Last year, the highest grossing film internationally was Disney's Beauty and the Beast, which rocked the cradle to a worldwide total of $1.26 billion, according to Business Insider (as a side note, of the top 10 highest grossing films last year, five of them were either a Disney/Sony hybrid, or Disney properties outright -- nice that the mouse allowed a couple of other studios on the list at all).
Meanwhile, the highest grossing documentary, by contrast, made a whopping $13.8 million -- Born in China, a doc made by ... wait for it ... Disney! I'm not much for math, my 12-year-old has taken to giving me (necessary) lectures on mathematical concepts such as graphing inequalities, but I can tell you that the difference between those two numbers is pretty substantial.
In fact, the highest grossing doc of all time, Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11, made just under $120 million, which is utterly fantastic for a doc, but paltry indeed compared to the big boys. The total gross box office of the five films nominated for best documentary in this year's Oscars would have a hard time paying for the morning danish on the set of Beast.
So, it must be beyond heartening to documentary filmmakers, and the fans of the form, to see a festival like Columbia, Mo.'s wonderful True/False pack every screening to the rafters, with dozens more standing outside pining to get in. There are many reasons for T/F's success, of course, including the vision of festival organizers Paul Sturtz and David Wilson (listed as "co-conspirators" on their website), the bands before each screening, the Q Queens, dressed like something out of a Mardi Gras parade fever dream, and the vibe of the collegiate town in which it takes place. But what Sturtz and Wilson and their diligent staff have really done is to turn the humble documentary into an event, and the weekend of the festival nothing less than a celebration of the form.
Here are but a handful of the films at this year's fest we are most looking forward to seeing, in alphabetical order:
Combat Obscura: Shot by an actual serviceman, where most of his footage of Marines in combat was previously used exclusively as promotion, Miles Lagoze has repackaged and repurposed a lot of his footage to present an intricate, extremely intimate look at soldiers at war, from the inside out. In a social media era where everyone's life seems to be opened to one sort of camera or another, Lagoze takes an even deeper dive, and has come up with what sounds like a fascinating dive into the trenches.
The Family: Where Richard Linklater's Boyhood was a narrative film about a kid growing into a young adult, Slovenian director Rok Bicek's documentary concerns a teenage boy, living with his parents, who over the course of a decade becomes a father himself, even as he questions his own place in the world. Edited out of sequence, it promises to be a fascinating, if nonlinear study of one man's journey into something a good deal different from he might have imagined.
Flight of the Bullet: T/F specializes in films that blur the lines a bit between straight documentary, and doc-like narrative. Beata Bubenec's film, all 81 minutes, was shot in a single take in a war-torn part of Ukraine, as a completely torn up bridge becomes the focus of a crowd, who begin to address the camera -- and the person behind the lens -- directly.
Gabriel and the Mountain: Along similarly fuzzy lines, this documentary follows the footsteps of a young Brazilian college student named Gabriel Buchmann, who died in the course of a year spent backpacking in Eastern Africa. Shot by his good friend, Fellipe Barbosa, the film retraces Gabriel's journey using a stand-in actor, with Barbosa utilizing many of the actual people his friend had encountered along the way.
Hale County This Morning, This Evening: A film that played Sundance in January to much acclaim, it was shot by a still photographer who incorporates precise framing to create a kind of moving environmental portrait. RaMell Ross's film follows the breezy lives of a pair of black kids living in Alabama, shooting hoops, hanging with their families and spending time on this spinning orb, as their story, and the story of the area, unfolds along the way.
Taming the Horse: In keeping with the theme of individuals learning to follow their own paths, Gu Tao's film centers on his good friend, Tong, who has recently become unemployed and takes the opportunity to reassess his life and where he might fit into it. Shot over the course of a single year in China, the film captures the restless energy of a young man on a chaotic search for himself, embedded in a country that is undergoing its own sort of grand journey.
Three Identical Strangers: Tim Wardle's film was another big hit at Sundance back in January, as it follows a story that most New Yorkers of a certain vintage can remember at least a fragment of: In the early '80s, an amazing set of coincidences allowed three identical triplets, who had been separated at birth and lived utterly different lives, to meet each other and discover the truth. But what sounds like a feel-good story for the ages takes a series of darker turns, becoming instead an exploration of our biological imperative vs. our environmental existence. Like last year's Tickled, it starts out in one direction you think you see coming, but then takes a dramatic turn into more uncharted territory.
MovieStyle on 03/02/2018
Print Headline: Documentaries that stand out from True/False fest pack