As we previewed last week, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has partnered with a handful of movie theaters across the country (including Chicago’s own Music Box Theatre) to show each of the 15 films currently on the shortlist for the Best Documentary Feature category at the upcoming Academy Awards. That list will be narrowed to the final five nominees on Tuesday, January 22, with the winner named at the Oscars ceremony on Sunday, February 24.
For those keeping track, since this series runs through Sunday, February 3, a handful of these screenings will take place after the nominations are announced. But they are all certainly worth checking out. Each film will only be shown once, and screenings are scattered throughout January into early February.
The second, very busy week of screenings in the series continues on Friday, January 11 at 2pm with Charm City from director Marilyn Ness, an examination of the streets of Baltimore where the murder rate is approaching an all-time high and distrust in law enforcement is particularly rampant. Filmed over three years (including the period of Freddie Gray’s death in police custody and the aftermath), the film is a powerful portrait of community activists, politicians and police trying to get a grip on a spiraling storm of violence and conflict.
On Monday, January 14 at 2:15pm comes The Distant Barking of Dogs, from director Simon Lereng Wilmont. Set on the frontline of war in Eastern Ukraine, the film follows 10-year-old Oleg through a year of his life under the soul-crushing pressures of war. We’ve certainly seen documentaries set in war-ravaged zones, but rarely has a film given us the perspective of such conflicts through the eyes of a child and what it’s like to grow up in terror for your life in a half-deserted village, living with his grandmother, with no end in sight.
Returning to the Music Box after an epic 2018 run is director Tim Wardle’s Three Identical Strangers (Monday, January 14, 9:45pm), the winner of the Sundance Film Festivals Special Jury Award. If you haven’t heard, the film is about three strangers who are reunited by astonishing coincidence after being born identical triplets, separated at birth, and adopted by three different families. Their jaw-dropping, feel-good story instantly becomes a global sensation complete with fame and celebrity; however, the fairy-tale reunion sets in motion a series of events that unearth an unimaginable secret with radical repercussions for us all.
On Tuesday, January 15 at 2:15 is director Kimberly Reed’s terrifying political thriller Dark Money, which examines one of the greatest present threats to American democracy: the influence of untraceable corporate money on elections and elected officials. The film takes viewers to Montana—a frontline in the fight to preserve fair elections nationwide—to follow an intrepid local journalist working to expose the real-life impacts of the US Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. The movie uncovers the shocking and vital truth of how American elections are bought and sold.
Immediately following at 4pm is filmmaker Ramell Ross’ Hale County This Morning, This Evening, a lyrical examination of racist aesthetic frameworks that have historically constricted the expression of African-American men on film. In the lives of protagonists Daniel and Quincy, quotidian moments and the surrounding southern landscape are given importance, drawing poetic comparisons between historical symbols and the African-American banal. Images are woven together to replace narrative arc with visual movements.
On Wednesday, January 16 at 2:15pm is co-directors Almudena Carracedo and Robert Bahar’s The Silence of Others, which reveals the ongoing struggle of victims of Spain’s 40-year dictatorship under General Franco, who continue to seek justice to this day. Filmed over six years, the film follows victims and survivors as they organize the groundbreaking “Argentine Lawsuit” and fight a state-imposed amnesia of crimes against humanity, in a country still divided four decades into democracy.
Wrapping up the second week of screenings is one of the most popular documentaries of 2018, RBG (Thursday, January 17 at 2:15pm), from directors Betsy West and Julie Cohen. The film is a spirited profile of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who has developed a lengthy legal legacy while becoming an unexpected pop culture icon.
There are still five screening to come in the series, including the return engagement of Minding the Gap (Monday, January 21 at 7pm), the debut feature from Rockford, Ill. native Bing Liu (who will be on hand after the screening for a Q&A), so stay tuned for more previews in the coming weeks. The complete Documentary Features Shortlist program can be found at Music Box’s site, where you can fulfill your dream to live the life of a voting Academy member without the stress of actually having to pick your favorites.