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Christopher Llewellyn Reed’s Seven Films to See at DC/DOX 2023

Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | June 15th, 2023

Now that the once-annual Washington, DC-based AFI DOCS is no more (for now), our center of government has an open spot in June for a documentary festival. Enter the new DC/DOX, which runs June 15-18 in its inaugural run. Here is the brief history of its inception, according to the website: “Industry veterans Jamie Shor and Sky Sitney created  DC/DOX as a new space to showcase … vital stories and celebrate the best of documentary film in the nation’s capital.” And based on this year’s slate, there is quite the collection of fine movies on display.

Fortunately, though there are plenty of films playing at DC/DOX that I have yet to see, there are also some that I have, at other fests. Here, then, are my recommendations of seven such docs, with their descriptions excerpted from previous full-length reviews. Each title is hyperlinked to the movie’s DC/DOX page. Enjoy!

l-r: Emily Ramshaw and Amanda Zamora of The 19th* in BREAKING THE NEWS

Breaking the News (Heather Courtney/Princess A. Hairston/Chelsea Hernandez) [taken from my Tribeca 2023 review at Hammer to Nail]

While it would be easy to claim that many mainstream news outlets are riddled with bias, the larger problem is one of allocation of investigative resources. It often seems as if everyone is chasing after the same lead, irrespective of the number of articles already published on the subject. All too frequently, the push is to be first, rather than different. That is the issue: the homogenization of information. Enter The 19th*, subject of the insightful new documentary Breaking the News, directed by Heather Courtney (The Unafraid), Princess A. Hairston, and Chelsea Hernandez (Building the American Dream), and written by Jamie Boyle (Anonymous Sister). If, by the end, we feel hopeful, we should. It is possible for good people to do good things and inspire us all. So watch and then, perhaps, head on over to The 19th* to subscribe (at least for the weekly newsletter, which is what I did, though you can also support them through membership). Good journalism just might save the world.


Confessions of a Good Samaritan (Penny Lane) [taken from my SXSW 2023 review at Hammer to Nail]

Personal documentaries often succeed or fail based on how we react to the filmmaker’s onscreen presence. In Confessions of a Good Samaritan, director Penny Lane (Hail Satan?) puts her engaging self front and center for the first time, using her recent experience as an altruistic kidney donor to explore topics of medicine and morality in a playful cinematic arrangement. Without waxing pedantic, Lane examines the how and why of her actions (and those of others who have come before), both to tell a compelling story and to challenge the viewer to at least contemplate doing the same. This is not fiction; she is doing the deed. And not for the sake of the movie. Rather, the movie is being made because she is giving up a kidney. The stakes are high, and so are the rewards. It’s a remarkable film.

A young Joan Baez in JOAN BAEZ I AM A NOISE

Joan Baez I Am a Noise (Miri Navasky/Maeve O’Boyle/Karen O’Connor) [taken from my SXSW 2023 review at Hammer to Nail]

Born in 1941, singer Joan Baez came of age at the same moment as what would become known as the 1960s counterculture. To hear her tell it, she “had the right voice at the right time. And hear her tell it we do in the new documentary Joan Baez I Am a Noise, from the directorial trio of Miri Navasky, Maeve O’Boyle, and Karen O’Connor (who have all worked together for years at PBS’ Frontline). Very much present throughout, Baez narrates her own story, taking the viewer through past and present, including her 2018 “Fare Thee Well” tour. It’s a stirring, emotionally engaging journey from start to finish.

l-r: Ashley Sabin and David Redmond KIM’S VIDEO

Kim’s Video (David Redmon/Ashley Sabin) [taken from my Sundance 2023 review at Film Festival Today]

Any cinephile who lived in New York City in the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s (the latter two were my era) remembers well the wonderful video-rental chain Kim’s Video. Stocked with a wide variety of options—initially on VHS, then also on DVD—Kim’s was a popular destination for those looking for what they might not find at a place like Blockbuster’s. The rise of Netflix spelled the end, sadly, and so owner Yongman Kim, who had emigrated to the United States from South Korea in 1979, donated his entire collection to a worthy beneficiary. Or not, as the case may be. Filmmakers David Redmon and Ashley Sabin (Do Donkeys Act?) take us on a journey to the town of Salemi, on the island of Sicily, which put together a successful application for Kim’s videos. Except that nothing turned out as it should. Redmon, both subject and narrator, is an intriguing guide in this unexpected documentary odyssey through the twin destinations of ambition and corruption.

Lady Bird Johnson in THE LADY BIRD DIARIES

The Lady Bird Diaries (Dawn Porter) [taken from my SXSW 2023 review at Hammer to Nail]

As much as I love documentaries and celebrate our current age of access to nonfiction storytelling via the streamingverse, many of them follow an overly familiar format of talking-head interviews supplemented by archival and/or observational footage. While there is no shortage of archival in The Lady Bird Diaries, the latest from director Dawn Porter (The Way I See It), the lack of formal, present-day experts speaking to the history is here a refreshing plus. Instead, we get the primary source material of Claudia Johnson (née Taylor), aka “Lady Bird,” talking to us from the 1960s White House courtesy of the audio diaries she recorded at the time. Some others join her in the soundscape, but it’s her show, and a delightful one at that.


Queendom (Agniia Galdanova) [taken from my SXSW 2023 review at Film Festival Today]

A work of tremendous bravery—both cinematic and otherwise—director Agniia Galdanova’s debut feature documentary, Queendom, offers an intimate portrait of a transgender Russian artist in her journey of dangerous self-actualization. Just that phrase “transgender Russian artist” should send shivers of apprehension down the prospective viewer’s spine. As bad as things may be getting right now in certain states of this not so cohesive union of ours, it’s far worse over in Vladimir Putin’s autocratic fiefdom. Being openly queer is not only scary, but potentially quite deadly. That doesn’t stop Gena from being who she is, however, no matter the consequences. Galdanova and her cinematographer, Ruslan Fedotov, do extraordinary work photographing many of Gena’s conceptual pieces, going out on location to capture their creative beauty. We hope the risk is worth it to them; to us, it allows a glimpse at her majesty in all her everlasting glory.

Yukiyo Kawano’s “Fat Man folded” in RICHLAND

Richland (Irene Lusztig) [taken from my Tribeca 2023 review at Hammer to Nail]

Washington State’s Hanford Nuclear Site was established in 1943, as part of the Manhattan Project, and produced weapons-grade plutonium used in the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Located just south of the plant is the town of Richland, subject of filmmaker Irene Lusztig’s eponymous documentary, Richland. Combining archival material, interviews with local inhabitants of all ages and backgrounds, and other modern-day footage (all of it beautifully photographed by cinematographer Helki Frantzen), Lusztig (Yours in Sisterhood) creates a gently probing portrait of a diverse community that is as American as, well, nuclear bombs.


Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator, as well as Film Festival Today's Editor. A member of both the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, Chris is, in addition, lead film critic at Hammer to Nail and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice.

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