The programming in this year’s DocuWeek is incredibly strong. Of the nearly dozen titles made available for press screening (including short films), there wasn’t a dud in the bunch. Jessica Yu’s Protagonist dazzles most in its masterful usage of marionettes, clips from the TV series Kung Fu and the classic animated kids’ series Kimba the White Lion, and the writings of Euripides (read in voice-over and written on the screen). They’re used to illuminate the stories of four men — a former bank robber, an ex-gay minister, a former political terrorist, a martial-arts champion — to get inside the minds of extremists, showing them as people who start off with a noble aim that somehow became twisted. What Yu ends up with is a complex but hugely engrossing conversation about masculinity and the ways it’s negotiated within and against social, political and cultural norms and pressures. Bill Haney’s The Price of Sugar looks at the racism, the complicated dynamics between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, and the international government corruption that fuel the Dominican sugar trade. Little that’s revealed is actually news, but the extent of the brutality suffered by the Haitians and the cavalier attitudes of the assorted powers that be is still shocking. Perhaps the most radical element of the film, though, is the presence and political activism of Father Christopher Hartley, a Catholic priest whose fearlessness and unyielding social consciousness are rooted in that most misunderstood body of writing: the teachings of Christ. War/Dance, directed by Sean Fine and Andrea Nix, is a more pressing Mad Hot Ballroom or Spellbound, as it follows three Ugandan children whose lives have been ripped apart by civil war and the uncertainties of living in a military-protected camp as they practice to participate in a nationwide dance festival/competition in the nation’s capital. Practice sessions are vibrant and invigorating, as the children work tirelessly to perfect their craft. Their efforts are framed by their horrifying back stories, which hang heavily over the film and provide a wrenching context to the resilience of the children’s spirits. Also recommended: We Are Together; Larry Flynt: The Right to Be Left Alone; Gene Boy Came Home; In the Shadow of the Moon; Chops. (ArcLight; Aug. 17–23. See www.documentary.org for more information.)
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