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Documentary

From the topical and timeless to the political and provocative, these real-life stories bring you up-close and personal with the people and issues that define who we are, where we come from, and where we’re going. Documentary Competition titles, making their U.S. premieres in Chicago, compete for the Festival’s top nonfiction prize.


40 Years a Prisoner

Tommy Oliver  |   United States
Documentary, Family Affairs, Political, Social Commentary
English  

A bracing examination of the U.S.’s longstanding racially and politically biased justice system, this powerful documentary bears witness to the lifelong efforts of Michael Africa, Jr. to secure the freedom of his parents, members of 1970s Black Liberation group MOVE, who were incarcerated for four decades.

Belushi

R. J. Cutler  |   United States
Biopic, Comedy, Documentary
English  
Drive-in SOLD OUT

By age 30, John Belusihi conquered Hollywood as one of the founding cast members of Saturday Night Live and the star of The Blues Brothers. But as his fame grew, so did his struggles with substance abuse, leading to an untimely demise that shocked fans around the world. Through previously unheard audiotapes featuring the voices of collaborators, friends, and family, this fitting tribute to a once-in-a-generation talent captures the complicated essence of an American icon.

City So Real

Steve James  |   United States
Documentary, Political, Social Commentary
English, Punjabi, Spanish  

This epic docuseries from Hoop Dreams director Steve James captures Chicago at a crossroads, still reeling from the shooting of Laquan McDonald and in the midst of the contentious 2019 mayoral election. From protests to penthouses, James chronicles the divisions that separate and the issues that unite our city.

“Comrades” [Short Film] Sau Zuk

Kanas Liu  |  Hong Kong
Cantonese  

Shot on the streets of Hong Kong during the 2019 Extradition Bill protests, Comrades is a moving portrait of uprising and solidarity.

David Byrne’s American Utopia

Spike Lee  |   United States
Documentary, Music, Political
Drive-in SOLD OUT
In this one-of-a-kind concert film, Oscar-winning director Spike Lee brings the Talking Heads frontman’s critically acclaimed Broadway show to vivid life. Recorded during its recent run in New York City, the production sees Byrne joined by an ensemble of 11 musicians, singers, and dancers from around the globe—including Chicago bassist Bobby Wooten III and Milwaukee [...]

Finding Yingying

Jiayan "Jenny" Shi  |   United States
Documentary, Mystery, Political, Social Commentary
English, Mandarin  

In 2017, Chinese student Yingying Zhang went missing just weeks after arriving at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Filmmaker Jiayan “Jenny” Shi investigates the mystery surrounding Yingying’s disappearance and its devastating impact on her family and her community.

Fireball: Visitors from Darker Worlds

Werner Herzog and Clive Oppenheimer  |  United Kingdom, United States
Documentary, Environmental, Historical, Science Fiction
English  

The legendary German filmmaker and his volcanologist collaborator take viewers on a globe-trotting journey to discover the deep impact that meteorites—from the tiniest micrometeoroids to massive shooting stars—have had on our planet, both physical and psychic.

For Madmen Only

Heather Ross  |   United States
Biopic, Comedy, Documentary
English  

Through inspired re-enactments, archival clips, and interviews with famous fans, this poignant look at the life of improv impresario Del Close tracks the comedy trailblazer from “human torch” sideshow act to his influential rise at The Second City, where he mentored such greats as Bill Murray, John Candy, and Tina Fey.

“How to Disappear” [Short Film]

Robin Klengel, Leonhard Müllner, Michael Stumpf  |  Austria
English  

An essayistic contemplation of the act of desertion within the world of a videogame.

“Huntsville Station” [Short Film]

Jamie Meltzer, Chris Filippone  |  United States
English  

An obesrvation on the comings and goings of a Greyhound station near Huntsville State Penitentiary—the first stop for inmates released on parole.

I Am Greta

Nathan Grossman  |   Sweden
Documentary, Environmental, Political
English, Swedish  

An intimate and candid portrait of a savvy, indefatigable teen, this captivating documentary tracks climate activist Greta Thunberg for 13 momentous months from her initial school strike for climate justice outside the Swedish Parliament to her astonishing wind-powered voyage across the Atlantic Ocean to speak at the UN Climate Action Summit in New York. A Hulu Original Documentary.

Kubrick by Kubrick Kubrick par Kubrick

Gregory Monro  |  France, Poland
Documentary
English, French, Italian  

A trove of never-before-heard audio recordings forms the spine of this cinematic essay on the methods and madness of master director Stanley Kubrick (A Clockwork Orange, The Shining), teasing out some of the notoriously reclusive filmmaker’s inspirations—from Jungian philosophy to anti-authoritarian politics—while celebrating the mysteries inherent in his work.

Little Girl Petite Fille

Sébastien Lifshitz  |   France
Documentary, Family Affairs, LGBTQ, Sex and Sexuality
French  

In this beautifully crafted gem of a film about the joys and pain of living your truth, seven-year-old Sasha works to realize her lifelong dream of being accepted as a girl by her peers, by her parents and by her extended family.

