In 2021, DocLands was the first film festival in California to welcome in-theater audiences to a handful of screenings. In 2022, the event returns in full force, with a packed program of in-person screenings featuring live Q&As with many of the films’ directors and subjects. “The filmmakers miss being with audiences as they watch their films, and we’re looking forward to talking to them in-person,” says DocLands Director of Programming Joni Cooper.
But the partnerships between DocLands and its guest filmmakers run deeper than screenings and Q&As. Three films in this year’s lineup (Scrap, The Thief Collector, The Sanctity of Space) are products of the Docpitch program, which awards filmmakers with funding to complete unfinished documentary projects. In 2022, Docpitch is offering $100,000 in awards.
From hybrid films blurring the lines between narrative and documentary storytelling, to fascinating character portraits of unsung heroes, the rest of the program offers a little something for everyone. Here are five DocLands films you won’t want to miss.
In 1990s Scotland, a 32-year-old man named Brandon Lee returned to his old high school and masqueraded as a student, fooling friends and faculty alike for an entire year. My Old School, directed by one of Lee’s former classmates, is a wildly inventive recounting of what may be one of the strangest Jedi mind tricks of all time. The twist: Lee refused to be filmed for the documentary but offered an audio interview, so renowned actor Alan Cumming sits in as Lee and mouths his words, bringing the story to life in a way that’s equal parts bizarre and brilliant.
The festival’s opening night feature, Savage Waters, is part sports documentary, part high-seas adventure. Inspired by a passage in the journal of a 19th-century treasure hunter, master skipper Matt Knight and big-wave surfer Andrew Cotton set out on an epic journey to sail to the Savage Islands, whose rocky reefs pose a great risk to any sailor but could very well be home to some of the most spectacular waves in the world. Narrated by Game of Thrones’ Charles Dance, the film’s awe-inspiring footage of 60-plus foot waves encapsulates the terror and triumph of the thrill-seekers’ grand undertaking.
The DocLands Soirée on Saturday May 7 features food, drinks and a special presentation of The Sound of Us, a poignant rumination on how music connects us as human beings. Musicians of all backgrounds, genres and eras reflect on how music has shaped their lives, and how they use the art form to uplift those around them. Featuring breathtaking musical performances paired with ravishing imagery, director Chris Gero’s sweeping documentary makes a strong argument for music as the key to our salvation as a society.
Gary Oldman leaps off the screen in Exposing Muybridge, a film in which the world-renowned actor, in fact, isn’t acting at all. He’s one of several enthusiasts and historians gushing about Eadweard Muybridge, the pioneering 19th-century photographer whose life was truly stranger than fiction. From taking iconic photographs of Yosemite and San Francisco, to inventing one of the earliest forms of motion pictures, to murdering his wife’s secret lover at gunpoint, Muybridge is a uniquely perplexing figure in American history, and the film doesn’t shy away from the more unsettling nooks and crannies of his life and work.
In Fire of Love, Bay Area filmmaker Sara Dosa pays soulful tribute to Katia and Maurice Kraft, trailblazing volcanologists who died together in a volcanic explosion in 1991. A beautiful tapestry of archival footage shot by the couple on their countless excursions across the globe reveals their passion for each other and their craft. Miranda July narrates as the couple, literally framed by glowing explosions of lava and gas, explain in poetic detail why they’ve happily devoted their lives to one of the most dangerous occupations known to man.
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Bernard Boo is an AAPI arts and entertainment critic, Bay Area native and proud member of the San Francisco Bay Area Film Critics Circle. Find more of his work at PopMatters, Den of Geek and Rotten Tomatoes, and listen to him on the Your Asian Best Friends podcast.