Small Screen Berkeley: Four new documentaries worth watching

One looks at the efforts of former Nazis to ‘deradicalize’ their Aryan brothers. Two focus on the lives of famous men: Chuck Berry and Oliver Sacks.

‘Healing From Hate’. Photo courtesy Roxie Theater

SF Docfest may have wrapped up a few weeks ago, but those eager for more non-fiction cinema will be pleased to learn San Francisco’s Roxie Theater has them covered. The Roxie has added four new documentaries to their streaming menu, and there’s a little something for everybody amongst the offerings.

I have to admit I was skeptical about Peter D. Hutchison’s Healing From Hate, an examination of the efforts of former Nazis and white nationalists to “deradicalize” their Aryan brothers. Though I’m a pacifist, I must confess to having vicariously enjoyed that viral video of Richard Spencer getting punched in the face, and I came to the film bearing little sympathy for men with swastika tattoos.

It’s a tribute to Hutchison — and the “formers” who run the organization Life After Hate — that the film successfully humanizes people we generally consider monstrous. Bringing life to Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous dictum “hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that”, the film documents Jews, Sikhs, African-Americans, and others offering forgiveness and compassion to those who perhaps least deserve it.

While Healing From Hate offers ample proof of the power of Dr. King’s statement, it’s important to remember we live in a veritable Augean stable of white nationalism. America is only at the beginning of this story, and whether or not there’s enough forgiveness and compassion to go around remains an open question. Kudos to those fighting the fight.


I spent the majority of my working life as a bookseller, and doubtless sold countless copies of Oliver Sacks’ book The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat to my customers. The late neurologist became a prominent pubic intellectual during the 1980s and ‘90s, and his books were never far from the bestseller list.

Oliver Sacks: His Own Life recounts the medico’s journey from suburban London to late-in-life international renown. I have to admit to knowing less than nothing about him prior to watching this film — while I may have been selling his books, I never cracked one open, probably out of a misguided belief that they were too popular to be good — but whether or not you’re familiar with his work, you’ll likely find plenty of food for thought herein.

I was hoping to learn something new from Chuck Berry: The Original King of Rock ’n’ Roll, but perhaps there’s not much left to learn about the enigmatic pop music pioneer. The familiar stories are retold, including his lifelong reliance on pick-up bands, his Mann Act charges, and his immeasurable influence on The Rolling Stones and others.

That said, rock fans will still find plenty to enjoy in the film – even though it does feature far, far too much Gene Simmons for my liking (at least Bono doesn’t show up). Berry’s family, largely in the shadows throughout his career, finally speak about him on camera, including son Charles Junior and widow Themetta (they were married for 68 years). There’s also fascinating stuff about Chuck’s interest in land and property investments: this is probably the only rockumentary in which a real estate attorney gets screen time.

Finally, Space Dogs offers a baffling tribute to Moscow street dogs and Soviet-era space exploration, which famously began with the journey of a  pup named Laika into the cosmos aboard Sputnik-2. The film blends contemporaneous footage of strays prowling Russian streets with archival footage of scientists preparing canines for their big moment. Scenes of experimentation and the brutal death of a cat make for uncomfortable viewing, rendering CineVue’s description of the film as “like Disney…directed by Andrei Tarkovsky” quite apt indeed.