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DC10: A Festival of Documentary Gems

April 1, 2016



The last thing Chicago needs is yet another annual film festival, since it feels like there’s at least one every month. Right? Wrong. There can never be enough festivals to celebrate film and even though it feels impossible to keep up with all of them or when I try like I’m chasing my tail, I will still support and embrace what I can. So, when the beautiful Music Box Theatre kicks off a brand new 3-day festival featuring the best of recent documentaries within the past year, there’s no way I could refuse checking out these films and promoting the festival. Besides, the more movies I see, the more documentaries I watch and the more I appreciate their potential and power, probably more than any other medium of film.

Below I’ve listed synopsis of each film and if I’ve seen the doc, you’ll see a star-rating underneath my capsule review. I’ll be updating what I’ve seen periodically as we go into the weekend, so check back here frequently – until then here’s the lowdown and schedule (check out the bold letters for appearances by filmmakers) for this weekend’s brand new Chicago film festival….


Chicago Media Project, the premier Chicago non-profit organization supporting social impact media, is pleased to announce the creation of DOC10, a festival of ten documentary films, running April 1st through 3rd at the iconic Music Box Theatre in the heart of Chicago. Featuring new works from such acclaimed masters as Barbara Kopple, Werner Herzog and Albert Maysles, the only film festival of its kind in Chicago will present the full spectrum of current nonfiction filmmaking, from important social issue films and captivating music docs to engaging vérité and experimental works.  All ten films will have their Chicago premieres during the festival weekend.

“DOC10 shines a light on the ‘gems’ of documentary filmmaking from the last year,” says Chicago Media Project Co-Founder and Executive Director Paula Froehle. “There is a strong community of documentary film lovers in Chicago, and this festival brings ten exciting new films to them in one great weekend.”

The festival line-up is curated by film journalist Anthony Kaufman, who also programs for the Chicago International Film Festival. “We are currently experiencing an embarrassment of riches in creative nonfiction content,” says Anthony. “I’m so proud of our lineup of films, which for me, represent the diversity of the form, awesome storytelling and formal inventiveness.”

DOC10 kicks off with”Miss Sharon Jones!” the latest from legendary documentarian and Oscar-winner Barbara Kopple (“Harlan County USA”). The film follows magnetic soul singer Sharon Jones and her close-knit family of band members, the Dap-Kings, through one of their most tumultuous years together. With tenderness, humor and plenty of rip-roaring musical numbers, the film sets the tone for a festival celebrating the unique strengths of the documentary form.


Friday, April 1st





directed by: Barbara Kopple
US/93 min.

If you’ve heard Sharon Jones sing, then you’ll want to see this documentary. From Oscar-winning documentarian, Barbara Kopple (“Harlan County USA”), comes an emotional and soulful story of electrifying soul singer Sharon Jones, who is every bit as sweet and strong as you’d imagine. A former New York corrections officer, Jones found fame in her 40s as the front-woman of the R&B/funk band The Dap-Kings. But in 2013, Jones was diagnosed with Stage II pancreatic cancer, which would turn out to be the most challenging time in her life. As she struggles to find her health and voice again, the film intimately uncovers the mind and spirit of a powerful woman determined to regain the explosive singing career that eluded her. “Miss Sharon Jones!” follows the magnetic Jones and her close-knit family of band members and managers through one of their most tumultuous years together. Filled with both tear-jerking and laugh-out-loud moments and plenty of rousing live musical numbers, Kopple gives viewers a personal and powerful look at a woman who was told she was “too black, too fat and too short” when she started out. Well, look at her now. Director Barbara Kopple & Producer David Cassidy in attendance!

showtime: 7:00pm

RATING: ****





directed by: Anna Sandilands and Ewan McNicol
US/82 min.

