docs in theaters

Docs in Theaters: "The Central Park Five"

The Central Park Five

Directed by: Ken Burns (The Civil War), Sarah Burns and David McMahon (co-producer of Ken Burns’s The War)

What it’s about: Based on Sarah Burns’s book of the same name (subtitled “The Untold Story Behind One of New York City’s Most Infamous Crimes”), the film about an infamous rape case in NYC in 1989, for which five Harlem youths were wrongfully imprisoned for many years. Eventually they were exonerated, but their innocence and release wasn’t given anywhere near the level of attention their arrest and trials did.

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Docs in Theaters: "My Reincarnation" "The Other F Word" "Urbanized"

Just a few new documentaries opening theatrically this week, including one that doesn’t debut until Wednesday. Two of them coincidentally deal in paternal subjects, though this isn’t exactly a rare subject for nonfiction film. Neither are the typical first-person kind in which the filmmaker documents his relationship with his father, however. As for the third film, it’s a highly anticipated “sequel” to two of the most popular docs of the last few years.

Here are your three new theatrical releases followed by the weekly list of docs still in cinemas:

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Docs in Theaters: "Mark Lombardi: Death-Defying Acts of Art and Conspiracy" "Step Up to the Plate" and "Switch"

Three films that couldn’t be any more different make up this week’s new theatrical releases for documentary. There’s an artist profile (Mark Lombardi: Death-Defying Acts of Art and Conspiracy), a foodie doc (Step Up to the Plate, pictured above) and an environmentalism issue doc (SWITCH). You could probably see them all and have a very balanced weekend, though they’re not all opening in the same place today. 

A very interesting expansion is happening this week for the excellent Detropia, as the Detroit-focused “city opera” will be opening in Detroit, Ann Arbor and Royal Oak, Michigan, as well as in Washington, DC. Other notable widening releases include those for Girl Model, which is now in L.A. and San Francisco, Beauty is Embarrassing, which heads to the Bay Area in California plus Ogden, Utah, Wild Horse, Wild Ride, which is all over Texas, among other areas, and Samsara, which is reaching all around the nation now.

Festivals featuring docs this week include Toronto [9/6-9/16], XOXO [9/13-9/16] and Global Peace [9/18-9/23].

Read up on the three new theatrical releases followed by the weekly list of docs still in cinemas after the jump.

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Docs in Theaters: "Planet of Snail" "Queen of Versailles" "Wagner's Dream"

Two of this week’s new theatrical releases for documentary involve married couples trying to make things work in spite of great obstacles. Not that these films are anything alike, whatsoever. One is dealing with physical struggle, the other financial; the former seems truly in love, the latter not as much. Together, Planet of Snail and The Queen of Versailles should have you looking at your own marriage to determine what really matters.

And then there’s the third film, Wagner’s Dream, a “making of” doc about an opera, which only relates if you consider the part of Fricka, goddess of marriage and fidelity, and what she stands for in the production. But also, all three films entail some level of the theatrical, two of them of the staged variety.

Some of the significant expansions worth noting this week are Bill W., which seems to be doing a special multi-city one-night event on Thursday, the continued film/concert tour for Music from the Big House (a great idea) and Ballplayer: Pelotero and China Heavyweight, both of which follow young and hopeful athletes.

Film festivals featuring docs going on this week include: Durban International [7/19-7/29]; Wroclaw International [aka T-Mobile New Horizons, 7/19-7/29]; Maine International [7/13-7/22]; Nantucket Atheneum Dance Festival [7/23-7/28]; Berkshire Jewish [7/9-8/13]; Outfest - LA LGBT [7/12-7/22]; Philadelphia QFest [7/12-7/23]; and Frame Out [7/6-8/25].

Here are your three new theatrical releases followed by the weekly list of docs still in cinemas:

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Docs in Theaters: "The Law in These Parts"

Here’s a mid-week theatrical release that is highly regarded, well-awarded and personally recommended. It’s also not very accessible, I’ll admit, but that’s because it’s very complicated subject approached in a very intelligent, innovative and self-reflexive way that makes it very much a one of a kind film.

The Law in These Parts

What it’s about: Director Ra’anan Alexandrowicz looks at the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories and the two intricate and disconnected legal systems that contribute to the conflicts in that region. But unlike many docs on this topic, this one is concentrated on the lawmakers rather than the law-breakers.