Mama Gloria

Luchina Fisher  |   United States
Biopic, Documentary, LGBTQ, Sex and Sexuality, Social Commentary
English  

Meet Mama Gloria. Chicago’s Black transgender icon Gloria Allen emerged from the South Side’s drag ball culture in the 1960s to trailblaze a path for transgender youth to follow. With positivity and polish, she overcame prejudice and traumatic violence to become a proud leader in her community.

MLK/FBI

Sam Pollard  |   United States
Biopic, Documentary, Historical, Literary Adaptation, Political, Social Commentary
English  
It should come as no surprise that the FBI mounted a relentless campaign of surveillance and harassment of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., but this astonishing documentary reveals both the shocking details of the operation and the complexity of the iconic man in its crosshairs. Using newly declassified files, Oscar-nominated filmmaker Sam Pollard (Chicago International [...]

Notturno

Gianfranco Rosi  |  Italy, France, Germany
Documentary, Political, Religion
Arabic, Kurdish  
From the Oscar-nominated director of Fire at Sea, this lyrical tour-de-force captures the peoples and places ravaged along the borders between Syria, Iraq, Kurdistan, and Lebanon. The mournful dirges of mothers, plaintive patients enacting a play in a psychiatric hospital, the grace of female Peshmerga warriors, a lone boatman navigating waters against the backdrop of [...]

The Prophet and the Space Aliens

Yoav Shamir  |  Israel, Austria
Documentary, Religion
English, French, Japanese, Jula  

Founded in the 1970s by Frenchman Claude Vorilhon, the International Raëlian Movement is a quasi-religious cult built on the idea that aliens created the human race. In this funny and fascinating documentary, director Yoav Shamir (Checkpoint) chronicles the order’s colorful way of life, examining the complexities of belief and devotion in ways both unexpected and enlightening.

“Radia” [Short Film]

Erica Beebe  |  Morocco, United Kingdom
Darija  

Radia is a shepherd and farmer whose childhood and circumstances prevented her from access to education. The film is an urgent observation about prescriptive fate, agency, and determination.

The Reason I Jump

Jerry Rothwell  |  United States, United Kingdom
Documentary, Literary Adaptation
English  
Audience Award, Sundance Film Festival Based on the groundbreaking memoir by 13-year-old author Naoki Higashida, this fascinating documentary uses an immersive, impressionistic approach to chronicle the rich inner lives of non-speaking autistic people from India, Britain, the U.S., and Sierra Leone. Filmmaker Jerry Rothwell draws empathic portraits of his subjects and their families, and then, in [...]

The Road Up

Greg Jacobs & Jon Siskel  |   United States
Documentary, Drama
English  
Drive-in SOLD OUT

From the award-winning team behind the Chicago International Film Festival hit documentary Louder than a Bomb comes this inspiring and emotional film following Jesse Teverbaugh, a charismatic leader at the job-training program Cara, as he mentors four Chicagoans during their precarious journey from homelessness, addiction, and incarceration to stable employment.

Shorts 4: The World As We Know It (Documentary)

Various  |   Austria, Hong Kong, Morocco, Poland, United Kingdom, United States
Cantonese, Darija, English, Polish  

Personal, political, philosophical, and emotional, this collection of films showcases the very best in documentary form—from essayistic meditations to vérité assemblages and deeply-felt human portraits. Featuring works by Kanas Liu, Jamie Meltzer and Chris Filippone, Katarzyna Warzecha, Carmine Grimaldi, Erica Beebe, and Robin Klengel, Leonhard Müllner and Michael Stumpf.

Things We Dare Not Do Cosas que no hacemos

Bruno Santamaria  |   Mexico
Documentary, LGBTQ, Sex and Sexuality
Spanish  

In the small town of El Roblito, 16-year-old Ñoño has a secret that runs counter to the local culture defined by machismo; he loves to dress in women’s clothes. This gorgeously photographed snapshot of rural Mexico tells the exquisite story of an individual who bravely defies the gender norms of their society.

‘Til Kingdom Come

Maya Zinshtein  |  Israel, UK, Norway
Documentary, Political, Religion
Arabic, English, Hebrew  

This riveting exposé investigates the unlikely connection between Jews and evangelical Christians in the U.S. and Israel, uncovering a shocking alliance rooted in apocalyptic prophecy and driven in unprecedented ways by Donald Trump’s White House.

Transoceánicas

Meritxell Colell & Lucia Vassallo  |  Spain, Argentina
Documentary
Spanish  
A years-long correspondence between two filmmakers, this poetic, intimate work finds two friends separated by geography yet bound by their strong emotional connection and the art of the moving image. Meritxell Colell (Facing the Wind), who lives in Barcelona, and Buenos Aires-based Lucía Vassallo (Línea 137), share moments from their lives both beautiful and banal [...]

“We Have One Heart” [Short Film]

Katarzyna Warzecha  |  Poland
Polish  

Sifting through old letters between his parents, Adam uncovers an extraordinary family secret.

“When Two or Three” [Short Film]

Carmine Grimaldi  |  United States
English  

Profiling a pastor, his wife, and a dwindling congregation, When Two or Three is a picture of faith and the search for God in small-town Arizona.

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