The Belcourt Theatre has a selection of 15 highly acclaimed documentaries for its annual Doctober event that begins Friday. With diverse topics that include hip-hop, mountain climbing, religious freedom, social activism and more, Doctober represents a thoughtful selection of provocative filmmaking.
Highlights include the Sundance Film Festival hit CUTIE AND THE BOXER, a touching meditation on the theme of love and sacrifice; MUSCLE SHOALS, the story of a small Alabama town where musicians like Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones and others recorded a goldmine of incomparable music; THE SUMMIT, the harrowing story of the deaths of 11 mountain climbers on K2 in August 2008; filmmaker Charlie Ahearn’s JAMEL SHABAZZ: STREET PHOTOGRAPHER, chronicling the infancy and rise of hip-hop culture through the images of Shabazz, as well as the 30th anniversary restoration of Ahearn’s hip-hop cult classic WILD STYLE; and the restoration of LE JOLI MAI, a legendary portrait of Paris in May 1962 by filmmakers Chris Marker and Pierre Lhomme. Tickets and information for Doctober films are available at the Belcourt’s website, its Facebook page and its Twitter account (@belcourt).
“Doctober has become a favorite program here at the Belcourt,” says Belcourt Director of Programming Toby Leonard. “This year’s line-up consists of 15 very different films that were culled from a list of more than 30 outstanding documentary selections, so what we have here represents the cream of a particularly fruitful crop.”
Doctober kicks off with the energetic and compelling INEQUALITY FOR ALL that brings to film former labor secretary Robert Reich’s passionate argument that the widening income inequality poses one of the most severe threats to the U.S. economy and democracy. Also opening Friday is THE TRIALS OF MUHAMMAD ALI, an examination of the extraordinary and complex man’s life outside of the boxing ring, including his conversion to Islam, his refusal to serve in the Vietnam War, and much more.
BAND OF SISTERS (Oct. 6-8) tells the inspiring story of Catholic nuns and their work for social justice after Vatican II of the 1960s. The film challenges viewers to question what really matters in life. A remarkable journey inside the secretive world of magic, DECEPTIVE PRACTICE: THE MYSTERIES AND MENTORS OF RICKY JAY (Oct. 8-9) follows the world-renowned magician and performer who regularly provokes astonishment from even the most jaded audiences.
TERMS AND CONDITIONS MAY APPLY (Oct. 9-10), exposes what governments and corporations are legally taking from consumers every day, leaving both privacy and civil liberties uncertain. MUSCLE SHOALS, opening Oct. 11 and playing throughout the month, features a rousing look at the music and musicians of the Muscle Shoals sound. At the heart of the story is Rick Hall, who overcame crushing hardship, ultimately enticing talent like Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett to record in this unexpected place. Also opening Oct. 11 for a limited run is CUTIE AND THE BOXER. It captures the lives of 80-year-old ‘boxing’ artist Ushio Shinohara and his wife, united by a dedication to art making, as Shinohara attempts to reinvigorate his career.
Doctober continues with JAMEL SHABAZZ: STREET PHOTOGRAPHER (Oct. 13, 16). Filmmaker Charles Ahearn (who also directed WILD STYLE) gives voice to the many images by photographer Shabazz, who chronicled the infancy of hip-hop, with dozens of interviews with legendary hip-hop pioneers and rappers among others. Opening Oct. 18, THE SUMMIT follows the horrifying story of death and tragedy high atop K2. Weaving together firsthand footage, post-event interviews and reenactments, the film is an engaging narrative of the struggles on the deadliest mountain on earth.
A new restoration of Shirley Clarke’s PORTRAIT OF JASON plays Oct. 18-20. Filmed in 1967, hustler/cabaret singer Jason Holliday narrates his troubled story in this significant document of what it was like to be black and gay in 1960s America. Renowned director Ingmar Bergman declared it “the most fascinating film I’ve ever seen.” Playing Oct. 19-20, the comedy documentary THE MUSLIMS ARE COMING! follows a band of Muslim-American comedians as they visit big cities and small towns—including Murfreesboro—to perform and create unsuspecting interventions. WILD STYLE, opening Oct. 20—while not strictly a documentary—documents the early days of hip-hop in New York’s boroughs. Filmed in 1983, it’s a fascinating time capsule of hip-hop’s roots.
The final week of Doctober features GOD LOVES UGANDA, opening Oct. 25, that exposes the missionary movement in Uganda as an outgrowth of Africa’s colonialist past and a 21st century crusade to re-create a continent of extreme fundamentalists. LET THE FIRE BURN (Oct. 26-28) is an astonishingly gripping documentary by first-time filmmaker Jason Osder, who weaves together archival news coverage and interviews to bring to life a largely forgotten clash between the city of Philadelphia and the controversial radical urban group MOVE. Closing the series is a meticulous restoration of Chris Marker and Pierre Lhomme’s landmark film, LE JOLI MAI (Oct. 27, 29), a strikingly cinematic portrait of Paris in May 1962 in the wake of the Algerian War.
