Films

1/2 Revolution

A revolution is in process, and rushing from their Cairo apartment, a group of friends bring their cameras and cell phones to the Tahrir Square demonstrations in order to document it. Omar Shargawi and Karim El Hakim’s true-life thriller, a new apex of participatory journalism, captures Egypt’s power-to-the-people resistance movement and the violent reprisals against it from a terrifying proximity. The secret police infiltrate crowds, tear gas canisters fly, shots are fired, and bodies hit the ground. Yet the rebellion continues—punctuated by breaks for prayer and chants of “no violence”—and these fearless storytellers keep their cameras rolling. The film provides a rare glimpse into history as seen from the street level. More than a mere on-the-spot document, the film is a landmark in contemporary storytelling, demonstrating digital cinema’s potential to empower the voiceless around the globe. (JS)

Abendland

In German, the word Abendland has two senses: it can mean “the West,” and, more literally, “evening land.” Acclaimed Austrian filmmaker Nikolaus Geyrhalter (Our Daily Bread) merges the two meanings in his new film, which takes viewers on a tour of Europe after dark. The Abendland he reveals is a continent barricaded from the rest of the world and vigilantly guarded against intruders; it is a place where work and play, birth and death, sex and religion are all mediated by technology, structured by routine, and subjected to constant surveillance. There are no titles or narrator to guide us on our journey—only the distinctive touch of a master filmmaker taking on the big questions. With his camera’s aperture open wide, Geyerhalter guides us through the moonlit night, exposing the humming machine that runs while most of us slumber. Co-presented with the Museum of Modern Art (DS) 

 
Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry

There’s nary a paintbrush to be seen in this document of the Chinese dissident Ai Weiwei, named by ArtReview as the most influential artist in the world. Ai’s big-concept projects include a room filled with tens of millions of hand-painted faux sunflower seeds, crafted out of porcelain; the phenomenal Bird’s Nest, the Olympic stadium in Beijing; and a spreadsheet documenting each of the more than five thousand students buried alive in shoddy public buildings after the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. Whether tweeting an upraised middle finger to Chinese officials, getting beaten by police, or spelling out a poem with five thousand backpacks on the front of a Munich museum, Ai transmutes protest into a mind-expanding, heartfelt, and sometimes brutally funny form of expression. With perseverance and a steady hand, director Alison Klayman captures the passion and commitment of the man who best represents a China at war with its conscience. Presented by the University of Missouri (JS)

The Ambassador

In the absurdist comedy Red Chapel, Mads Brügger conned his way into North Korea. Now he raises the stakes in this satirical romp through an Africa where everything can be bought and sold, a continent that remains a pillager’s heaven. Flying into the “lawless” Central African Republic—which he calls the “appendix” to the Congo’s heart of darkness—Brügger passes himself off as a Liberian diplomat. He then proceeds to mix business and statesmanship in bewildering ways. In 97 hysterically, harrowingly amoral minutes, Brügger buddies up to sketchy conspirators, assisted by a local fixer and a European secretary. While more typical documentary investigations of corruption prove to be earnest at best, Brügger’s razor-sharp wit slices a new, blackly comic path through the little-understood underworld of international affairs. “As they say in diplomacy,” Brügger remarks, “if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.” (PS)

 
Argentinian Lesson

An eight-year-old boy named Janek travels from Poland to Argentina, where his mother works as a Polish-language instructor. A little lonely and a little confused, Janek meets Marcia, a beautiful and brave young girl, 11 going on 30. Romance blossoms. This is all captured in breathtaking 16mm film by Janek’s father, whose Argentinian Lesson is a landmark of nonfiction cinema. Steeped in a rich atmosphere of rain and Catholicism, marked by immersive sound design, and carried by its camera-ready (but not camera-mugging) leads, this is a film that inhabits its own world. Plays with “Into the Middle of Nowhere” (dir. Anna Frances Ewert, 15 min.) (CB)

