Chicago’s Doc10 Film Festival – Laura Emerick Reports

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A list of the top North American festivals dedicated to documentary filmmaking would have to include AFI Docs, the Full Frame Documentary Festival, Hot Docs and coming up on the turn, the Chicago-based festival Doc10.

Established in 2016 by the Chicago Media Project, Doc10 returns for its fourth edition April 11-14 at the historic Davis Theatre in the city’s Ravenswood neighborhood. Last year’s event featured two of the eventual nominees for the best documentary Oscar, Bing Liu’s Minding the Gap and Julie Cohen and Betsy West’s RBG, and arguably the most popular doc of 2019, Morgan Neville’s Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (which of course the Alliance of Women Film Journalists named as the best doc of 2018).

An added attraction this year is Doc10’s female focus. Sixty percent of the festival’s titles were directed or co-directed by women, including the opening-night film Knock Down the House. The Audience Award winner at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, the doc chronicles the many congressional candidates, including Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, whose campaigns and victories are transforming the body politic.

Among Chicago’s many cinematic marvels, Doc10 has quickly become a favorite of the city’s no-nonsense critics’ community. “Doc10 has become one my most anticipated cinematic events in the Windy City, and it never fails to spotlight films that end up on my best of the year lists,” said Matt Fagerholm, assistant editor at rogerbert.com, who cites past entries such as Nanfu Wang’s Hooligan Sparrow, Albert Maysles’ In Transit, Eugene Jarecki’s The King, Theo Anthony’s Rat Film, Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami’s Sonita, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? and “Minding the Gap, which he calls his personal Doc10 favorite so far.

“This year is no exception, with such masterworks as Penny Lane’s Hail Satan?, Simon Lereng Wilmont’s The Distant Barking of Dogs and Nanfu Wang’s latest triumph, One
Child Nation
, among the lineup. I applaud everyone involved.”

Unlike other similar festivals, Doc10 limits its screening schedule to just 10 titles, “to avoid forcing moviegoers to choose amongst cinematically great movies,” according to its organizers, who curate “the best documentaries from major film festivals from Sundance to Tribeca, from Toronto to Berlin — and beyond.” In addition, many of the filmmakers will appear to introduce their docs and answer questions afterward.

“From farms and factories to U.S. House seats and border walls, Doc10 continues to tell not only captivating stories, but also pivotal ones,” said Paula Froehle and Steve Cohen, the festival’s co-founders. “This continues to be a knock-out year for brilliant documentaries, and we are proud to be able to curate 10 of the best docs for Chicago audiences.”

Among the women-helmed titles screening at this year’s event:

American Factory (USA, 2019, directed by Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert) April 13, 6:30 p.m. Indiewire calls this a “fascinating tragicomedy that chronicles the hopes, dreams, and pitfalls of globalization with incredible multilingual access” as a Chinese conglomerate reopens a shuttered General Motors plant in American’s heartland. Followed by a Q&A with Reichert and Bognar.

Anthropocene: The Human Epoch (2018, Canada, directed by Jennifer Baichwal and Nicholas De Pencier) April 13, 1 p.m. A visceral chronicle of humanity’s massive re-engineering of the Earth, this environmental call to action goes “beyond your standard National Geographic doc to create an experiential piece of eco-horror.” Followed by a Q&A with Baichwal and de Pencier.

Hail Satan? (2018, USA, directed by Penny Lane) April 13, 9:30 p.m. In this salute to the First Amendment, the merry pranksters known as the Satanic Temple battle to preserve the fundamental principle of separation of church and state, with delightfully unorthodox tactics. Followed by a Q&A with Penny Lane.

The Infiltrators (2019, USA, directed by Cristina Ibarra and Alex Rivera) April 14, 4:30 p.m. Based on a true story, this topical doc follows activist Dreamers who attempt to stop federal authorities from deporting undocumented immigrants. Followed by a Q&A with Ibarra and Rivera, and immigrants-rights attorneys.

Knock Down the House (2019, USA, directed by Rachel Lears) April 11, 7:30 p.m. The Bronx’s AOC is just one of this doc’s four “Justice Democrats” — political heroes who fought the power and are leading social change. Followed by a Q&A with Rachel Lears, producer Sarah Olson and executive producer Stephanie Soechtig.

One Child Nation (2019, USA/China, directed by Nanfu Wang) April 13, 3:30 p.m. This year’s winner of the Sundance Grand Jury Prize, this harrowing expose attacks China’s relentless enforcement of its one-child policy, and the devastating emotional toll it has taken on Chinese families and mothers, including Wang herself. Followed by a Q&A via Skype with Wang.

To supplement the screenings, Doc10 also will present workshops, panel discussions, a crowd-funding brunch and virtual-reality exhibits and experiences. For full details, as well as ticket options, go to www.doc10.org.

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Laura Emerick

Laura Emerick is the digital content editor for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Formerly she was the arts editor of the Chicago Sun-Times, where she served as the primary editor of film critic Roger Ebert. She is a graduate of Indiana University with a B.A. in journalism and environmental Science. Among her passions are opera and Latin music, which she continues to cover as a freelance writer. Her all-time favorite movie is "Vertigo" (1958), with "The Leopard" (1963) and "The Sweet Smell of Success" (1957) following close behind.