Inspiring an audience is an uphill battle. Our daily lives are saturated by social media and newsreel clips, and unfortunately, these doom-scrolled For You Pages rarely stimulate long-lasting conversations. But energizing the community with real, nonfiction storytelling is not futile. This year, the eighth annual Doc10 Film Festival will strive to engage Chicago residents with stories that illuminate the real-life experiences and struggles of people, both locally and globally. The festival, hosted by Chicago Media Project (CMP), will feature ten acclaimed documentary premieres and a selection of notable documentary shorts.
“Doc10 grew out of our desire to share great documentaries with communities across Chicago,” says Paula Froehle, CMP and Doc10 cofounder.
What distinguishes Doc10 from other premier festivals is its limited programming. Despite solidifying its place in the awards circuit, the documentary film festival maintains its ten-film program. Documentaries offer an intimate, emotive alternative to blockbusters or feature films, and the festival coordinators hope to provide audiences with a meticulously curated lineup of the most poignant stories. Specifically, Doc10 aspires to connect with Chicago communities by premiering films that appeal to audiences.
“Bringing a film festival to Chicago that focuses on docs about real people and pressing issues affecting our city and country seemed like a natural outgrowth of the CMP mission,” says Steve Cohen, another CMP and Doc10 cofounder. “It was our way to bring Chicagoans together, collectively watching great documentary storytelling on the big screen.”
The festival will open on May 4 with Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie, a film that chronicles how the Back to the Future actor’s career changed after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease at 29. Director Davis Guggenheim will join the audience for a post-screening conversation to kick off the festival.
On Friday and Saturday, the festival’s programming includes The Disappearance of Shere Hite, director Nicole Newnham’s exposé on the bestselling sex author; Confessions of a Good Samaritan, in which director Penny Lane turns the camera on herself to document her experience donating her kidney; Under the Sky of Damascus, a poignant film from Heba Khaled, Talal Derki, and Ali Wajeeh that follows a group of women curating the first play created entirely by women in Damascus, Syria; King Coal, director Elaine McMillion Sheldon’s deep dive into Appalachian coal country; and Sundance Grand Jury Prize-winner Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project, directors Joe Brewster and Michèle Stephenson’s retrospective on one of the most inimitable poets.
“What we’ve discovered is that film feeds our soul and that we’re part of a larger history of art being a way of life—art being the way that you convey story, narrative, the way you heal and inspire community,” says Brewster. “My father was a preacher, and so there were hundreds of people in that church on Sunday. And I saw the way the pageantry of church healed and inspired. Film does the same thing in a number of ways. Most of our stories are personal and involve subjects that overcome tremendous odds. We are peddlers of hope and resilience, and I think it’s had a very powerful effect on us, our audience, and the people we work with.”
Doc10 hosts the most applauded documentary films every year, consistently offering a program packed with award-worthy films. For instance, Navalny—selected for last year’s festival—was the third Doc10 film to win the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature (after 2021’s Summer of Soul and 2019’s American Factory). But unlike similar film festivals, Doc10 intends for its festival to captivate and inform the community, prioritizing personal and intentional storytelling.
“I actually think all film is personal,” Stephenson says. “For us, it’s very intentional. And I think that’s what drew us to Nikki also, in terms of her using the art form in some ways to heal, process, and acknowledge certain things. That just speaks so much to so many of us. We focus on challenging the status quo, not accepting assumptions in terms of the stories that we tell and how we tell them, but also investing in what the immediate impact of storytelling can have in terms of process.”
On closing day, the festival will present Subject, Jennifer Tiexiera and Camilla Hall’s meta-commentary about the ethical dilemmas that face documentarians; and A Still Small Voice, a film following a chaplain in training from director Luke Lorentzen. Doc10 will conclude with Going Varsity in Mariachi, a fascinating exploration of a south Texas high school mariachi competition. The showing will be followed by a Q&A discussion with directors Alexandra Vasquez and Sam Osborn.
Several other directors will join festivalgoers in person for Q&As after their screenings, including the filmmakers behind The Disappearance of Shere Hite, Confessions of a Good Samaritan, King Coal, A Still Small Voice, and Going to Mars. Khaled and Derki will zoom into a Q&A after the Under the Sky of Damascus showing. After the Subject screening, several production members, including Tiexiera, will join the audience for an extended panel discussion.
Doc10 Film Festival
The Davis Theater, 4614 N. Lincoln
Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State
Single film tickets $16, two-for-one “Date Night” package $30, six-ticket package $85
“All ten films are, of course, very different in style and content, but I do think audiences will gain a sense of hope and perseverance,” says Anthony Kaufman, Doc10 cofounder and senior programmer. “It manifests itself very differently in each of the films. But whether it’s through the lives of Michael J. Fox, Nikki Giovanni, Little Richard, kidney donors, a chaplain in New York, a coal miner’s daughter in West Virginia, or a group of women in Syria staging a play, these films showcase people fighting for change in different ways.”
To accompany the impressive program, Doc10 will present its Doc Shorts program on May 6, featuring eight short films and a Q&A with participating filmmakers. Later that evening, the film festival will host their Doc10 Awards Ceremony, where its second annual Audience Award winner will be named. Doc10’s festival coordinators hope that festivalgoers leave feeling inspired and informed, sparking productive conversations across the Chicago community.
“I believe well-made documentary films have the power to inform, energize, and engage viewers in stories of real human beings, thereby creating empathy for individuals and issues beyond our own experience,” Froehle says. “At CMP we believe that character-driven documentaries that focus on social issues have the power to move hearts and minds and trigger action that can bring about change in the world.”