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Docs in Theaters: "American Autumn" "Harvest of Empire" "Primum Non Nocere" "The Other Dream Team" and "Six Million and One"

We’ve got another fairly large crop of new documentary releases hitting theaters this week. Is it because of Oscar consideration? Regardless of the reason for all these nonfiction titles opening lately, I have to admit it’s been almost overwhelming. And sadly, I’ve only managed to see one of these. Once again, and from now on, I’ll be sharing thoughts on what I’ve seen before highlighting the others.

It’s also very important when this column goes long not to forget about all the expanded and continuing docs in theaters listed way down below. A bunch of the past week’s openers are hitting L.A. today, including The Waiting Room, Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel, They Call it Myanmar, Hellbound? and Doctored, the latter two branching out to other cities, as well. Also notably expanding is the highly recommended How to Survive a Plague.

Festivals featuring documentaries this week include New York [9/28-10/14], Camden [9/27-9/30], Milwaukee [9/27-10/11];Dallas Video [9/26-9/30], Buffalo [9/14-9/30], Human Rights Watch Greensboro [9/28-9/30], Hamburg [9/27-10/6], Helsinki [9/20-9/30], Dietrich [9/21-10/4], Trinidad + Tobago [9/19-10/2], Rio [9/27-10/11], Reykjavik International [9/27-10/7], Calgary International [9/2-9/30], Vancouver International [9/27-10/12], Lights Camera Africa!!! [9/28-9/30] and Sound Central Music [10/2-10/4].

Read up on the five new theatrical releases followed by the weekly list of docs still in cinemas after the jump.

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Docs in Theaters: "Being Elmo" "Elevate" "Klitschko" "Revenge of the Electric Car"

This week’s new theatrical documentary releases are filled with inspiring subjects who follow their dreams, including a puppeteer from Baltimore, basketball players from Senegal, boxers from the Ukraine and automakers big and small from around the world. Which one will influence your own life goals the most, or just make you feel great?

Here are your four new theatrical releases followed by the weekly list of docs still in cinemas (now including “Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness”):

“Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey”

Want to get your kids into documentary early? Constance Marks and Philip Shane’s profile on Kevin Clash, puppeteer and voice of Sesame Street’s Elmo, is a good start. Well, so long as your kids don’t get too confused about the magic of Muppets being ruined. If not, Clash’s story is inspiring and heartwarming and might have them ready to fulfill their own dreams of puppeteering or whatever they’re into. Adults without kids, you’ll be entertained too. The doc features interviews with Whoopi Goldberg, Rosie O'Donnell, Frank Oz and the people behind the characters Big Bird, Telly Monster, Zoe and others.

Winner of the Special Jury Prize for Documentary at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. Winner of the Special Jury Prize Award for Most Life-Affirming Documentary at the 2011 Traverse City Film Festival. Winner of the Women in Cinema Lena Sharpe Award at the 2011 Seattle International Film Festival. Winner of the Audience Award at the Nantucket Film Festival, Traverse City Film Festival and Aspen Film Fest (tied), as well as named one of 10 Audience Favorites at Hot Docs.

Now playing in NYC at the IFC Center. For upcoming openings in other cities, check the film’s playdates page.


With obvious comparison to “Hoop Dreams” narratively, first-time director Anne Buford follows four basketball hopefuls to prestigious prep schools on the path to college scholarships and maybe eventually the NBA. The distinction here is that the boys are all from Senegal, so it’s also a fish(es) out of water story, but not the comedic kind.

Winner of the Target Filmmaker Award - Documentary Feature at the 2011 Dallas International Film Festival.

Now playing in NYC at the AMC Empire 25. For upcoming openings in other cities, check the film’s theaters and tickets page.


This German film presents the story of Ukrainian-born boxers Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko, best known for being the first brothers to hold world titles in the sport at the same time. They also both have PhDs, which relates them to Dolph Lundgren even more than their resemblance to the character Ivan Drago from “Rocky IV.” Following them around the world for two years, director Sebastian Dehnhardt shows us their training, matches, behind-the-scenes conversations and, most importantly, their personal relationship.

Now playing in NYC at Cinema Village and AMC Empire 25 and in Los Angeles (West Hollywood, Encino, Santa Monica, Pasadena, Claremont) at the Laemmle Sunset 5 (West Hollywood) and Laemmle Town Center 5 (Encino) with additional screenings this weekend at Laemmle Monica 4-plex (Santa Monica), Laemmle Claremont 5 (Claremont) and Laemmle Playhouse 7 (Pasadena).