Uncertain, Texas, is a tiny bayou town on the Louisiana-Texas border and is likely a place you never knew existed. This immersive picture sets out to change that, combining a look at three very different men who live off and on the swampland: an elderly, charismatic fishing guide with a haunting past; a former addict on an obsessive quest to kill an elusive wild boar he calls Mr. Ed; and an aimless young man who yearns to escape a town where he lived in squalor. All three men have struggled or are wrestling with what they’ve done and/or who they are in life, in a town that may be literally dying. ‘Uncertain” is an atmospheric and enchanting film populated by an environment and people who can only be found in the American South, where it feels like another country altogether. It’s a film that will get under your skin and stay on your mind long after its striking visuals have faded off the screen. Winner of a special directing award at last year’s Tribeca Film Festival and called one of the best documentaries of 2015 by Newsweek magazine. Followed by a Q&A.

showtime: 9:15pm

RATING: ****


Saturday, April 2nd




directed by: Werner Herzog
US/98 min.

From Magnolia Pictures comes the latest doc from maverick filmmaker Werner Herzog (Grizzly Man, Cave of Forgotten Dreams) who takes viewers on a fascinating and provocative journey into the past, present and future of our digital world, in his inimitable inquisitive style. Using ten loosely interconnected chapters, Herzog reveals the ways in which the internet and digital world has transformed our lives, for better and for worse. “Lo and Behold” touches on a wide range of topics, from online bullying and cyber-warfare to artificial intelligence and digital meltdowns. It’ll will certainly make you think “just because we can, doesn’t mean we should” instead of “look how far we’ve come”.  Expect a typically entertaining and informative and thought-provoking documentary, from one of the most prolific director’s of our time. Presented courtesy of Magnolia Pictures. Followed by a panel discussion with Dr. Lucianne M. Walkowicz, Astronomer at Adler Planetarium; Professor Jason Salavon, Department of Visual Arts & the Computation Institute at The University of Chicago; and Dr. Kristian Hammond, Professor of Computer Science, Electrical Engineering and Co-Director of the Intelligent Information Laboratory at Northwestern University.

showtime: 1:00pm






directed by: Peter Middleton & James Spinney
UK/90 min.
“If I didn’t understand it, it would defeat me,” says John Hull, referring to the blindness that took his sight away at the age of 45. This probing sensorial experience of a film follows the respected Australian-born academic and theologian as he grapples with his condition, forcing him to change everything about his life, from the way he teaches to the way he connects with his children. Gorgeously photographed and beautifully crafted, Notes on Blindness employs actors, who lip-sync Hull’s actual audio recordings, to provide an intimate, fascinating and sometimes frightening account of Hull’s challenges and triumphs, anguish and acceptance. From Sundance and Rotterdam 2016, Notes on Blindness has been called “immensely creative and poetic” (Cineuropa) and “elegant, evocative and deeply affecting” (Screen Daily). Accompanied by Virtual Reality presentation of “Notes on Blindness—Into Darkness,” a beautifully animated, interactive documentary, which uses real-time 3-D, virtual reality, and binaural sound to explore the world of the blind. Directors Peter Middleton & James Spinney in attendance. 

showtime: 3:30pm





SONITA (2015)

directed by: Rokhsareh Ghaemmaghami
Germany/90 min.

This is yet another powerful film that introduces viewers to a sensitive and inspiring young woman.  Afghan refugee living in a shelter in Iran and an aspiring rapper, Sonita Alizadeh, a strong-willed 18-year-old who idolizes Rihanna and Michael Jackson (and wishes they were her parents) . She has dreams and ambitions – not just to sing, but have her own studio, her own car and place to call her own, but women aren’t allowed to do much of anything publicly in Iran, let alone creatively. Not to mention how her conservative Afghan family would frown upon the thought of Sonita singing. To them, traditions matter more than Sonita’s dreams. She has a lot to deal with for such a young woman – overcoming the pain of her past, avoiding getting married off in a forced wedding, and inspiring the young women around her. The more we watch, the more we see her struggle and frustration and we also see how Sonita’s relationship with female director Rokhsareh Maghami grows closer and closer as they both become drawn to each other.  Winner of both the Audience Award and the Grand Jury Prize in this year’s Sundance World Cinema Documentary Competition  Sonita Alizadeh in attendance

showtime: 6:00pm

RATING: ***1/2





directed by: David Shapiro
USA/76 min.

