.What’s Up, Doc? Documentary film fest returns

As tickets officially go on sale for the 2022 DocLands Documentary Film Festival, once again the annual event boasts one of the most impressive programs of nonfiction cinema storytelling in the country.

Beginning on May 5 and presented by the California Film Institute, which operates the Smith Rafael Film Center and runs the annual Mill Valley Film Festival, DocLands traditionally sorts its cinematic offerings into “strands,” somewhat loose categories defined by subject matter. These strands are “Art of Impact,” stories that open eyes to global issues and an array of cultures in transition; “The Great Outdoors,” focusing on the environment and stories of adventure and exploration; and “Wonderlands,” films that engage an audience’s sense of wonder and possibility. 

This year’s opening night film (Thursday, May 5, 7pm), diving deep into the “Great Outdoors” strand, is Mikey Corker’s Savage Waters. A 93-minute action-adventure, this is the true-life story of British sailor Matt Knight, who discovered a 19th-century letter describing an enormous wave that repeatedly appeared off the shore of a small chain of islands in the Atlantic. Teaming up with world-class surfer Andrew Cotton, Knight and his family set off to find, and hopefully ride, the possibly mythical wave. Director Corker (Behind the Lines, The Guardian Angel), along with film subjects Taz Knight and Ed Smith, will be in attendance.

Other super-cool-looking films in the 11-picture “Great Outdoors” thread include Holly Morris’ Exposure (Thursday, May 7, 7pm), an 88-minute drama about an all-female expedition to the North Pole while battling cultural differences and melting sea ice. River (Friday, May 6, 3:30pm), a 75-minute documentary by Jennifer Peedom (Sherpa) and Joseph Nizeti (Anatomy of a String Quartet) and narrated by Willem Dafoe, is a visual meditation on the many ways that rivers shape the planet and the creatures who live on it. Expertly crafted as a journey into, under, around and above large-and-small rivers on six continents, River features a powerful musical score performed by the Australian Chamber Orchestra. Tigre Gente (Saturday, May 7, 4pm), from National Geographic’s Elizabeth Unger, is a gripping eco-thriller about the illegal jaguar tooth trade and the forest rangers battling poachers to protect the less than 20,000 remaining Bolivian and Chinese jaguars. 

Among the 10 titles in the “Wonderlands” thread, promising prospects include Ahsen Nadeem’s 100-minute Crows Are White (Sunday, May 8, 7pm). It’s a love story, of sorts, in which the filmmaker seems to be making a film about a secretive sect of Buddhist monks in Kyoto, Japan, but actually turns out to be avoiding making a very personal decision about the woman he loves. Nadeem will attend the screening. Another exciting-sounding doc is also a love story. Fire of Love (Saturday, May 7, 11:30am), by director Sara Dosa, is a 93-minute adventure about married volcanologists Katia and Maurice Krafft. The French couple love volcanoes almost as much as they love each other (or maybe it’s the other way around), and the film takes us right up to the edge of many of the lava-spewing craters they risk their lives to study. Scrap (Sunday, May 8, 8pm), by Stacey Tenenbaum, is a lyrical, 72-minute behind-the-scenes look at the strange metal graveyards where old vehicles ultimately go to rust and die, and Chris Gero’s The Sound of Us (Saturday, May 7. 6:30pm) is an 118-minute voyage into the global power of music and rhythm.

And that leaves the “Art of Impact” thread, with a total of 16 films.

There’s a lot to choose from, but we like the look of Let the Little Light Shine (Friday, May 6, 2:30pm), by Kevin Shaw (The Street Stops Here). The true-life drama follows a group of predominantly Black parents from Chicago’s National Teacher’s Academy, a public elementary school that was set for closure when nearby gentrified areas targeted it as a good spot for a high school to serve the growing number of non-Black students coming into the neighborhood. It’s a tight, well-pace 88-minute look at parents attempting to fight city hall. The question is, who won in the end? 

Director Daniel Roher’s Navalny (Friday, May 6, 7pm), features riveting interviews with Russian activist Alexei Navalny, the survivor of an attempted murder when he was poisoned in Russia. As Navalny and his family attempt to prove that he was a target of Vladimir Putin, this thriller of a doc gains powerful momentum, rising to an unforgettable climax. Our Words Collide (Friday, May 6, 4:30pm) is directors Jordan W. Barrow and Matt Edwards’ inventive 95-minute introduction into the lives of five teenage poets from Los Angeles, all involved in the nonprofit literacy program, Get Lit. The film uses selfies, animation, music and poetry to tell its true story of how the written and spoken word can expose powerful truths and change lives. 

DocLands includes a number of documentary shorts programs, along with the feature films, panel discussions, parties and other film festival activities. 

For the full lineup and information on tickets, visit DocLands.com
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