Summer’s most intriguing documentary films

by | Jun 10, 2021 | Arts and Entertainment | 0 comments

In addition to a handful of summer feature films that are intended for, ahem, more mature filmgoers, this season is promising another bumper crop of documentaries, part of what has become a golden age for nonfiction films.

With documentaries, though, the trick sometimes is being able to see them. Streaming services have been a boon in this regard (in fact, I think Netflix has won the last three Oscars for documentaries), and some of these films will show up on those platforms. Your local multiplex is unlikely to pull “F9” off any of its screens to show even one of these documentaries, but keep an eye on The Darkside Cinema in Corvallis (lately, the Darkside has been offering some intriguing titles as part of its virtual marquee). But the release dates listed for many of these documentaries may not at all have any resemblance to when they finally become available in the mid-valley.

With that said, the following titles look like they could be worth hunting down this summer:

  • “The Ancient Woods.” Director Mindaugas Survila takes a deep (and unhurried) dive into a relatively unsullied forest in Lithuania. (Now playing in some theaters.)
  • “Rise Again: Tulsa and the Red Summer.” The new documentary from Dawn Porter (“John Lewis: Good Trouble”) arrives to help mark the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa race massacre. (June 18, on Hulu and National Geographic.)
  • “Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It.” Moreno, an EGOT winner, discusses her career in show business, including her breakthrough role in “West Side Story” and the discrimination she faced along the way. (June 18, in theaters.)
  • “The Sparks Brothers.” This is shaping up as a terrific summer for music documentaries, and this one might be the oddest of the bunch. Edgar Wright, of all people, directs a biography of the band Sparks — Ron and Russell Mael — who have been making quirky, idiosyncratic pop music for 50 years. Actually, come to think of it, Wright seems like the ideal director. It’s a big summer for the Maels; their musical “Annette” comes to the big screen in August and stars Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard. I haven’t seen the “The Sparks Brothers” yet, of course, but the trailer might be the funniest ever made for a documentary. (June 18, in theaters.)
  • “Truman and Tennessee: An Intimate Conversation.” In voiceovers, Jim Parsons reads Truman Capote’s words; Zachary Quinto reads words by Tennessee Williams. Director Lisa Immordino creates a dialogue between the two. (June 18, in theaters and virtual cinema.)
  • “Summer of Soul (… Or When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised).” The musician Questlove makes his directorial debut in this Sundance favorite featuring archival footage from the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, a series of concerts that included performances from Nina Simone, Sly & the Family Stone and B.B. King, among others. (July 2, in theaters and on Hulu.)
  • “Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain.” Morgan Neville, who directed “Won’t You Be My Neighbor,” is at the helm for this movie about the “Kitchen Confidential” chef, who died by suicide in 2018. (July 16, in theaters.)
  • “Ailey.” Director Jamila Wignot examines the career of the pioneering dancer and choreographer Alvin Ailey, using archival footage and Ailey’s own words. (July 23, In theaters and on demand.)
  • “The Beatles: Get Back.” Director Peter Jackson got access to and restored hours of audio and video recordings of the Fab Four in 1969, during the making of the “Let It Be” album. Jackson says the recordings showcase the friendship between the band members, even as the group was breaking up. (Aug. 27, in theaters.)
  • “The Big Scary ‘S’ Word.” The word, of course, is “socialism,” and this film traces its history in the United States. Among the interviewees: Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. (Sept. 3, in theaters.)

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