“Revenge of the Electric Car”

Chris Paine’s far better sequel to his own 2006 debut, “Who Killed the Electric Car?” This time instead of focusing on the car owners he goes behind the scenes at Nissan, GM, newcomer Tesla Motors and an independent conversion operation for a look at automakers manufacturing a new generation of electric vehicles. Not only has Paine improved in production value, the storytelling here, even if conventional, is much stronger. Consider this along with “The Godfather Part II” and “The Empire Strikes Back” as one of the few sequels better than the original. Narrated by Tim Robbins, this doc is a fascinating and revealing portrait of an industry at a crossroads of failure and progress. It also has one of the best posters of the year. 

Opens in NYC at Landmark Sunshine and Los Angeles at Landmark Nuart and Huntingon, NY, at Cinema Arts Centre. For upcoming openings in other cities, see the film’s release dates page.

Expanded releases
this week (older films, new cities, some also still playing elsewhere). Links go to screening calendar listings:

“American Teacher” - Austin (TX) [10/22-10/23, for Austin Film Festival], New York (NY) [10/23 only], Fort Myers (FL) [10/24 only], Stanford (CA) [10/25, for United Nations Association Film Festival], Laramie (WY) [10/25 only], Notre Dame, (IN) [10/26 only]

“The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu” - Columbus (OH) [10/22 only]

“Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest”
- Athens (OH), Anchorage (AK) [begins 10/24]

“Benda Bilili” - New Orleans (LA)

“The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975” - London (UK), Birmingham (UK), Bradford (UK), Bristol (UK), Sheffield (UK), Cardiff (UK), Stratford (UK)

“Bombay Beach”
- Los Angeles (CA)

“El Bulli: Cooking in Progress” - Miami (FL) [10/21-10/23], Miami Beach (FL) [10/21-10/25], Coral Gables (FL) [10/21-10/23], New York (NY) [10/23 only], Hunter (NY) [10/21-10/23],

“Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone” - Los Angeles (CA), Milwaukee (WI), Winston-Salem (NC) [10/21-10/22], Dallas (TX) [10/25 only], Austin (TX) [10/26 only], Houston (TX) [10/26-10/27],

“Finding Joe” - Tempe (AZ), San Diego (CA)

“Flying Monsters 3D”
- Hastings (NE)

“Granito: How to Nail a Dictator”
- Ojai (CA) [10/20-10/23 only, for Ojai Film Festival]

“Hell and Back Again”
- San Francisco (CA), Berkeley (CA), Glasgow (UK), Austin (TX) [10/23 only, for Austin Film Festival], Nashville (TN) [10/23-10/24], Burlington (VT) [10/25 and 10/27 only, for Vermont International Film Festival], Ithaca (NY) [10/27 only]

“Incendiary: The Willingham Case”
- Iowa City (IA)

“The Interrupters”
- Santa Rosa (CA), Kansas City (MO), Tucscon (AZ), Burlington (VT), Hamilton (Bermuda) [10/21 only, for Bermuda DOCS Festival], Southampton (UK) [10/22 only], Chicago (IL) [10/22 only], Frankfort (MI) [10/23 only, for Frankfort Film Festival], Winston-Salem (NC) [10/26-10/27 only] 

“Jane’s Journey” - Hudson (NY), Bouder (CO) [10/21 only], San Francisco (CA) [10/25 only]

“Magic Trip: Ken Kesey’s Search for a Kool Place”
- St. Johnsbury (VT), Milwaukee (WI)

“The Man Nobody Knew: In Search of My Father CIA Spymaster William Colby” - Chicago (IL)

“Paul Goodman Changed My Life” - Huntington (NY) [10/23 only], Burlington (VT) [10/23-10/24, for Vermont International Film Festival], Hudson (NY) [begins 10/27]

“Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles”
- Portland (OR), Provo (UT) [10/21 only]

“Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness” - Cleveland (OH), Tampa (FL), Boca Raton (FL), Delray Beach (FL), Lake Worth (FL), North Miami (FL), Sunrise (FL), Jupiter (FL), Sarasota (FL), Buffalo (NY), Las Vegas (NY), Philadelphia (PA), Woodstock (NY), Chicago (IL), Portland (ME) [10/21-10/23 only], Santa Fe (NM) [opens 10/23]

“The Swell Season”
- New York (NY), Brooklyn (NY), New Orleans (LA), Bellingham (WA), Philadelphia (PA)

“To Be Heard” - New York (NY) [10/21 only], Chatham (NY) [10/21 only], Burlington (VT) [10/22 and 10/27 only, for Vermont International Film Festival], Philadelphia (PA) [10/23 and 10/25, for Philadelphia International Film Festival], Minneapolis (MN) [10/26 only],

“We Were Here”
- Berkeley (CA), San Diego (CA), Bangor (ME)

“The Whale” - Whidbey Island (WA) [10/21-10/23 only]

Also still in theaters:

“America the Beautiful 2: The Thin Commandments”

“Born to Be Wild”


“Hubble 3D”

“Kevin Hart: Laugh at My Pain”

“Life in a Day”


“Page One: Inside the New York Times”


“Pearl Jam Twenty”



“Thunder Soul”

“Turtle: The Incredible Journey”

“Women Art Revolution”

If you would like a film’s opening or expansion included in the weekly Docs In Theaters post, click the contact link on the right and send me an email.

