San Francisco Film Society: Doc Stories

Doc Stories, the newest mini-film festival to hit the S.F. Bay Area, is also the most recent addition to the Fall Festival series put on by the San Francisco Film Society. Running from November 5 to 8 at San Francisco’s Vogue Theater (3290 Sacramento Street, SF), the documentary showcase offers films on subjects ranging from Janis Joplin to a ground-level view of the Ukrainian uprising to a paean to a beloved deceased dog.

New York Times Op-Docs, which opens the Doc Stories festival, offers a selection of short opinionated documentary films from the New York Times. Both veteran filmmakers and up-and-coming filmmakers use the Op-Doc format to comment either directly or indirectly on everything from two Holocaust survivors who form their own klezmer band (Holocaust Survivor Band) to using Beatles songs to counter anti-Islamic speech (Public Square). Hotel 22, about how the all-night Silicon Valley 22 bus becomes an impromptu homeless shelter, previously showed at the recent United Nations Association Film Festival.

The TIFF award-winner Winter On Fire: Ukraine’s Fight For Freedom recounts the story of the 2013-2014 Ukrainian civil uprising with on-the-ground footage and interviews with uprising participants. This series of protests, sparked by President Viktor Yanukovych’s rejection of European Union accord, would eventually end with Yanukovych’s own resignation.

Viewers are in luck at the Doc Stories festival if they missed previous festival screenings of the acclaimed Nina Simone biography What Happened Miss Simone? and the Kent Jones re-telling of the famed series of interviews between French New Wave director Francois Truffaut and Hollywood master of suspense Alfred Hitchcock (Hitchcock/Truffaut). Also getting a reprise festival screening is Cartel Land, a portrait of two men on opposite sides of the Rio Grande who are united by their vigilante actions against the Mexican drug cartels.

Veteran documentarian Amy Berg offers an intimate portrait of doomed rock icon Janis Joplin in Janis: Little Girl Lost. The film considers the contradictory motivations that drove the late singer. On one hand, she grew up rebelling in Port Arthur, Texas, against being treated as an outsider. Yet on the other hand, Joplin craved others’ love and approval. Needless to say, that emotional tension would eventually lead to a messy end.

The Field Of Vision program offers a different spin on the use of the short documentary form. Produced in part by Oscar-winning director Laura Poitras, The Intercept’s Field Of Vision documentary program uses short documentaries as a tool for investigative journalism. Documentary filmmakers are paired with an investigative journalist to produce stories resulting from a marriage of their strengths. A selection of films taken from the first season of the project shows the results.

Doc Stories closes out with a highly praised personal documentary directed and performed by legendary spoken word artist Laurie Anderson. Heart of a Dog begins as a cinematic eulogy to Anderson’s rat terrier Lolabelle. But the artist soon mixes in everything from Buddhist wisdom to musings on 9/11. Add in Anderson’s unique music plus home movies and animation, and the result is something that will appeal to both dog lovers and those having trouble dealing with the loss of a loved one.

The above listings are just some of the Doc Stories offerings. Check out the rest of the schedule at www.sffs.org/exhibition/fall-season-2015/ and then come back in future weeks to try some of the other San Francisco Film Society Fall Festival offerings.

About the Author

I'm a film reviewer for the Beyond Chron blog. Agnes Varda and Hirokazu Kore-eda are among my favorite filmmakers. I occasionally break down and watch a good action film...but don't tell anyone.

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