Now Playing! James Baldwin, Carrie Fisher, Angela Davis tell 'Doc Stories'

Angela Davis speaks inside West Oakland's abandoned 16th Street train station, in a still from Ava DuVernay's '13th.' (Courtesy of SFFS)

Close the laptop, drop that tablet, pause the smartphone and join your fellow humans in Bay Area theaters this week with recommendations from our film critic Michael Fox.

Doc Stories

Nov. 3-6
Vogue Theatre, Castro Theatre, JCCSF, San Francisco
Tickets: $15

The elbowing and jousting for Academy Award nominations currently in full swing is no longer the exclusive province of Hollywood execs, producers, agents and stars. The documentary world is likewise focused on awards season, albeit for prestige and ratings more than dollars and cents. This development derives in part from the relatively recent emergence of HBO as a player in nonfiction financing, acquisition and broadcast, and is fueled by Netflix’s recent strategy of throwing its muscle (i.e., deep pockets and vast audience) behind select social-issue films.

Still from Raoul Peck's 'I Am No Your Negro.'
Still from Raoul Peck's 'I Am Not Your Negro.' (Courtesy of SFFS)

This is the universe that the San Francisco Film Society is leveraging for its annual fall showcase, Doc Stories. Kicking off Thursday, Nov. 3 at the Castro with the intimate crowd-pleaser Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds and continuing through Sunday, Nov. 6 at the Vogue, the A++ series includes new films alongside works currently or imminently available on your home screen. (It also recognizes one of 2016’s earlier highlights, O.J.: Made In America, with an onstage dialogue with director Ezra Edelman.) Ava Duvernay’s 13th (with Angela Davis interviewed inside West Oakland's abandoned train station) may be streaming now on Netflix, and Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg’s Marathon: The Patriot’s Day Bombing debuts later in November on HBO, but there’s nothing like seeing these films with an audience.

The doc I’m most excited about is Raoul Peck’s I Am Not Your Negro (Sunday, Nov. 6 at 3pm, with the director on hand), which summons the fierce words, ideas and voice of the late, great author James Baldwin (himself the captivating subject of an early KQED documentary, in 1963). Appraising and examining the experience of Black people in America across the past few decades, I Am Not Your Negro doesn’t open hereabouts until Feb. 17, making this is a privileged, early opportunity to see an important film.

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