fest of the best
The program opens with Rachel Lears’ critically acclaimed Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez documentary, Knock Down The House, and closes with the Emmy Award-winning story of Director John Chester’s attempt to build a sustainable-farm, The Biggest Little Farm.
In between, nearly a dozen films cover topics ranging from an “experiential piece of eco-horror” (Anthropocene: The Human Epoch) to an “eye-opening ride” with a family that runs a private ambulance service in Mexico City (Midnight Family).
And, of course, there’s Penny Lane’s hilarious Hail Satan, about a “five-year-old rabble-rousing organization that’s more like a gang of political pranksters than devil-worshipping cultists.”
KNOCK DOWN THE HOUSE | MARCH TEASER
Other highlights include this year’s Sundance Grand Jury prizewinner One Child Nation, celebrated portraits of pioneering 60 Minutes journalist Mike Wallace, and a group of activists who go undercover into ICE Detention facilities.
According to Doc10 programmer Anthony Kaufman, the high quality of films is a festival tradition.
“Doc10 is an early harbinger of the year’s most award-worthy documentaries,” he says. “Last year’s line-up featured five of this year’s Oscar-shortlisted docs, including Won’t You Be My Neighbor?,On Her Shoulders, and Academy Award-nominees RBG and Minding the Gap.”
Presented by Chicago Media Project, Doc10 also offers a variety of engaging events, including investor workshops, a forum about women in politics, and an Editor’s panel. To see the full schedule, click here.
“From farms and factories to house seats and border walls, Doc10 continues to tell not only captivating stories, but also pivotal ones,” explain Doc10 Co-Founders Paula Froehle and Steve Cohen. “This continues to be a knock out year for brilliant documentaries, and we are proud to be able to curate 10 of the best docs for Chicago audiences.”
THE 2019 DOC10 LINEUP
Knock Down the House | Director: Rachel Lears | 86 min, U.S., 2019
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez shovels ice into a bucket, as she preps for her day job as a bartender, while setting out to change the political landscape of American democracy. In this timely, moving, and ultimately inspiring movie, filmmaker Rachel Lears (The Hand that Feeds) follows the charismatic rising progressive star and three other insurgent female candidates running for Congress in 2018, battling powerful political machines across the country. As Ocasio-Cortez faces off against Democratic boss Joseph Crowley in New York City, we meet other “Justice Democrats”—diverse working-class outsiders, from a coal miner’s daughter in West Virginia, a grieving mother in Nevada, and a registered African American nurse in Missouri—all of whom are fighting for the issues they’re most passionate about and shaking up the establishment, without corporate donors. “Thrilling” (Slate), “vivid” (New York Times) , “immediate and engaging” (Indiewire), this “extraordinary” documentary has a “seductive emotional power, so sympathetic are its subjects, that it’s hard to imagine it won’t melt at least a few conservative hearts” (T he Hollywood Reporter).
The Biggest Little Farm | Director: John Chester | 91 min, U.S., 2018
A testament to the immense complexity of nature, The Biggest Little Farm is the inspirational story of two dreamers, John and Molly Chester, who move from the city out to the country to build one of the most diverse and sustainable farms of its kind in complete coexistence with the elements. Chronicling nearly eight years of epic ups and downs and startling trials and errors, the film is a “gorgeous and often devastating look at good intentions slamming into harsh practical challenges” (Indiewire) as the Chesters persevere through coyote attacks, insect infestations, floods, fires, and much more to build their utopia. Featuring spectacular moments of wildlife photography and winner of multiple film festival Audience Awards across the country, The Biggest Little Farm is “stunning” (Variety), “genuinely involving and heartening” (The Hollywood Reporter) , and “a wonderful portrait of the hands that feed us” (POV Magazine).
