The brand new DocLands Documentary Film Festival, which exposes uncommon and uncomfortable truths this Wednesday through Sunday, May 10-14 in Mill Valley and San Rafael, marks no less than the third program on the Bay Area film calendar dedicated to nonfiction. (SF DocFest is around the corner from May 31-June 15, and SFFILM’s Doc Stories recurs in November.)
The remarkable popularity of docs these days has something to do with consistent production values; thanks to digital advances like affordable hi-res cameras, sharper audio recording and easy-to-use editing software, audiences can count on filmmakers to deliver topnotch movie experiences. But that in itself isn’t enough to propel audiences off the couch and into a theater. What’s really behind the doc boom?
A disturbing development for our democracy: Broadcast and cable TV networks (with the rare exception of PBS’ Frontline series) have abdicated their traditional responsibilities to investigative journalism and international reporting. Fortunately, independent filmmakers, who have always exposed injustices and social problems, have leapt into the breach in even greater numbers. And a chunk of the populace, cord-cutters or not, now recognizes that it must look beyond CNN and CBS for a truer picture of our world.
The debut DocLands lineup includes overtly or ostensibly political films like Lilly Rivlin’s Heather Booth: Changing the World and Tylor Norwood’s The United States of Detroit, as well as a backpack full of socially conscious expeditions like the French-Indian doc The Shepherdess of the Glaciers and the scenic Mexican sustainability survey Cloud Forest.
The extensive list of local filmmakers includes producer-director Rick Tejada-Flores’ fascinating family history (his grandfather was president of the country) My Bolivia, Remembering What I Never Knew and Abby Ginzberg and Ken Schneider’s excavation of Dorothea Lange’s photographs of Japanese-Americans in internment camps during World War II, And Then They Came for Us. Even the familiar is new and surprising at DocLands.