DocLands Documentary Film Festival, presented by the California Film Institute, has announced its full schedule of films and programs for the annual Festival showcasing documentary films, May 7–16, 2021.
DocLands’ robust slate includes 42 films from 10 countries and an interactive industry forum geared towards invigorating the business and art of nonfiction filmmaking and building an active, fully supportive community around documentary film. This year the Festival will offer both virtual screenings with pre-recorded conversations and a limited number of in-theater screenings at the Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center in San Rafael.
DocLands will host the North American premieres of 9 DAYS IN RAQQA, paired with a virtual conversation with director Xavier De Lauzanne; and WOOD ON WATER. Bay Area premieres include THE MAGNITUDE OF ALL THINGS, with a virtual conversation with director Jennifer Abbott; NO ORDINARY MAN; UNDERSTORY: A JOURNEY INTO THE TONGASS; and WHEN I’M HER.
Additional films premiering at the Festival include the California premieres of BEAR-LIKE (Der Bär in Mir); BIG VS SMALL, with a virtual conversation with director Minna Dufton and film subject Joana Andrade; THE CRAB SEASON (La Saison des Tourteaux); END OF THE LINE: THE WOMEN OF STANDING ROCK, with a virtual conversation with director Shannon Kring and subject Wašté Win Young; HAVANA LIBRE; INHABITANTS: AN INDIGENOUS PERSPECTIVE; KAREN DALTON: IN MY OWN TIME; THE SPARKS BROTHERS, with a virtual conversation with director Edgar Wright and film subjects Ron and Russell Mael; THERE IS A PLACE ON EARTH, with a virtual conversation with director Ellen van den Honert and subjects Harvey Locke and Bryant Austin; and YOUTH V GOV, with a virtual conversation with director Christi Cooper and student activists featured in the film.
This year, CFI Education is presenting a new DocLands Education program, featuring two weeks (May 3–16) of free online screenings exclusively for school groups and students throughout the US. Ten programs of feature and short documentaries curated from the DocLands program will include selections for grades 4-12 in various subject areas and four programs that are also part of the year-round Environmental Youth Forum. Screenings will include pre-recorded Q&A conversations with filmmakers and film subjects and a series of free curriculum resources featuring discussion questions, lesson plans, suggested activities, and tools for film analysis and filmmaking skill-building. For a more interactive experience, CFI Education will also offer live virtual filmmaker visits through the year-round Filmmakers Go to School (FGTS) program, where Festival filmmakers will connect with students in real-time to discuss and answer questions about their film and the art and craft of filmmaking. DocLands Education will be presented on the new CFI Education Online platform, where teachers and students can conveniently access all screenings, Q&As, and resources in one free, user-friendly location.
Festival Sections include The Great Outdoors, films that transport us outside to truly appreciate, explore, and ultimately compel us to save and conserve our environment and the wilds of our one precious and precarious planet; Wonderlands, films that lift our spirits through stories of joy, wonder, and possibility; and Art of Impact, films that engage and spark action by sharing stories that open our eyes to the global community and its disparate cultures, politics, personal narratives, and biographies. Additionally, the Festival is host to DocLife, an interactive industry forum consisting of two programs: DocPitch, a pitching forum designed to connect filmmakers and their ideas to funders, distributors, philanthropists, fellow filmmakers, and future audiences; DocTalk, an intimate conversation with four filmmakers, whose films take us on journeys with fascinating women of great impact.
Full Program Features (Listed in Alphabetical Order)
9 DAYS IN RAQQA (9 jours à Raqqa) – North American Premiere Director: Xavier de Lauzanne | Section: Art of Impact | 88 minIn French, Arabic, English, and Kurdish with English subtitles
At just 30 years old, Leila Mustapha, a Kurdish Syrian civil engineer by trade, has become the mayor of Raqqa, Syria, which was once the capital of ISIS. Director Xavier de Lauzanne follows French writer Marine de Tilley as she travels to the still dangerous city of Raqqa to chronicle Mustapha’s ambitious plan to restore democracy.
9TO5: THE STORY OF A MOVEMENT Director: Julia Reichert & Steven Bognar | DocLands Honors | 149 min (includes shorts)
From the filmmakers of the Oscar-winning documentary American Factory, 9to5 is an inspiring look at the historic intersection of the women’s movement and the labor movement in the 1970s, when secretaries all over the nation decided that they were done making the boss’s coffee and ready to start a revolution.The film will be preceded by three short films also directed by Reichert and Bognar: Sparkle, Making Morning Star, and Last Reel.
