Hollywood insiders predicting nominees for the best documentary in the Academy Awards could poll critics, read trade magazines and look at recent winners of film festivals. But why do that when the Homer Documentary Film Festival has shown winners or nominees in the seven years of its history?
"March of the Penguins," "An Inconvenient Truth," "Man on Wire" and "The Cove" all showed at past festivals and went on to win the Oscar. That's no surprise: Homer Theatre owner and film festival director Jamie Sutton makes it his mission to present the best of the best -- the documentary films shown at festivals like Sundance, Tribeca and Toronto that audiences and juries have loved.
"Every year we try to get the eight best documentaries around the world," Sutton said. "I say to these directors, 'What are the movies we must show?'"
Starting in a gala opening at 6 p.m. Sept. 30, Homer can see those films. The opening features "Babies," a film documenting the lives of infants around the world, from Tokyo to Mongolia. Included in the $15 admission is food and drink from the theater's kitchen, including popcorn, pretzels and hot dogs. Movie lovers who buy a festival pass at the gala opening also get a discount.
Sutton screens suggested films and jury and audience favorites to pull together his list. Past documentary film festival goers by now have a sense of Sutton's menu: something funny, something musical, something serious, something political and something totally unexpected.
"I try to keep it diverse," Sutton said. "There's curious stuff, there's outrageous stuff, but all of it really well done."
Topping Sutton's personal list this year is, well, "The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls," about Jools and Lynda Topp, two New Zealand television entertainers.
"It's a joy. It's mind changing. It is so Homer I can't believe it," Sutton said.
The Topp sisters could have grown up out East End Road and run cattle at the head of Kachemak Bay, Sutton said. They're down-home, well-grounded women who grew up on the land who sing, crack jokes, dress up as odd characters and, like Homer's Kilcher clan, even yodel.
For October First Friday, Sutton has scheduled a film about art that he encourages art lovers to add to their First Friday tour. "Wasteland" follows Vik Muniz, a Brooklyn, N.Y., artist who goes back to his native Brazil to create art with the garbage scavengers of Rio de Janeiro. Every film festival director Sutton talked to recommended "Wasteland."
"They said this is just a fascinating look at this artist and the art he creates," Sutton said.
Many of the films the documentary festival shows take viewers to far off lands and cultures -- films like "The Cove," that looks at the slaughter of dolphins in Japan, shown last year, and "Shortcut to Nirvana," shown in 2005, about Kumbh Mel, an Indian festival held every 12 years that draws 70 million people. That tradition continues this year with "Sun Behind the Clouds," about the struggle for Tibetan independence, "The Oath," about an Al Qaida member in Yemen, and "Two Escobars," about the relationship between the drug lords of Colombia and the soccer teams they support.
"The Oath" considers the complexities of fighting Al Qaida and bringing to justice its supporters. The filmmakers interview a Yemeni taxi driver who had worked for Osama bin Laden and looks at his brother-in-law, an Al Qaida fighter sent to Guantanamo Bay.
"It's really politically charged, but at the same time, the filmmakers don't have a beef," Sutton said.
Another political film is "Sun Behind the Clouds," about Tibet and its struggle for independence and cultural identity. That takes a different look at what's happening in Tibet, Sutton said.
"The secret to understanding this is 'What does the Dali Lama have to say about all this? What is he telling his followers?' This is that."
"Soundtrack for a Revolution" fills the musical slot seen in previous festivals. Using newly discovered historical footage of the Civil Rights movement, the film shows how activists used music to inspire each other in the struggle. Modern musicians perform the music, with appearances by Richie Havens, Wyclef Jean and the Blind Boys of Alabama.
On the outrageous end is "Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work," a film that follows comedian Joan Rivers in her 76th year. It's outrageous because Rivers herself is outrageous.
"This is an honest look at her, but also an honest look at how hard being an entertainer is if you really work at it," Sutton said.
The eight films show at least three times, with films showing at least once each in the afternoon and evening.
From four to five films are shown daily from Sept. 30-Oct. 7. A special festival pass is $40 for adults and $30 for seniors and children. Viewers are invited to vote on the Audience Choice award.
Babies: Follow the first year in the lives of infants and their parents born in Mongolia, Namibia, San Francisco and Tokyo.
6 p.m. Sept. 30 | 8 p.m. Oct. 3 | 2 p.m. Oct. 4 2 p.m. Oct. 5 | 6 p.m. Oct. 6
Joan Rivers, a Piece of Work: Take a year-long ride with Joan Rivers in her 76th year of life. The film peels away the mask of an iconic comedian, laying bare both the struggle and thrill of living life as a groundbreaking female performer. Filmmakers Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg expose the private dramas of this irreverent, legendary comedian as she fights to keep her career thriving in a business driven by youth and beauty.
4 p.m. Oct. 2 | 8 p.m. Oct. 4 | 6 p.m. Oct. 5
4 p.m. Oct. 1
The Oath: Two men, both bound to Al Qaeda, take different paths. One, Osama bin Laden's former bodyguard, drives a taxi cab in Yemen. Another is arrested in Afghanistan shortly after Sept. 11 and sent to Guantanamo Bay and eventually one of the first military tribunals. It was a winner at Sundance, Edinburgh and HotDocs.
6 p.m. Oct. 2 | 4 p.m. Oct. 4 | 8 p.m. Oct. 6 2 p.m. Oct. 7
Soundtrack for a Revolution: The hitory and purpose of the Civil Rights movement is brought to life by the music that it inspired and inspired it, sung by performers such as John Legend, Wyclef Jean, the Blind Boys of Alabama and Richie Haven. The film includes original, newly uncovered historic images from the era.
6 p.m. Oct. 3 | 4 p.m. Oct. 5 | 8 p.m. Oct. 7
Two Escobars: While rival drug cartels warred in the streets and the murder rate climbed to the highest in the world, the number four ranked Colombian national soccer team set out to win the 1994 World Cup. Central to its success were two men named Escobar: Andrs, the captain and poster child of the National Team, and Pablo, the infamous drug baron of the Medelln Cartel. A fascinating spotlight on the secret marriage between crime and sport.
2 p.m. Oct. 1 | 8 p.m. Oct. 2 | 6 p.m. Oct. 4
4 p.m. Oct. 6
Sun Behind the Clouds, Tibet's Struggle for Freedom: A poignant history of Tibet's 50-year struggle for independence focuses on the largest demonstration ever against Chinese rule coinciding with the 2008 Beijing Games. The film features extensive and candid discussions with the Dalai Lama.
4 p.m. Oct. 1 | 2 p.m. Oct. 2 | 6 p.m. Oct. 7
The Topp Twins, Untouchable Girls: You'll laugh, you'll cry, you might just yodel. "The Topp Twins" tells the extraordinary personal story of the irrepressible New Zealand entertainment double act, Jools and Lynda Topp. The film won the Audience Award for Best Doc at Toronto, Portland and Melbourne.
6 p.m. Oct. 1 | 2 p.m. Oct. 3 | 8 p.m. Oct. 5 4 p.m. Oct. 7
Wasteland: Brooklyn, N.Y., artist Vik Muniz goes back to his native Brazil and the world's largest garbage dump to photograph catadores, the scavengers of recycled materials. The audience favorite at Berlin, Sundance and Seattle, "Wasteland" is about an artistic collaboration as Muniz recreates photographic images of the catadores using found materials.
8 p.m. Oct. 1 | 4 p.m. Oct. 3 | 2 p.m. Oct. 6
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