In Chicago’s crowded film festival scene, DOC10 has quickly positioned itself as a can’t-miss weekend of fact-based filmmaking. By focusing on just a handful of the most anticipated documentaries of the year, there’s no chance of lackluster filler films in a schedule that screens each program just once. The 2018 edition, hosted then as it is again this year at the Davis Theater in Lincoln Square, featured films that would go on to box office success and critical acclaim, including Minding the Gap, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? and RBG.
The festival’s fourth edition again promises to deliver on the high standards set by programmer Anthony Kaufman and presenting organization Chicago Media Project. In addition to traditional film screenings, be sure to explore what else is on the schedule, from the VR-RV where you’ll experience new, immersive cinema to several panels and conversations designed to complement the film program. A full list of special events is available online here. Tickets typically go fast for each screening, so if there’s something you’re particularly eager to see during the festival, don’t wait to snag your seats. A full list of films and ticket information is online here.
Third Coast Review was able to get an advanced look at the line-up; below is our take on what’s on offer as the festival kicks off on Thursday, April 11.
Knock Down the House
Chances are, you’ve heard the name Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (or AOC for those truly in the know). The freshman Congresswoman from New York, AOC surprised the Democratic party and the country last November when she upset an incumbent from her own party to take on a house seat representing the outer boroughs of New York City. Filmmaker Rachel Lears (The Hand That Feeds) couldn’t have known when she started following AOC and a handful of other female candidates running in the 2018 midterms that she’d be chronicling the rise of a political superstar, but it becomes very clear very quickly that AOC is a cut above the rest. Perhaps it’s because (slight spoiler alert?) AOC is the only candidate featured in the film who wins her election that she gets the bulk of the screen time. Or perhaps it’s because, like anyone who watches Knock Down the House (ideally at DOC10, or when it hits Netflix on May 10) will surely do, Lears fell under AOC’s charismatic, progressive spell. The film works as the representative’s introduction to the country (or at least the documentary-watching portion of it), but it’s even better as a time capsule of the response to the 2016 presidential elections, capturing in real time the bold, brave response of these women to a government that consistently disappoints. These are suffragettes and soldiers for our time, indeed. –Lisa Trifone
Knock Down the House opens DOC10 on Thursday, April 11 @ 7:30pm, followed by Q+A with Rachel Lears (Director), Sarah Olson (Producer) & Stephanie Soechtig (Executive Producer)
Mike Wallace is Here
The generation obsessed with social media and instantly available information may not even know who Mike Wallace was (and they’re the worse off for it). When he passed away in 2012, he’d been retired from 60 Minutes, the weekly television news magazine he’d hosted since its beginning 1968, for only four years. Before launching that show, he was a field reporter with CBS; before that, his on-camera work included that of a spokesman for various products and bit-part actor. All that and more is explored in Avi Belkin’s Mike Wallace Is Here, as Wallace himself–through archival footage and interviews–recounts his remarkable life as one of America’s most trusted journalists in the decades between a nascent television industry and the birth of cable news and the 24-hour news cycle. The clips pieced together from his long career are a who’s who of iconic interview subjects, from Barbara Streisand to Vladimir Putin; in each, he’s direct (often to a fault) and plain spoken. Most interesting are moments when the tables are turned and he’s asked some of the probing questions usually reserved for his interviewees; perhaps for the first time, much is revealed about a man who spent his life uncovering everyone else’s stories. –Lisa Trifone
Mike Wallace Is Here screens Friday, April 12 @ 7:15pm, followed by Skype Q+A with Avi Belkin (Director)
Troubled as the American healthcare system may be, it’s still nice to know that when tragedy strikes or accidents happen, an ambulance will respond to your emergency call–an ambulance that is stocked and sterile, and one staffed by licensed medical professionals. The same can’t be said for the ambulances on-call in Mexico City, where just a few dozen are owned and operated by the municipal government and private, scrappy paramedic units have cropped up to fill the void…and make a buck. Filmmaker Luke Lorentzen follows one such unit, a father and two sons (sixteen and just nine years old), who track emergency calls seven days a week in order to be the first on the scene. There’s a verité style reminiscent of Matthew Heineman’s Cartel Land, where the camera often found itself in the middle of bloody shootouts; there’s blood in Midnight Family, too, though mercifully mostly off camera. Here, the tension is two-fold, as the crew races against time and traffic to best care for their injured (and sometimes dying) customers, and as they wade into unregulated, morally gray areas around fees, access and treatment. –Lisa Trifone
Midnight Family screens Friday, April 12 @ 9:30pm, followed by Q+A with Luke Lorentzen (Director), Kellen Quinn (Producer), and via Skype Elena Fortes (Producer)
