In just three years, Chicago’s DOC10 film festival has become a destination for the year’s best documentaries as they make their way through the festival circuit. Just one weekend each April, the festival, presented by the Chicago Media Project, screens ten films making their Chicago premieres. Often, these films—selected with care by festival programmer Anthony Kaufman—go on to be some of the most talked about non-fiction filmmaking of the year.
The 2018 edition, happening April 5-8 at the Davis Theater in Lincoln Square, proves to be another solid year of strong offerings, with highly anticipated premieres like Won’t You Be My Neighbor? about the life and career of Fred Rogers, and Minding the Gap, the Sundance Film Festival selection produced by Chicago’s own Kartemquin Films.
If you’re so inclined, there are worse ways to spend a weekend than knocking out ten films in four days. Not only is it supposed to be cold and snowy all weekend (so why not spend it inside a movie theater?), but the festival organizers have bolstered the film programming with a VR experience, a festival panel and a seriously impressive list of guests, from directors and subjects to film-centric musical performances and more.
We had a chance to check out a few of the ten films on offer at this year’s festival; here’s a look at what’s in store.
What becomes of our possessions—and what story do they tell about us—when we depart this world? That’s the central question of 306 Hollywood, the whimsical, wonderful documentary directed by siblings Jonathan and Elan Bogarin. As a film student, Elan started interviewing her grandmother from the septuagenarian’s kitchen table at 306 Hollywood Ave. in New Jersey, where Annette lived for decades. When she died in 2011, Elan and Jonathan inherited the house and everything in it; their mother would’ve been happy to sell the house and trash everything in it, but the siblings have other ideas. And thank goodness for that.
As they explore the mountains of stuff Annette left behind, they discover the endless stories contained within it all, and with a visual flair that belies more filmmaking talent than one might initially assign these debut directors. Alongside the archival footage of Annette’s interviews, Elan and Jonathan narrate both their thought process and their grieving. And in between, they fill in the screen time with some of the most captivating imagery this side of a Wes Anderson live action flick. Colorful and eccentric, Annette’s life and legacy, from her fashion designs to her sense of humor, is winningly captured by two grandchildren who clearly loved her very much.
306 Hollywood screens Saturday, April 7 at 6:30pm; filmmakers Elan and Jonathan Bogarin will be in attendance for a post-film Q&A.
Documentaries abound about the historical stories and figures we all know well. When a film can take a story unknown to most and make it a riveting, compelling look at an under-appreciated story, you know you’ve got a winner on your hands. Such is the case with Robert Greene’s latest, Bisbee ’17; through a variety of techniques, Greene recounts the true story of a miners’ strike in Bisbee, AZ in the summer of 1917. The workers, subjected to low pay and poor working conditions, staged a walk-out as union leaders organized the laborers into a force to be reckoned with. But company owners were having none of it, and in one devastating day, the town authorities rounded up the strikers and literally shipped them out of town for their transgressions.
Greene, who made 2016’s Kate Plays Christine, itself a uniquely styled documentary following an actress as she prepared to play the newscaster who infamously committed suicide on an evening broadcast, employs similarly non-traditional methods in Bisbee ’17. Often, what we see is less polished documentary and more behind-the-scenes footage, the parts other, less confident filmmakers might’ve shied away from sharing. We join the town on its plans to commemorate the deportation’s centennial, and watch as locals are cast as miners, lawmen and protesters for the reenactment, many of them with ancestors who were part of the actual events. Though the film could be twenty minutes shorter, it’s nevertheless a unique vision of a worthy subject.
Bisbee ’17 screens Saturday, April 7 at 1pm; director Robert Greene will join for a post-film Q&A via Skype.
Crime + Punishment
The conversation around police misconduct, from bureaucratic corruption to outright unwarranted brutality, isn’t new and nor is it going anywhere anytime soon. Stephen Maing, a cinematographer and editor here behind the camera for his second feature in Crime + Punishment, has crafted a powerful commentary on the state of municipal law enforcement as he follows a group of New York officers who filed a class-action lawsuit against the department for persisting in quota enforcement even after the practice was outlawed. Known as the NYPD 12, Maing follows the minority officers (not just in number; they are all African American and Hispanic) as they build their case against a massive system designed as much to protect the public as it is to protect itself.