Docs in Theaters: "First Position" "Last Call at the Oasis" "Patience (After Sebald)"

(No, that’s not Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker, excited about his new powers in The Amazing Spider-Man. It’s ballet dancer Joan Sebastian Zamora from First Position)

Three exciting artistic works make up this week’s new theatrical releases for documentary. One gives us a look at the art of ballet, another artfully looks at the crises of Earth’s water supplies and the last is an art film about a literary artist.

And don’t forget those films still in theaters and making the festival rounds. Film fests going on this week include Montclair International, DOXA, Toronto Jewish, Green Film Festival in Seoul, Hot Docs, Docville, Reel Work and Rochester.

Here are your three new theatrical releases followed by the weekly list of docs still in cinemas:

First Position

Don’t think for a moment that you should disregard this film as just another kid competition doc involving dancing. We need such positive, entertaining nonfiction works, and they need you. This one takes us to the Youth America Grand Prix, basically the most important ballet competition in the nation, and follows six dancers in pursuit of scholarships. From my Toronto Film Festival dispatch at

Filled with astonishingly cute and talented young ballet dancers, the Cadillac People’s Choice award runner-up is magically upbeat and exhilarating in spirit. Particularly noteworthy is the way first-time director Bess Kargman manages to address a few world issues, with great hopefulness, by way of some of the subjects she follows.

2nd Place Winner of the Cadillac People’s Choice at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival –  Winner of the Audience Award at the 2011 DOC NYC Documentary Film Festival – Winner of the Audience Award for Best Documentary Feature at the 2012 Dallas International Film Festival – Winner of the Audience Award for Best Documentary at the 2012 Portland International Film Festival – Winner of the Staff Prize at the 2011 San Francisco Docfest.

Recommended If You Like: Spellbound; Mad Hot Ballroom; ballet

Now playing in NYC, Los Angeles, Pasadena and Encino. The doc also screens this Saturday at the Montclair International Film Festival. For details and upcoming openings in other cities, check the film’s In Movie Theaters page.

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Docs in Theaters: "The Waiting Room"

There’s one new theatrical release for documentary opening today, mid-week, and it’s a film that got a good amount of buzz on the nonfiction festival circuit this year after debuting at Full Frame. It’s a topical doc and timely for the election season, so I expect it will do well at least in its limited run in NYC.

As usual, the Wednesday editions of Docs in Theaters do not include the list of films currently and expanding in cinemas. So, to see what else is out now, check last Friday’s column, or wait two days for the next post.

Read up on this one new theatrical release after the jump.

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Docs in Theaters: "Abendland" "Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry" "Big Boys Gone Bananas!*" "Searching for Sugar Man"

Don’t be too paranoid, but this week’s new theatrical releases for documentary are full of surveillance cameras and censorship and artists disappearing… and these things are not only to be found in the film about a Chinese dissident. There’s also monitoring in Europe and the prevention of a film’s release by a giant corporation. And as we see with an American singer-songwriter who seems to vanish off the face of the earth due to poor record sales, it can be the free market as much as an oppressive Communist government that has the power to obscure and subdue.

Here are your three new theatrical releases followed by the weekly list of docs still in cinemas:


The latest from Nikolaus Gehrhalter (Our Daily Bread), this seemingly objective montage of observational shots is a very dark film, and not just because it’s made up of shots of Europe at night. To paraphrase the director, they’re beautiful images of horrible things. I caught the doc at True/False, after which I wrote on this blog:

Abendland is another series of incredibly vivid and revealing shots, statically framed moving images captured around Europe with very little to no independent context. But put together these images tell a story and present an attitude about the EU focused on the continent’s problems of superiority and exclusion.

We see border fences, surveillance cameras and monitors, protests, arrests, but also basic elements of life — babies, old people, sex, death, etc., perhaps to show how Europeans are just the same as any humans. All night scenes, because the word ‘abendland’ has two meanings, the Occident/West and “land in the evening.” Like with Our Daily Bread, the individual pieces are stunning yet also often disturbing.

Recommended If You Like: Our Daily Bread; Life in a Day; Cache

Now playing at Anthology Film Archives in NYC.

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