Films / Programs

Documentary Films

Be they hard-hitting or lyrical, political or personal, timely or timeless, narrowly focused or wide-ranging, today’s documentaries shed all kinds of light on the world’s wonders. Over the years we’ve opened the eyes of festivalgoers to everything from the spectacular claymation of Bruce Bickford (Monster Road) to the sex lives of naked mole rats (Fast, Cheap and Out of Control) to the sprawling, irrepressible worldview of avant-garde filmmaker Jonas Mekas (As I Was Moving Ahead Occasionally I Saw Glimpses of Beauty) —and 2009 will be no exception.

  • American Swing

    American Swing

    USA , 2008 , 81 min. Led by self-proclaimed King of Swing Larry Levenson, the devotees of Plato’s Retreat gyrated right along with the disco rhythms of New York circa 1977. American Swing chronicles the highs and lows of the sexual revolution in an age of grandiose narcissism.... more
  • La Americana

    La Americana

    USA , 2008 , 65 min. Carmen, a single mother from Bolivia living illegally in New York in order to provide for her severely disabled daughter back home, embodies the current anti-immigration struggle in the United States—and the uncertain future of the American dream.... more
  • Another Planet

    Another Planet

    Hungary , 2008 , 95 min. Expanding upon themes he explored in Children: Kosovo 2000 (SDFF 24), Ferenc Moldoványi’s latest documentary is at once hypnotically beautiful and acutely disturbing. Shot over a two-year period in four countries on four continents—Ecuador (South America), Mexico (North America), Democratic R... more
  • The Border Wall

    The Border Wall

    USA , 2008 , 75 min. The Border Wall is Wayne Ewing’s uncompromising investigation into the potential repercussions of the Department of Homeland Security’s proposal to erect 670 miles of fence that would divide private properties, communities, wildlife reserves—and lives.... more
  • Cinema Q: Be Like Others

    Cinema Q: Be Like Others

    Canada , 2008 , 74 min. A sex change operation in Tehran costs $4,500—but the price young Iranians pay to get one far exceeds mere money, as director Tanaz Eshagian reveals in the painfully provocative documentary Be Like Others.... more
  • Cinema Q: Of Time and the City

    Cinema Q: Of Time and the City

    Great Britain , 2008 , 72 min. Digital presentation - From the original voice of British auteur Terence Davies (Distant Voices, Still Lives) comes a visual poem about the director's life in Liverpool from 1945 to 1973. It is a very personal portrait of Liverpool, beyond its Beatles and its football clubs, the home o... more
  • Cinema Q: Prodigal Sons

    Cinema Q: Prodigal Sons

    USA , 2008 , 86 min. Director Kimberly Reed IN-PERSON Digital presentation - Prodigal Sons tells the story of three fascinating siblings: filmmaker Kim, a transgender woman; Todd, a gay man; and Marc, their adopted brother who discovers he’s the grandson of Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth. The bond ... more
  • Cinema Q: Trinidad

    Cinema Q: Trinidad

    USA , 2008 , 85 min. Trinidad documents the struggles and triumphs of life in the “sex change capital of the world” through the eyes of three transgender women—one a genital reassignment surgeon herself, the others former patients seeking to open a post-op recovery center.... more
  • Cinema Q: Wild Combination - A Portrait of Arthur Russell

    Cinema Q: Wild Combination - A Portrait of Arthur Russell

    USA , 2008 , 71 min. This biographical tribute to poet and musician Arthur Russell brings to light the long-overlooked talents of an artist whose avant-garde pop is only now being discovered by an international audience, some fifteen years after his death from AIDS.... more
  • Count Basie: Then as Now, Count's the King

    Count Basie: Then as Now, Count's the King

    USA , 2008 , 71 min. Documentary filmmaker Gary Keys interweaves classic performance recordings with archival clips and reminiscences from former members of the Count Basie Orchestra to bring the eponymous jazz great to life.... more
  • Dear Zachary: a letter to a son about his father

    Dear Zachary: a letter to a son about his father

    USA , 2008 , 95 min. A chilling true-crime story of the murder of Dr. Andrew Bagby, Dear Zachary is also a cinematic scrapbook containing a heartrending letter from filmmaker Kurt Kuenne to the son who would never know his father.... more
  • The End