Anthropocene: The Human Epoch | Directors: Jennifer Baichwal, Nicholas De Pencier 97 min, Canada, 2018
As shocking as it is staggeringly beautiful, Anthropocene: The Human Epoch provides a visceral chronicle of humanity’s massive reengineering of the planet. From vast reaches of lithium ponds in the Chilean desert to colossal chunks excavated out of Russian mountains, this big-screen cinematic event impresses with the awesome scale of its imagery—and its harrowing implications. Following their previous nonfiction masterworks Manufactured Landscapes (2006) and Watermark (2013), award-winning filmmakers Baichwal and De Pencier, in collaboration with celebrated photographer Edward Burtynsky, go beyond your standard National Geographic environmental doc to create an experiential piece of eco-horror, accompanied by a hauntingly poetic voiceover spoken by actress Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina) . “Packed with shattering images and astounding ironies” (The Globe and Mail) and named the best Canadian film of the year by the Toronto Film Critics Association, this “riveting [documentary] leaves the unmistakable sensation that mankind is busily choreographing its own destruction” (Toronto Star).
American Factory | Directors: Steven Bognar, Julia Reichert 115 min, U.S., 2019
What happens when a Chinese multinational company re-opens a shuttered General Motors plant in Dayton, Ohio, hiring both Chinese and American laborers and managers to work together? In this “impressive in-every-way,” “fly-on-the-wall” “masterpiece” (FirstShowing.net), Sundance 2019 Best Directing award-winners Bognar and Reichart chronicle a culture clash that is at once humorous and disturbing. Balancing the intimate, hard-knocks stories of workers from both sides of the world with the larger complex geopolitical stakes at play, the film is a “fascinating tragicomedy” (Indiewire) that chronicles the hopes, dreams, and pitfalls of globalization with incredible multilingual access, from a pro-union forklift operator to the company’s Chinese billionaire CEO. “Elegantly shot and edited,” writes The New York Times, calling it one of Sundance’s “most powerful” docs, American Factory “can be heartbreaking, and it’s impossible not to root for the plant’s success, even when the company … is at its most villainous.”
The distant Barking of Dogs | Director: Simon Lereng Wilmont | 90 min, 2017, Denmark/Sweden/Finland
Shortlisted for this year’s Academy Award and winner of several international prizes, including Best Documentary at the San Francisco International Film Festival, where the jury called it “remarkable, exquisite, and unforgettable,” The Distant Barking of Dogs follows the daily travails of 10-year-old Oleg, a Ukrainian boy who lives a stone’s throw from the Russian-Ukrainian battlefront. Living with his loving babushka Alexandra and his younger cousin Yarik, this fractional family must navigate their survival as the rumbling sounds of mortar shells inches ever closer. Like others in their village, they debate whether to flee or seek solace in their familiar surroundings—as Alexandra says, “Every dog is a lion in its own home.” But how long is it safe to stay there? A delicate and beautiful observational tour-de-force about life in wartime, this “touchingly intimate” (Screen Daily) and “impressive [film] invites universal empathy [and] “deftly weaves a precise coming-of-age narrative into its morally urgent anti-war tableau” (Variety).
￼￼￼Hail Satan? | Director: Penny Lane 95min, 2018, U.S.
A wickedly funny and rousing tribute to first amendment rights, Hail Satan? chronicles The Satanic Temple, a five-year-old rabble-rousing organization that’s more like a gang of political pranksters than devil-worshipping cultists. You see, TST adherents don’t pray to Lucifer, per se; they just embrace him as a symbol of activism and anti-authoritarianism. As the group grows from a minor media gag to a worldwide nontheistic ministry with thousands of members, filmmaker Penny Lane (Nuts!, O ur Nixon) charts the Temple’s fight to preserve the separation of church and state—which, for many, is no holy task—while also trying to maintain their unity and their righteous reputation. Combining a “wry, light-hearted approach” (Screen Daily) and expertly edited archival footage, culled from Rosemary’s Baby to 1980s’ “Satanic panic” talk-shows to animated Christian propaganda, this “hilarious movie” (New York Times) “sets out to subvert American history with intelligence and wit” (Variety) and “further cements [Penny Lane’s] status as one of nonfiction cinema’s most fearless and unpredictable filmmakers” (Indiewire).