 
The Belovs

“You shouldn’t film us. We’re just common people.” Thus begins Victor Kossakovsky’s mesmerizing, tragic, and raucous portrait of a Russian farm family. Beautifully shot in vintage black and white, The Belovs tells the story of twice-widowed Anna Belova, who lives with her brother Mikhail. Sometimes two other brothers, Vasily and Sergei Feodorovich, come to visit them. Their quarrels, tears, and joys all play out in front of Kossakovsky’s patient, intuitive camera, which is as likely to focus on a stray hedgehog in the road as it is on Anna’s weathered face. Tea and vodka are consumed, potatoes dug up, steam baths taken. They debate whether misery can be measured and stoically accept their tough but straightforward lives. But to view their desperation as tragic is to turn a blind eye to the flashes of tenderness and humor that abound in this film. (DW)

 
Building Babel

SNEAK PREVIEW People who’ve never met Sharif el-Gamal hate his guts. He receives threatening, hysterical phone messages. Protesters angrily confront him on his way to work. And why? He’s just trying to build a community center. Of course, there’s the matter of what kind (an Islamic center) and its location (two blocks from where the World Trade Center towers once stood). Dubbed the “Ground Zero mosque” by the media and far nastier names by its opponents, Park51 makes el-Gamal the target of widespread suspicion and conservative wrath. As he struggles to keep his fledgling organization alive, el-Gamal finds his past scrutinized and his relationships—both familial and collegial—strained. With the feel of a Maysles Brothers classic updated for the twenty-first century, Building Babel demonstrates how our best intentions can bring terrible consequences, and offers a glimpse of the small victories that come with weathering them. Plays with “Paraíso” (dir. Nadav Kurtz, 10)  (KP)

 
Bully

Alex returns to seventh grade knowing that once again he will be punched, choked, and called names, with every school-bus ride a terrifying test of endurance. School officials turn a blind eye to the bullying that 16-year-old Kelby suffers every day—even after she’s deliberately struck by a car. For Ty Field-Smalley, who killed himself when he was just 11 years old, constant bullying was something he couldn’t cope with. Filmmaker Lee Hirsch makes the bullying epidemic in American schools intensely personal, demonstrating how, for kids like Alex and Kelby, mere survival can be a daily battle. The experiences of these kids will stay with you long after the film is over. Unsettling and deeply felt, Bully is essential viewing for parents, kids, and anyone who cares about the safety of American students. Presented by The Crossing (IK)

Canícula

SNEAK PREVIEW An ethnography in the best sense of the word, Jose Álvarez’s film transports us to the Totonac village of Zapotal, Santa Cruz, providing a series of indelible moments: an awkward first dance, a lonely wash in a spring, the daily toil of bowl makers, some young men’s first “flight," (an event that defies easy description). Álvarez displays a tireless curiosity, embodied in a roving and slyly self-aware camera, but without the lingering didacticism of more classical anthropological efforts. Gorgeously shot and exquisitely scored, the film avoids clichés about the insulated village. Instead, Canícula captures the tension between tradition and the creeping forces of modernity, universalizing the struggle: “The Totona preserve their past, which is their dignity as well as ours.” (KP)

 
Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope

With a gentle touch, Morgan Spurlock brings us the tale of San Diego’s annual Comic Convention, a geek gathering that has gone supernova into a carnival of toys, costumes, and Hollywood stars hawking their latest sci-fi and fantasy projects. Viewers hoping for finger-pointing and nerd-mockery will be disappointed. Instead, Spurlock discovers subjects seeking to achieve their dreams. The film introduces us to Holly, a costumer and creature designer; Chuck, owner of a venerable comic book store; James, on the hunt for a Lord of the Rings engagement ring for his girlfriend; and Eric and Skip (a Columbia resident!), two aspiring illustrators hoping to break into the industry. Moving efficiently from story to story, weaving in moments with Comic-Con celebrities (including Stan “The Man” Lee) and still finding time to marvel at the sheer spectacle of it all, Spurlock has crafted a funny, heartwarming tale about strangers who, for a few days, can celebrate belonging to the same tribe. Even the Stormtroopers. (DW)

The Connection

Hungry for a fix, a group of skilled jazz musicians waits in a cramped New York City apartment for their heroin hookup to arrive. A naïve documentary director sits in the room, begging the junkies to “act real” for his camera. Shirley Clarke’s The Connection—which, in its opening moments, claims to be composed of “real” footage—was shot less than a year after the release of direct-cinema landmark Primary (1960). And while it can be read as a deliciously sly, ahead-of-its-time attack on claims of truth in documentary (or, alternately, as an early, remarkably sophisticated example of the “found footage” genre), writing off The Connection as a time capsule curiosity is reductive; this is electrifying, nerve-racking cinema that employs nonfiction artifice to haunting effect. Newly restored by Milestone Films and soon to receive a theatrical release, The Connection marks the feature-length debut of Clarke, one of documentary cinema’s great directors—as well as a former student of Stephens College. Presented by Stephens College (CB)