    The End

    USA , 2008 , 70 min. Twins Nicola and Teena Collins unflinchingly investigate the criminal pasts of their father, Les Falco, and his cronies. To both its blame and its credit, London’s East End becomes one of the gang in this fascinating black-and-white documentary.... more
  • Fire Under the Snow

    Fire Under the Snow

    USA , 2008 , 75 min. This brilliant documentary relates the extraordinary saga of Buddhist monk Palden Gyatso, whose resilience throughout a life marked by imprisonment, torture, and exile ultimately encapsulates the tragic history of Tibet under Chinese occupation.... more
  • Four Wives—One Man

    Four Wives—One Man

    Iran , 2007 , 76 min. Award-winning documentarian Nahid Persson spent three years chronicling the lives of four wives in a polygamist marriage in rural Iran. Occasionally humorous, often heartbreaking, their sheltered lives veer from bitter rivalry to whispered sympathy.... more
  • The Garden

    The Garden

    USA , 2008 , 99 min. Scott Hamilton Kennedy’s impassioned documentary focuses on a fourteen-acre community garden in South Central Los Angeles—and the pitched battle for its survival between a group of mostly immigrant farmers and the well-connected developer who’s determined to raze it.... more
  • Garrison Keillor: The Man on the Radio in the Red Shoes

    Garrison Keillor: The Man on the Radio in the Red Shoes

    USA , 2008 , 86 min. The remarkable talents of maverick composer, singer, poet, humorist, philospher, and, above all, master storyteller Garrison Keillor shine in this lovingly crafted profile of the creator of the long-running live radio show A Prairie Home Companion.... more
  • Guest of Cindy Sherman

    Guest of Cindy Sherman

    USA , 2008 , 88 min. MUST END Thursday, May 21 Digital presentation - It’s New York City in the early 1990s. Cindy Sherman is the press-wary luminary of contemporary American art. Everyone wants an interview; nobody gets one—with one exception: Paul Hasegawa-Overacker (H-O), the overactive mouthpiece of p... more
  • HAIR:  Let The Sun Shine In

    HAIR: Let The Sun Shine In

    USA , 55 min. Interspersing an abundance of musical numbers, interviews, and rare archival footage from the Age of Aquarius, HAIR: Let the Sun Shine In charts the forty-year odyssey of the phenomenon that is as relevant today as it was when it opened off Broadway in 1967.... more
  • His Name Was Jason: 30 Years of Friday the 13th

    His Name Was Jason: 30 Years of Friday the 13th

    USA , 2008 , 90 min. Settle around the campfire (or into a theater seat) and you shall hear the story of Jason Voorhees—that icon of Hollywood horror born of the Friday the 13th series. Complete with interviews from every Jason, the girls that survived him, and those who knew him best.... more
  • Intimidad


    Mexico , 2008 , 72 min. Ever so quietly moving, Intimidad documents the plight of a young Mexican couple who, saving for a house, earns a pittance working factory jobs on the border far from home. Returning to visit their toddler, they become torn between their dream and their reality.... more
  • Jan Saudek: Trapped by His Passions, No Hope for Rescue

    Jan Saudek: Trapped by His Passions, No Hope for Rescue

    Czech Republic , 2008 , 93 min. Czech photographer Jan Saudek is known for some of the most moving and exhilarating images of the past half century—as well as some of the most sexually explicit and shocking. With an unblinking eye, director Adolf Zika chronicles his friend and colleague’s life and work.... more
  • Life. Support. Music.

    Life. Support. Music.

