In the past, we’ve told you about some pretty stunning locations like the cube houses of Rotterdam and the Zhangye Danxia Landform Geological Park. But today, we’re visiting a few fascinating spots courtesy of some incredibly talented filmmakers. From the world’s greatest video store to the most satanic town in Mexico, these videos provide an eye-opening look at some truly unique places.
10Inside Scarecrow Video
We’re living in the age of online video streaming. Companies like Netflix and Amazon have successfully strangled giant corporations like Blockbuster, not to mention countless small-town video stores. But if you’re a fan of physical media, never fear. Scarecrow Video is still around.
Located in Seattle, Scarecrow Video is like Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory for cinephiles. The store boasts over 120,000 movies in pretty much every genre imaginable. In the mood for an adventure flick? Well, you’ll need to be more specific. After all, they’ve got shelves full of fascinating subgenres like “Jungle,” “Vikings,” and “Zorro.”
Walk through the foreign section, and you’ll spot the “Bruceploitation” shelf. Wander through the horror room, and you’ll see the wonderfully named “Lil’ Bastards” category, a whole row of films dedicated to the dolls and demons that are out to get you.
As producer David Chen follows Scarecrow Video employee Matt Lynch (kudos if you catch his Indiana Jones reference), we feel like we’re wandering through the most amazing labyrinth on Earth, a maze full of redneck exploitation flicks and JFK conspiracy documentaries. And while it’s true that streaming services are hurting business, Lynch isn’t feeling defeated. While Netflix is stiff competition, Scarecrow Video has something a computer never will . . . a brain and a heart.
(If you’re in the mood for a similar video, check out Motherboard’s Bootleg Cinema Paradiso which provides a fascinating tour of a Peruvian DVD store. It’s pretty awesome.)
9Pickin’ & Trimmin’
Directed by Matt Morris, Pickin’ & Trimmin’ is probably the most charming video on this entire list. Watching this short documentary is like stepping into a real-life version of Mayberry, complete with barbershops and bluegrass.
Set in Drexel, North Carolina, Pickin’ & Trimmin’ introduces us to two old-timey barbers, Lawrence Anthony and David Shirley. They spend their days cutting hair, chatting with customers, and drinking coffee. But their shop also doubles as a concert hall. Step into the backroom, and prepare to hear some of the sweetest bluegrass music in the entire state.
Back behind the shop, musicians jam away with a wide collection of banjos, guitars, and every other country music instrument imaginable. And the age range is pretty impressive, with young teens playing alongside white-haired granddads. It’s basically a barbershop with its own sound track, and if you didn’t know this was all authentic, you’d think you were watching an episode of The Andy Griffith Show.
In a truly delightful moment, the film cuts to the two barbers sitting outside their shop. They’re speaking to the camera, explaining the history behind their establishment, but as they talk, they wave to every truck that passes by (never missing a beat, for that matter). Everyone in this town knows everyone else, and everybody knows Lawrence’s shop is a place to shoot the breeze, play a few tunes . . . and oh yeah, get a haircut.
8Tales From The World’s Longest Yard Sale
Where can you find a battered old chair, a goofy moose lamp, and a white tiger rug made in Saudi Arabia? Why, at the world’s longest yard sale, of course. And by “longest,” we’re not talking about time. (It only lasts four days in August.) Instead, we’re talking about actual distance. For the past 27 years, Americans have been setting up shop along Highway 127, hawking their wares from Hudson, Michigan, all the way to Gadsden, Alabama. That’s over 1,000 kilometers (600 mi).
In this New York Times Op-Doc, director Riley Hooper and crew drive down Highway 127, interviewing buyers and sellers along the way. During the trip, we meet an Elvis impersonator, a woman whose home was totaled by a tornado, and an animated elderly couple who love the Ten Commandments almost as much as they love each other.
But as we drive down the 127, two things become increasingly clear. First, despite their eccentricities, “people are about the same everywhere you go.” Second, the 127 sale is about a lot more than just selling weird knickknacks. These trinkets and thingamajigs all come with unique memories, connections to something special in somebody’s past, and sometimes, it’s really hard to let those memories go.
