In Dear Francis students from Dallas Baptist University, Swaziland, and South Africa travel to Swaziland high schools to discuss sexual abstinence as part of HIV/AIDS prevention. They are soon confronted by the challenges of polygamy (legal in Swaziland), rape, incest, and desperate poverty in a country with one of the highest HIV-infection rates in the world. The students move from naiveté to despair and then to hope in this engrossing hour-long film. Chronicle Project.
The South African film Son of Man retells the story of Jesus by portraying him as an African revolutionary. This ambitious collaboration between director Mark Dornford-May and theater company Dimpho Di Kopane (Sotho for “combined talents”) presents numerous provocative scenes in which canonical gospel stories are resituated in a world of militias, dissidents, and disappearances. In isiXhosa, English, and Setswana with English subtitles. Film and Music Entertainment Ltd.
In Color of the Cross, Haitian director Jean Claude LaMarre portrays Jesus as a black Nazarene whose radical interpretation of the Torah leads to his persecution. Unlike Son of Man, this is not a birth-to-resurrection Jesus film but a tightly focused look at the last two days of Jesus’ life, one that places issues of race and prejudice front and center. Debbi Morgan and Ananda Lewis star. Nu-Lite Entertainment. J.L. Aronson’s documentary
Danielson: A Family Movie (or, Make a Joyful Noise Here) is both a careful examination of the ways in which faith and art inform each other and a sensitive study of family relationships. The film captures the joy of Danielson Famile frontman Daniel Smith’s creative endeavors while highlighting the ongoing tension surrounding the family band’s unique status in both the secular hipster scene and the world of “Christian rock.” The film pays particular attention to the friendship between Smith and his protégé, bona fide star Sufjan Stevens. Creative Arson Productions.
Conviction is a 43-minute documentary by first-time director Brenda Truelson Fox. The film follows three Dominican sisters as they are convicted and sentenced for a nonviolent Plowshares action at a nuclear missile site in Colorado. The sisters’ action incites heated debate on faith and politics, nuclear arms, and international law. The film includes extensive interviews with Ted Haggard, of the National Association of Evangelicals, who at one point compares the sisters to Timothy McVeigh. Zero to Sixty Productions.
In the documentary Maxed Out, director James D. Scurlock explores the American plague of perpetual consumer debt. He acknowledges the need for personal financial responsibility, giving considerable screen time to the bad choices that frequently lead people to borrow too much. But Scurlock’s primary indictment is of the financial industry, which he portrays as predatory, shortsighted, and a major contributor to the growing disparity between rich and poor. Trueworks.
Patricia Foulkrod’s documentary The Ground Truth tells the stories of 10 soldiers as they meet recruiters, join the military, train, serve in Iraq, and return home. Foulkrod documents their experiences dispassionately, trying hard to actually hear those Americans most directly affected by warfare. The film details the psychological, physical, and social fallout of combat; it depicts soldiers’ new needs for support and their struggles to communicate about war with those who know it only through television. Focus Features.
Fast Food Nation falls into a rather peculiar category of films—it’s not a documentary but a major-studio feature based on a nonfiction book by a journalist (Eric Schlosser’s bestseller of the same name). Indie favorite Richard Linklater directs, and his screenplay infuses much of Schlosser’s content into a plot that follows a fast-food executive’s investigation of the manure content in his products. The character observes for the first time the daily workings of an industry that inflicts great harm on workers, animals, and consumers. Fox Searchlight Pictures.