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You Can’t Make This Stuff Up: A Documentary Index

Over the next few weeks, films based on true stories will dominate theaters, from Marie Antoinette to Flags of Our Fathers. But don’t miss these actual true stories.

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A scene from Cocaine Cowboys.  

Cocaine Cowboys Release Date: October 27
The Story
Billy Corben’s outrageous film (pictured above) gives Miami Vice a run for its drug money by interviewing the hit men, dealers, and runners who made the coke trade in Florida such a rollicking nightmare.
Most Unbelievable True Thing
Griselda Blanco, a psychopathic Colombian godmother so tough she’d chop up Tony Soprano and feed him to the pink flamingos.

Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple
Release Date: October 20
The Story
The final word on self-declared prophet Jim Jones, Stanley Nelson’s film mixes startling archival footage and moving interviews with survivors. The 1978 mass suicide is doubly painful because Nelson thoroughly establishes how Jones’s once-Utopian vision lured many civil-rights-era idealists.
Most Unbelievable True Thing
Footage taken on the day of the mass suicide, as four people were shot dead in the middle of a politician’s visit.

Absolute Wilson
Release Date: October 27
The Story
Katharina Otto-Bernstein tracks the strange career of Robert Wilson, whose surrealist pieces barely hint at his real-life roots in segregated Waco, Texas, where he grew up with learning disabilities and a serious sense of alienation.
Most Unbelievable True Thing
Wilson’s Sisyphean struggle to mount a wildly ambitious twelve-hour avant-garde musical at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.

The Bridge
Release Date: October 27
The Story
In 2004, Eric Steel set up cameras near the Golden Gate Bridge and captured 24 people as they jumped to their deaths. His interviews are sensitive, but as you see that last man fall slowly into the bay, you cringe—in part because you (and Steel) just sit there and watch him do it.
Most Unbelievable True Thing
After the film’s release, San Francisco supervisor Tom Ammiano said, “You can’t help but think of a snuff film.”

Dixie Chicks: Shut Up and Sing
Release Date: October 27
The Story
Barbara Kopple’s film begins as Natalie Maines, lead singer of the best-selling female band in history, tells a crowd she’s “ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas.” A sharp story for anyone who’s ever wanted to see how a pop-culture scandal unfolds from the inside out.
Most Unbelievable True Thing
Bush tells Tom Brokaw that people not buying the Chicks’ records shows that “freedom is a two-way street.” Maines laughs and calls him “a dumb fuck.” Twice.


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