Plagued by her teenage brother’s 1978 murder, Manhattan art collector Martina Batan hires a private investigator to find out the truth behind her brother’s death. Meanwhile, she diligently seeks out the artwork of New Orleans so-called “gangster” Roy Ferdinand, a deceased outsider artist whose violent imagery resonates with Batan’s afflicted mind. Filled with surprising revelations, Batan’s journey eventually takes her to New Orleans, where she forms an unexpectedly emotional bond with Ferdinand’s sisters. A mix of true crime investigation and heart-wrenching story of grief and healing, Missing People has been called a “quiet stunner” (Toronto Film Scene) and “subtly touching portrait of psychological trauma” ( Winner, Best Documentary at the Hamptons International Film Festival; Special Jury Mention at DOC NYC. Director David Shapiro in attendance

showtime: 8:30pm



Sunday, April 3rd





directed by: Albert Maysles, Lynn True, Nelson Walker, Ben Wu & David Usui
US/76 min.

From legendary documentarian, Albert Maysles (“Grey Gardens” and “Gimme Shelter”), comes a look at  the cultural and emotional impact a locomotive can have on people like you and me. Assisted by a team of filmmakers, Maysles boards Amtrak’s Empire Builder, an overnight train that runs from Chicago to Portland and Seattle, observing a variety of passengers who share their story – revealing where they’ve been, where they’re going and why. Many of the people, who range in age, gender and ethnicity, are at a crossroad in life, while others are on the train as a form of reflection and catharsis before having to face challenging realities in their lives when they arrive at their destination. A beautiful look at America from a train window and surprisingly touching, “In Transit” allows viewers a chance to slow down and think about how travel is more than a means to a destination. Directors Lynn True and David Usui in attendance

showtime: 1:00pm

RATING: ****





directed by: Bonnie Cohen and Jon Shenk
USA/95 min.

Audrie and Daisy are two average high-school girls who have never met, but share a horrible experience. They were both sexually assaulted by boys they knew, only to then be savagely attacked on social media. By juxtaposing their stories, filmmakers Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk (The Island President) illuminate the larger societal epidemic of teenage sexual and online assault. “Wrenching to watch, but told with clarity and guts,” according to The Hollywood Reporter, this stunning entry from this year’s Sundance Film Festival goes beyond recent films such as The Invisible War and The Hunting Ground to paint a complex and elegantly conceived picture of both the women survivors and the men who took part, from the young assailants to a small-town sheriff to Daisy’s older brother, a surprisingly heartening voice for change. Director Jon Shenk in attendance

showtime: 3:00pm






directed by: Nanfu Wang
USA/84 min.

Meet “Hooligan Sparrow,” a.k.a. Ye Haiyan, a tireless Chinese women’s activist. In this tense, riveting first-hand account by first-time filmmaker Nanfu Wang (which she smuggled out of the country), viewers get a front-row seat to Sparrow’s activist efforts, from posing as a sex worker to shaming a high school principle accused of raping his students. With “on-the-ground urgency, [this] nervy, paranoid” (Screen Daily) docu-thriller presents a harrowing view of state surveillance and intimidation, as the characters are constantly under threats of harassment and violence. It’s also a devastating critique of China’s policies (as one of the film’s characters testifies, “China is so corrupt that it’s become fashionable for government officials to have sex with young girls.”) A “rabble-rousing” portrait, according to, “the movie’s fighting spirit is a standout.” Director Nanfu Wang in attendance

showtime: 5:30pm






directed by: Ido Hahr
USA/80 min.

Another one from Magnolia Pictures, comes nown as “Princess Shaw,” Samantha Montgomery, who lives in one of New Orleans’ toughest neighborhoods, is committed to her dream of singing stardom. Although she posts a cappella clips of herself on YouTube to a handful of followers and auditions for The Voice, she seems destined to a life of anonymity. But unbeknownst to her, a world-renowned Israeli musician and mash-up artist named Kutiman is about to transform her into an online sensation. Called “astounding and thoroughly inspirational” (Variety) and “sweet and surprising” (MTV), this rousing film examines the nature of loneliness, connectivity, aspiration and fame in the Internet age. Samantha Montgomery in attendance

showtime: 7:30pm


Go ahead and just cancel your weekend plans and prepare to spend it at the MusiC Box! tickets can be purchased here






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