Preview: Doc10 Returns to Feature the Best Documentary Filmmaking of the Year

Now in its eighth edition, the weekend-long Doc10 Film Festival is Chicago’s only all-documentary film festival. Every year, the festival screens 10 of the best documentaries (including a program of short films) from recent editions of Sundance, Tribeca, Hot Docs, DOC NYC, and other festivals. Since its launch, 20 of the more than 50 films the event has premiered in Chicago over the years have been shortlisted or nominated for Academy Awards. The complete Doc10 schedule is available and tickets can be purchased online here.

Kicking off Thursday, May 4, with a screening of Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie (read the full review), below are brief takes on the bulk of this year’s promising program.

The Disappearance of Shere Hite

This in-depth look at the woman behind the groundbreaking 1976 study of female sexuality, The Hite Report, looks at why the book threatened men with its candid dialogue about women’s pleasure and why its author, Shere Hite, has been virtually forgotten in modern times. The charismatic former model and researcher became a spokesperson for her own cause and wasn’t afraid to engage with any talk show host, interviewer, or misogynistic detractor, leading to a backlash that effectively drove her out of the public eye. Digging into private archives, as well as Hite’s personal journals and the original survey responses, filmmaker Nicole Newnham (Crip Camp) paints a near-complete portrait of a true trailblazer who wasn’t afraid to get explicit or throw facts in your face in her quest to examine gender roles, the female body, and why people are so bothered by discussions of either.

Screens Friday, May 5, at 6:15pm at the Davis Theater, followed by an in-person Q&A with director Nicole Newnham, moderated by Christie Hefner.

Confessions of a Good Samaritan

One of the most original filmmakers working today, Penny Lane (Nuts!, Hail Satan, Listening to Kenny G) gets personal when she decides to become what the medical profession calls a “good samaritan,” or an altruistic organ donor, deciding to give one of her kidneys to a complete stranger. Lane not only examines the difficult process of making such a gift possible, but looks at the reasons people decide to do this. Is it to feel like a hero? Is it because they’d like someone to do the same for them in similar circumstances? If she discovers anything, it’s that people do things for unknown reasons, and that has to sit well with others. She wonders what it is to be a good person, and the answer is not always easy. She looks at the history, science, psychology, and ethics of donating to a stranger, and in turning the camera on herself, she gives us one of the most honest and funniest looks at human behavior you will ever see. And it’s one of the greatest arguments for unbridled compassion I’ve ever laid eyes upon.

Screens Friday, May 5, at 8:30pm at the Davis Theater, followed by an in-person Q&A with director Penny Lane.

Under the Sky of Damascus

In another example of using art to fight against oppression, this film follows the rocky journey a group of young Syrian women travel to battle misogyny in their war-torn country by writing and staging an original play that illustrates their plight. At great personal risk and sacrifice to themselves, these women from Damascus struggle to get this play completed while facing obstacles like even more sexual harassment from within the film’s own production team. Rarely has the battle to reclaim agency and creative expression been given such powerful and potent representatives, and director Talal Derki (Of Fathers and Sons), his wife Heba Khaled, and co-director Ali Wajeeh are forced to take stock in their own work as they strive to capture this harrowing theatrical process.

Screens Saturday, May 6, at 7:30pm at Gene Siskel Film Center, followed by a Zoom Q&A with directors Heba Khaled and Talal Derki.

King Coal

There are moments—several, in fact—during Elaine McMillion Sheldon’s new documentary about the coal industry’s loosening grip on certain portions of the eastern United States that you feel like you’re watching a science-fiction film or a “Twilight Zone” episodes in which Jesus, God, and the holy bible have been replaced by references to coal. Every museum, store, school and any other organized body is centered on black gold, and if you dare step out of line in worshipping it, I’m guessing a cloud will come up from a mine and swallow you whole.

