What do religious extremism, homosexuality, racial profiling, environmentalism, feminism, photography, aviation, injustice, murder, team work, creativity, sickness, violence, and celebrity all have in common? They all happen to be themes flowing throughout an impressive lineup for the 2015 DocUtah International Documentary Film Festival running from Tuesday, Sept. 8, through Saturday, Sept. 12. Hosted by Dixie State University in beautiful St. George, Utah, this venerable international documentary film festival will showcase dozens of titles from all across the globe.
Executive Director Phil Tuckett and Artistic Director Bruce Bennett promise a diverse slate of titles that will certainly enlighten, educate, and inspire audiences; however, at the same time, there are plenty of entries that simply set out to entertain. Having seen approximately 40 of this year’s submissions already, I’m inclined to agree that there’s a little something in the mix for everyone.
While St. George will serve as the 2015 DocUtah International Documentary Film Festival central hub, there will be additional screenings held in breathtaking surrounding areas including Kanab and Zion Canyon National Park. In addition to documentaries, DocUtah will also host a handful of filmmaking seminars. Expect insightful discussions with several of the creative storytellers behind many of this year’s entries as well as a possible appearance by Hollywood icon and “Tab Hunter Confidential: The Making of a Movie Star” subject, Tab Hunter (“Damn Yankees!”).
The 2015 DocUtah International Documentary Film Festival has over 60 documentaries on tap, including features, shorts, and student films. Here’s a list of my 10 must-see titles.
“#CHICAGO GIRL–THE SOCIAL NETWORK TAKES ON A DICTATOR”
From director Joe Piscatella comes this hard-hitting doc about a young woman who would aid in the sparking of a Syrian revolution directly from her bedroom in the Chicago suburbs. In addition to interviews with this fearless teenager, “#Chicago Girl” follows a few of her Syrian friends as they endure first hand the atrocities brought on by a corrupt and violent government. “#Chicago Girl” is not only an inspirational look at how a few individuals can make a difference, it’s also a profound look at how social media and a video camera can be far more powerful than a gun. [Sidenote: There’s a sweat-inducing, first-person escape in this documentary that is far more harrowing than anything a Hollywood narrative could conjure up. This is powerful stuff.]
“FLYING THE FEATHERED EDGE: THE BOB HOOVER PROJECT”
Bob Hoover is a legend amongst the aerobatics community. Even iconic, record-breaking test pilot Chuck Yeager hailed Hoover a legend. Kimberley Furst’s “Flying the Feathered Edge” is an immensely entertaining tribute to Hoover and his contributions to the world of aviation. This epic documentary follows Hoover from his youth to his terrifying ordeal as WWII prisoner of war to his iconic status as a fearless pilot who would test any plane known to man all in a valiant effort to take aviation to the next level. By way of interviews with numerous pilots, a Hollywood legend, and Hoover himself, “Flying the Feathered Edge” is a cinematic burst of high-flying joy. Attendees to the 2015 DocUtah International Documentary Film Festival will have a rare opportunity to experience a special screening of this picture in an airplane hangar at the old St. George Airport.
“ONCE UPON A CRIME–THE BORRELLI-DAVIS CONSPIRACY”
Sheldon Wilson’s intricately layered “Once Upon A Crime” is a tale of crooked cops, a mafia Godfather, prison gang leaders, a public poisoning, a coke-addicted newspaper editor, and Elvis Presley. However, at the very heart of this years-in-the-making documentary is a story of a terrible injustice. A story of Italian-American NYPD cop Mike Borrelli and his African-American partner Bob Davis and how they were wrongfully convicted of murder. As Errol Morris demonstrated with his unforgettable “The Thin Blue Line” over 25 years ago, Wilson proves that movies can make a difference. His meticulous eye for detail not only makes for an entertaining film but a very important one as well.
“OUT OF NOTHING”
Chad DeRosa’s adrenalin pumping “Out of Nothing” follows four passionate bike aficionados as they use their individual skills to construct specially designed motorcycles in an effort to break land-speed records on the Bonneville Salt Flats. This entertaining, well-paced, masterfully shot film gets a ton of mileage out of its colorfully engaging subjects, but it’s the documentary’s themes of team work and friendship that truly drive this fantastic movie to such soaring heights. “Out of Nothing” is quite the exhilarating experience.
While Amy Berg’s gripping “Prophet’s Prey” is a documentary, it also emerges as one of the creepiest, most unsettling horror films I’ve seen in quite some time. This Nick Cave-narrated doc delves into the life of FLDS prophet Warren Jeffs and the controversial dealings within the confines of his congregation—dealings that include polygamy, underage marriage, and rape. Even after Jeffs was brought to justice, his role amongst his congregation only appeared to strengthen. Again, this is unsettling stuff. Jeffs’ eerily delivered sermons in this picture alone made the hair on my neck stand on end. “Prophet’s Prey” is an informative and effectively disturbing look at religious extremism.
OTHER NOTEWORTHY TITLES: “Frame By Frame,” “A Place to Stand,” and “Manislam—Islam and Masculinity.”
“ALZHEIMER’S: A LOVE STORY”
This is an honest and profoundly emotional look at a man who cares for his Alzheimer’s-afflicted soul mate. It is a movie about Alzheimer’s and love, yes, but it’s also a film about compassion of the highest order. An undeniably raw and moving experience.
“FITTING THE DESCRIPTION IN EAST PORTLAND”
Rather than taking the easy road and documenting one side of an altercation between a Roosevelt High School student and the local police, “Fitting the Description in East Portland” takes a more well-rounded approach by focusing on three separate subjects: a teenage girl with aspirations of becoming a lawyer, a high school resource officer who truly has the youth’s best interests at heart, and a teenage dad whose new found responsibility helps him cope with his anger issues. Racial profiling is clearly a complex issue, and while you may question and debate some of what you’ll see and hear in this documentary, that’s the whole point. Talk about it.
“THE HOUSE IS INNOCENT”
Nicholas Coles’ delightfully offbeat “The House Is Innocent” is the very personification of quirky. This documentary follows eccentric Tom and Barbara as they proceed to rid their newly purchased home of excess baggage brought on by a most sinister past. The fashion by which this couple proceeds to change the community’s perception of their abode is at the very heart of this oddly charming doc.
“IN THE HOLLOW”
Austin Bunn’s powerful short follows Claudia Brenner as she revisits the Appalachian Trail where she and her girlfriend Rebecca Wight were savagely attacked by a drifter years earlier. Through interviews with Brenner and dramatic re-creations, this tragic expose is a haunting snapshot of youth, a love story, a real-life horror film, and an inspirational tale of how a woman would take a horrific moment in the past and use it to build a stronger future.
“PIE LADY OF PIE TOWN“
Jane Rosemont’s affectionately quirky “Pie Lady of Pie Town” follows bubbly Kathy Knapp as she leaves her privileged life behind in an effort to bake pies at a run-down diner in a small New Mexico town. In an area with very little resources, Knapp makes a home for herself and becomes the talk of “Pie Town.” This sweet-natured documentary features a perfectly fitting Wes Studi narration and a handful of endearingly colorful characters led by Knapp herself. This film also offers up pies. Gorgeous, mouthwatering, made-with-love pies! You’re likely to put on a few pounds just by watching “Pie Lady of Pie Town,” but don’t let that sway you from watching this charming documentary.
OTHER NOTEWORTHY TITLES: “Coaching Colburn” and “Riding My Way Back.”
The 2015 DocUtah International Documentary Film Festival begins on Sept. 8 and closes out on Sept. 12. For more detailed information, including the lineup, trailers, venues, and ticket purchasing, visit www.DocUtah.com.