    USA , 2008 , 79 min. Eric Daniel Metzgar (The Chances of the World Changing) exposes all the pain and hardship, as well as the unexpected beauty, of recovery from a devastating illness in the emotionally layered documentary Life. Support. Music. When thirty-four-year-old Jason Crigler, one of the most soug... more
  • Lord God Bird

    Lord God Bird

    USA , 2008 , 90 min. In George Butler’s poignant documentary, troops of ornithologists mobilize in the spectacular swamp forests of the southeastern United States in search of a woodpecker long presumed extinct—the so-called Lord God Bird.... more
  • Megalopolis


    Italy , 2008 , 112 min. Megalopolis is an unforgettable glimpse into a global kaleidoscope of cause and effect that takes us from the dizzying heights of skyscrapers to the depths of the human psyche—all amid narrated passages from sci-fi masterworks.... more
  • Milton Glaser: To Inform and Delight SDFF

    Milton Glaser: To Inform and Delight SDFF

    USA , 2008 , 90 min. No mere catalog of career highs, this profile of iconic graphic designer Milton Glaser—the creator of the famous I LOVE NY logo—shines a light on the intelligent, compassionate man whose love of life, food, art, and New York City resonates with a profound sense of humanity.... more
  • Must Read After My Death

    Must Read After My Death

    USA , 2008 , 73 min. Juxtaposing old home movies and family photos with a cache of audio tapes recorded for psychiatrists, first-time feature filmmaker Morgan Dews reveals the ravaging effects of his grandparents’ turbulent marriage in intimate—and deeply unsettling—detail.... more
  • No Subtitles Necessary: Laszlo & Vilmos

    No Subtitles Necessary: Laszlo & Vilmos

    USA , 2008 , 97 min. James Chressanthis’s vivid double portrait of the great cinematographers László Kovács and Vilmos Zsigmond reveals how a pair of Hungarian refugees arrived in Hollywood to help transform American moviemaking in the 1970s.... more
  • Not Quite Hollywood

    Not Quite Hollywood

    USA , 2008 , 98 min. This fast-paced, hilarious doc argues that American exploitation films of the 1970s and 1980s had nothing on their Australian counterparts—which boasted double the gore, triple the sex, and 100 times the fetishistic car chases. Oh, and boars. Giant, blood-crazy boars.... more
  • Not Your Typical Bigfoot Movie

    Not Your Typical Bigfoot Movie

    USA , 2008 , 62 min. When the work of long-unsung amateur Bigfoot investigators Dallas Gilbert and Wayne Burton finally attracts the attention of a celebrity pro, their bum luck seems bound to change. Documentarian Jay Delaney chronicles their dogged pursuit of the American dream.... more
  • Obscene: A Portrait of Barney Rosset and Grove Press

    Obscene: A Portrait of Barney Rosset and Grove Press

    USA , 2008 , 97 min. The battle over obscenity laws in the 1950s and 1960s is encapsulated by this profile of Barney Rosset—publisher of William S. Burroughs, Henry Miller, Malcolm X, and others—who took his free-speech crusades all the way to the Supreme Court in the name of art.... more
  • Playing Columbine

    Playing Columbine

    USA , 2008 , 94 min. This documentary explores the controversy surrounding a video game created by the director himself, which pushes the envelope—along with lots of people’s buttons—by reenacting the Columbine tragedy in order to get at the issues underlying school shootings.... more
  • Pray the Devil Back to Hell

    Pray the Devil Back to Hell

    USA , 2008 , 72 min. MUST END Thursday, January 29 35mm presentation - Shortly after warlord-turned-president Charles Taylor was elected in 1997, Liberia erupted into civil war for the second time in a decade. Child soldiers ran rampant through the streets of Monrovia, terrorizing the local population, wh... more
  • Pressure Cooker

    Pressure Cooker

    USA , 2008 , 99 min. MUST END Thursday, August 13 35mm presentation - Pressure Cooker profiles the lives of three high school seniors from Northeast Philadelphia, each with unique hardships but with the shared goal of winning scholarships to the country's best culinary schools. Their unlikely hero ... more
  • Private Century: See You in Denver

    Private Century: See You in Denver

    Czech Republic , 2007 , 52 min. Czech documentarian Jan Šikl provides the narration for old home movies to illuminate the lives of a beleaguered family in Prague whose patriarch was a theater owner, his son a cinephile enthralled by Hollywood Westerns.... more
  • Slingshot Hip Hop

    Slingshot Hip Hop

    USA , 2008 , 80 min. As fast-paced as its name suggests, Slingshot Hip Hop offers an inside look at Palestinian hip hop—a genre born of frustration with the checkpoints, walls, and outbreaks of street violence that shape a new generation’s daily life.... more
  • Song Sung Blue

