A recent addition to Chicago’s festival calendar, the Doc10 documentary festival debuted in 2016 and moved to the Davis Theater last year with a mix of accessible, cable-ready titles (Obit., Casting JonBenet) and more challenging work from around the world (The Cinema Travelers, Death in the Terminal). That binary strategy continues this year with, on the one hand, portraits of Elvis Presley (The King), Ruth Bader Ginsberg (RBG), and Fred Rogers (Won’t You Be My Neighbor, already sold out) and, on the other, studies of drug cartel violence (Devil’s Freedom) and the breakup of Yugoslavia (The Other Side of Everything). We’ve reviewed six of the ten features below. The festival runs Thursday through Sunday, April 5 through 8, and tickets are $16; for more information visit doc10.org. —J.R. Jones
The King Eugene Jarecki has directed two of the most extraordinary political documentaries of the new century: Why We Fight (2005), a 40-year history of the military-industrial complex, and The House I Live In (2011), exposing the tragedy of the U.S. drug war. This new project may sound a little more fun—the filmmaker takes off in a 1963 Rolls-Royce once owned by Elvis Presley, telling the singer’s life story as he rolls through Tupelo, Memphis, Nashville, New York, Hollywood, and Las Vegas—but ultimately Elvis serves as a metaphor for American decline. Rock critic Greil Marcus argues that Presley embodied “the pursuit of happiness,” whereas Van Jones and Chuck D. finger the King as a racial coward and a cultural thief. Like the director’s other projects, this is intelligent and ambitious, but the cultural insights are too familiar to merit yet another trek through Presley’s troubled life. —J.R. Jones 107 min. Jarecki attends the screening, part of the closing-night program. Sun 4/8, 7:45 PM.
On Her Shoulders This documentary profiles human rights activist Nadia Murad, a Yazidi Kurd in Iraq who was forced into slavery by ISIS. Director Alexandria Bombach avoids the details of Murad’s brutal captivity, showing instead the intense pressure and responsibility the 23-year-old feels as a spokesperson for her people. As Murad makes the rounds of Western talk shows and prepares to deliver a three-minute speech to the United Nations Security Council, Bombach emphasizes how, even among politicians and diplomats, Murad’s story is often reduced to a sound bite, and she notes the prurient interest of the media and the public as they ask Murad to recount her trauma over and over. Interviews woven throughout the film give Murad the opportunity to speak freely about the ongoing plight of Yazidi refugees, the questions she wishes journalists would ask her, and the questions she’d like them to stop asking. —Leah Pickett 94 min. Sat 4/7, 4 PM.
RBG Documentary makers Julie Cohen and Betsy West celebrate the career of Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, noting her recent emergence as a feminist rock star but, more importantly, her early work as a litigator fighting for equal treatment of women. Brenda Feigen, a cofounder with Ginsberg of the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project, provides dramatic recollections of the attorney’s first argument before the Supreme Court in 1973, in the case of an air force lieutenant denied the benefits her male peers received. A chronology of Ginsberg’s subsequent victories shows how patiently and shrewdly she worked to establish the existence and pernicious effects of sex discrimination (her strategy, one male colleague observes, was like “knitting a sweater”). On the personal side, witnesses recall her love of opera, her warm friendship with fellow justice (and ideological opposite) Antonin Scalia, and her long, happy marriage to Martin Ginsberg, a successful New York tax attorney who loyally supported her judicial career. —J.R. Jones 97 min. Sat 4/7, 9 PM. v