Gift Guide: The Gift of Documentaries

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Looking for a gift for your history-obsessed uncle? Your environmentally-conscious friend? Your urban sophisticate of a brother-in-law? Documentary DVDs could be the way to their heart this holiday season. When it comes to ordering documentaries, the glut of online stores selling DVDs make purchasing and shipping a breeze, but buyers and gifters beware: despite what you might think, one size doesn’t necessarily fit all.

The Populist
Ken Burns' The War DVD coverAmazon.com’s Documentary Best Sellers list is an excellent place to visit if you’re not sure where to get start. The list is updated hourly with what everyone else is buying (namely, docs about the planet and wars, with some musical docs thrown in — at least this week). Here, you can pick up a 5-disc set of The Blue Planet — Seas of Life for your teenage cousin who’s taken a sudden interest in marine biology, or a copy of Ken Burns’ The War for that history-obsessed uncle.

The Cinephile
Grey Gardens DVD CoverTo the cinephile, the Criterion Collection‘s stamp of approval carries far greater weight than an Academy Award. The collection is a series of important classic and contemporary films on DVD. Each film chosen for inclusion is remastered and lovingly packaged with special extra features into a beautiful collector’s item. Criterion’s list of documentary DVDs includes canonical films from Robert Flaherty’s Nanook of the North to the MayslesGrey Gardens. But it also offers up unexpected gems, like the quirky and fascinating docu-series Fishing With John, written, directed and hosted by musician John Lurie and featuring everyone from Dennis Hopper to Tom Waits.


The History Buff
Voices of the Civil War DVD coverTwo of the best places to visit for historical documentary DVDs are ShopPBS and the History Channel Shop. Each of these sites allow visitors to browse by topic, so whether you’re looking for docs about the Korean War, the Civil Rights Movement or your favorite president, you’ll find the DVDs in just a couple of clicks.

The Political Progressive
Street Fight DVD CoverThe films offered through Ironweed, which calls itself a monthly progressive film festival on DVD, will surely appeal to the person in your life who is concerned with global warming and social justice. You can order a gift subscription to Ironweed for $14.95 a month, and each month, they’ll receive a new documentary about progressive issues. Ironweed films have included Marshall Curry’s Oscar-nominated Street Fight (POV 2005), about the 2002 mayoral elections in Newark, New Jersey, Sir! No Sir!, David Zeiger’s tale of antiwar soldiers during the Vietnam War, and Mark and Nick Francis’ Black Gold, documenting a coffee grower’s quest for fair trade.

Ruiyan Xu
Ruiyan Xu
Former POVer Ruiyan Xu worked on developing and producing materials for POV's website. Before coming to POV, she worked in the Interactive and Broadband department at Channel Thirteen/WNET. Ruiyan was born in Shanghai and graduated from Brown University with a B.A. in Modern Culture and Media.
  • Theresa Riley

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    Just a tiny plug for the new AmDoc Amazon Associates store we launched on our parent company’s website yesterday. If you buy products (DVDs, books, music — all associated with the P.O.V. series) in the AmDoc store, a percentage of the sale goes to American Documentary, the non-profit company that produces P.O.V. We’ve stocked the store with a wide selection of films from our P.O.V. archive, including classics like American Aloha (P.O.V. 2003), Street Fight (P.O.V. 2005), Wattstax (P.O.V. 2004) and this year’s Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars.