1. Hale County This Morning, This Evening – “How do you not frame someone?” A bit of onscreen text asks that question at one point in director RaMell Ross’s lyrical, years-in-the-making film about the lives of two African-American teens in sleepy, small-town Alabama. It’s an odd question, but Ross’s documentary provides a stirring answer. Though it traverses years, it doesn’t offer easy stories or pat resolutions. Instead, using fragmentary images and focusing on small, unlikely details and gestures, Ross pulls us into the rhythms and textures of these young men’s lives and their community.
2. Did You Wonder Who Fired the Gun? – Director Travis Wilkerson’s striking, confessional essay film delves into a murder in 1946, when his great-grandfather shot and killed a black man in his store in Dothan, Alabama. The filmmaker desperately tries to learn more about the event, as well as about his great-grandfather’s victim. Frustratingly, very little documentation exists of the killing — so the investigation becomes instead a journey into the haunted places of the South and into even darker corners of his family’s past.
3. Amazing Grace – This stunning concert documentary/religious experience about Aretha Franklin’s two-night stand recording her legendary 1972 album of gospel classics was filmed 46 years ago (by the late Sydney Pollack), and was then edited together a few years ago, with Franklin herself twice preventing it from being released. And it’s a wonderful, joyous creation that both completes an interrupted story, and also reveals just how little we still understand about the creative act.
4. On Her Shoulders – When she was 19, Nadia Murad was imprisoned by ISIS as a sex slave. After her ordeal, she became a public spokesperson for the cause of the Yazidis in Iraq, Turkey, and Syria, a small minority who have been murdered and displaced in catastrophic numbers as a result of war in the region. Alexandria Bombach’s enormously powerful documentary follows this young activist around the world, and we understand how Murad’s campaign to raise awareness for her people — which won her a Nobel Peace Prize this year — also forces her to relive her trauma over and over again.
5. Minding the Gap – Following three skater best buds from childhood to adulthood, this film is another fascinating example of a movie that starts as one thing and becomes something completely different. Director Bing Liu was an introverted teen skateboarder when he started shooting himself and his friends as they did various tricks and goofed around. Over the years, as Bing becomes more of a filmmaker, and as life disrupts these relationships in dramatic ways, the picture gains complexity and resonance. And then, it transforms again — into a poignant, pointed essay about abuse, manhood, and the ways that toxic behavior replicates itself across generations and cultures.
See the rest of the list at Vulture.
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