One of the interesting ways the Savannah Film Festival, presented by SCAD, has evolved over the years is with its coverage of the documentary feature race. Headed up by the Hollywood Reporter’s Scott Feinberg, the selection includes some of this year’s hottest docs in a year of so many documentaries it makes your head spin. We simply don’t yet have a proper way to roll these docs out to the general public. I find that even on VOD platforms, accessing all of them is near impossible. The Academy, of course, will only choose five.
This year’s “Docs to Watch” at the fest included:
Off the Rails, directed by Adam Irving, about a man with Asperger’s syndrome who ended up in jail 32 times for impersonating subway drivers and workers and navigating subways on his own. Unfortunately he is still in jail. Irving’s film has also been picked up for a live action feature starring Julia Roberts.
Weiner: Directed by Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg – currently streaming on Netflix and an absolute must-watch. Weiner captures a man falling apart for no other reason but his own arrogance. It’s fascinating to see so much denial and yet, buried underneath it all is a very smart guy, obviously, one who would be a gift to American politics. Alas.
Gleason: directed by Clay Tweel, this is one that will rip your heart out, stomp all over it, and crudely piece it back together again. It’s winning hearts wherever it plays, however, and will very likely be among Oscar’s five. A former pro football player with ALK makes a video diary for his wife and unborn son. I know, crying as I type. Trust me. Crying as I type.
Life, Animated: directed by roger Ross Williams, another heartbreaker that is currently streaming on VOD, about a man who was unable to speak as a child until his family figured out that Disney animation could bring him out of his shell and take steps towards independence.
Tower; Directed by Keith Maitland – Tower is a film that I have not forgotten since I watched it. Animators re-create the famous Texas tower mass shooting that left multiple victims dead and went on for hours. The entire thing is re-created with breathtaking clarity and shows the power of animation to feel and seem real. The survivors are interviewed and the shooter examined. Brilliant brilliant brilliant.
The First Monday in May: Directed by Andrew Rossi, follows the creation of the Met’s most attended fashion exhibit in history: China: Through the Looking Glass. A little beauty offered up amid tragedy.
Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You: Directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, about none other than Norman Lear. The doc takes the viewers through his career, going all the way back to All in the Family.
OJ: Made in America: Directed by Ezra Edelman. It’s perhaps not fair to compare the docs to this one, which has the advantage of being five parts, each an hour and a half long. Nonetheless, Edelman has built a masterpiece here, and you know it because you saw it too. As a filmmaker of mixed race, Edelman explores the story from both sides of the black and white communities which built OJ Simpson up and then tore him down, his own exile from his community and his need to return once he became a pariah in White America. Fascinating stuff.
The Ivory Game: Directed by Kief Davidson and Richard ladkani – just kill me now. Just shoot me in the face so as not to confront what terrible harm is coming to elephants, one of our most treasured and brilliant creatures. Each day we have to face yet another horrible thing a human has done to an animal and elephant poaching, for the tusks, is at the top of that list of horrors. They will one day be gone. These filmmakers can’t say they didn’t try to save them. For the love of god, people.
Miss Sharon Jones: Directed by Barbara Kopple follows the talented band Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings in a challenging year in the singer’s life as she battles cancer and struggles to find her health and voice again. Susan Wloszczyna held a q&a with Kopple when her film screened here in Savannah.
Of course, this is but a mere selection of all of the documentaries available for viewing this year, each one representing a story worth telling. Whether it’s mass incarceration as depicted by Ava DuVernay in 13th, or climate change as depicted in Before the Flood – the doc industry is exploding. Savannah is a great place to showcase it, as it grows in prominence since its inception.