Detropia

Among the most skilled filmmakers working in nonfiction today, Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady (Jesus Camp, 12th & Delaware) have never shied away from difficult subjects, nor allowed audiences to finish one of their films with their preconceived notions intact. Detropia takes us deep into the shell of the city that was once Detroit. Lonely, grainy nighttime shots punctuate stories of struggle told by the survivors that still call the Motor City their home. A blogger and urban explorer sneaks us into once-palatial homes; a nightclub owner shares the highs and lows; and an anonymous opera singer practices his craft in an abandoned theater. Avoiding easy moments of false hope, Ewing and Grady capture the pride that many still feel for Detroit. Even as it provides an elegy to a once-great city, Detropia won’t let you count Detroit out just yet. Plays with “Meaning of Robots” (dir. Matt Lenski, 4 min.) (DW)

 
Going Up the Stairs

SNEAK PREVIEW An Iranian woman, Akram, has not taken the routine path to artistic success. She had no creative inclinations until, at age fifty, her grandson asked for her help with a school project. From that moment on, she began stealing her son’s pastels and surreptitiously developing her craft. Now, having been invited to an exposition in France, Akram must ask her husband for his permission to travel abroad. As captured by Rokhsareh Ghaemmaghami’s playful camera, Going Up the Stairs provides a pitch-perfect glance into a modern Iranian marriage; the film deftly and subtly portrays the absurdities of a modern society where women have no formal power but manage to usurp a share of authority. More than that, it’s a look at a true artist joyfully discovering an unexpected talent and embracing it with humility and grace. Plays with “The Love Competition” (dir. Brent Hoff, 15 min.) and “Pluto Declaration” (dir. Travis Wilkerson, 3 min.) (KP)

Gypsy Davy

David Serva Jones was a damned good flamenco guitarist, especially for an American. He was also a serial heartbreaker who left wreckage in his wake, including a handful of children by various mothers. One of his estranged children, director Rachel Leah Jones, seeks to arrive at “Year Zero” with her dad after more than three decades by collecting emotional, unguarded testimonies from those who could feel him “strumming our pain with his fingers.” The wandering Mr. Jones makes for a powerful enigma: while mostly tight-lipped, he is an insightful man whose music is profoundly passionate, drawing on the guitar magic of his mentor, flamenco master Diego Del Gastor. Making clever use of shuffled chronologies, Gypsy Davy is an engrossing yarn, with director Jones’s deft, wry voice wrestling with one man’s hard-to-pin-down legacy. (PS)

Herman's House
SNEAK PREVIEW Six feet by nine feet. That’s the size of the solitary confinement cell that Herman Joshua Wallace has called home for the past forty years. A former Black Panther perhaps wrongfully convicted of murdering a prison guard, Wallace is an example of both a penal system gone wrong and the power of hope and fortitude. At the urging of artist Jackie Sumell, Wallace, working by letter and occasionally phone from Louisiana’s Angola prison, designs his own post-prison house. Angad Bhalla’s compassionate, compelling, and surprising feature film follows this strange but productive partnership, as Sumell builds an exhibit based on Herman’s story, complete with plans for the house and a full-scale model of the cell—all carved from wood. But the story takes a turn when Sumell sets out to build a bricks-and-mortar structure for Herman and authorities decide to review his case. “The best activism is equal parts love and anger,” says Sumell, as she puts her energies to the test. Can art overcome injustice? Presented by the Consulate General of Canada (JS)
How to Survive a Plague

In 1987, as the death count mounted for New York’s gay community, Senator Jesse Helms blamed the victims for their disease and President Reagan refused to speak the disease’s name—let alone launch a national policy to address it. Into this void came an activist force called ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power). This take-no-prisoners group agitated on every front to find a cure: from noisy rallies outside the National Institutes of Health to becoming experts on human physiology and drug testing. This landmark film taps into a motherlode of archival video footage from the ’80s and celebrates a little-told triumph of activism: how a few charismatic activists, plus some less-showy pharmaceutical researchers, endeavored to end a crisis. Rigorously journalistic yet intimate and cathartic, How to Survive brings its subject and its epoch to life more than any other film before it. (PS)

