Top Dozen Documentary Film Festivals: Up Next, Hot Docs and Full Frame

Top Dozen Documentary Film Festivals: Up Next, Hot Docs and Full Frame
Top Dozen Documentary Film Festivals: Up Next, Hot Docs and Full Frame
Top Dozen Documentary Film Festivals: Up Next, Hot Docs and Full Frame

With both Hot Docs and Full Frame Documentary Film Festivals coming up this spring, we put together a compendium of the burgeoning list of doc fests around the world. Each has its own personality. See which one suits you.

(Full Frame’s lineup, after the jump.)

Here’s the annual calendar of twelve top doc-fests:

  • DocPoint: Held in snowy, friendly Helsinki, DocPoint, which just concluded in January, is Nordic-centric, but also attracts films from around the world. (Jan. 27-Feb. 1, 2015)   
  • True/False Film Festival: This one takes place in Columbia, Missouri. It just wrapped at the end of February, with films shown over a four day window. It’s a well-curated, more intimate alternative to Sundance. 
  • Documentary Fortnight – The Museum of Modern Art just concluded its 12th annual two-week showcase of new trends in nonfiction. It’s a museum series, so no instant community gets formed. Held in March each year.
  • Full Frame Documentary Film Festival: Set in Durham, North Carolina, this fest is a four-day marathon of over 100 docs, as well as discussions and panels. It’s set within a four-block radius, so it’s very easy to navigate (April 3-6).
  • Hot Docs: Even in a city rife with film festivals, this one’s a Toronto standout, marking the spring bloom of international nonfiction and a forum at which ideas get sold, and bought. It’s coming up quickly (April 24-May 4).
  • Visions de Reel – Among the more prestigious nonfiction festivals worldwide, this event, held in Nyon, Switzerland, originally concentrated on Swiss film, and the largely unavailable cinema of the Eastern Bloc. It is now open to fare from everywhere, while retaining a very Swiss personality. (April 25-May 3). 
  • Doc Aviv: The only festival in Israel devoted strictly to docs, it showcases Israeli film, but includes select global cinema (May 8-17).
  • AFI Docs: Formerly titled SilverDocs, this fest was created by AFI and the Discovery Channel, and is held every year in Silver Spring, Maryland and Washington DC. It’s held for five days each June. The locals come out for it, much as they do for TIFF.
  • Sheffield DocFest—Now 20 years old and the UK’s biggest nonfiction festival (third in the world), Sheffield concentrates on both docs and digital media. Much beloved.  (June 7-12).
  • Camden International Film Festival: Based in Camden, Rockport and Rockland, Maine, this fest takes place over the last weekend of September. It was created in 2005. It’s also home to the Points North Documentary Forum, which gives filmmakers access to professional development. Screens about 80 docs and shorts annually. A joy to attend.
  • DOC NYC: Running each November at NYC’S IFC Center, this doc fest helps Academy members narrow down the vast array of documentaries over the course of a given year before the Oscar shortlist and nominations are announced. Lots of doc comraderie.
  • IDFA: The grandpa of doc fests – or perhaps grandma, given director Ally Derks longtime reign over this Amsterdam blowout – hosts more films that any other documentary festival, and is the annual meeting place for much of the international doc community. Downside for Americans: It always straddles Thanksgiving (November 19-24).



Full Frame honors the work of Steve James. The Full Frame
Tribute will be presented at the Awards Barbecue on Sunday. 


At the Death House Door (Directors: Steve James, Peter


An unflinching account of the work of Reverend Carroll
Pickett, who presided over 95 executions during his 15-year tenure as a death
house chaplain in a Texas prison.


Hoop Dreams (Director: Steve James)


This deeply moving film follows Arthur Agee, Jr., and
William Gates as they strive to achieve professional basketball stardom and
escape poverty in Chicago.


Hoop Dreams at 20


In celebration of the landmark documentary’s 20th
anniversary, this panel conversation features insider commentary, rarely seen
footage, and special guests.


The Interrupters (Director: Steve James)


Three brave “interrupters” from Chicago’s CeaseFire
organization take on inner-city violence with a dangerous form of intervention.


A Place Called Pluto (Director: Steve James)


When a reporter is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s
disease, he boldly faces his prognosis by putting his experiences into words.


Reel Paradise (Director: Steve James)


The final month of an American family’s yearlong stay in
Fiji, where they screened movies in one of the most remote cinemas in the


Stevie (Director: Steve James)


Ten years later, Steve James visits a young man to whom he
was a Big Brother and finds him at a turbulent crossroads in his life.




Filmmaker Lucy Walker presents a series of documentaries
featuring memorable subjects revealed through a diverse array of filmmaking


The Arbor (Director: Clio Barnard)


This unconventional portrait of the late British playwright
Andrea Dunbar features actors lip-synching audio interviews with her family,
friends, and neighbors.


Creature Comforts (Director: Nick Park)


In this short film, claymation zoo animals reveal how they
feel about their living conditions, and living perpetually on display.


David Hockney IN THE NOW (in six minutes) (Director: Lucy


A tribute to the evolving work of the iconic British painter
and photographer, an artist who insists on living in the present.


Devil’s Playground (Director: Lucy Walker)


Amish teenagers choose between their faith and the
temptations of the modern world following a period of experimentation known as


The Five Obstructions (Directors: Lars von Trier, Jørgen


Lars von Trier challenges fellow filmmaker Jørgen Leth to
create five new iterations of his film The Perfect Human, placing a new
restriction on each production.


Hôtel Terminus: The Life and Times of Klaus Barbie
(Director: Marcel Ophüls)


This epic examination of the life of Nazi war criminal Klaus
Barbie, the “Butcher of Lyons,” doggedly explores questions of evil,
complicity, memory, responsibility, and evasion.


The Kid Stays in the Picture (Directors: Nanette Burstein,
Brett Morgen)


Robert Evans, the first actor to become head of a major film
studio, narrates this Hollywood insider tell-all detailing his rise, his fall,
and his rise again.


Land of Silence and Darkness (Director: Werner Herzog)


Fini Straubinger, deaf and blind since her teens, attempts to
help those who are similarly afflicted overcome their isolation.


The Lion’s Mouth Opens (Director: Lucy Walker)


With the support of family and friends, a young woman takes
the daring step of determining whether she carries the genetic marker for Huntington’s


Metallica: Some Kind of Monster (Directors: Joe Berlinger,
Bruce Sinofsky)


At work on their album St. Anger, the members of the
legendary band find themselves embroiled in bitter disputes, so they bring in
their therapist to help.


On the Bowery (Director: Lionel Rogosin)


Part-time railroad worker Ray Salyer spends three days
drinking on drifting on Manhattan’s Skid Row in this seminal postwar work of


Portrait of Jason (Director: Shirley Clarke)


Drink in hand, Jason Holiday, a gay African American hustler
and aspiring nightclub performer, regales us with stories of his life.

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