Mr. Rogers meets Mexican drug cartels at the Doc10 documentary festival
March 29, 2018 | Chicago Reader
A recent addition to Chicago's festival calendar, the Doc10 documentary festival debuted in 2016 and moved to the Davis Theater last year with a mix of accessible, cable-ready titles (Obit., Casting JonBenet) and more challenging work from around the world (The Cinema Travelers, Death in the Terminal). That binary strategy continues this year with, on the one hand, portraits of Elvis Presley (The King), Ruth Bader Ginsberg (RBG), and Fred Rogers (Won't You Be My Neighbor, already sold out) and, on the other, studies of drug cartel violence (Devil's Freedom) and the breakup of Yugoslavia (The Other Side of Everything). We've reviewed six of the ten features below. The festival runs Thursday through Sunday, April 5 through 8, and tickets are $16; for more information visit doc10.org. —J.R. Jones
Bisbee '17 Documentary maker Robert Greene (Actress, Kate Plays Christine) surveys the title Arizona town on the 100th anniversary of the Bisbee Deportation of 1917, when a sheriff's posse of more than 2,000 men rounded up nearly 1,200 striking copper miners (most of them immigrants) and left them to die in the New Mexico desert. The film is rich and multifaceted, as Greene employs an array of styles (historical reenactments, direct cinema-style portraiture, musical numbers) to investigate the complex relationship between Bisbee's past and present. Greene also thoroughly considers the town's diverse population, interviewing artists, retirees, government employees, law enforcement agents, and members of the working class. The impressive scope recalls some of Frederick Wiseman's panoramic community portraits (Aspen; Belfast, Maine), but the mosaiclike approach is fresh and surprising. In English and subtitled Spanish. —Ben Sachs 118 min. Greene takes questions by Skype after the screening. Sat 4/7, 1 PM.
- Devil's Freedom
Devil's Freedom Hard to watch and harder to forget, this chilling documentary by Everardo González gathers first-person testimony from the victims and perpetrators of drug cartel violence in Mexico. Tales of kidnapping, torture, and execution accumulate as González moves from witness to witness, their faces concealed by plain brown wrestling masks; by contrast, the questions serve to unmask them emotionally, especially the guilt-ridden cartel soldiers. Like Joshua Oppenheimer's acclaimed 2012 documentary The Act of Killing, this one dares viewers to recognize the sad humanity of those who commit atrocities and the furious humanity of loved ones who thirst for revenge; sitting calmly between these two groups are the torture survivors, whose suffering seems to have won them a preternatural wisdom. In Spanish with subtitles. —J.R. Jones 74 min. Sun 4/8, noon.
- The King
The King Eugene Jarecki has directed two of the most extraordinary political documentaries of the new century: Why We Fight (2005), a 40-year history of the military-industrial complex, and The House I Live In (2011), exposing the tragedy of the U.S. drug war. This new project may sound a little more fun—the filmmaker takes off in a 1963 Rolls-Royce once owned by Elvis Presley, telling the singer's life story as he rolls through Tupelo, Memphis, Nashville, New York, Hollywood, and Las Vegas—but ultimately Elvis serves as a metaphor for American decline. Rock critic Greil Marcus argues that Presley embodied "the pursuit of happiness," whereas Van Jones and Chuck D. finger the King as a racial coward and a cultural thief. Like the director's other projects, this is intelligent and ambitious, but the cultural insights are too familiar to merit yet another trek through Presley's troubled life. —J.R. Jones 107 min. Jarecki attends the screening, part of the closing-night program. Sun 4/8, 7:45 PM.
- On Her Shoulders
On Her Shoulders This documentary profiles human rights activist Nadia Murad, a Yazidi Kurd in Iraq who was forced into slavery by ISIS. Director Alexandria Bombach avoids the details of Murad's brutal captivity, showing instead the intense pressure and responsibility the 23-year-old feels as a spokesperson for her people. As Murad makes the rounds of Western talk shows and prepares to deliver a three-minute speech to the United Nations Security Council, Bombach emphasizes how, even among politicians and diplomats, Murad's story is often reduced to a sound bite, and she notes the prurient interest of the media and the public as they ask Murad to recount her trauma over and over. Interviews woven throughout the film give Murad the opportunity to speak freely about the ongoing plight of Yazidi refugees, the questions she wishes journalists would ask her, and the questions she'd like them to stop asking. —Leah Pickett 94 min. Sat 4/7, 4 PM.
- The Other Side of Everything
The Other Side of Everything During the communist takeover of Yugoslavia, bourgeois living spaces were handed over to the proletariat, and the apartment owned by Mila Turajlić's family in downtown Belgrade was divided in half to be shared with a poor family. For this fascinating documentary, Turajlić (Cinema Komunisto) records the process by which her mother reclaimed the other side of the unit and threw open doors that had been locked for 70 years. This milestone turns out to be mainly a framing device, but inside that frame lies a family portrait rich in political history: Turajlić's great-grandfather, Dusan Peles, signed the Declaration of Unification that created Yugoslavia in 1918, and her mother, professor and activist Srbijanka Turajlić, helped lead the uprising that drove president Slobodan Milošević from power in October 2000. Located across the street from the British embassy, the apartment provides an ideal vantage point for street protests that roil the capital in the run-up to the 2017 presidential election and suggest that the civil tensions of the Balkan conflict still simmer. In Serbian with subtitles. —J.R. Jones 107 min. Mila and Srbijanka Turajlić attend the screening. Sun 4/8, 2 PM.
RBG Documentary makers Julie Cohen and Betsy West celebrate the career of Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, noting her recent emergence as a feminist rock star but, more importantly, her early work as a litigator fighting for equal treatment of women. Brenda Feigen, a cofounder with Ginsberg of the ACLU's Women's Rights Project, provides dramatic recollections of the attorney's first argument before the Supreme Court in 1973, in the case of an air force lieutenant denied the benefits her male peers received. A chronology of Ginsberg's subsequent victories shows how patiently and shrewdly she worked to establish the existence and pernicious effects of sex discrimination (her strategy, one male colleague observes, was like "knitting a sweater"). On the personal side, witnesses recall her love of opera, her warm friendship with fellow justice (and ideological opposite) Antonin Scalia, and her long, happy marriage to Martin Ginsberg, a successful New York tax attorney who loyally supported her judicial career. —J.R. Jones 97 min. Sat 4/7, 9 PM. v