The Imposter

In a rural Texas town, a thirteen-year-old boy goes missing after school. Years later, thousands of miles and an ocean away in Spain, the family gets the call that their child is still alive. We will leave you in the dark about the twists and turns that mark this new thriller, and will say only that it defies experience and challenges what we think we know about human motivation. Without a frivolous or extraneously showy moment, The Imposter elevates visual storytelling in nonfiction cinema, with rich information and emotion bursting from every frame. And so, at the end, when Charlie approaches the house, splitting maul in hand, and knocks on the door . . . you’re hooked. Savor that moment. (DW)

 
The Island President

The Maldives, a tropical paradise for tourists in the Indian Ocean, faces a big problem. Global warming has led to rising ocean levels, leaving the hundreds of tiny islands that make up the country at risk of disappearing. President Mohamed Nasheed is on a mission to stop this from happening. With extraordinary access, filmmaker Jon Shenk documents the challenges of Nasheed’s first year in office, which also include the struggles to build democratic government after years of brutal military rule. A former political prisoner himself, the charismatic Nasheed knows how to get attention, holding a cabinet meeting underwater for the press. Yet he is no show pony, as his game-changing, impassioned speech at the Copenhagen Climate Summit makes clear. As he puts it, “It won’t be any good to have a democracy if we don’t have a country.” Beautiful cinematography and a haunting soundtrack by Radiohead deepen this urgent real-life drama. Presented by the University of Missouri (IK)

Low & Clear
SNEAK PREVIEW Over the years, True/False has become a champion of films that push the visual vocabulary and style of nonfiction filmmaking into new places. But from the first gauzy bright shots of a poke boat moving through reeds, Low & Clear stands out like a beacon, challenging filmmakers and mesmerizing audiences. It’s the story of two one-time friends, J. T. Van Zandt and Alex “Xenie” Hall. J. T. is the fresh-faced son of a legendary musician and the kind of guy who believes that fishing isn’t really about catching fish. Xenie is one of the greatest fly fishermen in Colorado, and he thinks that’s horseshit. They’re like oil and water, and when they choose to spend a winter week together fishing in snowy British Columbia, the sparks fly. Like a documentary Old Joy, Low & Clear will seduce you with its cinematography while it spins out its tale of friendship gone awry. (DW)
Marina Abramović: The Artist is Present

For anyone who has doubted the validity of performance art, this is the film that will change your mind. The self-described “grandmother of performance art,” Abramovic has spent forty fearless years on the edge, crafting art of the most visceral, soulful, and unforgettable sort.  She once trekked halfway across the Great Wall of China to meet her boyfriend, who was walking in from the opposite direction; she allowed audience members to pierce her with pins; she stood naked, suspended on a gallery wall. Now she prepares for her most demanding work yet, as part of a groundbreaking show at MoMA. Matthew Akers’s unflinching, emotionally riveting, and brilliantly constructed film interweaves footage from past performances with startlingly honest interviews, crafting the portrait of a provocateur/artist who, in search of essential truths about the human body and spirit, has ventured deeply into territory where few dare to travel. (JS)

Me @ The Zoo

Growing up in small-town Tennessee, gender-bending high school dropout Chris Crocker discovers YouTube in a big way, using his webcam and PC to produce outrageous videos that cure his isolation. He develops a devoted fanbase, but it’s only when he records an impassioned, teary defense of his idol Britney Spears that he becomes an Internet celebrity, attracting love and hate in equal measure. What might be construed as a film about a self-absorbed teenager becomes a supremely crafted work, exploring big ideas around identity, celebrity, and tolerance. Always engrossing, sometimes experimental, Me @ the Zoo is a new kind of portrait that subverts all preconceptions about its main character. (PS)

Only the Young
SNEAK PREVIEW Garrison and Kevin are best friends. They skate every day and explore the underpasses and abandoned homes of their Southern California desert idyll. But everything changes when Garrison discovers the opposite sex. Only the Young powerfully summons up an evanescent moment: that potent stew of teenage urgency, boredom, and young love that adults misconstrue as aimless wandering. It will lure you in with sugar-sweet shots of abandoned mini-golf courses and an infectiously expectation-defying score, but it sets its hooks by working both with and against the performative veneer of teen life that is universal. Even the film’s wide-eyed Christian youth, unsure quite how to rebel, still know they need to. This is the kind of film you’ll want to hold close to your chest for days, revisiting its tender love for its subjects. Only the Young isn’t jealous of youth, it is youth. (DW)
The Queen of Versailles

