When CFI started DocLands, it was with the proposition that documentaries are more important than ever. That remains as true today as it did when we started… maybe more so. Documentary filmmakers are truth seekers. Like their narrative filmmaker counterparts, they are telling stories, but whether their subject matter is pure entertainment or weightier subject matter, the documentarian always seeks truth.

We’ve just gone through this incredible, unprecedented year of pandemic, protest, and politics—one that began with a quarantine that cut us off from theaters and one another and climaxed with the January 6th Capitol riot. Documentary films are uniquely suited for times like these, with some offering distractions from our troubles, while others help us better understand the circumstances we find ourselves in. With society slowly beginning to return to life, our latest edition of DocLands represents a turn toward normalcy. While the majority of our slate is online, we are also hosting a number of screenings at the Rafael. The theater reopened in March, observing all safety protocols and occupancy restrictions, and it has been our great joy to welcome back audiences to the big-screen experience, to watch films as they were intended and in the most powerful, communal form.

It is almost impossible to pick out highlights from the program. This is a great slate of films, but I would like to shine a light on those features with rich Bay Area connections. Two very different documentaries examine local icons. Longtime MVFF associate and Marin resident Jamie Redford’s final film, Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir, explores the life of the San Francisco author of The Joy Luck Club, while Rita Moreno: Just a Girl That Decided to Go for It exuberantly limns the long career of the Oscar-winning actor who calls Berkeley her home. One of the best bands to emerge from San Francisco in the 1960s, Sly and the Family Stone, is one of the scorching acts that seem to burst from the screen in musician Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson’s exhilarating concert film, Summer of Soul. San Francisco State University associate professor of journalism Sachi Cunningham co-directs Crutch, a look at the career of skate punk and street artist Bill Shannon. Northern California teenagers are the subjects of two films this year, with Debbie Lum’s buoyant Try Harder! following a group of seniors at San Francisco’s Lowell High School, while the short Last Days at Paradise High looks at the aftermath of the 2018 Camp Fire through the eyes of the town’s senior class.

DocLands isn’t just about the films. We are also proud to present DocPitch which allows five filmmaking teams—chosen by a jury—to pitch their projects to industry professionals and DocLands audiences. This year, we are able to offer $70,000 in awards. After a year that has severely impacted independent filmmakers, we are happy to be able to get some money into artists’ hands.

It is CFI’s mission to support documentaries, international films, and American indies. DocLands—with its amazing team led by our director of programming, Joni Cooper—is an important piece of that. We are proud to bring you this latest iteration and welcome you virtually and in theaters. Now, enjoy the show!

Mark Fishkin
Executive Director / Founder, California Film Institute