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That’s a Wrap at DC/DOX 2024

Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | June 19th, 2024

The National Archives in Washington, DC, as seen from the US Navy Memorial Plaza, both venues used for DC/DOX 2024 screenings ©Christopher Llewellyn Reed

As advertised in my curtain raiser last week, I attended some of the second iteration of the new DC/DOX film festival in Washington, DC, catching a total of six features. I reviewed one of them in full: Super/Man: The Christopher Reeve Story. Here are my brief thoughts on the other films I watched at the festival, all of which I recommend.

Apollo 13 on the launching pad in APOLLO THIRTEEN: SURVIVAL. Courtesy of DC/DOX.

Apollo Thirteen: Survival (Peter Middleton)

Even if you have seen Ron Howard’s Oscar-winning (for Best Sound and Best Editing) 1995 Apollo 13, which dramatized the potentially tragic events of the titular NASA mission, there’s a big difference between fiction and nonfiction filmmaking. Hearing the voices of the actual participants adds to the vicarious experience of the tale. To recap: Mission Commander James A. Lovell Jr. (aka Jim), Lunar Module Pilot Fred W. Haise Jr., and Command Module Pilot John L. Swigert Jr. (aka Jack) found themselves 200,000 miles on the way to the moon (and 50,000 miles from their destination) when an oxygen tank on the command module exploded, forcing the men (and the ground crew back in Houston) to improvise a solution to bring them back home alive. That they succeeded is an achievement almost more impressive than the moon landings, themselves. And here we relive it in its all its documentary glory, thanks to director Peter Middleton (The Real Charlie Chaplin) who delivers the archive in an artfully compelling, and always thrilling, movie.

Still of Walter Murch’s book, “In the Blink of an Eye,” in THE CINEMA WITHIN. Courtesy of DC/DOX.

The Cinema Within (Chad Freidrichs)

Cinema has existed as we know it since the early 20th century, though it was invented at the end of the 19th. It was in the first few decades of the 1900s that the art of editing came into the picture, taking the early single-shot experiences—filmed from a single perspective, usually as if looking from one side of a theatrical proscenium—and breaking up and rearranging them to create something uniquely new. The moving image truly came into its own then, and the series of rules that help make scenes coherent were codified as a system we still use to this day: continuity. In The Cinema Within, director Chad Freidrichs (The Experimental City) examines what exactly is “continuity,” how we got here, and whether it truly is the best possible way to assemble footage. He brings an engaging cast of characters into the conversation, including legendary editor Walter Murch and Turkish researcher Sermin Ildirar, who finds a remote village in her native country where the residents (amazingly) have never seen a film before, to test out her theories. Freidrichs weaves it all together in a playful, self-aware and meta-reflexive approach to the topic, reminding us of the magic behind the movies while simultaneously practicing that very magic.

Curtis in INHERITANCE. Courtesy of Amy Toensing,

Inheritance (Matt Moyer/Amy Toensing)

Like Jessica Earnshaw’s 2020 Jacinta, another observational documentary about families undone by addiction, Matt Moyer and Amy Toensing’s debut feature, Inheritance, follows its subjects in uncomfortably close intimacy, the camera embedded through good and bad. Set in Pomeroy, Ohio, on the river that gives the state its name, the movie offers a profile of one particular clan where each generation has struggled with alcohol and/or drugs. The star of the youngest age group is Curtis, 12 when the film begins. He’s smart and very academically motivated, convinced he’s going to be a lawyer someday, even as he can see around him his parents, grandparents and great-grandparents all stuck where they’ve always been. His cousin JP—a generation older—was once like him, but after killing his fiancée in a drunk-driving accident over a decade ago, JP is now an ex-con who keeps falling off the wagon. Curtis is also a very sweet kid, generous to people and animals alike, as JP must have also been, based on the vestiges of kindness he still carries. It’s a sad, bleak, and all-too-American story, told in raw detail. It’s hard to watch, but equally difficult to look away.

Still from PRECONCEIVED. Courtesy of DC/DOX.

Preconceived (Kate Dumke/Sabrine Keane)

At one point in Preconceived, the feature debut of directors Kate Dumke and Sabrine Keane, Democratic Virginia Senator (and former Governor) Tim Kaine wonders why so-called “pro-life” conservatives who are anti-abortion somehow don’t vote for pro-family policies that would make it easier for people who have children to support them. That, indeed, is the question that we should all be asking, all the time. Instead, those who purport to be motivated by Christian ideals choose to lie and deceive in every possible to ensure that women will have children at all costs, washing their hands of any promised help once the baby arrives. Rinse and repeat. There is no better example of the blatant hypocrisy on the right side of America’s political spectrum than the rapidly multiplying Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs) across these dis-United States. These CPCs masquerade as legitimate health clinics, receiving public funding meant for low-income mothers, and serve no purpose but to dissuade any and all from seeking abortions. They do real harm in the process, especially because so many think that the ultrasound they receive (from a frequently unlicensed operator) is the same as one that a real hospital would deliver. It’s not. It’s time to take action and shut these hotbeds of religious fundamentalism down. Watch Preconceived, get angry, and vote for people who can make a difference.

Chris Smalls in UNION. Courtesy of DC/DOX.

Union (Stephen Maing/Brett Story)

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is one of the wealthiest men in the world. His company could pay the people who work there two or three times what they pay them and Bezos and other executives would still make out like bandits (and I am partly to blame, since I shop at Amazon all the time). Why, then, is there so much resistance to workers unionizing? Greed is a hell of a drug, I suppose. But in Union, a new documentary from directors Stephen Maing (Crime + Punishment) and Brett Story (The Hottest August), our focus is less on the corporate overlords and more on the folks on the ground, organizing to create the first labor union comprised solely of Amazon employees, with the goal to push for higher wages and better benefits. Unaffiliated with any larger organizational, they choose the name Amazon Labor Union (ALU), and are led by Chris Smalls, a one-time worker fired for protesting Amazon’s lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) during Covid (the company denies this is why he was fired). The movie follows Smalls and a small cohort of volunteers, mostly over the course of 2021 and early 2022, culminating in their triumph when the workers at JFK8, a warehouse on Staten Island, vote to unionize. It’s no easy task getting there, nor is it simple figuring what to do afterwards. Union offers a rare glimpse into grassroots democracy, which may be messy but is vital for our political system to survive.


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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