The Infiltrators | Directors: Cristina Ibarra, Alex Rivera 95 min, U.S., 2019
With ripped-from-the-headlines relevance, though set during the Obama years, The Infiltrators chronicles the riveting, unbelievably true story of a group of activist Dreamers who slipped undercover into ICE detention centers to stop those inside from being deported. With a “formally daring” (Indiewire) mix of fiction and documentary, filmmakers Ibarra and Rivera track young Marco Saavedra as he gets himself arrested in order to save a Mexican father from getting thrown out of the country. Once inside the facility, Saavedra, along with another covert counterpart, Viridiana Martinez, expand their mission to give aid to a wide range of multinational immigrants—until ICE officials stumble onto their schemes. “Like watching a classic prison film … with a powerful message to impart” (The Boston Globe), The Infiltrators is a “thrill…. In gripping fashion, Ibarra and Rivera maintain an effortless balance between genre-rooted entertainment and concern for real human suffering” (The Hollywood Reporter) . Winner of the Audience Award and Innovator Award, 2019 Sundance Film Festival’s NEXT section.
Midnight Family | Director: Luke Lorentzen 81 min, Mexico/USA, 2018
The Ochoas are among the hardest working families in Mexico City. With a shortage of official ambulances serving the metropolis’ nine million people, the Ochoas — including 16-year-old driver Juan and his 9-year-old brother Josué — operate their own private paramedic unit, racing at top speeds through the streets at all hours and competing with other rival for-profit EMTs in search of patients. Called “a wild — and remarkably eye-opening — ride” (Rolling Stone), this exhilarating chronicle of the Ochoas’ ethically dubious pursuits as they seek to help people and make money is “extremely visceral in the best ways,” while also revealing a shocking account of economic struggle, government corruption, and the complex, moral shadiness of surviving within a dysfunctional social order. Winner of Sundance’s Best Cinematography Prize, Midnight Family m ixes high-energy ambulance chases with intimate moments of medical care and subtle family tensions, achieving “a powerful measure of suspense that’s intricately tied up in its despairing sociological depiction of a system that’s come apart at the seams” (Variety).
￼￼Mike Wallace is Here | Director: Avi Belkin | 94 min, U.S., 2019
This “sharp, propulsive and brilliantly assembled portrait” (Indiewire) focuses on pioneering 60 Minutes reporter Mike Wallace, infamously known for asking the tough, probing questions others were afraid to ask. When “Mike Wallace is here,” colleagues note, his subjects braced themselves for the worst. In between glimpses of the journalist’s most momentous interviews, from Barbara Streisand to the Ayatollah Khomeini, Eleanor Roosevelt to Donald Trump, filmmaker Avi Belkin skillfully connects Wallace’s own struggles—both professionally and personally—to find legitimacy as a TV journalist with the rise and fall of the news media itself as it passes from trusted pillar of truth to “fake news.” Was Wallace a hard-as-nails muckraker or the forebear of sensationalistic infotainment and Bill O’Reilly’s crass “ambush journalism”? And “why,” as Streisand accuses him, “are you such a prick?” Composed entirely of archival footage and hurtling past many of his personal demons, Mike Wallace Is Here offers no simple answers, offering a complex “compulsively engrossing” (The Hollywood Reporter) , “masterful, cinematic biography that unpacks a man’s life through his work” (The Wrap) .
One Child Nation | Director: Nanfu Wang | 85 min, U.S./China, 2019
Winner of this year’s Sundance Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary, returning Doc10 filmmaker Nanfu Wang (Hooligan Sparrow) fearlessly exposes China’s brutal enforcement of its one-child policy, and the devastating emotional toll it’s taken on Chinese families, including her own. Wang, who has just become a mother herself, gently balances personal revelations with a searing indictment of her native country’s appalling efforts at population control, from widespread sterilizations to state-sponsored kidnappings. Hailed by Film Comment as one of Sundance’s best films, One Child Nation follows Wang as she returns to China in search of the truth—and atonement—for her people. “Brilliant” (Indiewire) , “stirring” (RogerEbert.com) , and “a startling account of collective trauma” (The Hollywood Reporter), this blistering investigation of totalitarian control and unrelenting propaganda reveals how an entire population can be convinced to commit inhumane acts in the service of the State. “I haven’t been able to shake One Child Nation, ” writes New York Times critic Manohla Dargis, “an essential, often harrowing exploration.”
Send your indie film updates to Reel Chicago Editor Dan Patton, email@example.com.