The filmmaker takes a tough but still-loving look at her West Virginia roots, with the help of two young best girlfriends who go though their day as any girls in a coal town might, though they sometimes discuss exactly how important coal is to their family’s daily lives. This is a place where “Coal Miner’s Daughter” is basically the national anthem, and the Bituminous Coal Queen Pageant is taken as seriously as any religious tradition in town. A coal town is a place where time stops, calendars go backwards, and any science referring to the adverse environmental impacts of this toxic fuel is promptly ignored. Sheldon’s film is personal, lyrical and beautifully told, but it’s also a tribute of sorts to the dangers of nostalgia and building an entire community around a single industry. (SP)

Screens Saturday, May 6, at 4:45pm at the Davis Theater, followed by an in-person Q&A with director Elaine McMillion Sheldon, director of photography Curren Sheldon, and producer Shane Boris.

Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project

Winner of Sundance’s Grand Jury Prize earlier this year, Going to Mars takes its title from one of Nikki Giovanni’s most famous poems, which draws parallels between the lonely, isolated mindset it would take a Mars astronaut to endure such a journey and the everyday mindset of Black Americans. Drawing crowds wherever she speaks, Giovanni has been at the forefront the Civil Rights movement and Afrofuturist thinkers, and this documentary follows this divisive and electric thinker through book tours and a busy speaking schedule, while still making time for friends and family visits and reunions. The archival footage of Giovanni (now in her 70s) is spectacular and so revealing, particularly an extraordinary interview of her conducted by James Baldwin. But the film is at its best when co-directors Joe Brewster and Michèle Stephenson simply allow us to listen to their subject read her poetry and reveal her deepest, proudest and angriest thoughts. A self-professed “not a very nice person,” Giovanni shows herself to be someone capable of both outrage and great kindness, and the film captures both eloquently.

Screens Saturday, May 6, at 8pm at Gene Siskel Film Center, followed by an in-person Q&A with directors Michèle Stephenson and Joe Brewster, moderated by Dr. Miriam J. Petty.


Perhaps an unusual subject for an all-documentary film festival, Subject examines the complex and shifting relationship between a documentarian and their subject(s). Beginning with personal and cultural biases and contemplating what is exploitation, the filmmakers throw a new perspective on such great works as Capturing the Friedmans, The Staircase, Minding the Gap, The Wolfpack, and the much-revered Hoop Dreams, all through the POV and words of the subjects of those films, with no interviews done with the filmmakers (the presumption being that the filmmakers have already had their say in their work). In some cases, the subjects had their lives torn apart or upended by agreeing to take part in their respective documentaries, but in others, the subjects feel that their participation opened up opportunities for them that they otherwise might never have had. Subject questions whether these supposed bastions of truth are sensationalist works or a way for filmmakers who come from one community to shine a less-than-flattering light on another. Before long, the movie becomes a genuine ethical battleground and makes us question who can or should be telling certain stories accurately. For doc film lovers, this is essential viewing. (SP)

Screens Sunday, May 7, at 1pm at Gene Siskel Film Center, followed by an extended post-screening panel discussion with co-director Jennifer Tiexiera, producer Margaret Ratliff (The Staircase), participant Assia Boundaoui (The Feeling of Being Watched), executive producer Dr. Kameelah Rashad (co-founder, Documentary Accountability Working Group), co-producer Arthur Agee (Hoop Dreams), and participant, Kartemquin Films’ Gordon Quinn.

Also screening at Doc10:

A Still Small Voice – Sunday, May 7, at 4:30pm at the Davis Theater, followed by an in-person Q&A with director Luke Lorentzen

Going Varsity in Mariachi – Sunday, May 7, at 7pm at the Davis Theater, followed by an in-person Q&A with directors Alexandra Vasquez and Sam Osborn.

Shorts Program—screening Saturday, May 6, at 12pm at Gene Siskel Film Center, including in-person/Zoom Q&As with Tanita Rahmani, Dea Gjinovci, Marquise Mays, Hao Zhou, Swetha Regunathan, Amber Love, and Nevo Shinaar.

Steve Prokopy
Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet
Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for
Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and
filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a
frequent contributor at /Film ( and Backstory Magazine.
He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently
owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for
the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer
for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the
city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.