Jacquie Siegel married money. Twice. The second time, it was to David Siegel, who made his fortune by pioneering the sale of time-share vacation rentals. With their eight kids in tow, they decide they need a bigger house. In fact, they need the biggest house—a ninety-thousand-square-foot palace modeled on Louis XIV’s digs—and they’re going to build it in south Florida. Photographer and filmmaker Lauren Greenfield (Thin) takes us behind the scenes of a gilt-edged American Dream writ large and investigates just how much happiness money can buy. While some may see Queen as an extension of glossy reality-TV wealth-porn, Greenfield has found gold in the delicious access she’s gained. With great technical panache, she delivers a towering allegory about a country at a crossroads. (PS)

Re:Vision (shorts)

History, memory, and life are constantly up for revision by the people who experience them. Here are six short films that explore the past and present with a unique point of view, often revealing a clear vision, but sometimes providing a revision. “Grandpa Looked Like William Powell” (David Levy, 2010, 4 min.) Levy uses his grandpa’s autograph book and his own animations to explore who his grandfather was. “Old Man and the Lady” (Markku Heikkinen, 15 min.) Seppo and his mother might not get along that well, but living in too-close quarters in the middle of nowhere, they’d better at least try. “1989 (When I Was 5 Years Old)” (Thor Ochner, 11 min.) A tapestry of striking animation and sound design serve as the backdrop for the retelling of a childhood tragedy. “Aaron Burr, Pt. 2” (Dana O’Keefe, 2011, 8 min.) The historical figure sets the record straight. “Goodbye, Mandima” (Robert-Jan Lacombe, 11 min.) Robert-Jan tells of his family’s last days in the Congo and his assimilation into European life. “Claes” (Martina Carlstedt, 23 min.) A pensioner lives fairly isolated in his small apartment. (KC)

Searching for Sugar Man

The son of Mexican immigrants, singer-songwriter Sixto Diaz Rodriguez recorded two politically conscious albums in 1969 and 1970. Set against swirling string arrangements, they flopped at home. But in apartheid-era South Africa, Sugar Man’s subversive music was passed around like a magic talisman and celebrated as the equal of the Beatles and Neil Young. So what happened to him? Rumors abounded regarding his heroin overdose, long sentence for killing a lover, and fiery onstage suicide. But two rabid fans, a jeweler and a journalist, weren’t content to leave the puzzle alone. Jumping on the mystery train, Searching for Sugar Man brings Detroit and Cape Town alive through expertly assembled archival materials and animation, demonstrating the delicious uncertainties of the pre-Internet era. And the film weaves in Rodriguez’s music, which, forty years later, retains its revelatory power. (PS)

 
Secret Screening Blue

Like many of the best docs, this film takes us into a subculture that lurks below the surface of one of the biggest industries in America, finding new and creative ways to tell intimate, personal stories about people caught up in this world: some by choice, some by necessity. This is a new kind of tangential, poetic journalism, making for a sideways rebuke to straight reportage. Gorgeous and powerful, Secret Screening Blue acts as a fitting tribute to fellowship, friendship, and faith as an antidote to easier-to-swallow potions. (DW)

 
Secret Screening Gold

A searing portrait of an artist who has fallen from the top of the game and now must ascend again. Assembled like a fiction film, with unprecedented access into this world, the camera adheres to its subject, charting highs of white-hot passion and lows of blackest depression. This is not the glittering surface that television sells us: it’s sweaty and painful and highly competitive. While the grace notes are elusive in Secret Screening Gold, there is something beautiful in a striving this unalloyed. (DW)

 
Secret Screening Green

A metanarrative about the Situationists and a pop cultural institution turned inside out. Secret Screening Green, babbling whispers and frustrating self-awareness included, dances back and forth across the True/False divide with surprising grace. Depending on your orientation, it’s either brilliant or vexing, funny or maddening. And that makes it terrifically appropriate for a Weird Wake-Up. (DW)

