Although the subjects covered by the films in this year’s DocuWeek festival span myriad issues and topics, among the dominant threads are the urgent S.O.S. messages being sent from political and cultural hot spots all over the globe. Beaming right from Los Angeles is Stacy Peralta’s Made in America, a fast-moving look at the history and evolution of L.A.’s black gangs, as well as their ongoing devastation to the communities they inhabit. Peralta’s subject matter is timely (if not timeless) for this city, but the movie’s slick, MTV style and its often superficial summarizing of the historical forces that helped create gangs makes Made a pale companion piece to Cle “Bone” Sloan’s superior, similar-themed Bastards of the Party (2006). Indian director Dilip Mehta’s engrossing The Forgotten Woman, an elegantly filmed look at the lives of widows who live in Vrindavan, the town where ostracized and impoverished women take refuge, dives right into the tensions between age-old cultural traditions and modernity, as it surveys the lives of those women slammed in the gap. A high scorer in the truth-is-stranger-than-fiction category, Andrzej Fidyk’s Yodok Stories follows former North Korean theater director Jung Sung San as he creates a musical to tell of the horrors he and others endured under Kim Jong-il’s reign of terror. While Fidyk’s admission that he asked Jung to create the musical is a rare and welcome one from a nonfiction filmmaker on his role in actually creating (and not just documenting) his subject matter, Jung’s guttural sobs as he mourns his murdered family are what snare and hold the viewer. Also recommended: Flow, Fire Under the Snow, Pray the Devil Back to Hell, Of Time and the City, The Wrecking Crew. (ArcLight Hollywood and ArcLight Sherman Oaks; thru Thurs., Aug. 28.)
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