Through Doctober, the Belcourt Theatre partners with the Metro Nashville Arts Commission, NowPlayingNashville.com and other local nonprofit arts organizations for Artober Nashville, an annual month‐long celebration of arts and culture in Nashville, designed to inform and inspire the community’s awareness of and participation in the array of activities in October.
Here’s the promotional video for Doctober followed by the full schedule from the Belcourt (the schedule film titles below are links to corresponding pages on the Belcourt website):
DOCTOBER Full Schedule
Opens Friday, Oct. 4
Dir. Jacob Kornbluth, USA, 2013, 85min, PG, DCP
In lectures, books, and years of commentary, former labor secretary and current UC Berkeley professor Robert Reich has argued passionately that widening income inequality poses one of the most severe threats to our economy and democracy. Filmmaker Jacob Kornbluth, inspired by Reich’s book Aftershock, tackles this massive topic by effectively adapting Reich himself into documentary form. Asking how we got here and what happens if we don’t act, Kornbluth and Reich dissect countless issues—among them wage stagnation, consolidated wealth, manufacturing, financial instruments, capital markets, globalization, and election politics—with an uncanny ability to render complex principles digestible. In this AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH for the economy, Reich presents a compelling, intellectually rigorous narrative bolstered by abundant research and graphics. In upholding rational inquiry over ideological prisms, he encourages us (as he does his students) not to share his opinion but to challenge our own assumptions. (Sundance Film Festival Program Guide)
Friday-Sunday, Oct. 4-6 and Thursday, Oct. 10
Dir. Bill Siegel, USA, 2013, NR, 94min, DCP
Befitting its extraordinary and complex subject, the film examines Ali’s life outside the ring, beginning with the announcement of his deeply held and controversial Islamic religious beliefs, and the decision to change his “white man’s name” of Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali. Yet, it is not a conventional sports documentary. The film explores his refusal to serve in the Vietnam War, even after his status as a conscientious objector was denied, on the grounds of protesting racial injustice at home—while capturing his passion and anger in interviews and television appearances culled from a rich variety of rare archival sources. Ali’s choice of belief and conscience over fame and fortune resonates far beyond the boxing ring, striking issues of race, faith and identity that continue to confront us all today.
Sunday-Tuesday, Oct. 6-8
Dir. Mary Fishman, USA, 2012, NR, 88min, HD
BAND OF SISTERS tells the story of Catholic nuns and their work for social justice after Vatican II of the 1960s. For Catholics who wonder what became of the nuns they knew in habits and convents many years ago, for activists who may feel profoundly discouraged given the problems of today’s world, for women seeking equality in their church, and for people of all faiths yearning for an inclusive and contemplative spirituality, BAND OF SISTERS challenges us to ask what really matters in life. And as we seek what matters, how do we go about changing our lives and the world around us?
Tuesday-Wednesday, Oct. 8-9
Dir. Molly Bernstein, USA, 2013, NR, 88min, DCP
Ricky Jay is a world-renowned magician, author, historian and actor (often a mischievous presence in the films of David Mamet and Paul Thomas Anderson)—and a performer who regularly provokes astonishment from even the most jaded audiences. DECEPTIVE PRACTICE traces Jay’s achievements and influences, from his apprenticeship at age four with his grandfather, to such now-forgotten legends as Al Flosso, Slydini, Cardini and his primary mentors, Dai Vernon and Charlie Miller. Featuring rare footage from his 1970s TV appearances (doing Three-Card Monte with Steve Martin on “The Dinah Shore Show”) and told in Jay’s inimitable voice, this is a remarkable journey inside the secretive world of magic and the small circle of eccentrics who are its perpetual devotees.
Wednesday-Thursday, Oct. 9-10
Dir. Cullen Hoback, USA, 2013, NR, 79min, DCP
Every day, billion-dollar corporations are learning more about your interests, your friends and family, your finances, and your secrets… and are not only selling the information to the highest bidder but freely sharing it with the government. And you agreed to all of it. With fascinating examples and so-unbelievable-they’re-almost-funny facts, filmmaker Cullen Hoback exposes what governments and corporations are legally taking from you every day—making the future of both privacy and civil liberties uncertain. From whistle blowers and investigative journalists to zombie fan clubs and Egyptian dissidents, this disquieting exposé demonstrates how every one of us has incrementally opted-in to a real-time surveillance state, click by click —and what, if anything, can be done about it.