 
Secret Screening Lavender

Is it an immoral Western import? Should they be hanged? In a besieged community, everyone is on pins and needles as a harsh and unfair law is debated. A stunning look at an embattled, close-knit subculture as well as of a press gone amok, this newly minted doc profiles a surreal world in which prejudice has gone off the deep end. (PS)

 
Secret Screening Orange

When the only local industry closes its gates and hard times fall upon a small American town, residents are left to scrape together whatever meager existence they can. Enter a smooth-talking stranger with a plan that just may represent the salvation they’ve been hoping for. But is his vision for the town’s future too good to be true? Can he be trusted? And should the death threats be taken seriously? This immediate and intimate film takes the pulse of the American Dream and finds it just this side of flatlined. (DW)

 
Secret Screening Purple

The directors of Secret Screening Purple are young, rough-and-ready practitioners of observational cinema. For their latest, they’ve ventured into the heart of a distinct American city teeming with alluring sounds and images. Bizarre street characters, seedy strip clubs, flashing lights? This documentary could have crafted itself, if it weren’t for its ambitious makers, who have seamlessly collapsed their months of vibrant footage into one night’s time. The resulting work—an immersive, loose-limbed paean to city life—is bold and exciting, with one foot firmly planted in the poetic realism of Rogosin, Clarke, and the French New Wave and the other floating in the world of dreams. (CB)

 
Secret Screening Red

This standout new film brings us into the forgotten cities and farms of one of the largest countries in the world, shedding light on the old dance between state control and freedom. Amid the sunny talk incessantly playing on TV, we meet two contrary souls compelled to sprinkle a little rain. Tracking down stories no one else will cover, these old-fashioned gumshoes benefit from gadgets that might well have been developed by James Bond’s Q. How much can one get away with? What line can’t be crossed? (PS)

Summer of Giacomo

SNEAK PREVIEW Born deaf, eighteen-year-old Giacomo Zulian has recently undergone cochlear implant surgery. Summer of Giacomo, a hybrid film that rewards patient viewers, thrusts us into his world as he navigates a life full of sound for the first time. Set over the course of a lazy summer afternoon, this gorgeous, languid film follows Giacomo and his friend Stefania as they frolic through the Italian countryside, swimming and dancing, eating and walking, flirting and fighting. But like most young friendships, this won’t last forever. Hypnotically and purposefully photographed on 16mm and full of achingly intimate close-ups, Alessandro Comodin’s pitch-perfect evocation of the teenage years is also a forward-thinking cinematic provocation. (CB)

These Birds Walk
Work in Progress. This story of a Pakistani home for orphans is an extraordinarily complex achievement, full of angry, scared young boys who threaten each other and then, in the next breath, hold each other close against the vagaries of the world. There are no numbers to text at the end to learn how things can be fixed. It’s not clear if things can be fixed. Part of a new vanguard of U.S. doc filmmakers merging cinema and documentary, These Birds Walk is spurred on by technological advances, namely DSLR cameras that let the filmmakers guide our eyes to the micro-details of existence. By crafting images and soundscapes, Omar Mullick and Bassim Tariq convey a heightened reality, making us feel all the fear and anxiety that these boys face. Showing as a work in progress—see this now so you can say you got on board early. (DW)
 
This Monkey's Gone to Heaven (shorts)

Inspired by the Pixies’ meditation on the divine (and toxic sludge), we spotlight eight shorts that illustrate a fragile hold on life.  Whether you’re an ad man or a painter, it’s time to get a grip. “Where Is My Mind” (Martin Ginestie, 13 min.) A man discovers he has been classified as “lacking mental capacity” without his knowledge. “Heart Stop Beating” (Jeremiah Zagar, 3 min.) One dying man’s heart is replaced with a rotor-driven device. “Four Cubic Feet of Space” (Tony Gault, 8 min.) Daniel Sprick is an artist who paints skeletons and focuses on human existence. “Back to Land” (Tijana Petroviç, 4 min.)  It’s a nice day on the California shore for some onlookers. “The Lion Wearers” (Narges Abyar, 12 min.) An Iranian ritual marks an event 1,400 years ago, in which a holy man and his companions were slaughtered. “Full-Time Ministry” (Helen Hood Scheer, 5 min.) An outsider artist and high school teacher shares his gospel. “Sunshine” (Doug Nichol, 15 min.) Attention shoppers: an ad man in China is losing his mind. “Family Nightmare” (Dustin Defa, 10 min.) One messed-up VHS-era portrait of Defa’s family that will haunt you. (PS)

