Skip to main content

Davis Journal

The Movie Guru: New streaming documentaries tell fascinating, unsettling stories

Sep 01, 2023 01:18PM ● By Jenniffer Wardell
Credit for photo ©Wonderview Studios

Credit for photo ©Wonderview Studios

Even if you didn’t watch the 2021 ESPN high school game where IMG Academy completely destroyed Bishop Sycamore, the story behind the game makes for fascinating viewing. 

Because Bishop Sycamore, it turned out, didn’t actually exist. It was a long con by coach and huckster Roy Johnson, who turned his own failed football dreams into a scam that led to the fleecing of dozens of desperate young players and their families. Watching Johnson unrepentantly explain himself is a bit like watching a mid-level carnival huckster trying to get people to ride a ride that’s visibly collapsing, and there’s a certain lurid fascination in watching him try and constantly re-invent himself on camera. 

Sometimes the documentary leans into that element too much, trying to trap Johnson in a “gotcha” moment instead of following even one of several genuinely interesting sociological insights that get mentioned. Still, even the portion of the story we do get is pretty hard to ignore. 

Poisoned: The Dirty Truth About Your Food (Netflix) 

If you’ve ever wondered about all the food recalls that have happened in the U.S. over the last few years, “Poisoned” will tell you more than you probably wanted to know. A thorough, well-reported look at how de-regulation and corporate negligence has led to numerous fatal bacterial outbreaks, “Poisoned” manages to be far more quietly terrifying than many of Netflix’s more salacious documentary offerings. There are villains – Stewart “The Peanut King” Parnell refused to eat his own food at trial, and was proven to have knowingly shipped food that killed people – but it’s the sheer pervasiveness of the problem that’s far more chilling. It’ll haunt you next time you go to the grocery store, or read about another recall, but there’s a chance it might also save your life. 

Once Upon a Time in Uganda (rent/buy on Amazon Prime and Vudu) 

It turns out one of the world’s most entertaining, passionate directors lives in Uganda. 

The best part of “Once Upon a Time in Uganda” is the chance to meet Isaac Nabwana, a Ugandan bricklayer who was inspired to make action comedies Chuck Norris would be proud of. He lived in a small, broken-down village, had no budget, his scripts were eaten by termites, and his technology was constantly destroyed by the heat and sand. Still, none of that stopped him, and he continually recruited family and friends to help make his films. When class issues kept his movies out of theaters, he distributed them himself. 

The documentary itself has issues – it makes the baffling decision to focus more on Nabwana’s hype man than Nabwana himself, an issue that makes the entire second half peter out. Still, every moment Nabwana is onscreen is a joy, and the chance to spend time with him makes all the movie’s flaws worth it. If you want to find out more of his work, head to YouTube and get a taste of the kind of movies Wakaliwood makes. If you want to find out how they happened, spend some time with “Once Upon a Time in Uganda.” 

Jenniffer Wardell is an award-winning movie critic and member of the Utah Film Critics Association. Find her on Twitter at @wardellwriter or drop her a line at [email protected].