Opens Friday, Oct. 11
Dir. Freddy Camalier, USA, 2013, PG, 111min, DCP
In a tiny Alabama town with the curious name of Muscle Shoals, something miraculous sprang from the mud of the Tennessee River. A group of unassuming, yet incredibly talented, locals came together and spawned some of the greatest music of all time: “Mustang Sally,” “I Never Loved a Man,” “Wild Horses,” and many more. During the most incendiary periods of racial hostility, white folks and black folks came together to create music that would last for generations and gave birth to the incomparable “Muscle Shoals sound.” At the heart of the story is Rick Hall; overcoming crushing hardship, he managed to entice talent like Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett to come and record what became their hit albums, backed up by the funkiest white men ever—the homegrown house band, the Swampers. As the word spread about the electrifying musical chemistry in this unexpected place, the likes of Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, the Staples Singers, the Allman Brothers Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Simon and Garfunkel magnetically followed suit. Interviewing an incredible roster of musicians, director Greg Camalier unearths a rich history of this unheralded gold mine of American music. (Sundance Film Festival Program Guide)
Friday-Sunday, Oct. 11-13 and Wednesday, Oct. 16
Dir. Zachary Heinzerling, USA, 2013, R, 82min, DCP
Once a rising star in the ‘70’s New York art scene, 80-year-old “boxing” painter Ushio Shinohara is prepping for his latest show, hoping to reinvigorate his career. His wife and de facto assistant, Noriko, seeks her own recognition through her “Cutie” illustrations, which depict their chaotic 40-year marriage. CUTIE AND THE BOXER captures two lives united by a dedication to art-making for a touching meditation on the eternal themes of love and sacrifice.
Sunday, Oct. 13 and Wednesday, Oct. 16
Dir. Charlie Ahearn, USA, 2013, NR, 74min, Digital
In the infancy of hip-hop, Brooklyn-born photographer Jamel Shabazz documented the pioneers of music and style who would launch an enduring worldwide phenomenon. Charlie Ahearn, the director of the seminal graffiti movie WILD STYLE (also playing Oct. 20, 22-23), pays tribute to both Shabazz and those who defined hip-hop before it had definition. More than just vintage shots of kids rocking Puma Suedes, Kangols, and pin-striped Jordaches in Times Square and Fort Greene Park, Shabazz’s photographs have hundreds of (oftentimes tragic) stories behind them, and the film gives voice to these images with dozens of interviews with Shabazz himself, graffiti pioneer and hip-hop historian Fred “Fab 5 Freddy” Brathwaite, legendary rapper KRS-One, and more.
Friday-Thursday, Oct. 18-24
Dir. Nick Ryan, UK, 2013, R, 95min, DCP
K2, commonly known as Savage Mountain, is an extension of the northwestern Himalayan Mountain range and is located in the remote region between Pakistan and China. With an unprecedented fatality rate of one in four climbers, it has rightfully earned the title of the second most murderous mountain. But with any high risk sport comes the love of the challenge, and in August 2008, 22 climbers from several international expeditions converged on High Camp of K2, the last stop before the summit. Forty-eight hours later, 11 had been killed or simply vanished into thin air. Like a horror movie come to life, it was as if the mountain began stealing lives, one climber at a time. THE SUMMIT is a seamless pastiche of the climbers’ firsthand footage, after-the-fact interviews, and reenactments. It plays like an engaging narrative film as it focuses on the mystery behind one extraordinary man, Ger McDonnell, who was left behind in the death zone as his best friend searched in vain to find him, rescuing several others. As the legend surrounding McDonnell and the 10 others grows, fearless new climbers are drawn to test themselves against the deadliest mountain on earth.
Friday-Sunday, Oct. 18-20
Dir. Shirley Clarke, USA, 1967, NR, 105min, DCP
The third film in restoration heroes Milestone Films’ “Shirley Project” (the previous two, THE CONNECTION and ORNETTE: MADE IN AMERICA, screened at the Belcourt last year), Shirley Clarke’s 1967 film PORTRAIT OF JASON finds the filmmaker interviewing Jason Holliday aka Aaron Payne—house boy, would-be cabaret performer, and self proclaimed hustler giving one man’s gin-soaked, pill-popped view of what it was like to be colored and gay in 1960s America. Eschewing editorial, the director simply allows Jason to speak his mind. The film received significant backlash, including accusations of exploitation. Swedish director Ingmar Bergman put it most simply, declaring it to be “the most fascinating film I’ve ever seen.”
Saturday-Monday, Oct. 19-21
Dir. Negin Farsad and Dean Obeidallah, USA, 2013, NR, 81min, DCP
THE MUSLIMS ARE COMING! is a comedy documentary which follows a band of Muslim-American comedians as they visit big cities, small towns (including Murfreesboro), rural villages, and everything in between—not only to perform but also to create ridiculous interventions in unsuspecting town squares, like the old classic “Ask a Muslim Booth” and “Name That Religion.” Throughout the film, comedy icons like Jon Stewart, David Cross, Janeane Garofalo, Lewis Black, Aasif Mandvi and media heavy weights like Rachel Maddow, Russell Simmons, Soledad O’Brien and Congressman Keith Ellison comment on the power of comedy and the political scope of bigotry. The film is truly about freedom of religion in America for people all faiths. And rest assured, you’ve never laughed this hard at a Muslim.