Undefeated

“Football doesn’t build character. Football reveals character.” So says Bill Courtney, a lumber salesman turned volunteer high school football coach in North Memphis. And as he inspires his rough team of inner-city teens to turn a perennially losing program into a contender, we are treated to one of the greatest sports docs of all time. There’s a truism in the film business that says that documentary audiences don’t like sports movies, and vice versa. Please, if you find yourself on either side of that divide, consider Undefeated the peanut butter/chocolate meeting of these two genres. Like a real-life Friday Night Lights, Undefeated tells a powerful, inspiring story that, at its root, is about what it means to care. Nominated for an Oscar, this is a masterful work from a pair of young filmmakers, one of whom is an MU grad. Presented by Holder, Susan, Slusher, Oxenhandler, Attorneys (DW)

The Vanishing Spring Light
SNEAK PREVIEW Down a broken, banner-festooned alleyway in Dujiangyan City in the southwest province of Sichuan, Grandma Jiang operates a mah-jongg parlor from the house she’s occupied for fifty years. She maintains a playfully sullen presence as she chain-smokes, wryly wishing a recent tumble had killed her—a wish that, as the film progresses, begins to seem darkly prescient. The Vanishing Spring Light is a complex debut from director Xun “Fish” Yu, who finds in his subject a portrait of dignity in the face of the unspeakable. Yu’s film could be an allegory for a bygone China, but its heartbreakingly human face and canny comedy of family manners keep it grounded in the sweat and steam of the real world. Presented by the Consulate General of Canada(KP)
 
V/H/S

This is a work of fiction. Gory, scary, sex-filled fiction. A group of hooligans break into a house with instructions to find a single VHS tape whose contents are worth thousands of dollars. But as we all know, it’s never that easy. They find stacks of tapes, a shocking collection of self-recorded horror. Shot in part in Columbia (and featuring a number of locals both in front of and behind the camera), this film debuted to huge acclaim (and a couple of well-publicized faintings) at Sundance this year. We’re showing it because we think that beyond the horrific content lies some imaginatively re-created found footage and home movies that open up new terrain for those who work with the real stuff. We also like to remind ourselves what that “False” in our name stands for. And, really, it’s fun as hell. (DW)

¡Vivan Las Antipodas!

As if Wallace Stevens and James Thurber kidnapped a David Attenborough film crew. Victor Kossakovsky’s thrillingly idiosyncratic yet substantial doc journeys to four sets of the Earth’s antipodes—the places you’d end up if you drilled directly through the planet to the other side. Kossakovsky’s cinematographic tricks (he loves twisting and floating us upside down, like thrill riders at the state fair) don’t distract from the film’s deepest pleasures: his remarkable cast of characters. They include two bridge-keepers at an abandoned village in Argentina; the minder at a Botswana kiosk; a dour-faced brigade of bicyclists braving a Chinese monsoon; freshly spewed burbling, glowing lava; and a Russian shepherd who greets hundreds of sheep by name each morning. Most “Earth docs” offer either spine-tingling sensation or dire warnings of catastrophe. Kossakovsky counters with a playful, empathetic, and endlessly creative vision of our planet. It’s only slightly more gorgeous than the one outside our doors. Presented with the Museum of Modern Art (JS)

The Waiting Room
SNEAK PREVIEW This verité look at a hospital ward rivals an earlier landmark from forty years ago, Frederick Wiseman’s Hospital. This time, instead of New York’s Metropolitan Hospital, we are plunged deep into a similar purgatory—Oakland’s Highland Hospital—where triage is the watchword and gunshot victims are commonly wheeled in from the mean streets. The filmmakers avoid weighty pronouncements from experts. Instead, and more effectively, we feel the minute-by-minute Sisyphean struggle that plagues public hospitals, where emergency rooms have to field the overwhelming health-care needs of the inner city. In the midst of the chaos, we track a sassy nurse, an anxious father, a drugged-out serial patient, and a handful of other indelible characters. Instead of hearing about America’s broken medical care system, we are made to feel, touch, and experience it, firsthand, and compelled to do something, anything, to stop the madness. (PS)