Mark Twain’s words that “truth is stranger than fiction” certainly applies to five fairly recent documentaries with Bay Area ties.
You won’t want to miss any of them.
• “What Happened to Dujan Armstrong?”: In his short documentary about an Oakland mother’s frustrating battle to get questions answered about how her son died at the Santa Rita Jail in Dublin, UC Berkeley School of Journalism alum Lucas Guilkey shows a formidable talent as a nonfiction storyteller. His topical 27-minute short — which was Guilkey’s thesis documentary — has been tremendously well-received and landed him as a finalist in the BAFTA Student Film Awards. Guilkey followed mother Barbara Doss as she tirelessly seeks the truth behind her son’s 2017 death, which was marked as due to drugs but turned out to be from suffocation from a restraint device. Dujan was serving a one month and nine weekend sentence for burglary. As days stretch into months, Barbara continues to seek concrete answers, but doesn’t get them nor the ear of those who should listen to her. Guilkey’s camera follows Barbara and Dujan’s sister while the film reviews the number of deaths at the Alameda County jail. The film couldn’t be more timely and important. (To view the film for free this month, visit https://simastudios.org/simarama/)
• “The Great 14th: Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama In His Own Words”: Everyone could use some encouragement amid these tumultuous and trying times. And who better to offer some calm in this storm than the Dalai Lama. To mark his 85th birthday, Albany filmmaker Rosemary Rawcliffe and the Frame of Mind Films production team are making her rejuvenating documentary available for free on June 27 and June 28. To register, visit https://thegreat14th.com/screening-registration)
• “Plastic Man, the Artful Life of Jerry Ross Barrish”: In this utterly captivating portrait of an artist who fashion art of other people’s discards, Bay Area documentary filmmaker William Farley has found a fascinating subject, a bail bondsman/artist. Snubbed by establishment galleries, Barrish’s workshop looks like a little shop of cute horrors. This is a wonderful and surprising documentary that will make you smile long afterward as all of Barrish’s past jobs get revealed. (Offered for free until July 2; visit https://jfi.org/watch-online/jfi-on-demand/plastic-man-the-artful-life-of-jerry-ross-barrish)
• “Runner”: Speaking of inspiration, Bill Gallagher’s crowd-pleaser celebrates the remarkable story of marathoner Guor Marial. From his brutal childhood years in Sudan to his becoming an Olympic runner, his story illustrates how he overcame the worst and now gives the world his best. It’s a moving story and portrait of a hero. (Now playing via virtual streaming at https://rafaelfilm.cafilm.org/runner/)
“Athlete A”: A determined band of Indianapolis Star investigative reporters broke the revolting story of how USA Gymnastics covered up the sexual abuse of hundreds of gymnasts by their team doctor, Larry Nasser. It sent shockwaves worldwide in 2012 and disgustingly showed yet another institution shielding a sexual predator. San Francisco’s Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk deliver a definitive and riveting account of events in this exceptional documentary that will be available June 26 on Netflix. It’s one of the best nonfiction films you’ll see this year.