ALL LIGHT, EVERYWHERE Director: Theo Anthony | Section: Art of Impact | 105 min
All Light, Everywhere is an exploration of the shared histories of cameras, weapons, policing, and justice. As surveillance technologies become a fixture in everyday life, the film interrogates the complexity of an objective point of view, probing the biases inherent in both human perception and the lens.
AMY TAN: UNINTENTIONAL MEMOIR Director: James Redford | Section: Wonderlands | 82 min
In this rich portrait of celebrated Bay Area writer Amy Tan, The Joy Luck Club author reflects upon her family’s history as well as her own. With clear eyes and robust detail, Tan recounts how her life growing up in Oakland influenced her work in the Bay Area. This is director James Redford’s final film.
BEAR-LIKE (Der Bär in Mir) – California Premiere Director: Roman Droux | Section: The Great Outdoors | 92 minIn English, Swiss German, and German with English subtitles
Deep in the breathtaking wilderness of the Alaskan peninsula, a filmmaker joins a passionate bear researcher in a thrilling study of the majestic grizzlies that inhabit it. The two adventurers experience firsthand the beauty of these untamed creatures and the harsh reality of survival in such unrelenting terrain.
BIG VS SMALL – California Premiere Director: Minna Dufton | Section: The Great Outdoors | 76 min
A modern-day fairytale stretching from monster waves in Portugal to the dark stillness of a far-north, frozen Finnish lake, Big vs Small is about power and strength on top of the water and facing demons under it. It’s about trust, it’s about letting go, and it’s about what happens when two elite champion athletes share their extraordinary talents with each other.
CAN YOU BRING IT: BILL T. JONES AND D-MAN IN THE WATERS Director: Rosalynde LeBlanc, Tom Hurwitz | Section: Wonderlands | 105 min (includes short)
Traces the history of one of the most important works of art to come out of the age of AIDS: Bill T. Jones’ tour-de-force ballet D-Man in the Waters. As a group of young dancers reconstructs the dance in the present day, they learn about this oft forgotten history and the power of art in a time of plague.Preceded by the short film When I’m Her, director Emily Schuman
CODE NAME: NAGASAKI (Kodenavn: Nagasaki) Director: Fredrik S. Hana | Section: Wonderlands | 70 minIn Norwegian, English, and Japanese with English subtitles
Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Slamdance Film Festival, this thrilling cinematic investigation follows two Norwegian friends, bonded by a love of film, as one of them tries to locate his estranged mother in Japan. Divided into specific chapters, the duo visualizes their journey through masterful, genre-specific re-enactments, from film noir to samurai epic.
CRUTCH Director: Sachi Cunningham & Chandler Evans | Section: Art of Impact | 97 min
B-boy, skate punk, street performer, provocateur, crutch master: Bill Shannon has worn many hats in his life. Crutch offers an intimate portrait of Shannon, following his emotional odyssey from a child struggling with disability to a world-renowned interdisciplinary artist who uses his crutches as instruments of expression, not symbols of disability.
END OF THE LINE: THE WOMEN OF STANDING ROCK – California Premiere Director: Shannon Kring | Section: Art of Impact | 101 min (includes short)
Witness the remarkable tale of the Indigenous women at the frontlines of the movement to halt the Dakota Access oil pipeline. Fighting against the desecration of their sacred land and clean water, these brave women waged a years-long battle against the government to protect their way of life, at great cost.Preceded by the short film The Water Walker, director James Burns
HAVANA LIBRE – California Premiere Director: Corey McLean | Section: The Great Outdoors | 114 minIn Spanish with English subtitles
With beautiful cinematography and intimate access, this inspiring new film offers up an exciting window into the world of a passionate group of young Cubans led by “surf pioneers” Yaya Guerrero and Frank Gonzáles Guerra, who are determined to make a place for surfing in their country’s cultural identity.
INHABITANTS: AN INDIGENOUS PERSPECTIVE – California Premiere Director: Costa Boutsikaris & Anna Palmer | Section: The Great Outdoors | 122 min (includes shorts)
Weaving together histories of colonization with the modern resurgence of Native leadership, this is a story of America’s troubled past and hopeful future. This is a platform to empower Native communities to share their wisdom and expand their influence in decision making about how to steward these lands. Preceded by the short films The Time We Have Left, directors Blake McWilliams, Niobe Thompson; and Last Days at Paradise High, directors Emily Thomas, Derek Knowles.
