Michael Phillips for Chicago Tribune on DOC10 Film Fest
"A pocket-sized, highly pedigreed new documentary festival comes to the Music Box Theatre this weekend. Presented by Chicago Media Project, the 10-film array Doc10 is programmed by critic, curator and nonfiction eagle-eye Anthony Kaufman, whose programming affiliation with the annual fall Chicago International Film Festival quickly made a difference."
Sharon Jones in "Miss Sharon Jones!"
With "Batman v Superman" making a mess of truth and justice in favor of rage, sulking and lousy filmmaking, we must find our cinematic honesty and explorations of the important things in life elsewhere.
Found 'em! That didn't take long. A pocket-sized, highly pedigreed new documentary festival comes to the Music Box Theatre this weekend. Presented by Chicago Media Project, the 10-film array Doc10 is programmed by critic, curator and nonfiction eagle-eye Anthony Kaufman, whose programming affiliation with the annual fall Chicago International Film Festival quickly made a difference.
Doc10's ambitions as well as its scheduled guests are noteworthy, with a stream of filmmakers and representatives arriving in Chicago the next few days to present works that have fared well in Toronto, at Sundance, at the True/False documentary festival in Columbia, Mo., and elsewhere.
Two-time Academy Award winner Barbara Kopple is one such guest. Her seriously inspirational year-in-the-lifer "Miss Sharon Jones!" launches Doc10 in style Friday night. The film follows the soul vocalist and force of nature through a full calendar of cancer and travel and doubts and triumphs, as she and her cohorts, the Dap-Kings, record their 2014 album "Give the People What They Want" and plan a subsequent tour.
Kopple's the woman behind the seminal American doc "Harlan County U.S.A." (1976) and another great labor chronicle, the Hormel meatpacking strike account "American Dream" (1990). Now 69, Kopple's busier than ever, currently working on a YouTube Red-funded project about the transgender viral sensation Gigi Gorgeous.
"We have a title, I think," she told me the other day, speaking from her office in Lower Manhattan. "'This Is Everything: Gigi Gorgeous.' Do you like that title? It's a working title. Titles are always the hardest."
Over the last several years, with a broadening of distribution options and streaming services eager for original content, the documentary genre has become a more natural and available part of our cinematic lives. Doc10's lineup reflects this variety.
In the pre-online, pre-cellphone world, when Kopple spent more than a year chronicling the rural Kentucky coal miners strike in "Harlan County U.S.A.," the filmmaker's camera, she recalled, "was the only camera there. The only one. Think of it. The miners and their wives took us into their homes and took care of us. I was told that if I was ever caught alone at night, I'd be killed, which was a shock to me in my 20s, because in your 20s you think you're going to live forever."
She won her first Oscar for that film. Its distributor told Kopple not to refer to it as a documentary, for fear no one would go. In the wake of Kopple's second Oscar winner, "American Dream," things had changed but money was still scarce.
"In the early '90s, I had so much trouble raising money. It was an incredible struggle. I got some foundation grants, same with 'Harlan County,' but I remember one night, or early morning, it was 60 below windchill in Austin, Minn., and I was going back to the Austin union hall from the picket lines, and my office called, saying we were down to our last $200 in the bank. 'What should we do?' I didn't know what to do. And then, a little while later, the office called back and said: 'Bruce Springsteen just came through with a grant of $25,000.' We'd been applying to him, and applying, and he came through. And everyone burst into tears. It's always a struggle … but you can't let something like money stop you from getting your work out there."
So is this a golden age for docs? "You know, I do think it's true," Kopple said. "Now there are so many places (to find funding). HBO. Netflix. Amazon is moving in. Starz, Encore. People want to see documentaries. They're among the most popular films at film festivals. They speak the truth and introduce you to people you'd otherwise never meet or get to know. We need them to know about our world. And I'm so happy to be a part of that."
For the full list of films, events, guests and discussions, go to Doc10.org. The Music Box Theatre is at 3733 N. Southport Ave. The movies include:
"Miss Sharon Jones!" (director Barbara Kopple; U.S., 2015)
"Audrie & Daisy" (directors Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk; U.S., 2015)
"In Transit" (directors Albert Maysles, Nelson Walker, Lynn True, David Usui and Ben Wu; U.S., 2015), winner, special jury mention, Tribeca 2015
"Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World" (director Werner Herzog; U.S., 2016)
"Hooligan Sparrow" (director Nanfu Wang; China and U.S., 2016)
"Missing People" (director David Shapiro; U.S., 2015), winner, best documentary, Hamptons 2015; winner, special jury mention, Hot Docs 2015
"Presenting Princess Shaw" (director Ido Haar; Israel, 2015)
"Sonita" (director Rokhsareh Maghami; Iran, 2015), winner, audience award and grand jury prize, Sundance 2016 World Cinema Documentary Competition
"Uncertain" (directors Ewan McNicol and Anna Sandilands; U.S., 2015), winner, director award, Tribeca 2015; honorable mention, CPH: DOX 2015
"Notes on Blindness" (directors Peter Middleton and James Spinney; U.K., 2016)
Michael Phillips is a Tribune critic.
Movies on the radio: Hear Michael on the latest films 7:20 a.m. Thursdays on The Drive 97.1 (FM).
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A version of this article appeared in print on April 01, 2016, in the Arts + Entertainment section of the Chicago Tribune with the headline "Acclaimed director visits Doc10 film festival - Talking Pictures" — Today's paper | Subscribe