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From creatures great and small to regions near and far, this year’s Doc Stories program investigates, informs and frequently stops to observe and simply reflect. The annual SFFILM event kicks off Thursday with the HBO documentary “40 Years a Prisoner” and runs through Sunday.
Tucked in amongst screenings of seven feature-length films and 10 shorts are stimulating conversations with filmmakers that aim to provide deeper context and insight on what was watched.
This week’s Pass the Remote spotlights seven films not to miss. We also enthusiastically recommend the 8 p.m. Saturday discussion with “Athlete A” filmmakers Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk, “A Thousand Cuts” director Ramona S. Diaz, “Welcome to Chechnya’s” David France and “Collective’s” Alexander Nanau. They will comment on creating the journalistic documentary.
Anyone living in California can watch the films from Thursday to Sunday. “Gunda” will be made available at just one time.
“40 Years a Prisoner”: Tommy Oliver’s eye-opener digs deep into the history and circumspect “justice” served in a 1978 Philadelphia police raid on a Luddite-like community made up of people of color. Oliver divides his engrossing account of the lead-up to the raid that left an officer dead with that of the heartbreaking story of Mike Africa, Jr., the son of parents imprisoned decades after the raid. His determination to see their release is humbling and inspiring, and particularly meaningful now. (7 p.m. Thursday, https://sffilm.org/event/40-years-a-prisoner/)
“Stray”: Elizabeth Lo’s telling documentary introduces us to three attentive canines that roam the streets of Istanbul, a city that allows them free rein. It’s hard not to fall for the charmers, but what might seem as easy bait for dog lovers is anything but, as Lo suggests how their four-legged wanderings mirror the reality of a band of young Syrian refugees who also don’t have a place to call home and who befriend the dogs but not many humans. (8:30 p.m. Friday Q&A with Lo; https://sffilm.org/event/stray-doc-stories/)
“Gunda”: If you ever were tempted to become a vegetarian, this farm tale could seal the deal. Breathtakingly shot in B&W, Victor Kossakovsky’s wordless ode harkens to Old McDonald’s farm as a sow gives birth to adorable, playful piglets, a one-legged chicken skittishly runs around and cows just chew their cuds. What could have been a what-the-heck-is-this slog turns into a celebration of animals that’s shot from their perspective. It’s a beauty, but expect to think twice when you order bacon again. (1 p.m. Saturday; https://sffilm.org/event/gunda/; will available to screen only at this time)
“Coded Bias”: Don’t miss this free screening of Shalini Kantayya’s explosive exposé on how primarily white tech industry innovators have wired racial bias into algorithms and security/ tech products. “Bias” sounds the alarm on the damage being done to people of color, and it is shocking. It’s part of the Sloan Science on Screen program. (6 p.m. Saturday Q&A with Kantayya; https://sffilm.org/event/coded-bias-doc-stories/)
“Through the Night”: The tireless commitment of a New York couple running Dee’s Tots Daycare, a 24-hour child daycare center, and the hardworking mothers who are struggling to make enough money to feed and raise their children, comes sharply to life. In her first film, Loira Limbal lets the cameras roll as we watch the comings and goings at the daycare center run by the devoted — and overworked — Deloris “Nunu” and Partick “Pop Pop” Hogan, two everyday heroes. (6 p.m. Sunday Q&A with Limbal; https://sffilm.org/event/through-the-night/ available virtually in a wide release Dec. 11)
“Notturno”: Director Gianfranco Rosi doesn’t so much tell stories as he paints them. His heralded, emotionally draining “Fire at Sea” from 2016 captured hellish images of what refugee life — and death — is like on the island of Lampedusa. That elliptical style of dropping in and out of different scenarios might frustrate some with his latest, but it undeniably feels unfettered from the bonds of opinion as it shows resilient people living on the Mideast borders, where strife is the way of life. (1 p.m. Sunday Q&A with Rosi; https://sffilm.org/event/notturno/)
“MLK/FBI”: Did the FBI — led by J. Edgar Hoover — resort to the most nefarious means to destroy civil rights icon Martin Luther King, Jr.? Sam Pollard’s damning and meticulously researched takedown says definitely yes. Told without nary a talking head visible till the end, Pollard’s terrifically assembled document summons up archival video, photos and shocking audio tapes to illustrate how the FBI targeted MLK’s extramarital affair to silence him, perhaps forever. (8 p.m. Sunday Q&A with Pollard; https://sffilm.org/event/mlk-fbi/)
* Tickets for film programs are $8 for SFFILM members, $12 general. Doc Stories Series Passes are $25 for SFFILM members, $55 general. Box office now open online at sffilm.org.