KAREN DALTON: IN MY OWN TIME – California Premiere Director: Robert Yapkowitz & Richard Peete | Section: Wonderlands | 86 min
Directors Richard Peete and Robert Yapkowitz combine rare archival footage and once-lost recordings to reintroduce the world to blues and folk singer Karen Dalton, a staple in the Greenwich Village music scene of the 1960s who, according to Bob Dylan, could sing like Billie Holiday and play guitar like Jimmy Reed.
THE MAGNITUDE OF ALL THINGS – Bay Area Premiere Director: Jennifer Abbott | Section: Wonderlands | 86 min
Still reeling from the death of her sister, Jennifer Abbot began tracing parallels between her loss and our shared sorrow of climate change. Her powerful cinematic journey illustrates how deep acceptance of death provides profound lessons toward accepting life—and how we can transform darkness into light, grief into action.
THE NEW CORPORATION: THE UNFORTUNATELY NECESSARY SEQUEL Director: Joel Bakan & Jennifer Abbott | Section: Art of Impact | 106 min
This hard-hitting sequel to The Corporation examines new developments in the far-reaching power that corporations have in our lives. As the realities of economic collapse, climate crisis, and crumbling democracy loom large, we explore just how the amoral actions of the corporate world are directly responsible for threatening our freedoms.
NO ORDINARY MAN – Bay Area Premiere Director: Aisling Chin-Yee & Chase Joynt | Section: Art of Impact | 83 min
Directors Aisling Chin-Yee and Chase Joynt take a thoughtful and fascinating approach to uncovering the truth about late American jazz legend Billy Tipton, who became a tabloid sensation in 1989 when, upon his death, his family discovered he was a trans man. This extraordinary documentary portrait reintroduces the world to Tipton by reframing him as a pioneering trans icon.
A ONCE AND FUTURE PEACE – Special Presentation Director: Eric Daniel Metzgar | Section: Art of Impact | 96 min
This hybrid animated/live-action documentary explores the past, present and future of Peacemaking Circles and how this ancient restorative justice practice has been reimagined to keep youth out of prison. The film tracks the parallel stories of a troubled teen facing serious jail time and the former Cambodian gang leader serving as his mentor.
PLAYING WITH SHARKS Director: Sally Altken | Section: The Great Outdoors | 90 min
In this inspiring and eye-opening portrait, Australian Valerie Taylor goes from champion diver and spearfisher to being one of the first people to film sharks without a cage (including for the movie Jaws) before settling into her most important role: pioneering marine conservationist.
RADIOGRAPH OF A FAMILY Director: Firouzeh Khosrovani | Section: Wonderlands | 80 minIn French and Persian with English subtitles
Winner of the Best Feature Documentary at the 2020 IDFA Documentary Film Festival, Firouzeh Khosrovani’s beautifully crafted personal portrait of her Iranian family artfully pieces together the complex love story of her devoutly religious mother and progressively secular father whose relationship is shaken by the 1979 Iranian Revolution
RITA MORENO: JUST A GIRL WHO DECIDED TO GO FOR IT Director: Mariem Pérez Riera | Section: Wonderlands | 90 min
This delightful documentary portrait captures the multifaceted brilliance and irreverent wit of the incomparable star of stage and screen, Rita Moreno. Full of insightful interviews, including Steven Spielberg, Eva Longoria, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Morgan Freeman, none stand out more than Rita herself, as talented a storyteller as she is a performer.
THE SPARKS BROTHERS – California Premiere Director: Edgar Wright | Section: Wonderlands | 140 min
Edgar Wright’s (Baby Driver) first documentary feature chronicles the decades-long career and influence of the enigmatic rock pop duo Sparks. With commentary from celebrity fans Flea, Beck, Jack Antonoff, Jason Schwartzman, Neil Gaiman, and more, The Sparks Brothers, takes audiences on a musical odyssey through five weird and wonderful decades with brothers/bandmates Ron and Russell Mael.
SUMMER OF SOUL (… OR, THE REVOLUTION THAT COULD NOT BE TELEVISED) Director: Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson | Section: Wonderlands | 117 min
In his acclaimed debut as a filmmaker, Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson presents a powerful and transporting documentary—part music film, part historical record—created around an epic event that celebrated Black history, culture and fashion. Summer of Soul shines a light on the importance of history to our spiritual well-being and stands as a testament to the healing power of music during times of unrest, both past and present.
