By the time most documentaries are out in the world ready for consumption, they’ve found their distributors or made their way into the conversation that will ping their target audience to watch for them. What I have enjoyed in my festival circuit so far is exploring the documentaries selected to participate in the event, several of which are making their debuts. This year more than fifty documentary films are showing, encompassing an entire film festival in and of themselves. Here are 11 that I’m looking forward to seeing if time allows.
Directed by: Camille Hardman, Gary Lane
If we’re talking about a documentary finding its target audience, then Still Working 9 to 5 can stop right at my door because I have, and will continue to be, a massive fan of that 1980 classic that has endured these past 42 years. The new documentary is more than just a souped-up making-of recounting of how Jane Fonda gathered Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton together but an examination of women in the workplace then, before, and since. I’ve seen this one already (the festival bottleneck is real! Thankfully, sometimes distributors/filmmakers are kind and let us get a peek before it gets too crazy!) and am looking forward to talking more about it soon!
Directed by: Sophie Robinson, Dunstan Bruce
Like many a teenager and college-age pub crawler in 1997, I owned a copy of British rock band Chumbawamba’s banger of a song, “Tubthumping.” You likely remember it as “I Get Knocked Down,” and it remains a popular tune to put on when you need to get a crowd all singing along to the same song. It’s an earworm that’s hard to shake, and the one-hit-wonder phenomenon of the track weighed heavily on the band and its members. The former lead singer, Dunstan Bruce, co-directs this doc about his struggle with reconciling his past exploits and plans for the future with the path that fame took him.
Directed by: Amy Scott
Editor turned director Amy Scott examines the life and career of recording artist Sheryl Crow in this doc that I have high on my list. I’m not expecting it to break the mold when documenting Crow’s struggles in the industry or a personal health crisis. Still, I’ve always found Crow and her music to be so open and honest that I’d wager a bet Scott has a pretty good array of material to edit down into an insightful work. Plus, I hear there are some excellent celebrity interviews along the way.
Directed by: Kathlyn Horan
If the stars align, I can pair my screening of Sheryl with another documentary about a famous singer. The Return of Tanya Tucker – Featuring Brandi Carlile, charts the country music legend’s return to the stage after Grammy winner Carlile pens an album inspired by the singer that helped her find her voice. I’m not as familiar with Tucker’s music as I am with Carlile’s, but I’ll never turn down watching a rag to riches story of a singer with a dream making it big. Fingers crossed, it’s as rousing as it sounds.
Directed by: Alice Gu
For each festival, I like to choose a few films a little out of my zone, and this look into how one man (a luthier, or, a maker of stringed instruments such as violins or guitars) makes a particular style of guitar in high demand by the world’s best musicians feels like one that would make for a good write-up. I’m illiterate about what makes one guitar better than the other, so I’d consider this one a completely new learning experience for me.
Directed by: David Siev
With all that has happened over the last two years, between the pandemic, increased violence toward the Asian-American community, and the BLM movement, we can expect many documentaries to tackle these subjects head-on and bring an even greater spotlight to these ongoing issues. Filmmaker David Siev tells a personal story by turning his camera toward his family as they struggle to maintain their restaurant in Bad Axe, MI. As COVD grips the nation and racial tension in the community grows, old family wounds from long ago are brought up.
Directed by: Lachlan McLeod
Watching so many movies gives you time to wonder about the weirdest things. What I’ve come to think about lately is, after all these shoot ‘em ups and action sequences are done, if this had happened in the real world, who comes and cleans up the mess of bodies and gore? Lachlan McLeod’s documentary gives some insight into that, following a crew of cleaners that handle scenes the average person wouldn’t be able to tolerate. While I’m not especially looking forward to hearing about the details of the unfortunate places they’ve had to go to, I am interested in this documentary to learn more about the people and how they cope with what they do. It could be an intriguing study of how we can detach our emotions when work is the main focus.
Directed by: Jeff Malmberg
Like 9 to 5, a documentary about Disney or Mickey Mouse is not something you’re going to have to twist my arm very hard to see. I’ll be interested to know the scope of director Jeff Malmberg’s investigation into the cultural impact of Mickey Mouse around the globe since Walt created the cartoon character. Seeing that Disney+ is handling this, I can already tell that it’s not going to be anything negative toward the Mouse House, but will it be a sanitized take on the conglomerate that makes Mickey run? I can’t imagine SXSW would select this if it didn’t have an interesting angle into its thesis.
Directed by: David Zucker
Shot over five years, the documentary follows a man with cerebral palsy and his attempts to live as much of a normal life as possible. The people around who love him want to be a support system while avoiding holding back his independence. You already get the picture that first-time director David Zucker will have many awkward situations to contend with as everyone will have an opinion about what Memphis is doing (or should be doing), but in the end, it’s him that has to decide. Hoping for a nice fly-on-the-wall observation of this journey all of them will be going on.
Directed by: Sara Dosa
While taking photographs of a volcano, two married scientists perish when there is an unexpected volcanic explosion. It sounds like the plot summary of a doomed disaster romance, but it’s the jumping-off point for Sara Dosa’s documentary on Katia and Maurice Krafft, French volcanologists that died in 1991 after Japan’s Mount Unzen began to spew gas and volcanic matter. Numerous documentaries have been emerging lately about athletes and explorers pushing safety boundaries for achievement. This story is an example of a couple that wasn’t as lucky to escape their fate. I absolutely must know more about these two – this is one I don’t think I’ll be able to miss.
Directed by: Kelcey Edwards
How are we ever to know what makes someone successful? The “hard work” adage doesn’t always apply anymore. While we may turn our noses up at the rise of the influencer, a considerable effort goes into that side of the business model as well. This title was one of the documentaries I read about that I debated having on my list. I wasn’t sure I wanted to hear about people skyrocketing to fame from a perfect Tweet, Instagram post, or TikTok video. I especially didn’t think I could handle director Kelcey Edwards balancing that with showing the opposite and featuring those that work their butts off and don’t get a leg up. This one could be frustrating…which is why I think I need to see it.