7The Red School
Nestled away in Henan, China, Sitong Village is a little community full of people hoping to escape China’s one-child policy. Naturally, that means the town is full of kids who need an education. Enter The Red School (aka “The People’s Primary School”), a private institution founded in 1994. The school is run by Xia Zhuhai, a teacher who strives to make a difference in his students’ lives. But Xia isn’t really concerned with math or science. Instead, the goal of the The Red School is to spread the teachings of Mao Tse-tung.
Decorated with posters of Lenin, Stalin, and the chairman himself, the school emphasizes socialist thought. Like many Chinese schools, the children wear red bandanas and worshipfully read through Mao’s Little Red Book. Xia is such a big believer in Maoism that his school almost feels like a religious institution. The children sing hymns to the chairman and offer gifts to a Mao mural. Xia even goes so far as to say Maoist thought is essentially God.
There’s no denying that The Red School is all about spreading the communist gospel. Throughout the video, Xia explains how his classroom is designed to churn out a whole new generation of diehard believers. He even claims that children over 13 can’t be saved due to the evils of the Internet.
But while he paints an overly sunny picture of life under Mao, Xia seems incredibly sincere. He genuinely cares for his students, and while history doesn’t support his rosy vision of China’s past, perhaps his lessons will still inspire his pupils to “live harmoniously with each other.”
6Flotsam & Jetsam
Off the coast of the Netherlands, there’s a tiny island called Texel. Home to around 13,000 people, a beautiful lighthouse, and lots of seals, Texel seems like a lovely little place in the Wadden Sea. But what makes this spot different from any other island in the world? Well, thanks to a unique quirk of geography, Texel is encircled by a powerful tidal system, with tides that wash all sorts of goodies onto the shore.
In Flotsam & Jetsam, director Sam Walkerdine visits this Treasure Island to interview a group of dedicated beachcombers. Each day, these friendly foragers descend upon the sand to search for whatever gifts the sea has dropped at their doorstep. Sure, they find lots of everyday items like shoes and rope, but they’ve also discovered personal photos, crates of powdered milk, and tragically, a human body.
These salty scavengers are so intrigued by the items that wash up on the beach that they’ve opened their own museum full of toys, floats, and scores of messages plucked out of bottles. These men live for the moment they can explore the sand. Beachcombing is in their blood, and it’s almost like these islanders have a personal relationship with the ocean. As one old-timer puts it, “What the sea gives, we keep.”
5In Guns We Trust
Depending on your political persuasion, Kennesaw, Georgia, is either paradise on Earth or the scariest place on the planet. In 1982, city leaders passed a rather controversial law ordering all heads of households within the city limits to own a firearm and ammunition. Since then, city residents claim that the crime rate has dropped to impressively low levels, all thanks to the Second Amendment.
What’s life like in a city where people are required to buy firearms? Well, Canadian filmmaker Nicholas Levesque wanted to find out, and that’s why he armed himself with a camera and headed to Kennesaw. Unlike the other videos on this list, In Guns We Trust is told almost exclusively through beautiful black-and-white photographs. Coupled with voice-over interviews with some of the town’s more prominent gun owners, Levesque presents a tiny snapshot of a world where a trip to the firing range is part of everyday life.
So is Kennesaw’s law a good idea? Or is it a disaster waiting to happen? Well, that’s really up to you to decide. But regardless of your opinion, you can’t argue with the fact that In Guns We Trust is an incredibly fascinating look at a truly unique town.
If you’re ever driving through Turner, Oregon, you might spot a billboard that reads “Enchanted Forest.” Pull into the nearby parking lot, and you’ll spot a fairy-tale cottage like something out of “Hansel and Gretel.” And yes, if you step inside, you might find a witch, but you’ll also meet an incredible American family who’ve banded together to build their very own amusement park.
