The Chicago International Documentary Festival (which debuted last year as the Chicago International Doc Film Festival) continues Friday through Tuesday, April 16 through 20. Screenings are at the Society for Arts, 1112 N. Milwaukee. Unless otherwise noted, tickets are $8.50, $7 for seniors and students; for more information call 773-486-9612. Films marked with an asterisk (*) are highly recommended.


* Sheriff

Daniel Kraus’s cinema verite study (2003) of Ronald E. Hewett, sheriff of Brunswick County, North Carolina, is like an extended episode of Cops as directed by Frederick Wiseman–and I mean that as a compliment on both counts. Earnest, dedicated, and God-fearing, Hewett deals with a variety of crises and civic duties: busting an illegal video-gambling operation, rallying churchgoers against a proposed strip club, organizing a manhunt for a homicide suspect, and exhorting an assembly of high school students to be “pretty from the inside.” The detail captured by Kraus’s scrupulously neutral camera adds up to a fascinating, fully realized portrait of the man and the job. 76 min. (Cliff Doerksen) (7:00)

H.H. Holmes: America’s First Serial Killer

Readers of Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City already know about Holmes, the “Monster of 63rd Street,” whose Englewood mansion concealed numerous torture chambers and who murdered countless people before he was discovered and hanged in 1896. This ghoulish 2003 video by writer-director John Borowski recounts Holmes’s early years as a medical student, the construction of his house of evil, the insurance scam that resulted in his arrest, and the circus surrounding his trial and execution. Serial-killer fans should eat it up, though the few available photos are reused to the point of tedium and Tony Jay’s sonorous, British-accented narration (“It is here that Holmes will make his horrific dreams come true”) kept making me laugh when I was supposed to shudder. 65 min. (JJ) (9:00)


* Sheriff

See listing for Friday, April 16. (3:00)

H.H. Holmes: America’s First Serial Killer

See listing for Friday, April 16. (5:00)

* The Cartel

This German TV documentary by Helmut Grosse (2002, in English and subtitled German) offers a concise and lucid account of the multiple ties between the second Bush administration and the oil and energy industries, many of which date back to the president’s membership in the secret Skull and Bones Society at Yale. Some of the material is familiar and obvious, but Grosse makes a strong case for the disproportionate influence of Texas on the national agenda, and he defuses likely charges of Eurocentric bias by limiting his interviews to American experts. (JR) Also on the program: Storming the Summit. 87 min. (7:00)

Moscow Central and The Devil in Moscow

British director Clive Gordon takes a wonderfully acerbic look at Russia’s democratic growing pains in Moscow Central (1994, 72 min.), as wacky candidates run for office in Moscow’s central district. Among the wicked touches is Gordon’s use of “Sympathy for the Devil” on the sound track as a corrupt pol from the last regime strides through snowy streets. In The Devil in Moscow (1991, 55 min.), Polish director Andrzej Fidyk reports on resurgent interest in Mikhail Bulgakov (The Master and Margarita), a playwright and novelist silenced during the Stalin era. Bulgakov’s feverish imagery of the devil inside the Russian soul finds latter-day expression in the popular exorcism services of a cult healer who calls himself “the sorcerer of Russia.” Both films are in Russian with subtitles. (Bill Stamets) (9:00)


* Sheriff

See listing for Friday, April 16. (3:00)

H.H. Holmes: America’s First Serial Killer

See listing for Friday, April 16. (5:00)

* Death in Gaza

James Miller, the director of this gripping documentary about Palestinian children, was killed by rifle fire last year as he and writer Saira Shah approached an Israeli tank at night waving a white flag. Completed by Shah, his 2003 video documents the agony of life in the Gaza Strip, where the journalists get to know two 12-year-old boys, Ahmed and Mohammed, who’ve already been infected with the mania for Islamist martyrdom. In a world where children collect scattered flesh after missile attacks and compose good-bye letters to their families in case they’re killed in the street, their eagerness to become suicide bombers makes perfect sense. Like no other documentary I’ve seen, this captures the hatred, anguish, and privation that fuel the intifada. 77 min. (JJ) (7:00)

No. 17

David Ofek’s 2003 video begins as a quest to put a face and a name to an unidentified victim of a suicide bombing in Israel, then becomes a cri de coeur against terrorism. He interviews surviving passengers, constructs a seating map of the bus, and, in a long and intriguing sequence, gets a talented police sketch artist to draw conjectural portraits of the deceased. The drawings yield a clue, and a DNA test establishes that he was Eliko Timsit, a small-time con artist whose family hadn’t reported his absence because he frequently disappeared. His remains are disinterred and his weeping relatives give him a religious funeral. In Hebrew with subtitles. Also on the program, Tom Roberts’s Inside the Mind of the Suicide Bomber (2003; in English and subtitled Arabic and Hebrew) profiles three would-be bombers, now imprisoned. Their motivations vary, but the despair of the 17-year-old who contrasts his “pointless life” with the paradise he expected to attain speaks volumes. 135 min. (FC) (9:00)


* Roman Karmen: Filmmaker in the Service of the Revolution

Images are uniquely impervious to historical revision, a tension that powers this fascinating French documentary about Soviet propagandist Roman Karmen. An admirer of Eisenstein and a loyal minion of the state, Karmen made his name with stunning documentary accounts of the Spanish civil war and the siege of Leningrad, and as the Kremlin’s filmmaker at large he helped to deify Mao, Castro, and Ho Chi Minh. Directors Patrick Barberis and Dominique Chapuis have assembled a fine catalog of Karmen’s bold imagery, but their insightful voice-over (dubbed in English) also carefully dissects his stagings and reenactments, revealing how carefully he polished his first draft of history and how steadily his talent was corrupted by ideology. 90 min. (JJ) (7:00)

Short documentaries

Two works: Cold-Blooded and The Bandits. 77 min. (9:00)


Ballroom Dancing

Livia Gyarmathy’s slight but affectionate documentary (2003, in Hungarian with subtitles) uses a dance recital in a Hungarian hamlet as a window onto the lives of the villagers. (Patrick Z. McGavin) Also on the program: The Competition. 83 min. (7:00)

Videos by Angus Macqueen

Vodka (2000, 63 min.) uses a folktale about a golden fish that grants wishes as a frame for vignettes drawn from Russian life. The wish for happiness is illustrated by a peasant wedding; the wish for wealth and power by a profile of a would-be vodka tycoon; the wish to be able to drink and stay sober by the funeral of a man who died from drinking. The resulting impressionistic portrait of Russia has its moments but lacks cohesion. Loving Lenin (1998, 50 min.), not available for preview, is a documentary on Lenin worship. In Russian with subtitles. (FC) (9:00)