I’ve always believed that truth is far more entertaining than fiction. Yet documentary filmmaking plays such a small part in our mainstream theaters. First Light is different, giving us an unusual and generous opportunity to see some of the year’s best documentaries. They include spectacular action, comedy and drama taken directly from the realm of our own human endeavor.
Imagine you’re just 12 and you have to change your whole surroundings, exchanging extreme violence and drug dealing on the streets of Baltimore for a boarding school in Kenya, Africa. That’s The Boys of Baraka (Mon, Dec. 26, 9:30 p.m.), filmed by the two women of Loki Films.
In Mad Hot Ballroom (Thu, Dec. 22, 5 p.m.) you follow the trials and tribulations of a ballroom dancing competition in New York City with a set of city kids. They undergo a rigorous 10-week training and compete against other schools at the ripe old age of 11. An all-female crew captured the drama of these small city lives as they focused on three public schools and their groups of dancers.
For his film Favela Rising (Thu, Dec. 22, 9:30 p.m.), director Jeff Zimbalist wanted a story of a group of people who work within itself to overcome great adversity. His partner Matt Mochary found just that in Brazil in Rio’s violent slum, the Vigario Geral favela. Moving in, the filmmakers show how a drug trafficker turned social revolutionary uses Afro-Reggae music to rebuild the community.
Now imagine yourself a paralyzed quadriplegic. Murderball (Thu, Dec. 29, 9:30 p.m.) delves into the lives of men on a quad rugby team—the film is so compelling and exciting you actually get quad envy. These men play hard and live harder. “The guys we got to know get up earlier, exercise longer, eat healthier, travel more, get hotter girlfriends, and most of them can kick our asses,” noted one of the filmmakers.
Finding Emperor Penguin love in all the wrong places? These little non-flying, pro-swimming birds find their mates in the middle of an Antarctic desert. How do they make a nest? Easy: they don’t. But the trick is that their eggs can never touch the ice or they’ll freeze. Morgan Freeman explains how they manage it in March of the Penguins (Sun, Jan. 1, 12 p.m.), Warner Independent Pictures’ financially successful documentary.
In Ghana, it’s common for a mother to poison her disabled child. Should you manage to escape that, your best hope is to live on the streets and get what you can from begging. Not a great future, right? Yet Emmanuel’s Gift (Sun, Jan. 1, 5 p.m.) tells the story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah, a disabled orphan who somehow manages to become a social visionary and outspoken advocate for the disabled in Ghana. And it all begins with a bike ride across his country. Oprah Winfrey liked it enough to narrate the film.
Closer to home, Rize (Tue, Dec. 20, 5 p.m.; Fri, Dec. 23, 9:30 p.m.) shows us how Tommy the Clown saves his own skin and changes the future of dance and life in South Central Los Angeles. It’s a long journey that begins with clown makeup and birthday parties and ends with amazing abs and “Krumping” competitions that will blow you away. Director/producer David LaChappelle stuns us with dance that inspires urban youth to abandon their gang banging ways and change the world around them. MTW