9 can’t-miss films at 2018 DOXA Documentary Film Festival
In an era where fake news and alternative facts flood our timelines on the daily, the 2018 DOXA Documentary Festival challenges us to face all manner of truth head-on: about our inner lives, our planet, our fellow humans, and aspects of existence we might not otherwise give a second thought.
With 93 shorts and feature-length documentary films on its schedule – including Wajd: Songs of Separation, about three Syrian refugees who, in the wake of unimaginable destruction and loss, seek solace in music, and Our New President, which examines the potent combination of propaganda and technology in Putin’s Russia – DOXA is a tonic and an eye-opener.
Here are nine standout films screening at the 2018 DOXA Documentary Film Festival:
The Rankin File: Legacy of a Radical
In 1986, Vancouverites went to the polls to elect a new mayor. Their choices were a young NPA upstart named Gordon Campbell, and a left-leaning, anti-development, bombastic political activist named Harry Rankin. Campbell would ultimately win that election – which was, in retrospect, a referendum on development and the future of the city – but it is fascinating to get to know the brash and outspoken Rankin via Teresa Alfeld’s stirring film, and consider what might have been.
Directed by Teresa Alfeld
Screens May 3 at pm and May 8 at 6pm
Letter from Masanjia
In 2012, an Oregon mom found an SOS letter stuffed into the packaging of a plastic Halloween decoration she’d bought at K-Mart. The letter was from a prisoner of the Masanjia Labor Camp in China (where the decoration had been assembled) and described torture and other human rights abuses; the media scrutiny that followed led to the closure of the labour camps and the release of 160,000 detainees. But who wrote the letter? Filmed in secret at the risk of imprisonment or worse, Letter from Masanjia introduces the world to the letter writer (Sun Yi, pictured above) and lays bare what compelled him to send an SOS into the world in the first place.
Directed by Leon Lee
Screens May 5 at 2pm
The Road Taken
From the early 1900s through the 1960s, Black men from across Canada, the United States, Africa, and the Caribbean worked as sleeping-car porters for Canada’s railway companies. As one of the few jobs available for people of colour at the time, the occupation was well respected but also full of challenges. In this 1996 documentary, Selwyn Jacob interviews retired porters and their families to craft a vibrant portrait of these civil rights trailblazers.
Directed by Selwyn Jacob
Screens May 5 at 6pm and May 8 at 2:45pm
Co-Creators: The Rat Queens Story
What happens to a popular, woke, feminist, queer-friendly comic book franchise when one of its creators is exposed as a domestic abuser? Lonnie Nadler’s all-access documentary follows comic book writer Kurtis Wiebe as he pours his soul and resources into building the Rat Queens universe while simultaneously catapulting into parenthood. At the height of Rat Queens' success, co-creator and artist Roc Upchurch is arrested for domestic abuse. This thought-provoking documentary delves into the high stakes world of comic book creation, as well as problematic heroes and how best to navigate potentially catastrophic curveballs.
Directed by Lonnie Nadler
Screens May 6 at 8:30pm and May 13 at 5pm
The Quiet Zone
For a small group of people with electromagnetic sensitivity, the National Radio Quiet Zone in West Virginia is a safe haven where they can function without having to worry about electronic transmissions making them sick. There's no Netflix or Twitter for residents of the Quiet Zone; instead, they fill their days with banjo music, square dancing, handiwork, religion, and contemplative walks in the woods. The Quiet Zone introduces its audiences to electromagnetic sensitivity, and paints a vivid portrait of a dying town where faith and science coalesce.
Directed by Elisa Gonzalez and Daniel Froidevaux
Screens May 8 at 8:45pm and May 9 at 4:30pm
Looking at Edward Curtis
Visionary Vancouver filmmaker Marie Clements (The Road Forward) confronts the legacy of photographer Edward Curtis, and raises necessary questions about the ethics of documenting Indigenous experience. Part of the Rethinking Representation: Shorts Program.
Directed by Marie Clements
Screens May 9 at 12pm and May 11 at 6pm
Mark Zuckerberg is now the front-page editor for every newspaper in the world, according to one of the experts in The Cleaners. Facebook has more users than any state on the planet, so its acts of censorship have far-reaching consequences. But who enforces that censorship? The Cleaners pulls back the curtain on the world of contracted “cleaners” – also known as content moderators, many of whom are based in the Philippines – who police social media and decide the fate of photos and posts. Who decides policy? And who moderates the moderators?
Directed by Hans Block and Moritz Riesewieck
Screens May 9 at 6pm and May 11 at 9:15pm
Freaks and Geeks: The Documentary
The cult favourite 1999 television series Freaks and Geeks was helmed by future A-list directors Paul Feig and Judd Apatow and introduced the world to future A-list actors Seth Rogen, James Franco, and Jason Segel. With that kind of talent involved, why was it cancelled after only 18 episodes? Vancouver pop culture documentarian Brent Hodge (A Brony Tale; The Pistol Shrimps) presents a star-studded walk down memory lane about a high school dramedy that suffered for being ahead of its time.
Directed by Brent Hodge
Screens May 11 at 8:15pm and May 13 at 8pm
Kusama – Infinity
With its infinity dots and mirrored installations, the work of Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama seems tailor-made for the Instagram age – but as this wildly entertaining (and occasionally heart-breaking) documentary from Heather Lenz reveals, Kusama’s artistic journey began in the middle of the last century, when she struggled to make a name for herself in an art world riddled with racism and sexism, all the while dancing with hallucinations that fuelled her work. Georgia O’Keeffe was an early mentor; Claes Oldenberg and Andy Warhol might have ripped off her ideas and presented them as their own; some of her politically charged works were considered quite scandalous. But as Kusama – who lives in an institution and creates new work in an off-site art studio – says in the film, “No matter how I may suffer for my art, I will have no regrets.”
Directed by Heather Lenz
Screens May 12 at 7pm and 9pm
The 2018 DOXA Documentary Film Festival runs May 3-13 at venues around Vancouver. Tickets and schedule information at www.doxafestival.ca.