Sunday, Oct. 20 and Tuesday-Wednesday, Oct. 22-23
Dir. Charlie Ahearn, USA, 1983, R, 82min, 30th Anniversary Digital Restoration
While not strictly documentary per se, WILD STYLE is a document of the earliest days of hip-hop in the boroughs of New York. Everything in WILD STYLE is authentic—the story, style, characters, and most of the actors, are drawn from the community. It follows the exploits of maverick tagger Zoro (real life graffiti artist Lee Quinones), whose work attracts the attention of an East Village art fancier (Patti Astor) who commissions him to paint the stage for a giant Rappers’ Convention. It features a pantheon of old-school pioneers, including Grandmaster Flash, Busy Bee, The Cold Crush Brothers and more.
Friday-Thursday, Oct. 25-31
Dir. Roger Ross Williams, USA, 2013, NR, 83min, DCP
A battle rages in East Africa, where crosses replace guns and shouts of prayer roar louder than missiles. American evangelical Christians have chosen Uganda, with Africa’s youngest and most vulnerable population, as their ground zero in a battle for the soul of a continent. American missionaries and religious leaders are working with African pastors in a radical campaign to eradicate sin through the most extreme measures. The stakes are nothing less than life and death. Filmmaker Roger Ross Williams exposes the missionary movement in Uganda as an outgrowth of Africa’s colonialist past and a 21st century crusade to recreate a continent of people in the image and likeness of America’s most extreme fundamentalists. Williams captures vérité footage so shocking that viewers may be squirming in their seats. Masterfully crafted and astonishingly provocative, GOD LOVES UGANDA may be the most terrifying film of the year. (Sundance Film Festival Program Guide)
Saturday-Monday, Oct. 26-28
Dir. Jason Osder, USA, 2013, NR, 95min, DCP
In this astonishingly gripping documentary, director Jason Osder has crafted that rarest of cinematic objects: a found-footage film that unfurls with the tension of a great thriller. On May 13, 1985, a longtime feud between the city of Philadelphia and controversial radical urban group MOVE came to a deadly climax. By order of local authorities, police dropped military-grade explosives onto a MOVE-occupied row house. TV cameras captured the conflagration that quickly escalated—and resulted in the tragic deaths of 11 people (including five children) and the destruction of 61 homes. It was only later discovered that authorities decided to “…let the fire burn.” Using only archival news coverage and interviews, first-time filmmaker Osder has brought to life one of the most tumultuous and largely forgotten clashes between government and citizens in modern American history.
Sunday, Oct. 27 and Wednesday, Oct. 30
Dirs. Chris Marker and Pierre Lhomme, France, 1963, NR, 145min, New Digital Restoration
The restoration of Chris Marker’s legendary portrait of Paris in May 1962 premiered at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, exactly half a century after the original won the International Critics Prize there. Meticulously restored by the film’s cinematographer and co-director, Pierre Lhomme, according to Marker’s instructions—trimming the original by almost 20 minutes—and featuring a lovely English voiceover (Marker’s preference for anglophone audiences) by Marker’s comrade and friend Simone Signoret, LE JOLI MAI emerges as one of the director’s most poignant and important works.
Characteristically witty and generous, Marker’s epic “direct cinema” inquiry into the possibility of happiness during France’s first springtime of peace in many years (following the recently signed ceasefire that marked the end of the Algerian War) is structured in two parts. “A Prayer from the Eiffel Tower” orchestrates a heady polyphony of Parisians—a nervous clothing salesman who is happy only in his car or when his till is full, a besotted couple who know they are unique in their bliss—offering acerbic and sometimes hilarious observations on the state of the nation, and often dodging the obvious. “The Return of Fantômas” broadens the film’s scope to examine the social and political history of Paris, including recent street demonstrations, racial tensions, and—the future always contiguous with the past in Marker’s cinema—technological revolution.
The Belcourt Theatre is a nonprofit cultural institution that engages, enriches and educates audiences through innovative film programming. Housed in Nashville’s only historic neighborhood theatre, the Belcourt presents the best of independent, documentary, world, and repertory cinema 365 days a year, while promoting visual literacy and providing opportunities for people of all ages to experience the power of film. First opened in 1925 as a silent movie house, the theatre was home to the Grand Ole Opry from 1934-35. Since the re-opening of the theatre as a nonprofit art house in 1999, over a half million people have visited the Belcourt to see more than 1,000 films from every corner of the globe.
*Photo of Rick Hall and Clarence Carter in MUSCLE SHOALS courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.