DOC10 2018

“Just a few years in and DOC10 is already a must-hit stop on the festival circuit for the year’s best documentaries,” writes Lisa Trifone in the Third Coast Review. “The brainchild of Chicago Media Project and head programmer Anthony Kaufman, the festival excels because of its laser focus: just ten documentaries screen over a long weekend at Lincoln Square’s The Davis Theater.”

“We’ve gone with ‘jewel’ or a ‘gem’ as a guiding visual metaphor for our materials,” Kaufman tells Ray Pride in Newcity. “So yes, it’s a small event, but one that we believe has large value and ripple effects. . . . At this year’s DOC10, we have some stunning, cinematic docs. But I have concerns that people won’t experience them on the big screen. And that’s why we created DOC10: to shine a spotlight on the theatrical and communal experience of watching works of art about real people—with the real people involved at the screening. I think it makes a huge difference in how we experience a film.”

This year’s edition opens with Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, “the touching and insightful survey of [Fred] Rogers’s decades-spanning career from Oscar-winning director Morgan Neville (20 Feet from Stardom),” as IndieWire’s Eric Kohn called it when it premiered at Sundance. And Scott Renshaw at the Salt Lake City Weekly found it “hard not to have an emotional response at the way Rogers talked to children about things adults still have trouble dealing with—his literal first episode in 1968 involved King Friday building a wall out of fear of change!—and how the ordained Presbyterian minister interpreted his Christian faith as a call to exalt individual dignity. A beautiful day, indeed.”

“I found myself repeatedly flashing back to my childhood hours spent watching Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, scenes I’d forgotten, songs that came back in an instant and lessons I’d simply internalized,” writes Daniel Fienberg in the Hollywood Reporter.Amy Nicholson for Variety: “Neville’s fantastic archival footage reveals the man through his work—or at least, it reveals his philosophies, if not the childhood memories that gave Rogers the ability to understand a four-year-old’s brain, almost as if he still carried his in his cardigan pocket.”

“A Svengali of the tennis world gets his close-up in the diabolically well-titled Love Means Zero, an on-its-toes documentary about the legendary and/or notorious tennis teacher and coach Nick Bollettieri,” writes the Hollywood Reporter’s Todd McCarthy. “The man behind (at least part of the time) an all-star list of champions that includes Andre Agassi, Monica Seles, Jim Courier, Venus and Serena Williams, Boris Becker, Mary Pierce and many others, Bollettieri talks like a goodfella, doesn't know from sentimentality, has the skin of a lizard, refuses to countenance regrets and bluntly states that, ‘If you ask me right now to give you the names of my eight wives, I couldn't do it.’”

“Documentarian Jason Kohn (Manda Bala) keeps lobbing over-the-net questions off-camera—not for nothing was he an Errol Morris protege—and Bollettieri keeps bouncing them back,” writes Rolling Stone’s David Fear. “It's his evasiveness and silences around star pupil Andre Agassi, however, that speak volumes about this brash figure, and why this extraordinary portrait ends up only peripherally being about the sport and all about the art of burning bridges.”

“History is all Bollettieri has left, and he loves to be the one who who writes it,” adds IndieWire’s David Ehrlich. “As a piece of tennis lore, Love Means Zero is absolutely vital. As a character study about a professional tyrant, it’s almost as frail and leathery as Bollettieri himself.”

When Stephen Maing’s Crime + Punishment screened in the U.S. Documentary Competition at Sundance, it won a Special Jury Award for Social Impact, and I gathered a first round of reviews here. At, Matt Fagerholm writes that “this infuriating exposé champions whistleblowers who risk everything in order to bring deep-seated corruption to light. In this case, it’s a group dubbed the NYPD 12, comprised of officers who have charged their department with enforcing an illegal quota system. Using police as a revenue-generating agent for the city is assuredly against the law, and yet over $900 million of New York City’s annual budget is generated by summonses, many of which these officers are allegedly pressured by their supervisors to issue. Hidden cameras and audio recordings capture irrefutable evidence of the NYPD’s crimes laced with blatant racism.”

Robert Greene’s Bisbee ’17 also screened in the U.S. Documentary Competition at Sundance but came away empty-handed. Hardly matters. The reviews I gathered make the case for this one as one of the year’s must-sees. As Michael Smith explains in Time Out, it “tells the fascinating true story of a labor strike and the subsequent mass deportation of 1,200 striking workers (half of them Mexican or Eastern European immigrants) that occurred in the copper mining town of Bisbee, Arizona, just miles from the Mexico border, in 1917. No mere history lesson, Greene's film marks the centenary of this tragic event by restaging the deportation using contemporary Bisbee denizens, many of whom descend from exactly the kind of characters they’re portraying. Performative subjects within a non-fiction context have been a constant in Greene’s work for years but Bisbee ’17 is particularly interesting in how it not only grows out of but becomes the flip side of his last movie, 2016’s controversial Kate Plays Christine.