    Song Sung Blue

    USA , 2008 , 87 min. A ragged slice of Americana, Song Sung Blue captures the strange, sad trajectory of Lightning, a Neil Diamond impersonator, and his chanteuse wife Thunder—who, following a freak accident, refuse to abandon their dreams, no matter how delusional.... more
  • Spine Tingler! The William Castle Story

    Spine Tingler! The William Castle Story

    USA , 2007 , 86 min. Devising outrageous promotional gimmicks, producer-director William Castle reaped big box-office rewards for some of the cheesiest horror flicks of the 1950s and 1960s. This lively doc captures the kooky brilliance of a Hollywood legend.... more
  • Stop The Presses! Film + Panel

    Stop The Presses! Film + Panel

    USA , 2008 , 120 min. Manny Mendoza and Mark Birnbaum’s documentary Stop the Presses: The American Newspaper in Peril provides the springboard for this panel discussion about the fate of print journalism in deeply troubled economic times.... more
  • Stop the Presses! Film Only

    Stop the Presses! Film Only

    USA , 80 min. In their exhaustive, compelling report on the decline of the American newspaper in the postliteracy era, Manny Mendoza and Mark Birnbaum consider the concomitant rise of cable news and the blogosphere—and what it may mean for the future of democracy.... more
  • Taking Root: The Vision of Wangari Maathai

    Taking Root: The Vision of Wangari Maathai

    USA , 2008 , 80 min. Nobel Prize winner Wangari Maathai went from reforesting the hills of her native Kenya to leading a political movement that would bring down a twenty-four-year dictatorship. This persuasive documentary weighs the dangers and triumphs of her mission.... more
  • They Killed Sister Dorothy

    They Killed Sister Dorothy

    USA , 2008 , 93 min. Via courtroom footage and shockingly candid interviews, Colorado-based filmmaker Daniel Junge (Iron Ladies of Liberia, SDFF 30) chronicles the search for justice following the execution of an activist nun in Brazil and its implications for the future of the rainforest.... more
  • Thing with No Name

    Thing with No Name

    South Africa , 2008 , 74 min. Sarah Friedland’s highly personal look at the tragic epidemic of AIDS in Africa focuses on two HIV-positive Zulu women in the starkly beautiful province of KwaZulu-Natal who acquire valuable antiretroviral drugs—only to experience mixed feelings and mixed results.... more
  • The Third Wave

    The Third Wave

    USA , 2008 , 94 min. In 2005, four young volunteers arrived in a Sri Lankan village devastated by the tsunami to help out for two weeks. But as they came to know the locals and the extent of their troubles, they committed instead to a year-long rescue mission, captured in this documentary.... more
  • Torn from the Flag

    Torn from the Flag

    USA , 2007 , 95 min. Featuring stunning archival footage and powerful interviews with key players from both sides of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, Torn from the Flag vividly recaptures a pivotal moment in world history.... more
  • Waltz with Bashir

    Waltz with Bashir

    Israel , 2008 , 90 min. MUST END Thursday, March 5 35mm presentation - One night at a bar, an old friend tells director Ari Folman about a recurring nightmare in which he is chased by 26 vicious dogs. Every night, the same number of beasts. The two men conclude that there's a connection to their Israeli Army... more
  • War Child

    War Child

    USA , 2008 , 90 min. First-time director C. Karim Chrobog documents the life story of Sudanese hip-hop artist Emmanuel Jal, once a child soldier who carried an AK-47 at age seven. Now he raps about the horrors of his war-torn homeland, pleading for peace.... more
  • Wesley Willis's Joyrides

    Wesley Willis's Joyrides

    USA , 2008 , 78 min. Chicago street artist, cult musician, and chronic schizophrenic Wesley Willis survived a violent childhood to devote his much-too-short life to the creative process. Documentarians Chris Bagley and Kim Shively chronicle his improbable rise to fame.... more
  • Witch Hunt

    Witch Hunt

    USA , 2008 , 91 min. From Emmy award–winning documentarians Don Hardy and Dana Nachman comes Witch Hunt—a gripping, Kafkaesque, and true account of the breakdown of the American legal system during a high-profile child molestation trial in 1980s California.... more
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