and explosions and fight scenes. Overall, it’s a lot of noise and movement.
Documentaries are very different. They don’t work overtime to keep your attention. They’re slow, unhurried, quiet. The shots speak for themselves. And of course, the best part is that the stories are all true. It’s so cool to see, even if it’s just for a few minutes, what life looks like for someone else. It’s also sometimes hearthurting. These following short documentaries are my favorites so far. Three of them are NYTimes’ Op-docs, and the third one is one I found out about from the website Kottke.
“To Be Queen“ by Farihah Zaman and Jeff Reichert (16:46)
Apparently a lot of towns in Texas have various pageants with various names-for example: Peanut, Strawberry, Onion, Rattlesnake. I had no idea about this even though I live in the state. This documentary is about the town of Luling, which has a Watermelon Thump Queen. It’s a big deal in the city and an even bigger one for the people who want to win.
Unlike other pageants, the Watermelon Thump Queen is chosen through an election. Whoever enters has to actually run her own political campaign and win votes. The video follows two of the candidants-Celina Hernandez and Jessalyn Schuelke-as they compete to be queen.
“The Diver” by Esteban Arrangoiz (14:15)
I think this might’ve been the first one I watched. Did you know that sewage diver was a job? I did not. For thirty-six years, that has been Julio Ce(with an accent)sar Cu(with an accent) Ca(with an accent)mara’s job in Mexico City. He goes into the water in his suit and fixes whatever’s messing up the system and maintaining everything that needs to be maintained. And as the title spoils, he likes his job.
“Styrofoam” by Noah Sheldon (4:12)
This is another job that I didn’t know existed. Guo Jie earns a living in Shanghai by collecting all these styrofoam boxes, strapping them to her bicycle, and delivering them to a processing center. You probably didn’t realize, but in the the picture above, all of those boxes are attached to her bike. She then rides it for miles with basically no visibility and little room for error.
“Tungrus and the Chicken From Hell” by Rishi Chandna (12:36)
Haha, this one is funny. (And also a little dark?) It’s about this dad who brings home a chicken that sort of becomes a pet. Nobody really likes it except for the dad and the mom. It terrorizes everybody else, including the cat. It pecks, chases, flaps its wings, crows, runs and flies around, and generally annoys and maybe frightens the other beings in the house.
Have you watched any documentaries, long or short?
Do you know how to add accents to letters in WordPress?
Does your city have a yearly pageant that you know of?