Six documentaries featuring Pennsylvania cities you can stream online

     A collage of movie posters and still images from documentary films based in Pennsylvania communities.

    A collage of movie posters and still images from documentary films based in Pennsylvania communities.

    As a winter cold front settles in over most of Pa., you may find yourself surfing your Netflix queue for something to escape the deep freeze.

    As a winter cold front settles in over most of Pennsylvania and the eastern U.S., you may find yourself surfing your Netflix queue for something to escape the deep freeze and cabin fever.

    May we suggest a few “home grown” documentaries worth watching that you can easily steam online?  Each film takes place in a Pennsylvania city or town, but also addresses larger issues of race, corruption, immigration, sexual abuse, and budget deficits facing the individual communities. 

    “Let the Fire Burn”

    Filmmaker Jason Osder brings audiences back to May 13, 1985, the tragic day when the city of Philadelphia and the radical group MOVE got into a fatal standoff that ended in the police fire bombing a West Philadelphia rowhouse. Eleven people died, including five children, and 61 neighboring homes were destroyed. Osder pieces together news footage from that day, archival documentary images of previous conflicts between police and the group, and interviews from the investigative commissions that followed one of the darkest days in the city’s history.

     

     

    “Kids for Cash”

    “Kids for Cash” tells the story of former juvenile court justice Mark Ciavarella, who locked up more than 3,000 children, mostly for minor offenses in Luzerne County. After a parent questioned the judge’s zero tolerance polices, the Juvenile Law Center and the local paper, Times Leader, began investigating Ciavarella’s court room. Turns out Ciavarella and Judge Michael Conahan received millions of dollars from a developer as a finder’s fee to build for-profit detention centers that would house the children Ciavarella locked away. The film features interviews with the young adults who were locked away as teens, their families, and the two justices in the middle of the scandal before their trials.

     

    “Shenandoah”

    “Shenandoah” recounts the tragic death of Luis Ramirez. Ramirez, an illegal Mexican immigrant, was beaten to death by four star athletes on the high school football team. The film examines the conscience of the former Pennsylvania coal mining town, after the beating death and the hate-crime trial against two of the four young men. Filmmaker David Turnley interviews the working class residents of the of town and examines how immigrants have been welcomed in the past and how the most recent wave of immigrants are treated.

     

    “Happy Valley”

    Director Amir Bar-Lev turns his lens on the idyllic State College community in the wake of a scandal, when former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky was charged with 40 counts of child sexual abuse. The film follows the fallout of the scandal, including the controversial firing of legendary coach Joe Paterno and how the tight-knit community responds.

     

     “We Could be King”

    Still in the mood for the gridiron? “We Could be King” tracks the debut football season of Martin Luther King High School after it was forced to merge with shuttered Germantown High School due to drastic budget cuts to Philadelphia public schools. Standout football coach Ed Dunn must unite his team, and convince bitter rivals to play harder together than they once did as rivals.

     

     “No No: A Dockumentary”

    Okay, so “No No” may not exactly be about a Pennsylvania city or town, but it is about one of the most charismatic pitchers who played baseball for the Pittsburgh Pirates: Dock Ellis. Known for pitching a no-hitter while high on LSD, Ellis became one of the most controversial and outspoken sports figures to date. This film looks at both the flash and legend of Ellis, and the person he became after baseball.

     

    A few other documentaries featuring Pennsylvania towns we plan on watching when they become available are “Braddock America” and a possible new film about the ongoing underground mine fire in Centralia.

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