What’s most impressive about the film is how Maing manages to weave their stories, from the personal lives behind the badge to the group’s community meetings and press conferences, with concurrent police violence cases and a very personal story about a victim of the quota system, a young man stuck in jail on a trumped up charge of which he’s clearly innocent. A cynical (right-wing?) take may see Crime + Punishment as anti-cop; it certainly pulls no punches as it recounts the resignation of then-commissioner Bill Bratton and the impact of the NYPD 12’s lawsuit. But in fact, the film on the side of anyone, officer or civilian, who’s willing to challenge broken systems, to stand up for integrity and accountability, and—as my mother is fond of saying—to do the right thing, even when no one’s looking.
Crime + Punishment screens Friday, April 6 at 9p; one of the film’s most compelling (and impressive) subjects, Sgt. Edwin Raymond, will be in attendance for a post-film Q&A.
The Other Side of Everything
I was in high school in the late ’90s, and as such I was not paying much attention to the political and economic turmoil of the era happening half a world away in Serbia as Slobodan Milošević rose to power and subsequently sunk the country into chaos. Srbijanka Turajlić, the subject of her daughter Mila’s moving and galvanizing film The Other Side of Everything, had no such luxury. As a professor at the University of Belgrade at the time, she became an outspoken activist in the resistance against Milošević and his communist party. To this day, she lives in the apartment in downtown Belgrade that her parents owned after World War II; as the country embraced socialism, authorities made the family split up the apartment, locking a door in their living room to create a new space on the other side. That door would remain locked for decades, a symbol of all the family sacrificed and shut out over the years.
With an objectivity one might not expect from a daughter making a film about her mother, Turajlić crafts a story that marries the intimacy of family with the turbulence of political upheaval. The elder Turajlić is, undeniably, a modern hero, brave and outspoken in a way that commands attention without compromising her warmth and compassion. In one breath she’s recounting what it’s like to speak her truth in front of massive crowds of demonstrators (legs shaking, she assures us); in the next, she’s hosting an election results party and debating the state of modern politics around the dinner table with friends. Along the way, we discover what’s on the other side of that door, as Mila discovers just how entwined her family story is with that of her country.
The Other Side of Everything screens Sunday, April 8th at 2p; Mila and Srbijanka Turajlić will be in attendance for a post-film Q&A.
Directors Betsy West and Julie Cohen have pulled off something that very few filmmakers could ever imagine doing—building an entire documentary around a sitting U.S. Supreme Court Justice, perhaps the only one of the current lineup who can also be called an activist. RBG is a remarkable and detailed telling of the life and career of 85-year-old Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who, as an attorney, argued before the Supreme Court several times in landmark cases involving women’s rights, including ones involving equal pay for equal work, military benefits for the survivors of female members of the military, social security benefits, and more.
The film paints the “Nortorious RBG” as a workaholic who needs to be dragged to bed every night to get even the minimal amount of sleep. RBG is also a love story about the Justice and her college sweetheart (and later husband) Marty, a gifted attorney in his own right who never failed to support his wife’s booming career over the decades. Ginsberg takes us through her thought process on many of her most famous cases on both sides of the bench, and discusses what it’s like to be the lead dissent writer on the many cases that get ruled in favor of the more conservatively minded court. The movie also reveals her great sense of humor (footage of Ginsberg watching “SNL’s” Kate McKinnon’s impersonation of her for the first time is worth the price of admission). Above all, Ginsberg is revealed to possess the classic soft voice with a big stick—where the stick being her razor-sharp mind and knowledge of the law. The film covers a great deal of legal and emotional ground, and every minute of it is a lesson in feminist history and powerful human behavior. Do no miss it. -Steve Prokopy
RBG screens on Saturday, April 7 at 9pm, followed by Q&A with directors Betsy West and Julie Cohen, and new songs about Ginsberg by Patrice Michaels with Kuang-Hao Huang on piano. RBG opens theatrically in Chicago on May 4 at the Landmark Century Center Cinema.