Alexandria Bombach won the Directing Award at Sundance for On Her Shoulders, so again, that first round of reviews is here. This is a profile of “human rights activist Nadia Murad, a Yazidi Kurd in Iraq who was forced into slavery by ISIS,” writes Leah Pickett in the Chicago Reader. “As Murad makes the rounds of Western talk shows and prepares to deliver a three-minute speech to the United Nations Security Council, Bombach emphasizes how, even among politicians and diplomats, Murad's story is often reduced to a sound bite, and she notes the prurient interest of the media and the public as they ask Murad to recount her trauma over and over.”

Amy Nicholson for Variety on a doc that premiered in Sundance’s NEXT program: “Annette Ontell wasn’t important. The New Jersey housewife met her husband Herman at fifteen, bought a small, white home in Newark, on 306 Hollywood Ave., and stayed put for sixty-seven years. There, at the address that lends this experimental documentary its name, she amassed heaps of clutter and raised two kids, one of whom gave her two grandkids, co-directors Elan and Jonathan Bogarín. After Annette’s death, the siblings had an idea: Why not study her relics with the detailed attention historians devote to, say, Rome or the Rockefellers? 306 Hollywood honors the ordinary. Through her mess, Annette blooms into a vivid presence—more so than her living descendants, whose khaki safari outfits and stage-y narration about the passage of time tilt things a bit too twee.”

For the A.V. Club’s A. A. Dowd, “the at-times-literal dollhouse novelty of these wonder siblings’ conceit constantly threatens to eclipse their undoubtedly genuine love for their grandmother, whose often-delightful home-movie appearances are more enchanting—in a navel-gazing kind of way—than any of the duo’s art-project gestures.”

Flavorwire’s Jason Bailey on RGB: “Producer/directors Julie Cohen and Betsy West know they owe the existence of this bio-documentary of Ruth Bader Ginsburg to her recent meme-ification as a straight-shooting, ‘I dissent’-ing voice of the left, but there’s much more to her than this recent turn of unlikely celebrity. . . . And the film’s sense of organization is its greatest strength; her life is presented, as it surely is in her memory, as a series of important cases (first as a litigator, then as a judge).”

The Reader’s J. R. Jones on Devil’s Freedom: “Hard to watch and harder to forget, this chilling documentary by Everardo González gathers first-person testimony from the victims and perpetrators of drug cartel violence in Mexico. Tales of kidnapping, torture, and execution accumulate as González moves from witness to witness, their faces concealed by plain brown wrestling masks; by contrast, the questions serve to unmask them emotionally, especially the guilt-ridden cartel soldiers.”

More from Jones, here on The Other Side of Everything: “During the communist takeover of Yugoslavia, bourgeois living spaces were handed over to the proletariat, and the apartment owned by Mila Turajlić's family in downtown Belgrade was divided in half to be shared with a poor family. For this fascinating documentary, Turajlić (Cinema Komunisto) records the process by which her mother reclaimed the other side of the unit and threw open doors that had been locked for seventy years.”

“I was able to screen five of this year’s selections, and they are all essential in their own respect, though none of them spoke to me on quite as personal a level as Bing Liu’s Minding the Gap,” writes Matt Fagerholm. “It is set in Rockford, Illinois, one of the saddest of all American cities, containing near-vacant streets that are an ideal stage for the free-flowing movement craved by young skateboarders. Liu grew up filming his friends, Zach and Kiere, performing bruising stunts on their boards, and in his extraordinary first feature, the director holds his camera on their faces, illuminating the buried pain that they share, as well as their need to escape it. The fact that all three men are victims of domestic abuse is alarming but also quite commonplace in a town like Rockford. Having spent a great deal of time there myself, it is clear to me that Liu understands the area so completely that its essence has seeped into the marrow of his bones.”

Minding the Gap won a Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Filmmaking at Sundance, and you’ll find more reviews here. See, too, Eric Hynes in the March/April 2018 issue of Film Comment.

The Reader’s J. R. Jones on The King: “Eugene Jarecki has directed two of the most extraordinary political documentaries of the new century: Why We Fight (2005), a forty-year history of the military-industrial complex, and The House I Live In (2011), exposing the tragedy of the U.S. drug war. This new project may sound a little more fun—the filmmaker takes off in a 1963 Rolls-Royce once owned by Elvis Presley, telling the singer's life story as he rolls through Tupelo, Memphis, Nashville, New York, Hollywood, and Las Vegas—but ultimately Elvis serves as a metaphor for American decline.”

“The issues explored here by Jarecki are endlessly provocative and could easily have been stretched into a miniseries, yet he and his quartet of editors somehow manage to make all the disparate pieces coalesce into a mesmerizing whole,” adds Matt Fagerholm.

Update, 4/7: “We were deeply honored when Cannes invited Promised Land, an earlier version of the film in 2017,” Jarecki tells the festival. “We were also aware that the world was changing very quickly, and that the film was in a sense unfinished. In particular, the seismic election of Donald Trump had impacted the edit of the film to that point, and I knew I had not fully wrapped my head around how to handle this. I knew that, with time, the film’s poetic commentary on current events would continue to evolve. As it turned out, we edited the film (and even shot more) for nine more months. The film changed greatly during this period. Steven Soderbergh, Errol Morris, and Rosanne Cash joined as Executive Producers. And then we premiered The King at Sundance where it had come very much into its own. For anyone who saw Promised Land, in its heart this is the same film. But it is twenty minutes shorter. And better in every way.”

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