THERE IS A PLACE ON EARTH – California Premiere Director: Ellen van den Honert | Section: The Great Outdoors | 73 minIn English and Dutch with English subtitles
Filmmaker-musician Ellen van den Honert takes us on a cinematic journey to discover the role of artists in wilderness conservation, who understand how profoundly beauty affects us—and the power it holds. While science offers facts and statistics, a poetic message can envelop us as we begin to perceive our intimate relationship with nature.
TRY HARDER! Director: Debbie Lum | Section: Art of Impact | 85 min
Lowell High School in San Francisco has a well-deserved reputation as an academic pressure cooker. Debbie Lum’s delightful Try Harder! follows a handful of students trying their best as they seek acceptance—both to their dream college of choice and as young people coming to terms with early adulthood.This screening is part of CFI Education’s Teen Wellness Film Series, presented in partnership with the Tamalpais Union High School District (TUHSD) Wellness Centers. A portion of the proceeds for this series will go to support the Wellness Centers.
YOUTH V GOV – California Premiere Director: Christi Cooper | Section: Art of Impact | 107 min
This inspiring tale profiles 21 ambitious young activists from across the country with one thing in common: the devastating effects of climate change. Together they pursue a groundbreaking lawsuit against the US government, suing over their constitutional right to have a safe climate system in a bid to change the future.
Full Program – Shorts
DocLands Shorts Program – FOR THE LOVE | Section: The Great Outdoors | TRT: 106 min Though not always able to see clearly, doing something for the love of it pulls everything that matters into focus.
— Whales Without Walls (dir. Charles Vinick & Dr. Lori Marino) | 6 min. – Whales Without Walls is an award-winning short film about the Whale Sanctuary Project and its work to create a seaside sanctuary so whales can be retired from entertainment parks and given a new life in an environment that is as close as possible to their natural habitat.
— The Urchin Diver (dir. Tyler Schiffman) | 6 min. – Conner Rhoads and his family have made a living off of the sea for over 40 years but with the collapse of the kelp forest in California, their living and way of life may never be the same again.
— Shaba (dir. Ami Vitale, David Allen) | 12 min. – Shaba is a personal story filled with absolute joy about a group of women and an elephant named Shaba who changed each others’ lives.
— The Linesman: Both Sides Matter (dir. Dominic Gill) | 26 min. – The Linesman is the story of one man’s mission to end human-elephant conflict in his homeland. With an unprecedented view of the plight of threatened villagers and their massive, majestic foes, the Asian elephant, we come to truly understand both sides of this deadly struggle.
— We the Power (dir. David Garett Byars) | 35 min. – Imagine upending the traditional energy system and giving the power of clean electricity production back to your neighbors. Friends, families, and visionaries break down legislative barriers and take power back from big energy companies to put it in the hands of locals and strengthen their towns. In English, German, and Spanish with English subtitles
— The Crab Season (dir. Martin Benoist) | 52 min. – In France, behind the cliff of Etretat, Christophe, who is visually impaired, fishes crabs and lobsters by hand, in an almost lunar space, where no one ventures. At his side, we experience what Christophe feels, starting with the beauty of this landscape. In French with English subtitles
DocLands Shorts Program – ON THE WATER | Section: The Great Outdoors | TRT 102 min Different perspectives of the ebbs and flows of our natural world of wonder as seen from the waterline.
— The Long Today (dir. Niobe Thompson) | 17 min. – Filmmaker Niobe Thompson’s dad turned 70 this summer. So he found a “river” on a map, repaired one of his old wood canoes, and invited his family to help him celebrate the big day.
— Wood on Water (dir. Hannah Maia) | 45 min. – Twelve young women spend 40 days canoe-tripping in the Canadian wilderness over a challenging counter-cultural summer spent exploring their physical surroundings and inner selves free from mainstream society’s expectations.
— Understory: A Journey into the Tongass (dir. Colin Arisman) | 40 min. – Three women set sail on a 350-mile expedition through Alaska’s vast Tongass National Forest to explore how clearcut logging in this coastal rainforest could affect wildlife, local communities, and our planet’s climate.
