Saturday, October 15, 2016

DVDebut: Barbara Kopple's doc, HOT TYPE, looks at The Nation's 150-year history

Readers of The Nation (TrustMovies is one of them), America's longest-running progressive magazine that celebrated its 150th birthday last year, will have no doubt already perused the very large, print copy of that anniversary issue. But they -- and I hope movie-goers and documentary lovers who've appreciated over the years the work of Barbara Kopple -- will not want to miss the new documentary, HOT TYPE: 150 YEARS OF THE NATION, that made the festival rounds in 2015 without securing a theatrical release and now comes directly to DVD, thanks to First Run Features.

Ms Kopple's movie -- the filmmaker is shown at left -- isn't quite hagiography (who doesn't like The Nation, except Republicans, of course), but it neither does it cast a critical eye. It celebrates, and rightly so, while giving us a pretty good look at the history of the magazine, its purpose, and especially at many of the people -- writers, editors, publishers (current and ex) and interns -- who labor for the cause.

We come away from the film with much less of a fully-digested meal than we did from reading that super-packed anniversary issue -- but still satisfied that we've sampled some tasty hors d'oeuvres, while meeting a few of the intelligent, interesting and talented folk we read regularly.

Chief among these are the Editor & Publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel (above) and (now) Executive Editor Richard Kim (below, who proves the most adorable and charming thing in the movie -- even if he does delay those deadlines). We spend some time with ex-Publisher and leading Nation light from earlier decades, Victor Navasky and writer Amy Wilentz, and especially with the group of young people who were interns the year that Kopple filmed.

The Nation treats its interns with respect and caring, and a number of them stay with (or return to) the magazine later for full-fledged jobs in journalism. While it proves great fun to finally put a face and body to the people we read regularly, Kopple also takes us from the current Texas drought to the earlier one we called The Dust Bowl, from Joe McCarthy to Scott Walker, from The Depression to the Occupy Movement, which is covered by Mr. Kim ("It's not the DNC, where it's all 'scripted'," he says.)

We hear from folk like Rachel Maddow who explains why The Nation is so important, and we learn a few things about how -- in this time of declining readership and print newspaper and magazine closings -- this particular example of journalism is managing to hold on. Reaching a new and younger audience is key, and the magazine is, like so many others, still trying to figure that out.

The movie, despite its political nature, is buoyant and engrossing as it pops all over the map -- off to Haiti three years after that major earthquake hit (above), and fighting against Republican cutbacks in North Carolina (below), where, in the film's most moving and emotional scene, one young woman explains how the people who "have" are working with and for the people who "have not," the wealthier supporting the less so.

We end by taking one of those semi-famous Nation ocean cruises, which look like fun (and are maybe consciousness-raising, too). I'd certainly go on one myself -- if I could afford it. Meanwhile, this fine little documentary hit the street on DVD a week or so back via First Run Features and is available now for purchase and, I hope, rental. (You can save it now to your Netflix queue, though why the company does not actually have it yet is anyone's guess....)

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