In this award-winning documentary, filmmaker Austin Baker takes us on a tour of his family’s fairy-tale kingdom. Founded by Austin’s grandfather, Enchanted Forest has been running since 1971, drawing in curious customers with their animatronic creatures and water light shows. But what’s truly fascinating about this park is how every member of the family has contributed in some special way. There’s the grandma who was the original business manager, the aunt who’s chief of operations, and the uncle who builds the robots.
And then there’s Austin, the mascot-turned-moviemaker. As the documentary winds down, Austin considers his place in the park’s history and whether or not his family approves of his decision to pursue new goals. Ultimately, it all boils down to a sweet conversation with his grandfather about following your dreams no matter where they lead.
3Lost & Found
Now let’s turn our attention from American amusement parks to Papatowai, New Zealand. At first glance, this tiny town doesn’t seem like much, but that’s because you haven’t visited The Lost Gypsy Gallery, a wonderland of mechanical oddities and solar-powered structures.
In Lost & Found, filmmaker Joey Bania introduces us to an eccentric tinkerer named Blair Somerville, a self-described “organic mechanic.” Using only recycled materials, Blair has created a park full of crazy toys and whimsical games, inventions he calls “Fine Acts of Junk.” Armed with odds and ends like gloves, sunglasses, and video game controllers, Blair can build just about anything imaginable, like tin can tentacles poking out of the ground and undulating whales crafted out of corrugated tin.
Everywhere you look, there’s something truly wild, whether it’s a waterspout in a jar or a tiny penguin armed with a sledgehammer. Seriously, this place feels like some sort of magical circus ripped out of a fantasy novel (well, a good magical circus, not the creepy, evil kind). But where does Blair get all his amazing ideas? Well, according to the man, he draws his inspiration from life because there are “so many things to react to.”
2Kingdom Of The Little People
Finishing up our amusement park trilogy, let’s take a trip to the Kingdom of the Little People. Established in 2009 by businessman Chen Mingjing, this Chinese park is staffed exclusively by dwarfs, little people who dress up as knights and princesses and entertain guests with songs, choreographed dances, and children’s games like hopscotch. Really, it sounds like the most exploitative idea since dwarf-tossing . . . but after you watch this Vice documentary, you might feel a bit differently.
In Kingdom of the Little People, reporter Annette Lamothe-Ramos explores the amusement park and interviews several of the diminutive employees. At first, the place feels a bit off. The park looks like it’s fading away, the employers treat their workers like children, and the housing is incredibly cramped. But as the documentary unfolds, we feel a real sense of community among the little people.
In one interview, a young performer explains how he felt lost in the outside world. But when he arrived at the kingdom, everything clicked. He finally felt accepted, confident, and at home for the first time. While the park might have its drawbacks, it nevertheless provides a sense of belonging in a world overflowing with prejudice.
1Land Of Sorcerers
It’s time to get dark—really dark—with a visit to Catemaco, Veracruz, the most satanic town in all of Mexico. With Vice editor Alejandro Mendoza as our guide, we encounter quite a few spirits, attend a black mass, and witness a couple of animal sacrifices. In other words, things get really intense really fast.
After a brief stop at a cave that’s supposedly home to Our Lady of Mount Carmel, we jump headfirst into the underworld and meet quite a few crazy characters along the way. For example, there’s the well-known sorcerer who’s occasionally possessed by an Apache warrior and uses wax figures and daggers to curse his victims. The man even keeps a sacrificial table in his backyard. Later on, we drop by a satanic service where a renowned exorcist dazzles his followers by setting a giant pentagram on fire. Yeah, these guys are pretty over the top.
Then, after a brief encounter with a sorcerer who believes in the supernatural power of underwear, the video climaxes at the so-called “Devil’s Cave.” Along with Mendoza, we witness a wild ritual that involves machetes, goat heads, howling at the sky, and some pretty graphic animal mutilation. So if watching wizards decapitate chickens isn’t your cup of magical tea, then perhaps you should skip this one.
But for the people of Catemaco, this is business as usual. After all, in this town, the devil is lurking behind every corner . . . and people are surprisingly cool with that.