Last Day at Paradise High (dir. Derek Knowles, Emily Thomas) | 24 min. – Last Days at Paradise High is a microscopic look at the growing national phenomenon of mass tragedy and climate change-fueled dislocation, told in an intimate documentary portrait of the final days of adolescence. It is a classic coming-of-age story that asks, who do we become in the wake of disaster?Precedes Inhabitants: An Indigenous Perspective (dir. Costa Boutsikaris, Anna Palmer)
Last Reel (dir. Steven Bognar) | 9 min. – Film projectionists at the Little Art Theatre in Ohio speak about the craft of 35mm projection and the heartache in transitioning to digital formats, feeling the loss of yet another handcrafted profession.Precedes 9to5: The Story of a Movement (dir. Julia Reichert, Steven Bognar)
The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant (dir. Julia Reichert, Steven Bognar) | 42 min. – To the residents of Moraine, Ohio, General Motors was more than just a car company, it was the lifeblood of a community. In the wake of GM’s 2008 announcement that it was closing the plant, stunned workers looked back at their careers at GM, reminiscing about the opportunities, friendships and pride that the factory line had given them. Through their words, this 2009 Oscar® nominated documentary stands as an elegy to a dying American manufacturing system–and a timely look at the U.S. auto industry in crisis.This is a FREE screening, courtesy of HBO.
Making of Morning Star (dir. Julia Reichert, Steven Bognar) | 37 min. – A film about the creative process. We observe as a new American opera is created.Precedes 9to5: The Story of a Movement (dir. Julia Reichert, Steven Bognar)
Sparkle (dir. Julia Reichert, Steven Bognar) | 18 min. – Winner of the 2012 Audience Award at the Silverdocs Film Festival. Sheri Sparkle Williams has been a star dancer with the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company (DCDC) for nearly 40 years, a track record virtually unheard of in the professional dance community. The powerhouse dancer suffers her first serious injury, on stage during a bold performance. She must decide whether to face the tough work needed to recover in time for a return to the stage… at age 49.Precedes 9to5: The Story of a Movement (dir. Julia Reichert, Steven Bognar)
The Time We Have Left (dir. Blake McWilliam, Niobe Thompson) | 22 min. – If you knew today what our changing climate would do to your family in 30 years, what would you do, right now, while there was still time to act? This short film examines the human experience of survival during a time of transformation destined to be inscribed forever in Earth’s geological record.Precedes Inhabitants: An Indigenous Perspective (dir. Costa Boutsikaris, Anna Palmer)
The Water Walker (dir. James Burns) | 14 min. – Anishinaabe water activist Autumn Peltier travels from Manitoulin Island, Ontario to New York City to address the United Nations.Precedes End of the Line: The Women of Standing Rock (dir. Shannon Kring)
When I’m Her (dir. Emily Schuman ) | 15 min. – Michael was a ballet prodigy with a stellar career ahead of him. He transformed into a Russian ballet instructor named Madame Olga as a way to both embrace himself as an artist and reconcile with the trauma from his past.Precedes Can You Bring It: Bill T. Jones and D-Man in the Waters (dir. Rosalynde LeBlanc, Tom Hurwitz)
DocPitch is a CFI initiative designed to aid filmmakers in completing a documentary film project currently in development. A jury of industry professionals selected five filmmaking teams from 72 submitted projects. Each team will present a virtual verbal pitch and a 3-5 minute trailer. The filmmaker pitches will be available to view by audiences globally. After viewing the pitches and casting their vote, the audience will decide on one project to receive an Audience Choice Award of $30,000. Following that announcement, an industry jury will present the remaining pitching teams with an additional $40,000 in awards. Funding for this project is made possible with support from the Nancy P. & Richard K. Robbins Family Foundation and Project No. 9 and members of the California Film Institute Board of Directors.
The DocLands Honors Award is presented to a filmmaker or filmmaking team in recognition of exceptional storytelling within the documentary genre, artists whose films resonate universally, emphasizing our common humanity – no matter the subject. The 2021 recipients of the DocLands Honors award are Academy Award®-winning filmmakers Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert (American Factory, 9to5: The Story of a Movement).
DOCTALK – WOMEN OF IMPACT
An intimate conversation with four filmmakers, Sally Aitken (Playing with Sharks), Xavier de Lauzanne (9 Days In Raqqa), Shannon Kring (End of the Line: The Women of Standing Rock), and Mariem Peréz Riera (Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It), whose films take us on a journey with fascinating women who have upended gender expectations, sparked societal change and continue to make a difference in their worlds, each in extremely personal and persuasive ways. They’ll discuss their inspirations for the films and how they came to know and work with these impressive women leaders.
The full program will be available to download here.
Images courtesy of Sundance Institute