An audience and critical hit out of this year’s Sundance Film Festival, director Penny Lane’s (Nuts!, Our Nixon) latest is a surprisingly nuanced and sly profile of various members of The Satanic Temple, a fairly recent variation on the Church of Satan, whose members aren’t necessarily worshipers of the devil but are staunch defenders of the first amendment and the belief that there should be an absolute separation of church and state. Anytime a politician decides to champion the idea of, for example, a statue of the Ten Commandments in front of a courthouse or other government building, this new breed of highly organized Satanic activists begin pushing for a large statue of Baphomet (a hybrid goat/man embodiment of the Devil) to be placed right alongside it under the banner of religious freedom—an act that usually kills the plans for any religious-themed statue. In the early minutes of the film, Lane plays with the history of Satanic panic in America through the decades, but when she brings it back to today’s Satanists (led by the fabulous instigator Lucien Greaves), it becomes clear that these are grassroots, anti-authoritarians who want everyone in America playing on as level a playing field as possible. You may feel guilty walking into the film, but you’ll leave feeling inspired, with an understanding that the worst sin you can commit is judging a book by its cover. —Steve Prokopy
Hail Satan? screens Saturday, April 13 @ 9:30pm, followed by Q+A with Penny Lane (Director)
The Distant Barking of Dogs
On the shortlist for this year’s Academy Awards, this Danish/Swedish/Finnish co-production from director Simon Lereng Wilmont is a stark, tense and often unnerving profile of a fractured Ukrainian family living near the border with Russia during the recent extended conflict. Ten-year-old Oleg has lived with his grandmother and younger cousin/best friend since his mother died, an event that has left him shaken and scared at a time and place when unreasonable expectations of acting like a man during wartime are placed upon him. As the title of the film indicates, the constant soundtrack of the film is wandering dogs, and shots and mortar shells that seem to come from every direction at all hours of the day and night. The family can’t afford to leave the area, but as the conflict grows closer, the decision may shift from if to when they must flee to stay alive. The filmmaker’s access is unparalleled and captures the impact war has on its youngest victims, even those who don’t get shot or blown to bits. There’s a terrifying sequence in which Oleg is hanging out with an older boy who has a pistol and ends up getting injured at some point while playing with it. The frank conversations the grandmother must have with Oleg are sometimes tough to watch, but her love and protective instinct when it comes to him will undoubtedly move you to tears. The film frames war in a way that is rarely seen, and the result is one of the more powerful cinematic experiences of the year. —Steve Prokopy
The Distant Barking of Dogs screens Sunday, April 14 @ 2:00pm, followed by Skype Q+A with Simon Lereng Wilmont (Director) & in-person with Julian Hayda (WBEZ)
Crafting a documentary around reenactments can be tough to get right, as the re-doing of the thing is never quite as authentic as the thing itself. But when your documentary subjects are (voluntarily) locked away in an immigration detention center where the cameras clearly can’t go, reenactments–combined with real-time footage outside the center and after-the-fact interviews–will have to do. These moments are the weakest of The Infiltrators, a film about the young Dreamers who staged protests and turned themselves over to ICE authorities in order to fight the country’s broken immigration system from the inside. These scenes are supported to great effect by a story that’s as timely as ever, as families fight to be reunited and activists (peacefully) take matters into their own hands, staging sit-ins and even hunger strikes in order have their demands met. Most importantly, we meet the real subjects of the reenactments, ensuring that each story of seizure, confinement and deportation is given a very human, very relatable face–perhaps the only thing that can convince those not impacted by these matters to give a damn. –Lisa Trifone
The Infiltrators screens Sunday, April 14 @ 4:30pm, followed by Q+A with Alex Rivera (Director), Aneesha Gandhi (Managing Attorney at National Immigrant Justice) & Aarón Siebert-Llera (Immigrant Rights Attorney at ACLU)
The Biggest Little Farm
When their new dog Todd didn’t take to life in an apartment in the city, barking all day long to express his displeasure, John and Molly Chester decided the timing was right to finally pursue their dream of life on a farm. So begins the charming and inspiring The Biggest Little Farm, as John (who serves as director and co-narrator with wife Molly) recounts their first steps in making that dream a reality: writing a business plan, finding investors, and partnering up with mentor and teacher Alan York, who brings with him a grand (and long-term) plan for the land and its ecosystem. If the first act of the film is a bit bumpy, it’s only fitting, as the Chesters hit more than a few roadblocks on the way to restoring hundreds of acres that’d fallen into a desperately un-fertile state. Soon enough, the film and the farm each hit their stride, as the footage improves (it apparently took them a couple of years to realize they should be filming at all) and their confidence grows. The Biggest Little Farm is at once a very personal story about a couple who picked up and changed their lives in pursuit of something different, as well as a universally necessary message piece advocating for a life connected to the world we live in, however big or small it may be. –Lisa Trifone
The Biggest Little Farm screens Sunday, April 14 @ 7:15pm, followed by Skype Q+A with John Chester (Director), in-person with Paul Gaynor (White Oak Savanna), Melissa Flynn (Green City Market) and Jim Slama (FamilyFarmed)
Did you enjoy this post? Please consider supporting Third Coast Review’s arts and culture coverage by becoming a patron. Choose the amount that works best for you, and know how much we appreciate your support!