Always the most switched-on of the city’s major film events, the 2018 DOXA Documentary Film Festival opens on May 3 with The Rankin File: Legacy of a Radical, a locally made doc that’s half Vancouver history, half killer stunt, and—with the upcoming municipal election—all timing.
Using 16mm footage of COPE co-founder Harry Rankin’s failed 1986 mayoral run, Teresa Alfeld’s film provides a potent image of the Vancouver that we might have had with a WWII veteran and “outspoken socialist” at the helm instead of eventual winner Gordon Campbell—who gamely appears in the doc along with many others (including Jean Swanson and Grand Chief Stewart Phillip) to remember his colourful and polarizing opponent.
No less a picture of rebellion, Heather Lenz’s portrait of 88-year-old Infinity Mirrors artist Yayoi Kusama, Kusama - Infinity, closes matters with a gala screening on May 12.
What happens in between all that—revealed today (April 4) at DOXA’s annual pre-game media launch—suggests that the festival is in very good hands under new programming director Selina Crammond.
Some highlights, starting with two Spotlight series that might cancel each other out if they were put together in the same room:
Quietude offers six formally challenging works that encourage “deep listening, reflection, and empathy”.
Titles including The Quiet Zone, about a community of “electrosensitives” seeking refuge from the subliminal buzz of modern life in West Virginia’s National Radio Quiet Zone.
From DOXA alum Penny Lane (Our Nixon, Nuts!), we also get The Pain of Others, assembled from YouTube footage uploaded by sufferers of Morgellons disease—a bizarre health condition that the medical community steadfastly refuses to acknowledge as real.
At the other end of the spectrum, DOXA has gone all in with a second Spotlight on music—always one of the fest’s strengths—called Press Play.
Here we’re treated to the wild history of Ethiopian free jazz and pop (Ethiopiques: Revolt of the Soul), a look at a seminal DIY desert festival for ‘80s underground heavies like Sonic Youth, Minutemen, and Meat Puppets (Desolation Centre), and at least one subculture long in need of a good bio, Queercore: How to Punk a Revolution.
Entering its ninth year, the Justice Forum rages on with eight blasts of righteous agitdoc.
The Third Option looks at the politics and ethics around prenatal screening and late-term abortion, while Vancouver filmmaker Leon Lee takes a circuitous route to a Chinese forced labour camp in Letter from Masanjia.
You’ll probably learn more than you want to really know about that espresso you’re enjoying right now with A Six Dollar Cup of Coffee, and Anote’s Ark travels to Kiribati to discover that the Maldives isn’t the only island paradise doomed to go underwater thanks to climate change.
The Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Oregon is infiltrated during the 2016 armed militia standoff by filmmaker David Byars in No Man’s Land, which appears in both the Justice Forum and in a three-title series called Embedded with Extremists curated by author Geoff Dembicki.
That’s rounded out with Of Fathers and Sons and Golden Dawn Girls, which both get up-close-and-very-personal with a radical Islamist family in Syria and the insurgent neo-Nazi party now gaining a worrying foothold in Greece.
Not unrelated (perhaps) is Our New President, which gives us the popular Russian perspective on Donald Trump.
In the Rated Y for Youth program we see a range of subjects from the vigorously positive environmentalism of Metamorphosis, co-directed by Velcrow Ripper, to Mr. Gay Syria's queer eye on the refugee crisis, the fallout of sexual violence in Primas, and a remarkable 10-year chronicle of the tribulations and joys shared by skateboarding friends in Illinois (Minding the Gap).
From Our Eyes is a unique program of native Tibetan films—“made by herdsman and youth that subvert twentieth century ethnographic conventions”— curated by filmmaker Yi Cui.
French French also continues into its fourth year with, among other eclairs, six of Alan Cavalier’s legendary “Portraits”.
And there’s so much more.
Fans of Vancouver comic author Kurtis Weibe's Rat Queens (or former fans, as the case may be) will want the rundown on that thorny story—things went haywire when NY-based collabortor Roc Upchurch was charged with domestic abuse—examined in Co-Creators: The Rat Queens Story.
Roller Dreams takes us back to Venice Beach, CA in the late ‘70s for the birth of roller disco, an African-American phenomenon later co-opted and whitewashed by Hollywood.
If you want to know who’s monitoring your YouTube and Facebook feeds, then The Cleaners goes inside a Manila-based office housing a mysterious horde of online content scrubbers.
And local boy Brent Hodges returns with a catnip-infused insider’s look at a singular cult sensation with Freaks and Geeks: The Documentary.
All life is there, in other words—93 films in all including shorts, assembled for you by the perennial winner of my Programming Team I’d Most Like to Have a Beer With award.
The DOXA Documentary Film Festival runs from May 3-13